‘Go and do likewise…’

‘God has done a wonderful thing for you,’ he called as I stepped from the bus.

It was 10.15 am last cool sunny Monday; the best of a Brisbane winter.

He was shouting now; his hands clenched in the pockets of his faded jacket.

His lean frame danced while his sneakers beat the rhythm on the footpath.

I glanced at him, and saw no immediate threat so I kept on, checking faces for signs that he was following.

He stepped aside as I passed, then he added, ‘He killed his own son so that you could go to heaven…’

‘Yes. Thanks. I know about that…’

Well, what would you have said?

While I waited to cross the road he caught up; close enough at my back for me to know where he was without needing to turn.

‘God has done a wonderful thing for you. He killed his own son so that you could go to heaven…’

None of us waiting spoke so he stepped between us to cross against the lights, stopping in the middle of the road to avoid a car that turned in front of him.

 Unshaken, he stepped up to the folk waiting to cross from that side.

‘God has done a wonderful thing for you. He killed his own son…’

No one abused him (I think the Hindu couple looked a bit bemused) the lights changed and he was left alone.

I went to buy a paper; he, I thought, went on his way.

Checking headlines, I looked up when I heard a familiar voice approaching from around the corner.

‘God has done a wonderful thing for you…’

Now this account is only mildly dramatized. In fact, in that few minutes the man probably repeated himself a couple of times more. As far as I know, he said nothing else; and I recall now that this was not the first time our paths crossed. That was seven years ago on a railway platform; my memory is that his message was the same then.

Do you think he would have heard me if I tried to explain, gently, that his message misrepresented the wonderful thing that God has done for us? My (limited) experience with mental illness tells me not.

Why have I chosen to write about this?

Well, because I just yesterday realized that while I was concentrating on critiquing his message and praying about him (mainly, that he would keep his distance), I at no time, from then until now, prayed for him.

You see, it is a fact of life in our suburb and particularly in the multi-storey block I call home that the signs of mental illness, drug addiction and simple poverty (by Australian standards at least) are evident, like this, on a daily basis.

Recently a man died; a week passed before the police were called to investigate the signs of that…

So, when I sat down to write my next post here, following on from …you-feed-them… and hoping to find some fresh way to describe the sufficiency of Jesus’ perfect (self) sacrifice for our sins, our wonderful gift from his Father, I was surprised to find my thoughts turning in this direction.

Now I see that this (for me at least) was necessary first, in the light of the related passage from Luke’s gospel in the New Testament.

“On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.
“Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 
He answered: ” `Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” 
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. `Look after him,’ he said, `and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” 

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:25-37

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…the eye of the beholder…

Joseph Mallord William Turner - 'Hurrah! for the Whaler Erebus! Another Fish!'
Ask me on any other day to name a favourite painting and I would choose one from hundreds of others besides J.M.W. Turner’s ‘Hurrah! for the Whaler Erebus! Another Fish!’ 
[I like the painting but I think the title is wonderful.]

 

I suppose all I could be certain about is that any choice would raise an eyebrow or two.

For instance; what if I chose any of these three?

Mona Lisa
This is, of course, the Mona Lisa; Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of Lisa del Giocondo painted around 1505. It’s not large, just 77cm by 53cm but I guess that’s a reminder that value is not always directly related to the size of an object. It is arguably ‘the best known, the most visited, the most written about, the most sung about, the most parodied work of art in the world.’ It has been variously valued; the roundest figure is $100 million dollars U.S.

 

 

PicassoGuernica
Probably Picasso’s most famous painting is Guernica his depiction of the German bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.

 

This is a large painting (3.5 metres by 7.8 metres) and is said to embody ‘the inhumanity, brutality and hopelessness of war’. When the artist was asked to explain it he replied, ‘It isn’t up to the painter to define the symbols. Otherwise it would be better if he wrote them out in so many words! The public who look at the picture must interpret the symbols as they understand them.’ it was painted in 1937. Ten years ago it was valued at $1.6 million U.S. dollars.

Poker dogs

 

And this is really something!

 

 

 

In 1903 C.M.Coolidge was commissioned by Brown & Bigelow to produce a series of 16 oil paintings like this to advertise cigars. The nine in which dogs are sitting around a card table are the most infamous. One critic, Annette Ferrara apparently described them as ‘indelibly burned into…the American collective-schlock subconscious…through incessant reproduction on all manner of pop ephemera.’ They were painted around 1905. Two “Dogs Playing Poker” paintings sold at Doyle New York’s annual Dogs in Art Auction  for $590,400.

I confess that up until this moment I would have guessed (and did) that the notion,  ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ was yet another debt we owed to William Shakespeare. But in fact, no. The closest Shakespeare comes to it is in ‘Love’s Labours Lost’, 1588.

‘…my beauty, though but mean,
Needs not the painted flourish of your praise:
Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye…’

[The sentiment can be traced as far back as the Greeks but the woman credited with coining the saying as we know it is Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, in her book, Molly Bawn, 1878.]

‘…you feed them.’

‘Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” …about five thousand of them. Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.’ John 6:10, 11

 

classic loaves and fish


When Jesus looked into the faces of the crowd who came to him for healing and to hear him teach (5000 men, with the women and children as well) he saw their need.
 

 

He could see that some were sick but he knew that, in the end, they were all exhausted and hungry; hungry for bread and fish, certainly; but, (many of them didn’t realize this yet) he knew that they were spent and starving for life as well.

He knew they wanted more; more prosperity, more power; and he knew they wanted less; less of Rome to start with; a little less Rome and a little more Rock and Roll and life would be alright, they thought; but that was probably the upper limit of their expectations.

‘This Passover couldn’t we, please, have a little more festival and a little less fear?’

Hadn’t they been listening; hadn’t they been watching?

‘I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.’ John 6:26, 27

plate of bread and fish
We
know that first of all, the miraculous meal they shared was a sign; for them and for the disciples, of who Jesus was; a sign that he was God, and that he was there, in their world, for them. It was also a sign of who they were; a sign that they were ones who needed Him to be God for them because they needed the life that only he could give them. 

 

Now it is a sign for us too, and for our crowd, that Jesus is still the bread of life, for us.

And, as Jesus’ disciples in our world, when he asks us, “How shall we buy bread for this crowd?” our answer must be the same as theirs; we can’t.

But we are not empty handed; we have this to offer; that Jesus himself has been broken and multiplied and has satisfied our hunger for life. 

Our experience has proved his promise; we are alive, by faith in him.

When Jesus says to us as he said to his first disciples, “See this crowd, you feed them,” he wants us to share him with them, and he encourages us as he encouraged them, with the example of a boy willing to share what he had.

‘Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” John 6:8, 9 

“Come and have breakfast.”

 ‘Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.’
John 21:13

Galilee
Jesus stood on the shore of Galilee in the early morning and watched seven of his disciples, including John, fishing; this was after his resurrection. They were just a hundred yards from shore; close enough to hear when Jesus called, ‘Friends haven’t you any fish?”


Now they had been out all night for no result and they didn’t know yet that this was Jesus so their simple (but direct) ‘No’ in reply showed restraint I think, for professionals heckled by a stranger taking his early morning walk.

full of fishBut Jesus was no idle busy body on the beach; he had already prepared a fire for them, his fish were roasting and the bread was fresh.

Thoughtful of their disappointment and their need, Jesus told them where to try again and they filled their net.

John recognized Jesus then. ‘It is the Lord’, he shouted. Hearing him, Peter jumped into the water to go to Jesus leaving the others to follow in the boat, towing the loaded net.

When they all saw Jesus’ fire and the fish cooking and the fresh bread waiting he told them, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught. Come and have breakfast.’

It was after that miraculous breakfast that Jesus took Peter aside and asked him (three times), whether he did truly love him, ‘more than these’.

Probably Jesus had in mind Peter’s earlier claim that though all the other disciples might leave Jesus he never would, but it might have been something else; Peter’s boats and nets; his crew, or even the fish, the evidence of Jesus’ miraculous power to provide.
‘Do you love me more than these?’

What attracts us to Jesus first may be our hope, or even our experience, of miraculous bread and fish, but he has so much more for us than that; we need more than that, as he reminded the crowd who followed him after his miraculous multiplication of five loaves and two fish to feed them all; 5000 plus.

‘I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.’ John 6:26, 27

‘…Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.’ John 6:35

Jesus.2013

‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.’ Hebrews 13:8 

question mark
What was Jesus like, yesterday?

Who is he today?

Who will he be, forever?

 

 

John, a disciple of Jesus ‘then’, when he came to write an account of Jesus’ life, recalled seven occasions when Jesus described himself in unusual ways.
Seven times, Jesus said publicly, ‘I am…..’

 

08mosesburningbush
People knew that the words ‘I am’, as Jesus used them carried the same weight as God’s description of himself to Moses from the burning bush. (Exodus 3:14) On that occasion, Moses asked who he should say was sending him to bring the Israelites out of Egypt and God answered;
 ‘Tell them I AM has sent you.” 

 

“I AM their God and there is no other. I AM God and I will be God, for my people, forever.”

Jesus said, ‘I AM God’, in these seven ways…

  • In John chapter six, Jesus said, I am the bread of life
  • In chapter eight he said, I am the light of the world
  • In chapter ten; I am the door of the sheep and I am the good shepherd
  • In chapter eleven; I am the resurrection and the life
  • In chapter fourteen; I am the way, the truth and the life
  • In chapter fifteen; I am the vine

This is good news for us; Jesus, as God, came into the world to satisfy our needs.

As the bread of life, he sustains us.
As the light of the world, he enlightens us.
As the door of the sheep he is the entrance for us into the Kingdom of God.
As the good shepherd he cares for us and even lays down his life for us.
As the resurrection and the life he raises us to eternal life.
As the way, the truth and the life, he is way to God for us.
And as the vine, whose branches we become, he is the source of fruitful life for us.

Jesus is God for us

Created in Christ to….

‘For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’ Ephesians 2:10 

But truly good works can only proceed from right relationships.

Unbelievers (and even wrong-minded believers, at times) do achieve great good in the world, pleasing to God who may well reward them, in the world.

But even with motives as unmixed as humanly possible, whenever God is not given the glory, any personal meaning taken from those good works will prove to be hollow at the last.

Good works are never the way to right relationship with God, or anyone else.

Once relationship is wrong all the grand gestures and all the little kindnesses are simply static between us, until relationship is mended.

With God, reconciliation is only (but certainly) achieved through repentance and faith in Jesus.

With others (mere people, like us) we are on far less certain ground.

Because reconciliation, whether it is sought (maybe the first step, but not necessarily), or whether it is offered, is always costly to all the parties involved.

It was costly for God (it cost him the life of his Son) and it is costly for us (it costs us our pride; first, in our own ‘righteousness’- but also in our own ‘rightness’) and on the human level there are always two sides to every story; rarely is only one party to a dispute completely in the wrong and that cannot be said in regard to our disputes with God.

I think this is what the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote to the Christians in Philippi,
 
‘But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.’ Philippians 3:7-11 

How often have we thought that our reconciliation with God (let alone with other people) should be reconciliation leading to shared suffering willingly entered into?

How often have we taken into account what we are prepared to give up to achieve reconciliation rather than simply what we hope to receive

Even after our ‘sin’ problem has been dealt with (by grace through faith in Christ) we still  find that sin leads to failures in our relationships with both God and our ‘neighbor’.

Whenever we drift away again from right relationships through sin, going our own way to search for water apart from the water of life, that search consumes us, it dehydrates us, diverting us from the very relationships that will bring significance to life. (see Jeremiah 2:13)

It is the restoration of relationships that is always God’s first purpose for our life.

Will God…..?

UtmostFirst published in 1927, ‘My Utmost for His Highest’ has been a staple of daily readings for Christians ever since. Sometimes challenging to cherished theological views it is always, at least in my experience, equally challenging to cherished sins. On that basis alone it keeps its place in my library.

Here are some excerpts from June1’s reading titled ‘The Staggering Question’ (‘Can these bones live?’ Ezekiel 37:3).

 

‘It is much easier to do something than to trust in God; we mistake panic for inspiration.That is why there are so few fellow-workers with God and so many workers for Him.’

‘We would far rather work for God than believe in Him.’

‘Am I quite sure that God will do what I cannot do?’

I despair of men in the degree in which I have never realised that God has done anything for me. Is my experience such a wonderful realization of God’s power and might that I can never despair of anyone I see? Have I had any spiritual work done in me at all? The degree of panic is the degree of the lack of personal spiritual experience.’

‘When God wants to show you what human nature is like apart from Himself, He has to show it you in yourself. If the Spirit of God has given you a vision of what you are apart from the grace of God (and He only does it when His Spirit is at work), you know that there is no criminal who is halfso bad in actuality as you know yourself to be in possibility.’

‘God’s Spirit continually reveals what human nature is like apart from His grace.’

From Oswald Chambers ‘My Utmost for His Highest’ June 1st.