Beneath Jesus’ Wings (Luke 13:31-35)

hen & chicks 06

There has been one question in particular that has bothered me about this text during the week: Why wouldn’t baby chicks want to come back to their Mum?

It seems like a natural thing for chicks to want to run towards their mother. In particular, if they were facing threats or danger, then it would make sense that they would look for shelter and protection under her wings. However, when Jesus describes his desire to enfold the people of Jerusalem under his protection like a mother chicken protects her young under her wings, he says that the people he wanted to embrace wouldn’t actually let him (v34). They ran away from him instead.

That doesn’t make sense to me. Why would they run away from their Mum instead of towards her?

People had a number of ideas about why this might be the case in our discussions on this text during the week. Maybe the chicks wanted to be independent, or they weren’t aware of danger, or they just wanted to do their own thing. It is even possible that they didn’t believe that their Mum could keep them safe.

It’s worth spending time thinking why the chicks weren’t willing to find shelter and protection under the wings of their Mum for ourselves. Sometimes the reasons we come up with can reflect why we tend not to come to Jesus when life gets difficult or we are confronted with problems of any sort.

Because another question which has followed me this week with this text is which way are we moving on our lives? It’s easy for us to look at the people of Jerusalem from this side of Jesus’ resurrection and think that they should have known better. However, do we tend to run towards Jesus or away from him, especially when we face dangers, difficulties or suffering in our own lives?

From what I’ve experienced in my life, it seems to me that we tend to see Jesus more as a last resort than our first option when we face difficulties in life. When I listened to people’s thoughts about why the chicks would run away from their Mama Chook instead of towards her, their ideas reflected the common human experience. We want to be independent, self-sufficient people. Often, we aren’t aware of how dangerous particular circumstances can be, either to our physical, emotional or spiritual selves. We live in a culture that tells us to do our own thing and not worry about anyone or anything else. A lot of the time, I wonder if we even believe that Jesus can help us with what’s going on in our lives.

So we run around like baby chicks, stressed out and under pressure, trying to make everything right and cope with life’s challenges and tragedies by ourselves. All the while, however, we have a Mama Chook in Jesus who calls us by name, offering us protection, security and safety under the wings of his grace and love.

This is fundamentally a question of trust. Do we trust that Jesus can provide us with the security, shelter and protection we need when life gets difficult and we face dangers or threats to our wellbeing? It is good to remember that the person who wants to shelter us under his wings is also the Son of the Almighty God. I find the words of Jesus fascinating when he, a human person about 33 years old, talks about wanting to shelter the people of Jerusalem throughout the Old Testament times. We can’t divide Jesus’ humanity from this divinity, but here we hear God speaking through a flesh-and-blood person, using the picture of a chook to show us how he wants to embrace all of us!

This is the man through whom God enters our human existence so he can understand us and what we go through in life. Jesus is the one through whom God experiences rejection, suffering, abandonment and death. Jesus is also the one through whom God defeats sin, death and the power of the devil in his resurrection. In Jesus, we can see God overcoming everything in this world that would threaten us, put our wellbeing in danger, rob us of the life he has given us or harm us in any way. Faith in Jesus doesn’t mean that nothing will touch us and we’ll never have any problems. What it does mean, however, is that when troubles come, we can view them from the perspective of faith: we are under Jesus’ protection and no matter what may happen, he will always keep us safe with him.

When troubles come and when dangers appear in life, do we try to deal with things ourselves and treat Jesus as our last resort? Or do we trust Jesus enough to run to him as our first option? Or better still, do we trust Jesus enough to live under his protection every day by regularly listening to his word of grace and love, and talking to him about what’s going on in our lives regularly through prayer? How might our lives be different if Jesus was our first option rather than our last resort?

We’re all running in one direction or another. Generally, those directions are either towards Jesus or away from him. When the man who suffered, was crucified and is risen again is offering us security, safety and protection under his wings, why wouldn’t we run to Jesus in the faith that he has everything we need?

My hope is that by learning how to listen to Jesus’ voice in the Bible and talking with him in prayer, we will all find what we need under the shelter of his grace, just like those baby chicks can find what they need under the shelter of their Mama’s wings.

Advertisements

1 Corinthians 10:1-13 Discussion / Reflection Questions

The message at St John’s on Sunday 24 March will be based on 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. Here are some questions I have on the text. Maybe they might help you reflect on what Jesus might be saying to us in this text:

  • George Santayana is quoted as saying, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ Would you agree or disagree with this statement? Discuss why you think that, possibly drawing on your own experiences where you have learned or haven’t learned from something you’ve done in the past.
  • Read 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. What questions do you have of the text? Discuss them together or post them in the comments below if you’d like some help with them.
  • What was the past that Paul is referring to in verses 1-11? Are there any stories in there that you’re not familiar with?
  • Paul writes in verses 6 & 11 that these stories are there to warn us. What is the warning you think Paul might be wanting to give his readers? What is the warning Paul might be wanting to give us?
  • Paul then goes on to talk about temptation in verses 12 & 13. What was the main temptation the Israelites faced? How are the temptations they faced similar to temptations we face? What can we learn from the temptations they faced?
  • What do you think Paul means when he writes that ‘God is faithful’? Would you agree or disagree with him? Discuss why you think that…
  • Paul writes that God ‘will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand’ and ‘when you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure’ (v13 NLT). How do you understand these words? Do you agree or disagree with what he writes? When have been some times in your life when you have seen God doing or not doing that?
  • What temptations are you facing right now? How might you see these temptations differently if what Paul says in v13 is true?
  • What might be a way out that God is showing you of the temptation(s) you’re experiencing right now?

Then I suggest that you pray for each other, that God will keep you strong & find the ways out of any temptations you might be experiencing…

Feel free to leave any comments or questions of your own in the comments below.

God bless…

Refuge (Psalm 91:1,2,9-16)

Psalm 91v14 rescue 01

During this season of Lent, we are focussing on learning to listen to the voice of Jesus, as we heard in the story of Jesus’ transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36). This is an art we need to be learning as Jesus’ followers because sometimes God’s word is easy to understand, sometimes it can be more cryptic, and at other times it seems to run completely contrary to our human experience.

For example, the psalm for the First Sunday in Lent is Psalm 91:1,2,9-16. It makes some extraordinary promises about God keeping us safe and nothing harming us when we make God our refuge and shelter. The psalmist writes,

If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter,
no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home.
For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go.
They will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
You will trample upon lions and cobras; you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet! (vv 9-12 NLT)

On the one hand, the promises God gives us in this text sound fantastic! As a lifelong motorcyclist, I love the idea that God’s angels will protect me whenever I’m riding. An initial reading might seem like this psalm is promising us the assurance of a problem-free life where everything goes well and we are never going to suffer in any way.

Most of us know, however, that this isn’t always the case. The often harsh realities of human existence in this world can make it hard to believe what God seems to be saying to us in Scriptures like this. We can start asking questions like, are we suffering because we’re bad people or we’ve done something wrong? Can we really trust God’s promises to us? What is Jesus trying to say to us when our experience doesn’t match up with what we seem to be reading in the Bible?

In order to try to make sense of these words from Psalm 91 I would like to listen to them through two stories of Jesus – in his temptation and then in his crucifixion.

When the devil tempted Jesus, we read that he took Jesus to the highest point of the Temple in Jerusalem and told him to jump (Matthew 4:5-7; Luke 4:9-12). The devil used Psalm 91:11,12 to try to convince Jesus that if he did, then God would keep him save and he wouldn’t get hurt. Jesus replied by telling the devil not to test the Lord (Deuteronomy 6:16). There is a way, then, in which the devil can use words like these to tempt us to test God rather than to trust him.

I think of it this way: I could theoretically ride my motorbike without a helmet, exceed the speed limit, run red lights and ignore the road rules, and say that Psalm 91 tells me that I can do whatever I like because God is going to protect me. That would be like Jesus jumping from the highest point of the Temple in Jerusalem. It is taking unnecessary risks, challenging God to prove himself. Jesus shows us that Psalm 91 does not give us an excuse to be irresponsible or reckless and expect God to keep us safe. God has given us the sanctified common sense to be able to work out what is reasonable and responsible and to be able to do it. So on the one hand, the promises of Psalm 91 do not give us permission to test God by behaving irresponsibly or recklessly.

The other way I would like to hear the words of this psalm is through Jesus’ crucifixion. I wonder, given his experience with the devil tempting him with these words, whether Jesus thought of them in the six hours he was hanging on the cross. Obviously we don’t know, but I wonder if Jesus thought about the verses from the psalm and the promises God was making to his Son through them.

When we view these verses through the lens of Jesus’ crucifixion, they could seem empty and false. How could God let this happen to his Son when the psalm promises that is angels would protect him? However, they can also be heard as words of hope. When we hear these verses in times of suffering, pain or loss, they can remind us that even though we are struggling or hurting, we can still find protection and refuge in God through Jesus. Sometimes this is what faith is about: trusting that God’s word is true even though our experience tells us something different. Faith is trusting that we can find refuge in God even when we’re hurting. Faith is believing that we can find shelter in God even when we’re struggling. Faith is hoping that we can find protection in God even when everything is falling apart. Faith is relying on God who is bigger than all of our pain, stronger than our suffering, who enters our human experience in Jesus and gives us something better in his resurrection. Faith isn’t believing that life is going to be perfect and pain-free as a Christian. Faith is trusting that God will give us shelter, rest and refuge even when everything is going wrong.

That’s why Psalm 91 ends with these words:

The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name.
When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble.
I will rescue and honour them.
I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.” (vv 13-16 NLT)

These words assume that bad things will be happening in the lives of God’s people. We wouldn’t need rescuing if everything was good. We wouldn’t need protection if everything was easy. God’s promise is that when trouble comes we can call on God who will rescue us, honour us as his children, reward us with a life that is stronger than death, and gift us with the salvation Jesus won for us in his death and resurrection.

I understand that these words can be hard to hear, especially when we are suffering, grieving or in pain. Life isn’t free of troubles, but our troubles don’t mean that God has forgotten us or can’t be trusted. When we listen to words like Psalm 91, they remind us that our troubles are not the final word in our lives. They don’t give us permission to be reckless and irresponsible, like jumping from a high place without a parachute or bungy cord. However, in all the ups and downs of life, we have a God who can be trusted to protect us and keep us safe, even when we’re suffering, because that’s what he did for his Son.

 

Luke 13:31-35 Discussion / Reflection Questions

The message for 17 March at St John’s will be based on Luke 13:31-35. Here are some questions for you to reflect on or discuss in a small group to help you prepare for Sunday’s services…

  • What questions do you have about this text?
  • What do you think Jesus meant by his reply in verses 32 & 33? What do you think he understands as his ‘purpose’?
  • What do you hear Jesus saying with the image of the mother hen in verse 34?
  • Why do you think baby chicks wouldn’t want to find shelter under their mother’s wings? What does this image tell you about the way in which Jesus saw the people of Jerusalem? What might it be saying about people in general?
  • In verse 35, what does Jesus say is the consequence of the people rejecting him? What can we learn from his words?
  • When you think about your life, in which direction are you moving – towards Jesus or away from Jesus? Why is that?
  • If Jesus describes himself as a mother chook, what might he be offering people under his wings? What might he be offering you?
  • Lent is a time of repentance, meaning turning around & changing direction. How could you move closer towards Jesus to find shelter under his wings? What changes might you need to make to do that? What might you gain by doing that?

Please feel free to leave your comments or further questions in the comment section below. God bless your reflection & discussion…

Listening to Jesus (Luke 9:28-36)

Luke 9v35 Listen 03

Every day we have dozens, maybe hundreds, of voices speaking into our lives. They can be the voices of family members, friends, people we work with, teachers, the media, social media, advertising, people on the radio, musicians, and more…

If we were to listen to each of the voices that are constantly speaking into our lives, I wonder what messages we would hear. They might be words of encouragement and affirmation. We might hear expectations, vices telling us who we should be, what we should look like, or what we should do. These can quickly become words of criticism, judgement or condemnation when we feel like we don’t live up to the expectations we have of ourselves or others have of us.

The voices we listen to go a long way in shaping our view of ourselves, the world around us and our place in it. To put it another way, the words we listen to can play a big part in shaping our identity, our belonging and our purpose in life.

Of all the voices that speak into my life, there is one I listen to most. It is the voice that most clearly speaks words of grace, love, hope and peace. While so many other voices are telling me who I should be, what I should do, and that I’m not good enough for a whole range of reasons, there is one voice which tells me that there is something bigger and better than all of that. This voice is the voice that speaks words of forgiveness and mercy and love and a life that is stronger than death.

This is the voice of Jesus.

In Luke 9:28-36, when the disciples went up a mountain to pray with Jesus and saw him in his heavenly glory, the voice that came from heaven told then to listen to the Son. God knows the voices that we hear in the world. God knows how they can be words that take life from us. God wants to give us his love and life and hope and peace. The way he does that is through his creative and powerful word.

Right from the beginning of creation, God’s word brought order to chaos, light to the darkness, and life where there was nothing. That’s why the Apostle John identifies Jesus as the Word of God and the Light of the World (John 1:1-5; 8:12). Jesus is the word God speaks into our existence to continue his creative work of bringing order from chaos, light from darkness, and life from nothing. God continues to speak his word which brings life and hope and love and peace in Jesus through his Holy Spirit. As we listen to Jesus speak to us through God’s word, the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God, works in our hearts, minds and souls to create the goodness of God in us and to give us God’s good gifts. Listening to Jesus becomes crucial in the lives of his followers, not just because God is telling us what to do or giving us guidance through them. Instead, listening to the voice of Jesus in God’s word is the way the Holy Spirit breathes life into us so we can grow as the body of Christ in faith and love.

This Lent, the focus in our church will be helping people learn how to listen to Jesus’ voice in God’s word. This is a priority for me throughout my ministry, but Lent gives us a special opportunity to get together around God’s word and learn together how to listen to Jesus’ voice in it. Each Wednesday morning and evening you are invited to gather and spend time listening to what God is saying to us through the coming Sunday’s message text. The discussion will be very open ended. It will be less about what I hear in the text and more about learning to hear for ourselves the words of grace, love and truth which Jesus might be saying to us.

After Easter I hope that we will be able to continue to meet around God’s word in smaller groups, maybe even just two or three, to listen to what Jesus is saying to us as he builds us up in our faith in him and love for each other through his words of truth, grace, love and peace. In this way, we can become more and more a community of faith which is listening to Jesus, learning from him, growing in his love and mercy, and being equipped as the body of Christ through the Holy Spirit.

Once we are able to hear the grace-filled and life-giving voice of Jesus in God’s word, then we have a new and better word to speak to the world and the people around us. When we are listening to the voice of Jesus, the Holy Spirit uses his words to shape us, our identity, our belonging and our purpose. We can find ourselves and all we need in Jesus. We become God’s mouthpieces to the world as we speak the truth and love, grace and mercy of Jesus to others in every conversation we have with our families, friends, work colleagues, strangers. Everything we say can be seasoned with the grace of God, as Paul says in Colossians 4:6. When we are listening to Jesus and the Holy Spirit is shaping us through his word, then our words will also change so others can hear the echo of Jesus’ voice in us.

For some people, listening to God’s voice is a super-spiritual, mystical event. It doesn’t need to be. God has spoken very clearly and simply to us through the words of many people over the centuries, but most specifically though his Son (Hebrews 1:1,2). The disciples recognised that Jesus had the words which give a life which is stronger than death (John 6:68)! This Lent, join with us in learning how to listen to the voice of Jesus so together we can find greater hope, joy, peace and love in him.

Psalm 91:1,2,9-16 Discussion/Reflection Questions

Next Sunday’s message at St John’s will be based on Psalm 91:1,2,9-16. Read the text and then discuss or reflect on the following questions:

  • What questions to you have of the text?
  • What promise do you hear from God in this text?
  • What is difficult to believe about this text? Why do you find it hard to believe?
  • In Luke 4:9-12 the devil used these words to tempt Jesus. How does what the devil say show us how we can interpret them wrongly?
  • How do you think Jesus might have interpreted these words while he was hanging on the cross? What do you think they might have been saying to him then?
  • When we are going through difficult times or suffering in life, would these words be difficult to believe? Or might they be able to give you hope? Explain why…

Feel free to leave any comments or questions below.

God bless ya…

A Giving Culture (Luke 6:27-38)

Luke 6v38 give & receive 07

What do you think is more important in life – what you give or what you get?

When I posed this question to our congregation last Sunday, people replied in a variety of ways. One person said that while we know the ‘right’ answer is that giving is more important that getting, life isn’t always that simple. When we start thinking about ‘giving’ or ‘getting’ things can get a little complicated and the balance isn’t always easy to find.

This is an important question for me because I tend to hear more talk around the church about what we get than what we give. For example, I hear people asking how we can ‘get’ more people into vacant leadership roles, or ‘get’ people to fill the empty spaces on our rosters, or ‘get’ people to increase their financial giving. I regularly hear parents or grandparents whose children or grandchildren have disconnected from church asking how we can ‘get’ them back to worship. Even when we do talk about giving, it seems that the conversations are largely about what we’re expecting people to give to the church!
There is a big difference between these conversations and the teachings of Jesus. When we listen to Jesus in this week’s gospel reading (Luke 6:27-38) for example, I hear Jesus talking a lot more about giving rather than getting. He teaches us to give:

  • the kind of love Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a to people with whom we are in conflict
  • good things to the people who hate us
  • blessings to people who might curse us, or say bad things about us or to us
  • prayers for those who hurt us
  • the other cheek if people slap us across the face
  • our shirt if someone demands our coat
  • to anyone who asks anything of us, and to not try to get back what people take from us

Jesus continues in verses 32-34 by saying that if we love people who love us and only do good to people who do good to us then we are no different from anyone else. Then, in case we missed it the first time, Jesus goes on to teach us to give:

  • love and good things to our enemies (again!)
  • loans without expecting to be repaid
  • compassion and mercy in the same way that God gives us his compassion and mercy
  • freedom from judgement and condemnation
  • forgiveness to those who wrong us

Jesus concludes this part of his teaching by saying that when we give to others, our gift will return to us so that we receive a lot more than we gave out.

If we read these teachings of Jesus through a ‘getting or giving’ filter, Jesus seems to be a lot more concerned with what we give than what we get. Each of these describe an outward flow of grace from the person who is ‘willing to listen’ (v27) to Jesus and live in the way he teaches. Whether the gift we are offering is love, goodness, blessing, prayer, compassion, physical possessions or forgiveness, Jesus is challenging us to see the needs of the people around us and be ready to give to others whatever their need may be.
Adopting this other-focussed, giving attitude does not come naturally for us. Our natural tendency is more towards what we get than what we give. For us to prioritise what we give over what we get is something that God’s Holy Spirit needs to be working in us as we come into relationship with the giving God and receive everything we need from him through faith.

We can see this in Jesus’ teachings in places like verse 35 where he says that when we give without expecting a reward, then we ‘will truly be acting as children of the Most High for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked’ (NLT). Jesus points us to the nature of God who gives generously to all people, whether they deserve it or not. God gives us what we physically need as our Creator. (I know this opens up the question about people around the world who are in need. There are no easy answers to this problem, but I need to ask if problems like poverty are God’s fault or humanity’s for not sharing what God has given us with those in need?) God gives us his life through Jesus as our Redeemer so we can have a new relationship with God as his children whom he loves and with whom he is pleased. God gives us the Holy Spirit as our Sanctifier so we can live in union with God in the life of the crucified and risen Christ. As Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we can see that God’s nature is to give everything he has and everything he is to us as a pure gift with no strings attached.

What amazes me is that God doesn’t give to us expecting anything in return. Instead, God asks us to live out our identity as his children and give witness to his giving nature by giving what he has given us to others. When we trust that God will give us everything we need for life in this world and the next, and when we believe in the extreme generosity God has shown us especially in the gift of Jesus’ life for us on the cross, then giving to others will just come naturally. Giving to others grows out of the faith that we have a God who gives everything to us and promises to give to us more than we need for the sake of Jesus.

There are times in our church when people talk about ‘getting’ others to do things or things from others when I’ll ask them to rethink that from a ‘giving’ perspective. Some might say that I’m just playing with words, but I believe that the language we use goes a long way in communicating what’s at our heart. If we are to take the teachings of Jesus seriously, it’s important that we use the language of ‘giving’ much more than the language of ‘getting’.

So I wonder, to whom could we be giving this week? I have found it very helpful to read this passage slowly, asking myself who are my enemies to whom I can give love, who hates me to whom I can give good, who might be cursing me that I can bless, or who has hurt me for whom I can give prayers, and so on. When we are connected with the giving nature of God through Jesus in the Holy Spirit, then being giving people, living in mutually giving relationships as a giving community will show in everything we do and say.