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Thoughts from reading Luke 21: a discipleship paradigm perhaps?

Thoughts from reading Luke 21

Here is a record of contrasts.

HerodsTemple.jpg.w300h261

Temple as build by Herod

Jesus and the twelve arrived at the Temple in Jerusalem; and they notice very different things.

Jesus straightaway sees an old widow’s generous gift and points it out to his disciples. The however are transfixed and start talking about the impressive temple architecture. They see what is right before their eyes and are taken in by earthly displays of power, wealth, influence.

Immediately Jesus interjects and throws a spanner into their conversation: this temple? It won’t be standing.

Like the disciples, our immediate response to bad news is: when is it going to happen (tell us so we can avoid, prevent or stay far from it please!).

Jesus’ words at this point?

“watch out that you are not deceived”

If there are candidates for being easily duped; the disciples are already showing signs of qualifying. From the time they step foot onto the temple grounds; their sight and imaginations were already captured by what seems obviously so right: we are a proud people of God; just look at our grand temple even though we are ruled by Romans! Just think how wonderful things will be when we are free from Roman oppression!

 

Seriously, how many of us day-dream like this all the time? We want God to come and zap our troubles away and prove that following Him was the best decision – right in our enemy’s face. We prosper, peace comes into our homes, our bodies are healed and we fuel up on spiritual highs.

 

Jesus then helps the disciples with a mindset shift. It’s not a comfortable message at all. In fact, it goes contrary to what they really want to hear. They are sick of being run by Gentiles. What they want is freedom. But Jesus prepares them for persecution.  There is a huge difference though. The exile and the Roman oppression are part of God’s discipline of His people. The persecution to come is part of God’s redemption of the world; the destiny of His people  (yes, who has ever taught us that?). Listen to what Jesus is saying:

“this will result in your being witnesses to them”

“all men will hate you because of me”

“your redemption is near”

“you may be able to stand before the Son of Man”

 

Our destiny is to have Christ so pre-eminent that we are willing and thus enabled to stand with Him against the world.

 

Perhaps, as we witness some of what Jesus described in this passage; Luke 21 can become a discipleship paradigm for us as leaders. We need to teach and prepare our people to be people of destiny; who will have Christ pre-eminent, who know His words to us at such a time:

 

“do not follow them” v8

“do not be frightened” v9

“make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict” v14

“stand up, and lift up your heads…” v28

“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness, and the anxieties of life” v34 

“be always on the watch and pray” v36

 

God have mercy on us; and help us raise such a generation.

 

 

When it boils down to ‘me’.

With our eyes firmly in front of us, our natural gaze is outward, and ahead. We are born and raised to look out. What is going on outside of us therefore becomes the focus of our attention. We are led by what we see. Can this be the reason Jesus exhorts us to mind what we set eyes on, for it enters us and often takes root deep within us.

The eye is the lamp of the body. if your eye are good, your body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness…“~ Matt 6v22

These words are spoke in relation to the truth that whatever we set our heart on becomes our treasure; and that we were created to need a Master, and it will always have to be just one master. There is a clear connection between what we set our eyes on, what occupies our heart, and thus what we are truly serving.

What we focus on – becomes our priority – becomes our God.

This does not apply just to the prohibitive things we mustn’t allow our eyes to wander to, the temptations that lurk everywhere. Dealing with temptation is a needful part of the faith life.

But it isn’t just temptations that can rock us. Often, as leaders who feel the responsibility for others, we can be deeply affected by what we see too: frustration, a lack of zeal, sloth, division, problems of life… .

This is why in the end leadership boils down to ‘me’: we need to ask this question often: “what has my attention now?”.

In our typical problem-solving mode, what has our attention are often problems, issues, difficulties. Is it any wonder that leadership is such a tiresome thing?

We cannot escape from the reality that there are issues and challenges to work at; but we need to have a way of seeing them that will not burn us up! We need to ruthlessly deal with –

a/ wrong ideas. you may have heard common semi-truths such as “God helps those who help themselves”, “the buck stops here”, “if it’s going to be, it’s up to me”. These ideas have some kernel of truth but that’s all they have. In fact, the come from a very humanist standpoint and though they sound noble, they effectively edge the Sovereign God out of the picture.

b/ bad habits. we are when stripped to bare essentials, creatures of habits. Most of us have bad habits that simply do not help us to stay God-ward in orientation. We may fritter away time, indulge in gossip, refuse to rein in our emotions and our thoughts (often very right to us).

These cloud us and hinder us from developing healthy, God-ward perceptual capacities.

One of the best ways to develop spiritual sight is to ask questions, such as,

i. where is God in this?

ii. why am i reacting / responding like this?

Asking such questions and waiting for the answers to surface require time, discipline and solitude. But these are questions that pierce the fog and invite the rays of the sun to shine.

In that sense, it does boil down to ‘me’ – but a ‘me’ in God’s hands, before God in prayer, waiting on God for answers, knowing God carries the burden with us. This ‘me’ that is is thus led by God is better able to see, discern and decide – better a leader.

Link: A story of learning to see better: I fly away!

http://jennihh.blogspot.sg/2013/05/i-fly-awayliterally.html

http://jubileedebt.org.uk/

More than 500 Singapore pastors, mission, and ministry leaders gathered at the annual Prayer Summit recently. Our theme this year was Jubilee! The focus of our teaching sessions was the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God. Looking at the movements of increasing emphasis on the Kingdom, God is certainly bringing everything under his feet (Eph 1v22).

At an individual level, our personal faith must in time get stretched to include church, family, vocation and even larger issues like greed, wealth and global warming!

This expansion is paralleled in the church – at a corporate level God matures us too to embrace His worldwide agenda; and we do well to follow our God, Master and King to the poor, the oppressed; and grapple with the pressing issues of our day.

This is why at the recent Pastors’ Summit, there was such a buzz and energy as we sat and listened to Peter Tsukahira expound on the Kingdom of God. There is no escaping the theme of the Kingdom, indeed, it is a central theme in the Bible. There has, and always will be, a need for us to discover more of this Kingdom by listening to the heart of the King.

At this Summit though, Ps Peter who has been living in Israel for more than thirty years, brings a particular lens for the Kingdom; a corrective in a way. It begins with understanding that God once established a physical, real, concrete model of this kingdom in the people of Israel. Thus, Israel is a real life, historical, visual-aid and spiritual chess piece for us. He then goes on to unpack more of what this meant and why it is so important.

He begins with a very inviting picture: Revelation is like entering a 3D experience where we can participate in what is now made known. We can be shown a 2D picture of a garden; but it is very different to actually walk into one. Revelation is being led into the garden! {love this analogy!}

Then he goes on to several main themes across the four sessions:

1.      Prophecy is the Word of  God being verified on human stage. It is word+event. In this regard, the Incarnation is the foremost prophetic Word-Event ever. Jesus fulfils more than 200 prophecies.

Another major prophecy pertains to the people of Israel. The OT prophets’s words  are coming to pass, for eg. Ezek 36. It is pertinent to note that the fulfilment of prophecy proves God’s character as a faithful covenant-keeping God and so showcases his glory. What is to be our response to this?

2.     Israel. Looking at Rom 9-11, Ps Peter suggested that the context was a leadership crisis between  Jew-Gentile church leaders. Paul therefore needed to help them understand their relationship of inter-dependence in God’s purpose of salvation. The Gentiles are blessed as a result of the Jews’ fall; but when the fullness of the Gentile turning comes about, the Jews will be restored in faith. Practically, this means that our faith response or lack thereof impacts others. There has consistently in history been a recurring anti-Semitic force that surfaces; such as the Holocaust which was sanctioned by the church of Germany then. Christians need to be aware of this and be careful that we do not consider that we have replaced Israel. (this is what is known as Replacement Theology).

Using the analogy of a movie, Ps Peter reminds us that Christians today must remember that we have entered the story/movie midway. We need to go back to how it started to appreciate the whole movie! This is crucial for us to grasp a more complete picture.

3.      The theme of God’s Kingdom began in the OT in Ex19. It is a simple notion of a people who are ruled by God. It is an impossibility which God brings about and shapes as a motley disorganized group responds in faith and obedience.   When Jesus enters the scene, his message is about the Kingdom too, and as Jewish listeners, his disciples and the crowd would have a background understanding plus a longing for the fulfillment of this kingdom.

Indeed, his disciples asked him post-resurrection: when will the kingdom be established?

 

4. The Kingdom has laws that govern all areas of life. But when Israel rejected God as king (1 Sam 8), they began a slippery descent into increasing lawlessness culminating in the exiles. God’s laws are universally applicable and we contravene it at high cost. Ps Peter cites Singapore as an example of a lawful society that thrives. In a way, in our geo-political context, Singapore’s history is really an anomaly. He suggested that this is because we are basically a lawful society, our founding fathers being trained in British law which had a Christian foundation.

 

5. In the New Covenant, we have the twin pillars of Law & Grace. According to  Jer 31v31  we will have God’s laws on our hearts. Jesus speaks of fulfilling/perfecting the Law. For a long time, this was understood as Jesus meeting the judicial requirement and turning God’s wrath away with the Cross while the ‘hypergrace’ move tends to teach that the Law is no longer relevant. But Ps Peter suggests that when we read Matthew 5, Jesus refers to specific instances of laws and is talking of raising the bar – and expecting his listeners to meet whole new levels of holiness. The answer to this is Grace. God did not do away with the Law, God has supplied the Grace for us to live up to it.

The Law is not mere proposal or suggestion. It is defining. It establishes boundaries and order.

Thus, we are to recapture the spirit of the Law and rise up as a people who ‘do’ faith and not just have a ‘belief’ faith.

We have been called/chosen/gifted/anointed. We need to rise up. Pastors need to recognise that our call is to equip our people to rise up as kingdom builders.

There is so much to glean from this themes!

The passion for the Kingdom has been evident for more than a decade in Singapore. What is new in this is how we are asked to look right to where the movie began such that we

~embrace our Jewish brethren and acknowledge God’s role for them.

~we see the Law with fresh eyes and study them for an application to our lives and societies today.

Indeed, the Law was never given as a requirement. This has probably been the gravest mis-step for us. God had already called Abraham and delivered Israel. The Law was God’s way of defining His relationship with the people. The way to the relationship, the acceptance and mercy of God was given first. The Laws represented God’s heart; it is a value system that reflects heaven and restores imago Dei (God’s image in us). The opposite of Law is not Grace but lawlessness.

 

The Kingdom of God is certainly the big vision we are after. But questions swim around in my head. Perhaps we can begin a discussion on it here.

–          What exactly does it mean and what does it take? Do we all study the Hebrew language and begin a serious review of the Torah (and the 613 further laws developed in the Inter-testamental period) since the Kingdom is defined by its laws?

-Evangelical teaching has tended to spiritualise the Kingdom; but are we in danger of swinging to the other end by trying to actualise it?

–          How do we usher in the rule of God in a world bent on rejecting that rule? What price must we be prepared to pay?

– The New Covenant is both continuous with and beyond the Old Covenant. Should not this same principle apply to the Kingdom? For one, the kingdom we are looking to and helping build is multi-cultural, multi-generational, trans-national. It also operates with different offices.

– While we want to return to lawfulness and be a people of transformation; bringing change to society, how do we go about this? As Ps Peter rightly pointed out, the current economic system for example will not agree to the ‘reset’ button of the Jubilee where all debts are canceled. (although there is this: http://jubileedebt.org.uk/

So, I wonder if there are more ‘clues’ within the Gospels and then in Acts for us. I read my Gospels each year and each time, I feel a certain distance from what Jesus says.

I have come to notice that due to our sociological realities, much of evangelical interpretation is often really the reinforcement of a middle-class way of life. If we take what Jesus and Paul said seriously, many of us may well have to change our lifestyles. Some Christians in the world live in communes in order to help each other live by Kingdom values; such as the Bruderhof.

I remember learning about Bishop Oscar Romero in theological college. He had a vision of the kingdom where his people could live without oppression. He spoke out courageously against their oppressors. In the end, he was assassinated. I have often wondered what it takes for a Christ follower to grow to have such vision and the courage to match. I agitate over the petty things that make up so much of our lives today. As a pastor (even though I have mostly been part-time since the birth of my children); I question how much of what we do contributes to this singular vision of learning, growing and replicating the Kingdom through communities of faith.

If we are to seek first the Kingdom, our model par excellence is Christ.

For years in evangelical faith, we have been taught to be like Christ – interpreted mostly in terms of certain character traits as seen through a cultural lens. For many Christ was a sterile, always calm figure. When I read the Gospels more closely, Christ shook me up. He felt different from what was described to me. I found myself praying audacious prayers to be like him: to drive out demons, teach with authority, make decisions after prayer and live by convictions even it meant ending up with a cross on my back. I am not sure where I stand; but Jesus Christ continues to draw me and remains the focus for my life and ministry.

I feel immensely responsible for my own sake and the sake of my flock that I lead them in the ways of Truth and Spirit. The declining state of church in many places is instructive for us, and a grim reminder of the importance of laying hold of spiritual truths aright.

 

What came together for me at the recent Summit was: hearing the stories of other pastors, reading about YWAM’s foray to seek out the homeless, the teachings, the gentle work of God upon my own heart rekindling a fire for Him… In the end, the kingdom must begin first- within each of our hearts – …. as the old song goes, “LORD prepare me to be a sanctuary”; and not in a cutie-pious way but a —

robust, not afraid of dark, evil, or despair way

a selfless, courageous, out-of-box way

a persistent, insistent, consistent way

– for this is an unshakable Kingdom we are to be a part of and help build!

 

I hope that descending from the Summit, we will not hit the trenches too quick that whatever the Spirit wants to say to the churches ends up a distant whisper.