A modern interpretation of Luke 6:27-36

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Listen!

Love your enemies. Love those who you disagree strongly with. Love those who hate you. Love those who hurt you. Love those who ignore you. Love those who discount you. Love those who see you as worthless, or worth less. Love those who are hard to love.

Pray for those who treat you badly. Pray for those who speak ill of you. Pray for those who demonise you. Pray for those who take from you without giving. Pray for those who couldn’t care less about you. Pray for those who it is difficult to pray for.

Don’t return pain with pain, insult with insult, violence with violence, hate with hate, ignorance with ignorance. Return all these things with love, patience and grace.

It’s easy for us to love our friends and family, anybody can do that, but it’s Christ-like to love and pray for those who we see as the enemy.

So, love and pray for the political opponent, the racist, the sexist, the homophobe, the islamophobe, the anti-semite, the extremist, the newspaper columnist, the paedophile, the burglar, the murderer, the internet troll, the bitter ex, the greedy, the selfish, the malicious gossip or the control freak.

Do it without expecting any thanks or reward from them for it.

Do it because your reward comes from God.

Do it because it’s right.

Do it because you know, deep down, that you need someone to do it for you, despite all your failings.

Do it to show love and mercy in the way your Father shows love and mercy for you.

Advent 14 and 15: Acts 15:22-31 Luke 1 Jeremiah 32:17

No post yesterday. Church, stuff at home and a trip to a major sports award ceremony prevented it.

So, two in one…

I was struck by both Acts and Luke here regarding the importance of news being reported correctly and research being done thoroughly.

I think we very often get short changed with the standard of news we get. Much of it is excellent, well researched, well written and in the public interest. However, on many occasions we get half truths and cherry picked, well spun facts in order to elicit a particular reaction or promote a political ideology.

This is something the Bible itself is accused of regularly. It’s pretty much impossible to prove one way or the other, but its clear that we are asked by God to look into things to do with faith, the way we live, the news we hear and every other important matter to make sure what we hear, say and believe is truthful and right.

With so much bias and so many agendas everywhere this is difficult, but we need to try.

Advent 3: Luke 2:1-20

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It seems Jesus has a very particular effect on people. The first time they meet him they just want to go out and tell others about him. Some find it easy, I’ve heard loads of stories of people I know who became evangelists from day one, and some find it hard. Pretty much everyone has that same reaction, though.

That includes the shepherds. We think of them cowering in fear at the angels, running to the stable, presenting the baby with a lamb and looking at him in awe. What they actually did was to run out and tell anyone and everyone about him. They wanted to share, needed to share, the good news.

It’s a natural reaction, but it’s easy to fight amongst the cynical modern times. I need to just give in to it and I know that many others feel the same. Drop the inhibitions and worries and just talk about the best news ever.

I’ll try.

Advent 1 – Luke 2:21-40

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I still remember what it felt like to be a child at Christmas. Maybe it’s because I have children myself now, albeit ones in their teens, and still see it firsthand.

I remember that sense of impatient anticipation which started off as butterflies, but soon took over your whole body until you felt you were ready to burst. All you wanted was that morning where the presents had magically appeared, the turkey was roasting away in the oven and everything felt like another, more wondrous world for just that day.

I still love Christmas. Not in the same way, but that sense of anticipation and joy is still there. The joy is now in watching the faces of others as they open their presents, in spending time with family in the midst of busy lives. And in the Christmas episode of Doctor Who. But I digress…

Simeon was a very old man, but he still had that sense of anticipation and excitement. For centuries his people had spoken of a saviour, the Messiah. Throughout captivity in Babylon, oppression by despotic kings, distraction by the priests of false gods and now during Roman occupation they waited for that one person who would finally free them. They didn’t know when, but God had promised and he always delivers.

Simeon, however, had inside knowledge. He still didn’t know when, but he knew he would live to see it. Then one day, for no reason other than a feeling that he should go, he found himself at the temple presented with a baby. And he knew.

Suddenly all that waiting, that hope, that unbounded joy burst out of him. This wasn’t a 10 year old opening an X Box, this was infinitely more important and exciting than that. Finally He was here!

This was Christmas for Simeon. Quite literally. He had been shown the Christ Himself. The Messiah. The one who would free everyone, jewellery and gentile alike. But his joy wasnt for himself, as he must have known that he would not live to see Jesus fulfil his role. Instead, Simeon’s joy was for everybody else; his people, the gentiles and all those yet to be born who would also be freed by this child.

And that includes us today. When we anticipate Christmas we are anticipating the same thing as Simeon. But He is already here. There’s no need for waiting until Christmas morning, because he’s been waiting for us to accept him as a gift for over 2000 years.

It’s time to open the present.

Lent – Good Friday: John 21

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You’ve been following a guy around for about three years, learning from him, eating with him, travelling with him. You gave up everything to follow him, put yourself in danger for him, saw him perform miracles you could never have imagined, heard him say things which changed lives all around you. You accepted him as the long awaited Messiah, God’s own son. You watched him arrested for a crime he didn’t commit, tried before those who wanted him dead and die a death he didn’t deserve. You also saw him again, miraculously raised to life, and worshipped him as you now, finally understood who he really was.

So, when you’re out fishing and he shouts to you from the shore, you’d recognise him.

Right?

“Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.” (John 21:4 NIV)

Oh, ok. Maybe not.

It’s not the only time this happened. When he encountered two followers on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) they didn’t recognise him either. It took him breaking bread in front of them for them to realise.

So, if these people who spent time in his company when he was on Earth struggle to recognise him, what chance do we have? We encounter Jesus every day. Every single one of us, whether we realise it or not, whether we believe in him or not, encounter Jesus every day. It may be an opportunity which seems almost too good, it may be someone who unexpectedly comes to our aid, it may be the prick of conscience guiding us, it may be an opportunity to do good for others. We encounter Jesus every day.

But, so often, we don’t recognise him. We may be too wrapped up in ourselves, or in the world. It may be that we don’t want to recognise him, it would be an inconvenient truth which we wouldn’t want to handle. We may have a particular belief system which discounts the idea of Jesus. We may be expecting something more supernatural or spectacular. But it’s him, and we don’t recognise him.

The thing is, the signs are always there. He gave us the commands about loving each other. He gave us the teaching that, when we help others, we are helping the Father (Matthew 25). He gave us directions for our lives in the Sermon on the Mount, in his parables and in his actions. He told us that he would be with us, always, even to the end of the age. He told us where he would be and how to recognise him. It should be easy.

If you choose to ignore, disbelieve or mock, that’s entirely prerogative. But if you want life, love, fellowship, freedom and wisdom beyond anything this world has to offer then he simply has two words.

“Follow me.”

Lent Day 28: Luke 21-22

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Every Easter and Christmas millions of people around the world celebrate festivals for a man which a lot of them have no belief in whatsoever. This ends up leading to criticism about the over commercialisation of holy days, taking all meaning out of them.

This is, inevitably, followed by the arguments by secular groups that these festivals are far from Christian. Christmas is timed to coincide with the old Roman festival of Saturnalia and Easter is name after Eostre, a Germanic pagan goddess. The line goes that Christianity has stolen local customs and festivals, changing their meaning to one centred around Jesus and destroying pagan heritage.

The thing is that this is pretty much completely true. The church has always been pretty open about it, too. The reason for it is simple; at their heart these festivals were always about Jesus, they just didn’t know it.

There was a story I heard of a missionary who went to an African tribal village. There, he was told of a great leader who taught peace and love between warring tribes, bringing many of them together. But some leaders hated him. They found war very profitable, in power as well as money, so they killed him. But, this great leader rose from the dead and will come again to unite the tribes and destroy the warmongers.

The missionary listened, then said,

“I know this great leader you speak of. His name is Jesus. Let me tell you more about him.”

Jesus is in everything. John 1, which I’ll get to on Monday, makes that pretty clear. These pagan festivals which Christianity incorporated weren’t destroyed by making them about Jesus. They were fully explained by making them about Jesus.

This has been on going since the last supper. The disciples joined Jesus in celebrating the Passover, commemorating the Hebrews being delivered from slavery in Egypt during Moses’ time. The breaking of the bread and pouring of the wine were already central parts of the feast. But here, Jesus makes these two symbolic gestures suddenly become symbolic of his own coming death. The bread is his body, being broken by Roman soldiers. The wine is his blood, shed as he is whipped, nailed to a cross and has a spear thrust into his side.

These two symbols, already ancient and rich with meaning and significance for the Jewish people, take on their final, fully explained form. They are no longer about lambs being killed and their blood helping the angel of death to pass over Jewish homes, but about Jesus being killed and his blood being used to help us all avoid eternal death.

He started with this, but carries on, even today, showing how he is, and always has been, in the most ancient beliefs, customs and festivals.

As Matt Redman wrote,

“It’s all about you. It’s all about you, Jesus”

Lent Day 27: Luke 19-20

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I am terrible at presents. I really struggle to choose anything decent and I know that I’m also a really hard person to buy for, because I never know what I want. The problem with this is that it leads to the fear, for whoever is buying the present, that a lot of thought will go into a gift which will just remain unused.

Generally, I’m always really pleased with what I get. If I was that fussy then I’d know what I wanted in the first place. But I have seen so many instances where gifts have been exchanged and you know instantly, from the look on the recipient’s face, that this gift will never be used. It may never even make it out of the box.

Any parent can sympathise with this, especially that moment when you see your child open something and immediately start playing, not with the toy, but with the box. I’ve always thought that there’s a real niche in the market for cardboard boxes alone.

It’s never anybody’s fault, but it’s the gamble of buying gifts. Sometimes it’ll just be wrong. You can never get it 100% right, so there will be occasions where the gratitude is for the thought, but not for the gift itself.

Now, imagine you know every tiny detail about a person and their character. In fact, imagine you shaped that person from the start and are still working on them. Imagine you had a particular purpose for them from before their birth and made sure that they were the type of person who could fulfil that purpose. Imagine you know them better than they know themselves.

Now imagine choosing a gift for them. How easy would that be? You would know what they like, what they’re capable of, how great they could be using that gift. It’s pretty much made for them. Or, at least, they are pretty much made for it.

Now imagine that they open the gift and…

Nothing.

No reaction. No excitement. Maybe a bit of fear or resistance. And the gift just sits there.

Unused.

Untouched.

Unloved.

Wasted.

That is what so any of us do with our whole lives. We have situations, opportunities, talents, skills, knowledge, wisdom. We have gifts. But we waste them. We don’t use them, don’t think we’re good enough, use them for the wrong purposes, decided we would rather do something else and we waste our God given gifts.

We’re like the servant in Jesus’ parable of the ten moans who his his coin in a cloth in fear of what would happen to him if he failed. That fear can hold us back, the feeling that things could go wrong, so we think that doing nothing is better than taking a risk.

If that’s the case, what’s the point in being given the gifts in the first place? If we are able to speak, write, teach, motivate, organise, comfort, entertain, mend, heal, advise, guide, feed, give, make, share, shelter, lead or any of the multitude of other things God may enable us to do, but we choose not to, then what is the point? Use the gifts and those gifts will increase, develop and bear more fruit. Waste them and they will diminish, disappear and leave us empty.

Everybody has a gift. It may not be spectacular or, on its own, world changing, but if everyone recognised their gifts and use  them as God intended then the world would change. The world would be what it is made to be, we would be as we were made to be.

So, are you just going to sit there? Or are you going to unwrap your gift and start trying to use it?

Go on. Take a risk.