2. The Poor?

Transformation Meditations: 2. The Poor?

Isa 61:1 the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

We have started to look at the subject of life transformation that takes place when a person encounters God and we have started by looking at the Messiah’s mandate in Isa 61, quoted by Jesus of himself when he started his ministry.  The Messiah comes and says, this is what my Father wants me to do – to proclaim good news. When Jesus started his ministry he declared, The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15)

How frustrating; there it is again, ‘good news’. Well, perhaps we have to see Jesus’ summary of what he then went on to do: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” (Mt 11:5) Well good news certainly for the first five in that list, but there it is yet again, this reference to ‘good news’ being proclaimed to ‘the poor’. So what is the ‘good news’ and who are ‘the poor’?

Well I am old enough to remember the excitement in the Christian world when ‘the Cross and the Switchblade’ was published, the story of a young pastor who felt called to the streets of New York. It’s a long time back so my quote may not be completely accurate, but I remember one time when he was looking on the street people as his team was preaching in the slum streets and he pondered on what they were really achieving. A girl, I believe it was, came up to him and said, in respect of the salvation she and a number of others had received as the Gospel was preached there, something like, “Pastor Dave, the streets don’t change, the poverty and drugs are still here, and we still live here, but inside we are utterly different, utterly changed.” Something like that, at least. That stayed with me. The outward circumstances may remain the same – we may still be on low incomes, in poor circumstances – but inwardly we are transformed.

It may not be monetary ‘poor’; surely the blind, the lame, the lepers and the dead of that list in Mt 11 are poor. Surely those in Isaiah’s list – the broken-hearted, captives, prisoners, those who mourn and grieve, those in despair, they are all ‘poor’. Surely the reality is that anyone who has not entered into a living relationship with Almighty God, anyone who has not received the riches of God’s kindness, forbearance and patience (Rom 2:4), His shared glory (Rom 9:23), His wisdom and knowledge (Rom 11:33), His grace (Eph 1:7), His glorious inheritance (Eph 1:18), and his power through His Spirit (Eph 3:16).

So what is the good news for these people, for all of us, because whoever we are, if we haven’t entered all of those things, we are ‘poor’. The ‘good news’ that God announces from heaven is that, “I love you, I have sent Jesus to die for you, I want to redeem you, justify you, forgive you, adopt you and empower you, transform you.” THAT is the good news. Let’s exult in the wonder of it, praise and worship Him for it, share it, and ensure it is beyond mere words, but comes with the power of the Spirit to guarantee that complete life transformation.

7. The Mystery – of the Anointed Preacher

Focus on Christ Meditations: 7.  The Mystery – of the Anointed Preacher

Isa 61:1,2   The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, .

As we briefly browse some of Isaiah prophecies in our search for hints of the Coming One in the Old Testament, to focus the ‘mystery’ that the apostle Paul spoke about, especially in respect of Christ himself, we cannot move on into the New Testament without first observing this most truly remarkable prophecy, not as remarkable as the Isa 9 word perhaps, but remarkable nevertheless.

Imagine you were a Jew living in Israel, say twenty years before the birth of Christ. You go along to the local synagogue on a Saturday morning to hear the scrolls read, and the rabbi expound the week’s reading before conducting prayers. This morning the scrolls of Isaiah are brought out and the above ‘chapter’ is read. I wonder what you would have thought about it?

Perhaps you hear these words and hear them as Isaiah explaining his own ministry. As a prophet, the Spirit of God is on him and by the Spirit’s enabling he brings God’s word, a word that can bring healing to those with broken hearts who are anguished by the hurts of life. For those who feel prisoners to dark thoughts, to feelings of inadequacy, and to failure, he sometimes had words of comfort and encouragement for those whose hearts were inclined towards the Lord. He proclaims that today is the day of God’s blessing for those same ones who seek the Lord, a day when God comes to judge all the negative things that inhibit our relationship with Him and comfort those who mourn, not only for the loss of loved ones, but for their own state perhaps.

Oh yes, God’s word does all these things but it seems it is limited to the spiritual world. You think of others in your community, the sick, the infirm, the disabled, yes even those troubled by evil spirits (and there do seem to be a lot of them) and you dare to wonder why God’s word, read and expounded every Saturday, seems unable to touch them – but you keep those thoughts to yourself for it seems unworthy of God.

You allow your mind to wander back to those earlier chapters of Isaiah. First there was that tantalising suggestion of a child who would come to bring the presence of God to the land in chapter 7, and yet there was linked with him the thought of judgment, but it was unclear and somewhat of a mystery. And then in chapter 9 there had been those almost unbelievable words about this child being God Himself, an even greater mystery. And then in chapter 11 there were words about a ‘branch’ of the house of David who would come (v.1) with the Spirit of God upon him (v.2,3) and as he rules he will bring justice (v.3-5) and the end result will be a life of incredible peace where, The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” (v.6) This was all going to be the work of one who was coming with the powerful presence of God upon him to achieve these things. Surely that must be what is being referred to here, now, in Isaiah 61, surely this must be more than just what Isaiah achieved through his ministry?

And so the questions would have hung in the air and fifty years on from this imaginary moment, in the synagogue of Capernaum in the north of Israel, in Galilee, a demon possessed man would cry out in response to the presence of God that had come (see Mk 1:23) and would be delivered by the Coming One. The word of God had been read week by week and expounded week by week and the man had been able to remain there untouched. But now….   A while later, presumably in the same synagogue, a man with a shriveled hand (see Mk 3:1), quite probably a regular attendee of the synagogue who had heard the word being read many times but who had remained unchanged, this man found the presence of God so obviously there that he walked out healed.

The truth was that weeks before, not in Capernaum but in Nazareth, Jesus walked into the synagogue as was his regular custom (Lk 4:16), it being his local synagogue, and whether it was because he volunteered to read the scrolls or whether they had heard of his preaching already (Lk 4:14,15) and they wanted to honour him, he was handed the scroll of the day which just happened to be the Isa 61 prophecy and, after he had read it out loud for all to hear, he declared, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Lk 4:21) The response to him was one of challenge, not a good start one might think, and anyway what did that actually mean? Was he saying that he has like Isaiah, a prophet-preacher whose words would heal and release – or what?

The ‘what’ we have already seen in the previous paragraph. This child – now grown man – did indeed come with the powerfully presence of God upon him for when he spoke demons were cast out and sick and disabled people were healed. This was not merely a ministry of words, but a ministry of power and authority. No wonder the initial response in the Capernaum synagogue had been, “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching–and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him.” News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.” (Mk 1;27,28)

Up until now, the ministry of the local synagogue had merely been to read and proclaim the word of God; now Jesus brought a new possibility, it could be (see Jn 14:12) a ministry that changed more than intellects, it changed whole lives – but they weren’t ready for that, for ‘religion’ then and now, wasn’t and so often isn’t open to let Jesus be Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed One.

If there was any doubt about it, Jesus himself spelled it out: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5) or, as Peter summarized it on the Day of Pentecost, “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.” (Acts 2:22)

But back in the days before Jesus came, the Isaiah 61 prophecy hung there, so to speak, like a wanted poster; yes, this is what we want, if only it can be, but how can such a thing be? The words only version is pretty good, but is there something more? How can ‘something more’ come about? The mystery tantalizingly hung there, words declared by God, words that stirred questions, words that brought the possibility of hope, words just waiting to be fulfilled. Does that sound familiar?

To reflect upon: Jesus said anyone who believed in him would do the things he had been doing (Jn 14:12). Does our church do that?

12. More on Relationships

Meditations in Romans, Ch.12: 12:  More on Relationships

Rom 12:13  Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another

We move on to the next block of what I have called mini-exhortations because each one s short and pithy, and there are a lot of them. As with verses 9 and 10, these are verses about how we respond to other people, and there is so much here. Each one is a mine of truth waiting to be explored, a variety of facets for Christian living.

Paul starts this block with Share with God’s people who are in need.” (v.13a) In the sixth of this series we noted the following but it is worth repeating: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 Jn 3:17) Jesus used meeting material needs as an indication of spiritual life and relationship: “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” (Mt 25:35,36)  So there we have the New Testament Church teaching first from the apostle John and then from Jesus. We are a body and members of the body care for one another but Jesus took it further to imply that we care for all who cross our path and are needy – the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the poor, the sick and the prisoner. Today, in the UK at least, institutional society meets all these needs, yet there is still room for the Christians to bless others.

Yet Paul’s focus here is specifically on the Christian Church – “God’s people” – where if we see needs we meet them as we are able.  It was a mark of the early church that they cared for one another: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.” (Acts 2:44,45)  As they grew in numbers and they set up ‘programs’ to meet the needs of the needy among them, they had difficulties: “In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.” (Acts 6:1) and thus they had to organize more carefully (Acts 6:3-6).

Sometimes we can get institutional in our thinking and we need freeing from that. I once had a lady in the church come to me as its main leader and share her concern for another lady who did outreach lunches from her home and who was short of tea towels. Couldn’t the church buy some for her, was the question asked of me. Of course, I replied, but what a lovely opportunity for you to bless her personally by getting them for her. ‘Need’ can be a very varied thing and a person ‘in need’ may simply be someone who doesn’t have the resources you do and doesn’t feel able to spend on a particular thing in their life. Over the years I am aware that I have given money to someone who need to go to Agricultural college, money to someone to have a holiday, someone money to go on a Bible retreat. None of those things are ‘basics’ of life but they were things that became ‘needs’ in the light of the will of God for that person, what He wanted to do to bless their life. Yes, as a church we gave to people with more basic needs, on one occasion we took a young man to a supermarket when he was out of work and told him to totally fill up the trolley with food for his family. Needs can be many and varied and our means of meeting them equally so.

On one occasion, as a church we were planning to take the church away for a weekend retreat but we knew that we had many people living on state benefits who just could not afford the cost of such a weekend. As we prayed about what to do, the Lord gave us the wisdom. We went to the church and told them in two month’s time we would take a one-off free-will offering. All we asked them to do was, in that two months, ask the Lord how much He wanted them each to put it. It could be nothing, it could be one pound, five pounds, fifty pounds or whatever He said. When the day come, without any fanfare or winding people up, we simply took the offering in the middle of the Sunday morning service. It came to twice as much as we actually needed to cover every man, woman and child in the church – including a couple of unsaved husbands who had trouble believing it.  The extra we put away for the next retreat. The needs of ‘the poor’ were met.

In this day of state benefits and institutional caring, it is so easy to dismiss this exhortation and we say, “We don’t have the needy with us any longer,” but that is so untrue and especially so in days of financial difficulty in this second decade of the twenty first century.  Needy people mean anyone who is struggling to make ends meet and whose lives are restricted because of it. If we have more resources than they do, this word comes to us.

But the key issue is what does God the Holy Spirit say to us? It is also so easy to become guilt-ridden because of these things and He doesn’t want that. Why not enter into a new faith dimension where you ask the Lord to put on your heart people He wants you to bless in this way – and then how He wants you to bless them. Sometimes it is right to give anonymously but sometimes it is right to give face to face to bless the person and build your relationship with them. It’s who HE wants to bless and HOW He wants you to bless. Why not ask Him now.

19. Avoid Lawbreaking

Meditations in James: 19 :  How to Avoid Becoming a Lawbreaker

Jas 2:8-11 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

They say that in the modernist movements of the twentieth century, artists sought to paint ‘universals’, things that summed up all other things in that group, such as a human being, or a chair. What James refers to as the royal law,Love your neighbour as yourself is a spiritual example of a universal because it sums up all other laws that protect human beings from human beings, because that is what most laws do. That particular law was found in Lev 19:18 and the Lord knew that each person has a self-love, a concern for their own well-being. What that simple law says is that anyone should view other people as they view themselves.  Now if we do that, we will always be concerned for the well-being of others, just as much as we are concerned for our own well-being, and if we do that any other law about human relationships will be covered. Now it is called the royal law because it is a law that comes out of the character of God Himself, and God of course is the King of all things.

The apostle Paul understood this when he wrote: The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.” (Rom 13:9,10).  Jesus had likewise previously declared this: One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  Jesus replied: “`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:35-40). So, instead of having to think about the technical legalities of any particular situation, we ask ourselves, “If this was me, how would I like to be treated? This is how I ought to act towards this other person.”

But this is not a theoretical, abstract discussion; this is all to be seen in the light of what James has been saying about local gatherings of Christians. In case you’d forgotten, he was castigating them for showing favouritism and exalting the rich and ignoring the poor.  Implied in all this, he is saying, “Think about this, how would you feel if you were the poor coming into your congregations?  How would you feel if you saw the rich being exalted and yourself being ignored?”  There is an obvious answer to that which implies that the behaviour being referred to – favouritism – is wrong, because it demeans the poor and makes them feel bad about themselves, if not about you!  This favouritism must stop!  It must stop if for no other reason that it is wrong and ‘wrong’ is sin.  The law of love has revealed you as a lawbreaker. You are not loving part of your congregation as yourself.  If you were in their shoes you would not feel good; you would feel hurt, rejected and isolated.  Oh no, if you thought the previous meditations were the rantings of someone with a chip on their shoulder about being rejected, you have missed the point.  It’s all about sin in the local church!  Sin is breaking the Law whether it is the ethical Law of Moses or the law of love that summarises it.  Did you not realise this?   Favouritism is sin and we should never knowingly continue in sin.  We should repent of all known sin, and repentance involves giving up the sin.

To make his point even more forcibly James points out that if you break the law on just one point it makes you a lawbreaker.  If that doesn’t say much to you it’s simply that you haven’t thought about it yet.  If you are a lawbreaker you are a criminal in the eyes of the law. It doesn’t matter which law you break; if you break ANY law you are automatically a criminal.  Indeed for the purpose of definition every sin is the same, so once you sin by whatever means, it makes you a sinner and that puts you on the same footing as every other sinner, including those that you might have thought were ‘big’ sinners. No, a sinner is a sinner.  We are all lawbreakers if we knowingly do this thing. Once we say that, we need to add three comments:  First God is against knowing-sinners.  Yet, second, Jesus died for all sinners.  Third, all known sin is to be confessed and rejected.  When we do the third thing, the first thing ceases to be, because of the second one.

So, check it out. James has spent quite a while on this subject.  If not dealt with it can undermine the very foundation of the Church.  If not dealt with it causes division and hurt and is an issue that God is deeply concerned about because it flies in the face of His very character – love.  So, are there people we exclude?  Are there people we look down on?  Are there people we feel negative about, simply because of their looks or the culture they come from? Perhaps it’s time to do a reassessment of our church life.

18. Rich & Poor

Meditations in James: 18 :  Understanding the Rich & Poor

Jas 2:5-7 Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?

For the most part we just live our lives and accept people as they are.  In the United Kingdom there is not poverty as parts of the world know it, but there are the poor, those who are on state benefit perhaps; they are there.  At the other end of the scale are the great and the glorious, those with more money than they know what to do with, but we only see them occasionally on TV.  In between is a range of people ranging from the postman to the banker but, as far as James is concerned, as we saw yesterday, we are to be class-blind.  So strongly does James feel about this that he continues on in these next three verses to expound this subject. This new Christian faith is to be something completely different in terms of valuing people, from the ways of the world, and if we didn’t get the message yesterday, he ploughs on to stir our consciences in today’s verses.

To do this he makes comments first about the poor and then about the rich. First of all, let’s consider the poor.  He speaks about those who are poor in the eyes of the world with the clear inference that material poverty may be seen as a demeaning thing in the eyes of those who are godless and don’t understand these things, but there is another side to it.  These people have been chosen by God to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom. So why should this be?  When you are poor and struggling, you tend to be much more aware of your personal need and when Jesus comes along the poor tend to be far more responsive to him.  From God’s perspective the poor are frequently much more like a bunch of responsive little children who want to be adopted than the rich who stand aloof in their self-sufficiency.  For this reason alone the Lord’s heart is strong for the poor.  Yet how did the church then and how does the church today respond to the poor?  According to James, the church then at least, was insulting them by paying more attention to the rich and almost disregarding the poor who came into their meetings.

I gave three illustrations yesterday, of modern instances of this happening, not that I or my family were poor but that, by our clothing, in the minds of certain local churches, we appeared poor and were thus given a negative reception.  New churches tend to be far less formal and people dress far less formally for church, but do we actually accept those who come in from a different cultural background to the majority of middle class England?  America, I observe, is often equally bad at this.  It isn’t merely a matter of clothes, if you think that it what I have been saying; it is all about heart acceptance of others, whoever they are and whatever they look like.

But, in case we haven’t got the point yet, James pushes on even further.  Who is it in the world who exploits the rest of us, either (surmising) by land grabbing, making use of money, or by being a harsh employer?  It’s the rich! And you are welcoming them and giving them pride of position?  Today we tend to think of large corporations as being the big ogres who charge too much interest, give out mortgages that are too big that lead people into financial difficulties, or require their workers to work on a Sunday, or work ‘flexible’ hours to make more for the company, but which means that family life is weakened.  However large corporations are run by people.  Managers are just as culpable as directors of the company.  If you are a manager or senior person in a financial institution, have you salved your conscience over these practices by saying, “Well everybody does it; it’s business.”   Really?  You are still answerable to God.

Part of my history was in a Baptist church, and I’ve seen the same in other similar churches.  The deacons or elders were all the big business men of the community, but in today’s life, they probably feel uncomfortable or defensive about my comments above.  Well according to James you have a right to feel uncomfortable.  In many parts of the church it is run by people from middle or upper-middle class cultures.  I’m beginning to let loose other people who actually may have a more open heart to God and who may have more faith. These words of James aren’t an outdated ranting of an early church leader with a bee in his bonnet!  They are the prophetic declarations of a man of God, one of God’s chosen voices, and so we would do well to listen to him, as uncomfortable as that may be.

We are to keep a right balance in all these things.  It is not wrong to be well educated and well off.  It is wrong if we use questionable methods to get to that place.  It is wrong if we look down our noses at the poor (slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong).  It is wrong if our riches make us feel secure so that our spiritual relationship with Him is shallow.  It is wrong if we ignore the needs of those around us that we could meet.  Oh yes, there are inherent dangers in the kingdom of God for the rich, and we need to be aware of them and avoid them.  The biggest danger in terms of church life, as far as James is concerned, is that wealth separates out people and demeans those who don’t have it, and wrongly elevates those who do have it.  The kingdom of God is about spiritual realities and not material realities, and the poor are often much more well off in the kingdom than the wealthy.  We need to take these things on board, because they are as relevant in the twenty-first century in the West as they were in James’ time.

7. Humility

Meditations in James: 7 :  Pride within Humility

Jas 1:9-11 The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business.

If yesterday’s verses were those that we didn’t like the sound of, today’s are verses that make you do a double-take of what is being said.  One of the problems of living in the affluent West in the beginning of the twenty-first century, which we have commented upon elsewhere, is that it is so easy to loose perspective. Our value systems say that the successful person is the rich person who has done great things in business or achieve fame or stardom in the entertainment world. These are the people we so often put upon a pedestal in our thinking. These people we elevate to the ‘great and the glorious’ but for James the heavenly perspective, or perspective from the kingdom of God, is quite different.  In the kingdom of God, the poor are elevated and the rich are debased. Why is it like this?

Well let’s start with the poor. Jesus taught, Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Lk 6:20) Why should the poor be blessed? Well, very simply, the poor are likely to be more aware of their own poverty and be more open to the Lord and find it easier to receive the salvation that is being offered. Also the Bible is full of references to God’s care for the poor, e.g.Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.” (Psa 82:3) and Blessed is he who has regard for the weak (Psa 41:1). Also much of Moses’ Law was about caring fro the poor, e.g. When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien.” (Lev 19:9,10). There are many such references. The reality is that God wants the poor to be cared for. In this world of abundance, He doesn’t want anyone to starve.

But James is speaking to the church and recognizes that not everyone has the same level of provision and so refers to the brother in humble circumstances. At this point he’s not chiding the rest of the church; he’s just saying to that person, you can take pride in, or rejoice in, the fact that your position makes you high up on God’s agenda, you are under His eye. You may feel poor in material things, but in spiritual things you are rich in God’s love and concern for you.

Let’s look next at the rich. As the Bible shows God’s concern for the poor, so there is also concern for the rich, but it’s a different kind of concern. It is concern that the rich don’t become self-reliant and loose their spiritual inheritance: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt 6:19-21).

The reason that people are rich is usually because they have devoted their life to making money. Jesus felt so strongly about this he went on to say, No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Mt 6:24). When James says the one who is rich should take pride in his low position he is saying that the rich man should realize his vulnerability, his disposition to rely upon wealth and not God, and realize the danger he is in and realize that spiritually he is in fact a small person, even if he is big in wealth or stardom. To emphasise what he feels, he illustrates it by reference to a plant growing up but being scorched by the sun. The rich and famous are often like that, is what he is saying. They grow up to riches and stardom, but how easily their business can collapse or their stardom collapse. There is great vulnerability in being rich and famous!

The teaching of these verses is first of all a challenge to us to assess our personal circumstances. If we are poor, can we rejoice in the fact that in God we are rich? Do we appreciate the shear wonder of God’s salvation? Living dispersed in this world, other people’s affluence is so often made very obvious to us, and this in turn makes us feel even more inferior. It shouldn’t, if we are Christians. We are rich in Christ.  If we are rich, are we really aware of how spiritually vulnerable we are? It is so easy to focus on the money making side of our lives and neglect our spiritual health. In the money making process it is so easy to stray into unrighteousness in our dealings with money or injustice in our dealings with people. James’ call to the church dispersed into the world is to hold a right perspective in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Make sure you do it.

Walk of Potential


1 Kings 11:38 “If you do whatever I command you and walk in my ways and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you.”

They do say that some people have a better start in life than others. I suppose this is so when you consider a child born to a wealthy, healthy, united family compared to a child born to a poor single mother in a ghetto. The potential for each child is the same in that they are a human being capable of much if they reach for it, but the truth so often is that the child from the slum is rarely able to overcome all the awfulness of that environment and what it means, and climb to great heights. The child from the wealthy neighbourhood, we might say, has it all going for them.

Yes, a good start in life is a real help and Jeroboam certainly had that, and that is who our verse is about today. Jeroboam had been an official for Solomon (v.26), a young man of standing (v.28) who had been appointed a manager. Now Jeroboam was minding his own business going out of Jerusalem, presumably on business, when he was joined by a man named Ahijah, who happens to be a prophet. Once they have walked some distance from Jerusalem, Ahijah takes off his new cloak and tears it into twelve strips and gives ten of them to Jeroboam saying, “Take ten pieces for yourself, for this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: `See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand and give you ten tribes.(v.31). In other words God is appointing him the new king over Israel although He is going to leave Solomon’s family two tribes, for the sake of David (v.32), and He goes on to explain, “I will do this because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Molech the god of the Ammonites, and have not walked in my ways, nor done what is right in my eyes, nor kept my statutes and laws as David, Solomon’s father, did.” (v.33). Now it is important to see this because the Lord is giving Jeroboam clear insight into why Solomon’s family is being removed from office – because they had false worship. That is important to bear in mind in all that follows. By way of contrast, the Lord goes on to promise him a lasting dynasty if he doesn’t go that way.

From this point on Jeroboam has potentially a great future. He and his family will be the future kings of Israel . All they have to do is stick with the Lord and avoid the foolish ways that Solomon had gone, into foreign idol worship. As Jeroboam looks to the future, his walk with God is a walk of potential. He has everything going for him. He has God on his side and he has seen clearly the cause of Solomon’s downfall, so he knows what to avoid. The future looks good. If only!

To cut a long story short, Jeroboam was made king of the ten tribes (12:20) and God even told Rehoboam in the south not to go to war against Jeroboam. In this manner the Lord protects him, and the word of this must surely have reached Jeroboam. He is at a place of peace and he has the Lord on his side. Potentially everything is great, and then this man shows his true colours. Does he refer to the Lord when he has a concern? No! He starts worrying, thinking about the Temple in Jerusalem, and thinks that the people of the north under his reign might drift back south to go and worship the Lord in Jerusalem . So what does he do? He sets up a substitute religion with an idol at either end of the country, and high places with shrines for worship all over the place, making sacrifices and creating festivals. It is truly a substitute religion with all the trappings of the old – except the Lord! For this he was rebuked by a word from God. Jeroboam squandered all the potential that had been his and disregarded the Lord.

What is the lesson here for us? When we come to Christ we have tremendous potential. We know what we have been saved from and gradually we come to see what we have been saved for.  In Christ we have the potential to become the people we were designed to be. As we receive all of our inheritance in Christ we become whole people, who have every aspect of their lives touched by God. The path ahead is a path of blessing. All that is required of us is that we remain true to the Lord. The potential is enormous! However, there is that awful thing called free will to consider. Yes, the terrible thing is that the Lord still gives is free will and we can choose to follow the Lord, or not! The blessing of God is not on the ‘or not’! God has wonderful things He yet wants to do in and through you. The potential for your life in His hands is enormous. Will we fulfil it or squander it? The choice is ours! You can be a child of the slums but yet with Christ rise to great things. You can be a child of the affluent West, yet squander all the potential you have. Consider these things carefully.

8. Uncovered


Isa 3:18 In that day the Lord will snatch away their finery: the bangles and headbands and crescent necklaces

Deception is a deadly thing. Jesus once told a parable about a rich farmer who kept building bigger and bigger barns to store his wealth (crops), and who concluded, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” (Lk 12:19) but he didn’t realise he was at the end of his wasted life: “But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (Lk 12:20). Affluence is very deceptive. It can make us feel secure and in our (false) security we forget God and forget our spiritual wellbeing. Before we know where we are, disaster strikes and our lives collapse (see also Jesus’ parable of the two house builders – Mt 7:24-27).

After the verses we considered in the previous meditation, Isaiah goes on to speak against different groups of people. As we noted he speaks against a general group first of all, the wicked: “Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them! They will be paid back for what their hands have done.” (v.11). Now we tend to think that ‘wicked people’ are really evil, but I suspect from what follows that it would include large numbers of our own society. “Youths oppress my people.” (v.12a) In some parts of Western society, certain parts of towns are ‘no-go areas’ because of youth gangs. “Women rule over them.” (v.12b) When God had ordained men to take the lead, the prophet speaks against the women who had taken control. How many people would this word upset today in the West? “The LORD enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people.” (v.14). Young people and then women and now leaders come under God’s spotlight.

See how the Lord comes to them: “The LORD takes his place in court; he rises to judge the people.” (v.13). Our guilty consciences may make us feel that this is a bad picture but it is a picture of the Lord who comes to assess guilt or innocence and it is only the guilty who have cause to fear. Justice is about fair and rational assessment of the truth. The innocent have nothing to fear. Indeed the innocent can rejoice that injustices are about to be dealt with!

Sometimes people have funny feelings about God’s judgment, speaking harshly about Him, but look at see what He is moving against: “It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?” (v.14,15). His vineyard is a picture often used of the nation, God’s people. He is speaking against those who have robbed from the poor, who have trodden them down. Wouldn’t we all cheer at this?

But then he comes back to the women: “The women of Zion are haughty, walking along with outstretched necks, flirting with their eyes, tripping along with mincing steps, with ornaments jingling on their ankles.” (v.16). These are the affluent women of Jerusalem, the modern affluent girl power, full of pride, sexual desires and indifference to God. Affluence, we said above, is deceptive and these women are typical of the attitude of the people of Jerusalem and Judah. They think they are something and they care nothing about the poor who were referred to earlier. Ms Materialist cares nothing about God – or about others. Self-centredness is the name of the game.

Now we have considered in previous meditations the Lord’s intent, which is to draw His people back to Himself. In their folly they have made themselves weak and a prey to other nations and other ideologies, which is why they worship idols from elsewhere. The only way to bring them to their senses is to strip away their finery, strip away their material wealth and wellbeing. We can often cope with a reduction in our wealth, but the removal of our wellbeing really brings us down and brings us to our senses. So how is the Lord going to deal with them? Therefore the Lord will bring sores on the heads of the women of Zion; the LORD will make their scalps bald.” (v.17). Oh my goodness, He’s going to attack their beauty and their makeup! He’s going to remove their fashion accessories by which they hold so much store! See verses 18 to 23 for a list of their finery with which they adorn themselves and which deceive them into thinking they are great and they are secure. He’s going to remove it all to bring them to their senses!

We need to understand here, or remind ourselves if we took in the previous meditations, that the Lord’s intent is to bring this people into a place of real blessing, instead of this surface, counterfeit. It is not only what people look like on the outside that makes them rich, it is what they feel like on the inside, how they think of themselves, of God and of others. A self-centred, self-serving people are not rich, however many bits and pieces they have to adorn themselves or their homes. It’s not wrong to have money and possession, but if we obtain those at the cost of losing our soul, we have indeed become very confused and deceived. In the materialistic day in which we live, we would do well to really thing about these things!

Woe to the Rich

Readings in Luke Continued – No.18

Lk 6:24 But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.

Once upon a time most of us in the West might have read Jesus’ words recorded by Luke and think of our superiors, the landed gentry who had money, but today, most of us in the West are without doubt in the upper 10% of the world’s wealthy. Oh yes, there are still many more people who have much more than most of us have, but by the world’s standards we are still in the category of the ‘rich’. If that is so, then it makes this an uncomfortable verse that needs seriously thinking about.

We said yesterday that although there are similarities with the Sermon on the Mount, this is part of a different sermon and as such there are parts of it that are different from that sermon in Matthew 5-7. Today’s verse and those that follow it are such additional verses to the Sermon on the Mount and the question naturally arises, why should there be additional verses? We’ve already partly answered that. That it came on a different occasion to a different group of people means that it was unlikely to be exactly the same and Jesus would omit some things and add other things from those found in the Sermon on the Mount. But why would Luke include these particular things? Partly because that is what his sources told him but partly, I suggest, because of the nature of man that he was.

We have previously observed that he was a doctor and doctors are those who study people. They know people, they examine people, they listen to people, they observe people, and they understand people. In modern jargon, Luke was a ‘people person’, and then when he hears words about human and divine justice, he is interested. He takes hold of what he’s heard. He sees injustice and has feelings about it. He is a godly man of wisdom and therefore he is concerned about justice. He is also a man, we have said, who understands about the Holy Spirit and about how God moves. He brings the spirit world and the material world together. He is a physical doctor with spiritual understanding. Matthew focused on the purely spiritual applications that Jesus was bringing. Luke also hears the other side, and includes it.

When we look at these words of Jesus recorded by Luke we find that verses 20 to 22 have echoes of the Sermon on the Mount, with a truly spiritual application, but then suddenly the verses 24 to 26 consider the exact opposites and speak of apparently very materials aspects of life – but yet which have spiritual implications. Thus in verse 20 we find, Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. ” and we usually interpret that to mean ‘the spiritually poor’, those who are aware of their spiritual poverty. They are the ones who come in submission to God and receive His salvation through Jesus. But now Luke adds another dimension: “woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.” The first ones were blessings; these ones are woes. The first one spoke about spiritual poverty; this one speaks of material wealth. The first one promises the experience of the reign of God; this one implies you get nothing, because you have what you want.

Let’s think about that some more. When we are well off it brings us a sense of ease, of comfort, of physical well-being. We feel relaxed in our affluence. We feel all our needs are catered for. We enjoy life. That is the danger! When Jesus says “Woe to you” he is saying, “Oh how terrible, be aware of the danger.”

Moses brought a strong word of similar warning to Israel: “When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you–a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant–then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD , who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Deut 5:10-12) He was saying the same thing; when you are affluent and settled, remember how you got here, remember who it was that gave you all this!

Behind Jesus’ warning in this sermon recorded by Luke, is the implication that if you trust in your riches and don’t trust in God you risk going into an eternity without God. Later on in his Gospel Luke goes on to record Jesus telling a parable about a man who harvested his crops and then settled back in affluence, only to die and lose it all. He warns, “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.(Lk 12:22,23)

Luke is a wise doctor and knows the body needs looking after, but also that the mind and the spirit need attention. Sorting out priorities in life is crucial. It is not wrong to be rich but if those riches subvert us into thinking we can do without God, we are really on a dangerous path with wealth. To be wealthy and to be a Christian requires that we also hold fast to wisdom, the wisdom that realises that without God we are nothing. If we trust in riches and not the Lord, we are lining ourselves up for a fall and ultimately destruction.

Put the two verses together that we have referred to as we find a simple teaching: to enter God’s kingdom you need to be aware of your natural spiritual poverty, and you also need to resist the temptation that wealth brings, that says that because you have riches you don’t need a relationship with the Lord. These are foundational truths and warnings in the Christian life!