Dear Theophilus… Feb 2019

Dear Theophilus
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAccording to Jewish law, every adult man was required to go to Jerusalem three times a year to celebrate the major Jewish festivals. St Luke tells us of a time when Jesus was twelve, the age at which he was considered no more a child, and Mary and Joseph took him to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Traditionally they would have travelled as a large ’convoy’ with the women and children at the front and the men at the back. Aged twelve, Jesus could conceivably have been with either group.

Unbeknown to his parents, Jesus remained behind in the temple when they left for home, and it wasn’t until the evening that they realised Jesus was neither with the women and children nor with the men and so, probably in a panic, they went back to Jerusalem to search for him. They found him in the temple the day after. I wonder how you would have responded if you were Mary or Joseph?

Mary was not best pleased but Jesus, who was not sinful, was surprised that they hadn’t realised that he would be “in my Father’s house”, and
presumably safe in his Father’s care. Luke then tells us that Jesus went home with his parents ‘and was obedient to them’. I think there are some interesting messages here for all of us about relationships between adults and children, about trusting God and not being anxious.

For parents, there is a message about letting our children grow up and develop their own personalities and interests, about giving them appropriate levels of freedom and about understanding things from their perspective. There is also a message about not getting anxious over our children, but trusting in their judgement and common sense.

For the children there is a message about taking the opportunities that there are to develop as a person and to listen and learn from others through questions and discussions. There is also a message about obedience, even when they think they are ‘all grown up’.

The result of all of this for the teenage Jesus was that he ‘grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men’ (Luke 2:51).

David

Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you!

Dear Theophilus… Jan 2018

Dear Theophilus

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe are told in Matthew’s gospel that the Wise Men travelled a great distance across the Middle East, following a star, in order to find a baby who was born to be King. When they found him they bowed down, worshipped him, and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. I bet Mary didn’t have the problem of thinking ‘Oh dear, he’s already got one of those’!

I wonder which gift Jesus would have preferred?

Theologians and preachers often look for symbolism in these gifts – gold for a King, frankincense for a High Priest, myrrh symbolising his death for our sins. I wonder if Mary and Joseph kept the gifts in Jesus’ bottom drawer, or if they were God’s provision, as negotiable assets, for the family’s time in exile in Egypt?

And what might the gifts symbolise for us? Gold, an expression of our material wealth which, in itself, is a gift from God that we should offer back to him, for his service. Frankincense, offered daily in the temple, a symbol of our prayers and of our relationship with God. And myrrh, for anointing the dead, representing the daily sacrifice of our lives, reminding us of St Paul’s words to present our bodies to God as living sacrifices.

I wonder which of these Jesus prefers today?

Or would he prefer our worship and a heart attitude that bows down to him and acknowledges that he is Lord?

As we start a new year, let’s make a commitment, like the Wise Men, to offer Jesus the very best of what we have. But let’s not forget that our love and our worship will gladden his heart more than the value of the gifts we give.

David

Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you!

Dear Theophilus… Dec 2018

Dear TheophilusOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I wonder, what is your over-riding image of God, and does that image affect the way you pray to him? Is your image of an angry head master or an absent-minded old man? Is it of a god with more pressing issues to deal with than yours or a god with limited resources that he needs to ration out? Is your image of God of an unjust Judge or is it of a loving heavenly Father with all the resources of the heaven and earth at his disposal?

Jesus taught a parable about a widow who persistently seeks justice from an unjust judge. He did this to teach the people, and us, that we ‘should always pray and not give up’ and in it, Jesus compares God to an unjust judge.

What Jesus is not doing is saying is that God is like an unjust judge who needs to be pestered to get justice. What he is doing is saying is that, if this unjust, godless judge will eventually give the widow justice against her adversary, if only for a quiet life, how much more will God bring justice to his chosen ones who plead with him day and night.

We worship and pray to a ‘how much more’ God. In Matthew 12:12 Jesus challenges the people about legalism on the Sabbath ‘You’d rescue a sheep that had fallen in a pit on the Sabbath, how much more valuable are you than a sheep!’ Elsewhere he talks about the ravens that ‘neither sow, reap or sore in barns, ‘but God provides for them. How much more valuable are you than the birds?’ And of the wild flowers he says, ‘If God clothes the grass of the field, how much more will he clothe you!’ (Luke 12:24,28)

But he also wants to know that we are serious about our prayers, and not like children with a Christmas wish list who change it right up to Christmas Eve according to the latest TV ads, leaving confused parents with no idea what to give them. So, using a continuous verb form, Jesus says, ‘Ask, and keep on asking, and you will receive, Seek, and keep on seeking, and you will find, knock, and keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. And he continues ‘You know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will God give good gifts to those who ask!’ (Matthew 7:7,11)

We don’t pray to an unjust judge, a forgetful old man, or someone with limited time or resources, we pray to a ‘how much more’ God.

David

Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you!

Dear Theophilus… Nov 2018

Dear TheophilusOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADear Theophilus…

The incident in the bible (Luke 10:38-42) where Jesus goes round for a meal with his close friends Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus whom Jesus would later raise from the dead, has a tendency to divide Christians into the Marys, who apparently spend all their time worshipping Jesus, and the Marthas who apparently spend all their time in the kitchen.

But to divide Christians in this way is, I think, a too simplistic interpretation of the message and can lead to a feeling of condemnation or the so-called Marthas and a feeling of superiority for the so-called Marys.

I think one of the key phrases in the passage is where we are told that ‘Martha was distracted by all the preparations’ (:40). The problem with Martha was not that she was a practical person; the gifts of hospitality and serving are valuable gifts in every church and recognised in Paul’s letters. The problem with Martha was that she got worried and upset about many things (:41), and allowed them to distract her from spending time with Jesus.

Spending time quietly in the presence of Jesus was commended of Mary, and is important for all of us. But let’s just hope that she helped with the preparations before Jesus arrived, and with the clearing up after he left!

We don’t have the same problem that Mary and Martha had, that Jesus would only be with them for a short time; Jesus is with us always, through the presence of his Spirit. But we still get distracted by all the preparations that have to be made, and get worried and upset about many things.

What is it that distracts you from spending time with Jesus in prayer and in reflection on his word? For many of us it will be work, family commitments or the television, but for most of us, if you are anything like me, it is simply a matter of discipline; taking time aside before you start the day or making time to stop during the day. Let’s not get distracted from what is important.

I think God is looking for Christians who have a balance of the Mary and the Martha, who will spend time in his presence and who will allow that time to enrich and inspire everything else that we do.

David

Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you!

Dear Theophilus… Sept 2018

Dear Theophilus

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen Jesus said to Peter “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18), what to you think he had in mind? I doubt that it was the vast array of buildings that we have today, ranging from the tiny chapels in small villages to the vast cathedrals in some of our cities.

The images of church in the bible are organic, they are living. The image that Jesus uses is that of a plant, where Jesus is described as a vine on which we are the branches. Our role in this image is to remain connected to the vine and to be fruitful.

St Paul and St Peter use different images to describe how they see the church. The image that Paul uses is that of the human body (1 Corinthians 12), where we are seen as the different parts that make up the body, with Jesus as the head of the body. Our role here is to fulfil the unique purpose for which we were created, so that the body is whole and healthy.

The image of the Church that Peter uses is that of a living temple (1 Peter 2:4-6). Admittedly this is an image of a building, but Peter emphasizes that it is a spiritual temple made up of living stones, and that we, as living stones, are part of that temple and that Jesus is the chief corner stone. Our role here is to fit together with our Christian brothers and sisters to form a living temple where Jesus is central and where God is glorified.

It is clear from these three images that Jesus did not come to this earth to build a religious system, nor did he see the church as a range of buildings or as a group of people coming together simply for services and meetings.

Jesus sees the church as men, women and children, each with a living, personal relationship with him and with each another; where each person is equipped to fulfil his or her role, all working together to fulfil God’s purposes in the world. As has been said before, the Church does not exist for the benefit of its members, but for the benefit of its non-members.

The church is not a building or an institution, it is you and me, working together as the body of people in whom Jesus lives and who live in him, and by whom God is glorified as we grow and become fruitful.

David

Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you!

Dear Theophilus… August 2018

Dear TheophilusOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

How do you understand the different roles within a family? Of mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters? The roles will have changed over the years for
different reasons: during the wars when so many men went off to fight, and more recently with the
increased numbers of working mothers. But, in your family’s situation, how do you see the role of
mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters?

The gospels tell us of a time when Jesus was in a house talking to a large crowd and someone came and told him that his mother and brothers were standing outside wanting to talk to him. Jesus’ reply ‘Who are my mother and brothers?’ might seem quite harsh and disrespectful to his family members, but Jesus often said seemingly controversial things in order to make an important point, and he does that here when, having pointed to his disciples, he says, ‘Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

I don’t think Jesus is being disparaging to his mother and brothers, I think he is using their presence as an illustration to make a wider point. And it is a point that has implications for all of us if we are followers of Jesus. Jesus is in fact saying that, if we are his followers, seeking to do the will of his Father in heaven, we too are his mother, his brothers and his sisters. (I think he leaves out ‘fathers’ because, for him, with Joseph most likely dead, there was only one father, his heavenly Father.)

The Christian church is often likened to a family, but I wonder how often we think about our roles within that family? What is the role of mother within the church? Who holds that role for you and for whom do you have the role of mother? Likewise, father. What is the role of father within the church? Who holds that role for you and for whom do you have the role of father? And what are the roles of brothers and sisters? How do you relate to others as brother or sister? How can you develop those relationships?

Without undermining the important place in our lives of our earthly families, I wonder how we, as people who seek to do the will of our Father in heaven, can develop our relationships as mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters within our Christian family?

David

Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you!

Dear Theophilus… July 2018

Dear Theophilus

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the most familiar parables that Jesus told is known as the parable of the sower. Jesus isn’t recorded as actually giving it that name, and in many ways that is not the best name for it; it would be more accurate to call it the parable of the soils. The parable is about a farmer who goes out to sow seed on his land. To do this we are told he scatters it across four different types of soil. This gives the sense of being both random and generous, something that is borne out by the fact that some of it falls on the path, some falls on rocky soil, some on thorny soil, and only some of it falls on good soil where it has the potential to grow and produce a harvest.

In his explanation of the parable, Jesus likens to seed to the word of God, the gospel, and the different soils to the different responses that people give to the gospel. For some the message is completely ignored and makes no impact. For others there is some interest and signs of life, but not enough depth of faith to overcome the problems of life. For others there is life and growth, but things come along to draw them away. For only some is there growth to maturity. But that doesn’t stop the farmer from sowing the seed.

It seems to me that, unlike most farmers, this farmer has an unlimited supply of seed which he is able to scatter randomly and generously, not worrying about the seed that fails to germinate, or germinates, but fails to thrive, but content in the knowledge that some of it will take root and grow.

I think there is a message for all of us here about approach to sharing our faith with our friends and family. How often do we fail to tell others about our faith in Jesus out of fear of not knowing what to say, or of being ridiculed, or of getting tongue-tied, or of not knowing how to answer their questions? I think this parable encourages us to share our faith whenever and wherever we get the opportunity, both randomly and generously, and not to worry about the response. Some of it, maybe much of it, will fail to take root and grow, but some or it, maybe only a fraction of it, will take root, grow and produce a harvest. But, for the sake of the few who will respond, should we not overcome our fears and share our faith in Jesus whenever we get the opportunity, both randomly and generously?

David

Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you!

Dear Theophilus… June 2018

Dear TheophilusOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJesus and his disciples did a lot of walking; they had few other options for getting around. There were boats to get them across the water (though Jesus still preferred to walk!) but no mini buses to get them over land. And they did a lot of travelling up, down and across Israel and into Samaria and even into Syria. And it wasn’t always a gentle walk, there were times he led them up a mountain and down again. So there was plenty of time to talk.

Having spent some time on a mountain with Peter, James and John, at what we call the transfiguration, Jesus then takes them all through Galilee to Capernaum. They walked as a group, but the disciples were clearly not always in direct conversation with Jesus, and sometimes their conversation got a bit heated. We know this because, when they got to Capernaum, Jesus asked them what they had been arguing about while they were walking along. They weren’t going to tell him they were arguing about who was the greatest, probably as a result of Jesus only taking three of them up the mountain and leaving the others at the bottom. But Jesus knew (a sobering thought!) and proceeded to tell them that whoever wants to be great must become a servant (Mark 9:33-35).

In saying this, Jesus is standing conventional thinking, both then and now, on its head. The world measures greatness in terms of wealth, authority and power, but Jesus measures greatness in terms of service. Which actually means we can all be great in God’s sight!

Now I’m not sure, if asked, that we would all say that we wanted to be great, but I do think most of us would say that we wanted to be valued, appreciated and respected. Which I think is just more acceptable ways of saying wealth, authority and power. And Jesus still measures greatness in terms of service.

Being a servant to others is not something we would naturally seek, and can bring with it thoughts of being put upon, taken for granted or treated like a doormat. But that would depend on our heart attitude. When we have an opportunity to serve, whether voluntarily or enforced, we have a choice as to how we respond in our hearts. Jesus willingly chose to be a servant. We too can make that choice, and we can become great in the Kingdom of God.

David

Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you!

Dear Theophilus… May 2018

Dear Theophilus

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter performing a miracle by feeding the 5,000 from just five loaves and two fish, Jesus went on to make one of his thinly veiled claims to divinity when he said ‘I am the bread of life’ (John 6:35). Jesus’ fellow Jews would see the use of the phrase ‘I am’, as a reference to God who, when speaking to Moses, referred to himself as ‘I am’. Jesus also links this claim with God’s provision of Manna for the Israelites in the wilderness for forty years, when they were able to collect just enough food each day to feed them for that day.

Bread would have been the staple diet for the people of the Middle East, and they would probably have understood very well what it meant to go hungry, as many still do today around the world. So when Jesus continues “Whoever comes to me will never go hungry”, he was making connections on many different levels: with their divine God, with the working of miracles and with their every day needs. Wonder to what extent Jesus is our staple diet today, the one without whom we literally cannot be fulfilled, and how much we have replaced the bread of life with a microwave dinner?

Jesus said something else in this conversation that is often overlooked. He said this: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up on the last day” (John 6:44). In our search for God, to whom Jesus has said he is the way, it is the Father who draws us to Jesus. I find that both profound and encouraging, both form a personal point of view and also from a missional point of view.

From a personal perspective, isn’t it amazing to think that, for each of us who is a follower of Jesus, it is God the Father who has drawn us to Jesus, so that through him we could find forgiveness and the bread that sustains for eternity? And, from a missional point of view isn’t it encouraging that, for all those who we long to see as followers of Jesus, it is God the Father who is drawing them? We have a part to play as we witness both in our words and in our deeds, and in our prayers. But we are not on our own; God the Father is drawing them in and Jesus the Son will receive them and feed them.

David

Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you!

Dear Theophilus… April 2018

Dear TheophilusOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We often hear that life is more about the journey than it is about the destination. That was certainly true for two of Jesus’ followers who set off home for Emmaus on the afternoon of the first Easter Sunday, either not believing or not understanding the stories they had heard that Jesus was indeed alive (Luke 24:13-35). I think this journey has much to teach us about our journey through life.

One obvious point is that there were two of them on this journey. We know one was a guy called Cleopas, but we’re not told the name or the gender of the other one. It could have been his wife, his brother, or it could just have been a good friend. We all benefit from having a companion to share our journey with, whether we are married to them, related to them, or just good friends. That being the case, I wonder who you know to whom you could be a companion, someone to walk with and share the pressure of life’s burdens with? These relationships do not need to be exclusive, like a marriage relationship, they need to be inclusive, embracing those who are maybe journeying alone.

Another key point in this story is ‘listening’. Jesus clearly listened to all that the two disciples told him as they walked along, and when he explained things to them, they in turn listened to him. How good are you at listening to other people? Or are you too quick to jump in with ‘Me too…’? To listen fully to someone, without interrupting or jumping to conclusions, is to give them a real and valuable gift. This is true as you listen to those who, like the two
disciples, are struggling. It is also true as you listen to those, who may have something important to say into your situation, like Jesus did with the disciples. They too need listening to properly.

But perhaps the main point in the story is the recognition that Jesus has been with us all along and we simply didn’t recognise him. How many times, when things are difficult or confusing, do you rush around, soldier on, try and sort things out in our own strength, or just moan about a situation or a person, rather than stepping back and saying ‘Where is God in this?’

Instead, why not imagine you are walking on the road to Emmaus with Jesus? Explain to him what is going on and how you are feeling. And then listen to what the Holy Spirit reminds you of, or prompts you to do?

David

Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you!

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