3. The Good Friend

Meditating on the Parables of Luke:  3. The Good Friend

Luke 11:5-8  Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

Purpose: The purpose of this parable is apparently to motivate us to pray, if for no other reason, than just do it to get results. I’ll open up on this shortly.

Context: The chapter starts with, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” (Lk 11:1) which is followed by the teaching we often refer to as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. That perhaps doesn’t help us a great deal but what follows the parable certainly does: So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Lk 11:9,10) Note that word ‘So’ at the beginning which links it to the parable before it. It is all about prayer – the disciples’ desire to pray, the prayer outline given by Jesus, and then the direct teaching to ask and keep on asking (as the verb tense indicates)

Facts of the Parable: The story or illustration includes the following:

  • there is a person in need of bread (quite a lot actually!).
  • he has a friend who he feels might be able to help out.
  • he goes to him at the middle of the night, knocks on his door and explains his need.
  • his friend, put out by the time of night, replies, ‘Don’t bother me.’
  • he explains that the house is locked and the family asleep; it is inconvenient.
  • yet (implied) the original person continues to ask.
  • the friend inside, to keep the peace, opens up and gives him what he wants.

The Teaching: Jesus explains the following:

  • friendship was not enough to get him to open up,
  • however shear audacity, keeping on asking in the middle of the night, did.

A Picture of God? If this is about asking in prayer, doesn’t the home-owner / friend appear as God? And doesn’t this put God in a poor light? The answer to this comes in verses further on: “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:11-13) In other words, these verses should be read with the parable to conclude, ‘If the home-owner will respond because of his friend’s audacity, how much more will God respond to His children calling out to Him. We thus have a parable that gets its full meaning only by being read in the light of the surrounding teaching.

Repeated Teaching: First of all there is the repeated asking. In the parable the first man asks and asks, and eventually gets. In the teaching of v.9,10 the tense of the verbs indicates it should be, ask and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, and knock and keep on knocking. But then there is the repetition of the teaching itself: the parable says keep on asking, the verbs say keep on asking and the conclusion that the Father will give good gifts to His children implies keep on asking. (Later on in chapter 18 there is the parable of the unrighteous judge which teaches the same thing – keep asking).

Why the Need? We often have to ask, why would Jesus tell a parable like this, and the answer has to be to meet a specific need. The need in this case, I suggest, is that prayers don’t always get immediate answers. I have several reasons for this, I believe. First, sometimes constant and continual prayer is an indicator of the urgency and reality of the person praying and the Bible indicates that God looks for such reality (Deut 4:29). Second, I believe spending time in God’s presence deepens our relationship with the Lord and so He holds back a while to ensure this happens.  Third, I believe sometimes we have to pray and pray before we get to the point of realising what God’s will really is and we ask for it (and then get it) in his name (Jn 14:13). Fourth, there is clearly spiritual opposition sometimes (see Dan 10:13) and we don’t always get what we want (see 1 Thess 2:18)

The Encouragement: For these reasons above, we find we need that encouragement to keep on praying. This particular parable seems to suggest, don’t go on logic, but just keep on praying even if (and especially if) you think God is getting fed up with it. There are times in scripture when God says don’t pray, but until you hear Him say that to you – keep at it!

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Snapshots: Day 77

Snapshots: Day 77

The Snapshot: “I will wipe them out” (Ex 23:23) How we fail so often to read our Bible completely. We grab a few words and complain without understanding. Here we have the source of so many complaints in God’s intent for Canaan – but read it in its entirety, read on to verse 30. See: the word ‘drive’ that follows. God will drive the enemy out – but not completely. “wipe out” = totally remove current existence. How? By driving them out. It will be their choice. Leave and survive. Stay and fight Israel and risk death. You will find the idea of ‘driving them out’ well over thirty times in the records. This is not genocide as so many foolish people say. This is God who says, “This is my land for my people, take your terrible and horrible pagan practices away – and stop them!”  Be understanding.

Further Consideration: How often we find the critics rolling out this complaint about a God who commands genocide. How such critics reveal both their own poverty of spirit and poverty of knowledge!  Check the facts and then speak. Note the options again.

Option 1: Leave and survive. This actually was the most sensible choice and perhaps a few took it. The records show that the fear of the Lord went ahead of Israel, the reputation of Israel’s early conquests in the south as they approached the land from the south and the east. These were a victorious people. It’s time to leave! Clearly the word went out ahead of them, followed by fear. Most people forget this.

Option 2: Stay and fight.  It says something about what holds you when a Tsunami bears down on you. You have to be pretty stupid to stay – but then that is the effect of the occult which bound this land, occult fueled by godless, merciless sacrifices of children and many other occult practices. The demonic always seeks to extend Satan’s desire to destroy mankind.

Option 3: Join Israel.  Again most people forget that Rahab and the Gibeonites were examples of those who responded wisely to the fear of God and aligned themselves with Israel and became part of them, part of the people of God.

So, ‘wipe them out’ actually means remove entirely this old life dominated by the world, by Satan and by Sin. It will be achieved initially by seeking to ‘drive out’ these things but where they refuse to capitulate, they will be put to death.  Failure to put them to death will mean they will remain as pockets of resistance that will cause ongoing problems, things which God will in fact make use of to discipline us. There is so much here, so many truths to be understood, so much that unfortunately we so often allow the enemy to cover with a smokescreen of self-righteous indignation built on our poverty of spirit and poverty of knowledge. Let’s resist, learn and be changed.

(As we consider these in blocks of ten, tomorrow we will move on to a new series on Parables)

Snapshots: Day 70

Snapshots: Day 70

The Snapshot: “Now Jethro…. heard of everything God had done for Moses” (Ex 18:1) Testimony is a powerful thing. It appears in so many ways in the Bible. What had been going on with Israel had echoed across the nearby nations, so even Jethro back in Midian had heard what his son-in-law had been doing.  In verse 9 after he came, we read, “Jethro was delighted to hear about all the good things the Lord had done for Israel.” The priest of Midian had become a believer in Jehovah: “Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.” The Church today is called to bear testimony, not only by words, but by good deeds and by the miraculous, just as Israel were. Result? Belief changes, lives change. May it be so!

Further Consideration: Again and again the records show that others heard what was happening with Israel, what God was doing with them and through them. When Israel eventually came to Jericho, Rahab testified how they had heard what was happening and that created a fear in them.

Now I wonder what sort of responses there can be when the works of God are heard about. In Jesus’ day they heard about what he was doing and then saw for themselves some of the things he was doing, but they rejected them. Those were the religious leaders, people who had agendas of their own. People with their own agendas, their own prejudices, and their own fears, so often reject the good news, for it seems too good or it threatens their word-view, their stance in life. Having read some of the crusading atheists of the early twenty-first century, their prejudices and maybe some of their origins are very obvious.

You can tell a lot about a person by the way their respond to good news. Seeing people amazingly healed should have created at least a measure of joy and thankfulness, but when those enemies of Jesus rejected him, they rejected the wonder of these things and revealed their own blindness. Tell an atheist how a person has been wonderfully saved, delivered and transformed and if they respond with negative derision, it is their heart that has just been revealed for its terrible poverty of spirit.

Jethro heard, came, heard more and believed. The evidence was so overwhelming – but then it still is today! The evidence of lives changed, testimonies of healing and deliverance, of life transformation, the evidence of the Scriptures themselves, they are all there if there was a hungry person looking. The person who, at the end, says, “I wasn’t told,” will be told, “You didn’t look, you didn’t ask!”

Snapshots: Day 65

Snapshots: Day 65

The Snapshot: “In the desert the whole community grumbled.” (Ex 16:2) A desert, a place of dryness, brings out the worst in us. How do we overcome that? Remember three things. First, the glory that got you here, the goodness of God that saved you out of ‘Egypt’ (the world). Second, the duration of this desert experience; it is supposed to be temporary. Don’t accept it as a permanent experience; expect and seek for better. Third, remember the goal, there is a better day ahead, a ‘Promised Land’, in the days to come here on earth and in the promised eternity that is our inheritance. Don’t let the enemy have cause to rejoice when he witnesses the children of God acting as less than those children. Bonus: fourth, remember who you are!

Further Consideration: Let’s consider in some more detail the three ways of overcoming the negative feelings that can arrive when we are going through a ‘desert experience’. But’s let’s be honest first of all and acknowledge that such an experience is normal. The teaching that the various experiences of Israel also act as ‘types’ of the experiences of believers, has us now in the Promised Land, a place where we inherit the goodness of the Lord and have to battle to remove the old inhabitants who still have a habit of rising up (e.g. anger?) Yet the truth is that even in the Promised Land Israel went through times of drought that made for desert-like conditions. Each of us will experience all of these things and, as we said above, they tend to bring out the worst in us – which is why the Lord allows them, so the work of sanctification can continue, a joint activity between Him and us.

So, first, remember where you came from, the facts of your new birth. That reminds us we are supernatural works of God and He is the One who now has plans and purposes for the long-term of our lives.

Second, this is a temporary experience and although it seems temporarily dry and barren, the Lord has not left you (declare the truth of Heb 13:5) and His grace is still available in this time of difficulty.

Third, the outworking of this time is a new day where we have learnt afresh the Lord’s grace and goodness and have come through into a place where light and love flow again.

But perhaps we should add a fourth thing: see this time of dryness as a testing time, a trial, an exam to be passed. Perhaps we have brought it on ourselves but it is still a time to learn lessons. The Lord has certainly allowed it; it is still a time to learn lessons. In other words, and you may consider this a fifth thing, we should view such a time positively. “Consider it pure joy… whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces…” (Jas 1:2) James adds perseverance but there may be many more benefits.

Snapshots: Day 63

Snapshots: Day 63

The Snapshot: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm.” (Ex 14:13) Israel are in a mess. The sea is before them and an angry and vengeful Pharaoh is coming behind them – and it’s all God’s fault! And Moses says, “Do not be afraid”? You’ve got to be joking! This is a scary situation. Just like being in a small boat on a capricious lake in a vicious storm, when God seems asleep (Lk 8:23). Why do we have crisis moments like this?   Why is it that sometimes the guidance of God appears to be going pear-shaped? Just so that we can learn that He is still with us, is still in control, is still working out His purposes which will succeed. Father wants His kids to learn to trust Him for all these things, but it is a process, often a slow process. Grumble or grow, are the two choices. Choose well.

Further Consideration: I feel almost in despair at times over the Christian world. A member of the church rings me up to ask me to pray for members of their family who are in a mess. Not wanting to be discouraging I say I will pray but deep down I know the only meaningful prayer for these people who have been living godless and unrighteous lives is, “Lord, please save them.” Then and then only will they start putting their lives straight and peace, order and blessing will start to flow. Until then, we may ask God to bless them – and He might well do that – but all that means is He will stick on a plaster and they will carry on living godless and unrighteous lives and getting in a mess.

This is very different from the mess that Israel are in at the present point of our meandering through the Scriptures. They have just received an amazing deliverance and are on their way out of Egypt but the cause of their past slavery threatens them yet again. In fact the present threat is worse than they knew before because Pharaoh is now determined to kill them. I say it is different and yet in both cases the past needs putting to death.

The New Testament is quite clear: when we turn to Christ we are to die to the old life, described by the apostle Paul as, “gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts,” (Eph 2:3) and in Rom 6 he uses the language of death and resurrection to describe what has happened to us. In Israel’s case Pharaoh is about to be put to death, that is the only way to completely free Israel from their past in Egypt. When Paul says, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus,” (Rom 6:11) he means, consider yourself dead to that old life – of godlessness and unrighteousness – but now tuned in to living with God. There can be no half and half. Be transformed, live it, experience it and stand firm in it for it is what Christ has earned for you on the Cross. Hallelujah!

Snapshots: Day 62

Snapshots: Day 62

The Snapshot: “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him.” (Ex 13:19) Wow! Weird! No, because Joseph had made his people promise to take his bones back to Canaan when they returned. Yet that had been some four hundred years earlier, but time did not worry Joseph. God had warned Abraham it would take that long (Gen 15:13) and Joseph believed God. Moreover he realized something of the significance of being back in the Land, the Land of Promise, the land of future hope, the land of identity, so much so that he had to be there – even if it was just his bones!  Wow, that is faith, that is understanding!  That is a challenge to us. Do I see God’s big picture, do I see my part in it, do I see how important it is that I be where He wants the action to be?

Further Consideration: ‘The Land’ played a most significant part in the life and experience of Israel; it was the place of encounter with God, the place where God would bless His people. Today we, the vast majority of the Church – the Gentiles – do not have a physical land, (yes, Jewish Christians may still look to Israel as their homeland) and so for us the Bible speaks of our ‘land’ as ‘the kingdom of God’, a place, a location, an experience wherever God is manifest in and through us.

Perhaps ‘the kingdom’ is another of those doctrines that needs emphasizing across the Church today. If instead of majoring on our different expressions of ‘church’ we instead majored on the kingdom of God, we would stop being inward looking as we focus on ‘our’ denomination. group or stream, and instead focus on working out the will of God that He desires for us today.

Abraham clearly heard God’s word about the future of what would become a nation, and their taking possession of this land of Canaan in the centuries to come, and obviously passed that word on to Isaac who passed it on to Jacob who told his twelve sons about it. Joseph, through all his trials, became a man of God who understood the ways of God (some of which were clearly passed on by his elderly father, Jacob – remember the responsibility of parents we saw in the last study) and part of that understanding involved the significance of ‘the Land’.

When Joseph had others promise to take his bones back to the Land, he was allying himself with the declared will of God. What was amazing was that that promise was conveyed down the generations so that when they did eventually leave Egypt, they took Joseph’s remains with them. Amazing! So the questions that must follow. Do we see the same significance in ‘the kingdom of God’? Do we put that kingdom – the will of God – at the head of our agenda? Do we work at this for the long-term goal of creating something real for future generations? Well?

Snapshots: Day 61

Snapshots: Day 61

The Snapshot: “On that day tell your son.” (Ex 13:8) Israel were given a duty, not just to remember what had happened to them, but to pass it on to the next generation and so on.  Testimony triumphs over the enemy (Rev 12:11), is the Gospel story in action, of lives transformed (Mt 24:14, Jn 5:36), and speaks of our experience of God (1 Cor 2:1, Psa 92:12-15, 1 Jn 1:1-3). It is one thing to teach the word of God to the next generation but it goes live in testimony when our children hear from our lips the wonder of our experiences – and of course that is the challenge, to ensure we have such a testimony to pass on. It is the reality of our faith that our children look for, not church going, not religiosity, but reality, God who has changed us and moved through us. Testimony!

Further Consideration: It is said – and rightly so – that each generation has to receive the Gospel for themselves, but that means that they must first hear it. God’s instructions to Israel were that parent should convey the good news about God to their children. We very often offload that responsibility to children’s workers in Sunday school, and rely on Children’s Missions to bring the challenge, but that is doing just that, offloading responsibility.

When our three children were small we used to have a family time on our double bed. We found a book of daily readings and each day they would gather on the bed and I would read one of these readings and then my wife would pray, and as they grew older we encouraged them to pray. Yes, they went to Sunday School as well, but we took on the responsibility. As they grew older we bought a new set of daily Bible Reading notes for children and did these for a few months. This seemed to pall and so I took an old portable typewriter and typed up daily reading notes that required them to answer six simple questions about a short passage, then three questions that checked understanding and finally a prayer. I produced, and we used these for several weeks and I began to realize I had created a job for myself and so as we approached the end of the month, suggested we go back to the professionally produced notes. “Oh no, daddy,” they all cried, “these are much better.”

Thus I started a process that I have carried on and developed for approaching forty years, but the point is that children are not put off the Bible if we make it relevant and personal to them. It becomes the foundation for their faith. Yes, it did take me time and effort but I have never regretted it and I have benefited from what they led me into virtually every day of my life since then. Reach into the Bible when your children are as young as possible, feed them with the truth and help transform the next generation.