Friday, 4 December 2015

Daily Reading: Luke 8v16-21 'God's word: use it or lose it.'

It's always worth pausing from time to time and asking 'what changes have I made as a result of hearing God’s word?'  'How are you different now than you were a month ago?'  'How has the Bible; as you have read it for yourself, listened to it taught on Sunday and engaged in discussion about it, moulded you?'  How has it affected the way you think about things, about yourself, about others, about God and about life? Has it changed the way you work? Has it changed your family?

We know that the Bible warns those who teach it to work hard, to be diligent, why? Because they will be judged for what they teach. But sometimes we can use that as an excuse – we say the Bible talk wasn’t very good today, or I’m glad that so and so was here to hear it, the implication - there is nothing there for me to learn.  But  in these two incidents, as in the parable of the sower, the emphasis is on the accountability of the listener. Look at (8) “Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear”, (18) “Therefore consider carefully how you listen…”, (21) “my mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”  Do you see the big challenge this morning – how is my listening?

In the parable of the sower Jesus gives four responses here he narrows it down and changes the illustration.  He makes an obvious statement, you don’t like a lamp and then hide it in a jar – this isn’t a see through glass jar, this is a heavy thick earthen jar which would smoother the light. Why don’t you do it? Because it is no use there, it cannot do its work.  The word of God is the parallel. What does the word of God do if used rightly? (15) It produces a crop, it bears fruit. But if it isn’t used, if it is hidden, if it is blanketed, smothered, then it gets choked (14) just like the seed on the third soil and produces no fruit.

Just like the light of the lamp must be lived in, must be used to expose and highlight dangers and actions required so God’s word, the Bible, must be used. When God’s word first comes to us and shows us that we have failed to give God his God place and that we face his anger and need his grace we must act on it. And as we go on and God continues to put his finger on things in our lives we must not throw the blanket over that.

Sometimes the Bible makes me uncomfortable about my life, what am I going to do with that? Sometimes we struggle to believe the promises God gives us, so we know that all our past and future sins are forgiven by Jesus on the cross and yet we fail to live in the light of that forgiveness and let guilt continue to sink its claws into us, we don’t listen to God’s word of encouragement that says Satan is not your master. Am I going to let the Bible shine its light into my life show me where I am not letting God be God and change. Or am I going to throw a blanket over it and carry on as normal?

How has the Bible changed us this month, this week? The things that God has been saying to us about our likes and dislikes, our prejudices, use of money, or time. The things he has been showing us we should be like, the challenge to love others more and more, a concern for the lost, are we going to let God’s word search us, expose us and challenge us. Or am I going to blanket it and smother it?

And Jesus then gives a warning in (17-18) that one day how we have listened will be exposed and that as a result we should listen carefully. But also that you cannot coast with the word of God, (18) seems harsh doesn’t it as it talks about those who have being given more and those who do not have losing even what they have. It doesn’t seem very fair or loving.   Use it or lose it. It's back to the images in the parable, the tragedy is that those who hear the word lose it if they do not use it to produce a crop.

It is illustrated in the crowd that come to him, there are those who just hear the parable and they go away unchanged, they don’t recognise their need of grace. But the disciples who know they need grace, who recognise who Jesus is come, humbly ask and Jesus explains it. It is a picture of engagement with the word of God, they are the ones who are given more.

We need to be realistic sometimes engaging with the Bible is hard but that isn’t an excuse not to do it. We need to be those who come and ask. Use it or lose it is the warning. The encouragement is that God wants to give us understanding if we ask him for it and seek it.

(19) Luke sets the scene for us, the crowds are still growing and they are pressing around trying to hear Jesus teaching. So much so that when his mother and brothers come they can’t get to see him and have to send him a message. “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.” He is told.

Now how would you expect Jesus to act? What would we do? We might send a message saying hang on I’ll be there in a minute, or just hang on a sec while I see what mum wants we may say to the crowd, or I just have to deal with this and then I’ll be right back.

But Jesus response is shocking isn’t it. Just before we look at it we need to put it in context with what the Bible says about family. Family is important in the Bible, in fact family is God given. God gives Eve away at the first wedding and he oversees the marriage, and then he tells them to go and have a children. Family is God given. Then in Genesis 12 what does God do? He calls Abraham, and what does he promise amongst other things?  That his family will be blessed.  The rest of the Old Testament is about Abraham’s family, Israel is described as God’s children with God as their father. If you want the first parenting manual then it is the Bible, Deuteronomy 6 and Proverbs provide timeless lessons in bringing up children why because family matters to God.

In the New Testament Jesus challenges the norms of family life, he does not attack or undermine family, but he challenges the place we give to family. I think in Britain we have taken family from its place as a God given good and made it an ultimate in place of God. Family has become an idol. I say that because I recognise that danger in myself.  For some of us it may be the longing for a family that is an idol, that can subtly take God’s place, for others it may be our children, or grandchildren. But there is a lesson here for us in Jesus words – following Jesus must be our priority, listening to God’s word must matter most.

Some friends of ours when their daughter was a toddler and they had just had another baby were called by God to go oversees. It wasn’t a small trip and they would be away for years before they would come back. It would involve taking two small grandchildren away from both sets of grandparents and from a good church to somewhere with little church. If God made that call to us what would we do?  But it doesn’t just have to be in the big things like that does it. What about opening my home to others if it means losing some family time? What about when my child says as a stroppy toddler or teenager ‘I don’t want to go to church!’ Do we not go?

We need to recognise that for us this passage is very pertinent – it asks what is most important; God’s good gift of family or his word? Do I listen to my families words or to God’s words? Is my priority my discipleship or my family?

Jesus point is that his priority is to the word of God, to the word of God that calls us to be godly parents, to love our family, to bring them up to know the God who saved us by grace, to love and care for our elderly parents. To be better family than the world is but to keep family in its place as part of our service of God in response to his word rather it being our god.

Who is Jesus family? “those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” The family characteristic of those who have responded to his words of grace and forgiveness is transformation, it is repentance, it is putting God in his God place and living with his as king.  It is people whose listening results in action. They don’t just hear the call to repent and come to him by grace they act on it. They don’t just hear how Jesus words call them to live and nod their assent, they live changed by them.

How is our listening this morning? How do we know, well it is seen in how our actions change.  It may be a good point just to stop and take stock. Maybe you have been around church for a while you have heard the Bible taught but never done anything with it. Jesus words need acting on. Jesus says that our sins, our rebellion against God, can be forgiven but we have to act on his words and trust him just like the woman did.  Maybe you have been following Jesus a while but there is something God has been saying to you and you’ve been ignoring it. Don’t keep on like that act on it.

Why not ask when we meet up how things are, not just work and things but how is your reading of the Bible going, what is God saying to you at the moment. It could lead to some great conversations and prayer for one another.

Listening to God’s word should produce change. Grace changes us and God’s word goes on transforming us. Am I being transformed?

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