These reflections help us look into the Bible to discover what God is saying to us today. We find Bible passages to read and questions to ponder. The themes are in the process of being listed in an index with each theme ultimately divided into seven sections. We hope to be completed soon.
Mark gives us by far the best description of this event on the Sea of Galilee. No doubt he got it straight from the mouth of Peter. That fisherman would have provided those telling insights that only an eye witness could give. Over the coming weeks we will note at least four phrases that Mark has which neither Matthew nor Luke mention in their accounts (Matthew 8:18, 23-27, Luke 8:22-25).
“Just as he was” is so significant. We have read that a great wonder and work of power had taken place, and we would naturally think that Jesus must have spent hours in prayer ‘psyching’ himself up for the ‘miracle’. However we read that he was totally unprepared. In fact he was dog tired. All day long (“on that day” v.35) he had been teaching the people with parables, and then he had explained the parables to his disciples. He now suggested that they take him across to the other side of the Lake in order to get away and get some rest.
If we read on (Mark 5:1-12) we see that when they do reach the other side there is no rest even then; they are met by the Gadarene demoniac – more work, more deeds of power.
When we are totally exhausted and are looking forward to escaping to a rest we are not usually at our best if things then start to go wrong! Unlike a tube of toothpaste when squeezed we do not exude smooth ‘toothpaste’, but something far less pleasant. Yet Jesus was always at rest, always in the Spirit, and always ready to respond positively to any circumstances. He was like those batteries we used to have called ‘Eveready’.
Even in his physical weakness Jesus found that God’s strength was perfect. We too need to claim the ever ready presence of God by his Holy Spirit in our lives. “Jesus, Jesus” we need to pray when aroused. We too will then be ready.
Lord, forgive us when we are not resting and being revived in the Spirit. Teach us afresh that you never leave us nor forsake us. Lord, be thou my strength. Amen
1 How did Jonah react after his ministry in Nineveh?
2 How did Elijah recover/react from his defeat of the prophets of Baal?
1 Kings 19:3-10
3 How did David respond to the challenge of Goliath?
“I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones” (v.18) RSV
Sometimes the theme of money is thought to be slightly unspiritual. And yet it is a frequent subject in the New Testament. Our use of our money and possessions is one of the clearest thermometers of our spiritual temperature. Unless our pocket or purse is converted, then we are keeping our love of money away from God’s influence. And as we know, “the love of money is the root of all evils”
(1 Tim. 6:10). Note that money is not the problem, but “the love of money”!
Jesus taught about paying taxes (Matthew 22:15-22), he told a parable about using talents (the currency at the time) (Matthew 25: 14-30), and finally he was betrayed for money (Luke 22:5-6). Ananias and Sapphira died for lying about their giving (Acts 5:1-11). Simon the magician was castigated for trying to buy the power of the Spirit (Acts 8:13-24).
The world’s bankers have shown that short term targets and greed are a toxic mix. Just like the man in our parable today, they are not satisfied with their wealth, but must always expand. In our story the result was different, he died and in that way lost his wealth. With bankers and others who try to amass colossal fortunes the result may be a catastrophic loss of capital not only for themselves but for others as well. Either way the lesson is the same. We cannot, or rather must not, live for money and ever more money. If we do, it becomes mammon and it will gobble us up.
The bible speaks much of money, its blessing and its curse, but the message is always the same, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness …” (Matt. 6:33). If we do not then whether we die prematurely or whether we lose our fortune we shall be called a “Fool!” (v.20). We are to lay up treasures for ourselves with God. This means investing time and energy in worship, prayer and acts of kindness. This way we will become a conduit for wealth and not a hoarder.
Deliver me O Lord from the love of money. May I love you first, seek you first and serve you first. Amen.
1 What is our attitude to be, whether rich or poor?
The Old Testament gives much instruction on giving. Most people believe that this is summed up by the word ‘tithing’, but it is far more complicated than that. Many other divine ‘taxes’ are mentioned; they are called ‘sacrifices and offerings’. Even tithing (a tenth) is not always that clear. Basically it legislated for the tithing of crops, fruit and animals. The Pharisees included, “mint .. dill … cummin …” (Matt. 23:23), but nowadays what would we include? There were no taxes in those days, so do we take off tax before tithing?
Surely tithing is a less than adequate or fair system. In its day it was comparatively fair and workable, but today at best it may only be a helpful guide. Its main failure is that it rules out the heart and merely applies a law. It also does not take into consideration the size of the need or the size of our income. In other words, if we earn £1,000,000 and we give £100,000 we are still left with £900,000! But if we receive a pension of £5,000 and give £500 we are left with an even smaller amount to live on.
Surely Paul moves us into a contemporary attitude to giving. He writes, “For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he has not” (v.12). The principle is that we give according to our means. Sometimes we have little, in which case others who are well off will give. But when we have an abundance it will be our turn to give. Having said that, it is probably true that it is never a good principle to give nothing – remember the widow and her mite (Mark 12:41-44)!
Giving is not something that is done merely because we have been taught that we ought to do it. God wants us to give out of a glad and generous heart. If we can’t then we might as well keep our money. Yet to do so is to lose out. The question may well be not a matter of how much we give, but of how much we retain.
Thank you Father for the opportunity to share with others the blessing you have given to me. Grant me a generosity of spirit. Amen.
“… at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus …” (v.20) RSV
The story of Dives and Lazarus is one that can make us feel uncomfortable. After all Dives (not his real name, but simply the Greek for ‘rich man’) was not actually doing harm; he was simply not doing good. Sins of commission are easier to spot than sins of omission.
Dives was no doubt good at entertaining and hospitality. He was wealthy enough to enjoy the good life and to feast to his heart’s content. He was using his own money and was part of a huge family (“five brothers” v.28). Nevertheless he was so cocooned in his own comfortable world that he was blind to the needs of others who were right under his nose. Each day he would have to pass Lazarus and no doubt the distress of the man was plain to see (“sores … hunger” v.21), but having probably justified doing nothing the first few times he became inured to the suffering man at his gate. Maybe those first times he had been in a hurry, or had no cash on him or felt that Lazarus was lazy and should be out working.
Is it not easy for us to justify doing nothing? All too soon our conscience becomes quiet and our life carries on untroubled by the suffering around us. And yet God’s concern is for the poor, the oppressed and downtrodden. Many people are in dire straits (in the UK as well as abroad) through no fault of their own.
We can of course reckon that governments should address such problems and inequalities. True. Yet, we are required to do what we can. We cannot help all, but we can help one. God is not asking us to solve the world’s problems. He is asking us to respond in love to our neighbour’s needs.
John makes this point in his first letter. “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17).
Forgive me, O Lord, when I am so absorbed in my life that I can’t see or respond to the needs of others. Amen.
Giving is good for the soul. It releases the deathly grip that money can exercise over us. It frees us from the love of money, “the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10), and it frees us from the fear of losing it or not having it. That is why Jesus is reported to have said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). We all know how great it feels to receive an inheritance, a salary/wage packet, or a gift. Well, how do you feel when there is the opportunity to give?
Nobody is meant to press gang you into giving, whether by using bible texts or moral blackmail or any other pressurising tactics. There is no law about giving. In the Old Testament there were laws about giving, including tithing. But these were blunt and somewhat unfair laws. The New Testament principle is that giving is to be freely and generously done. The guidance is that the more we have the more we give and vice versa.
The worst thing is to give from inferior motives. St Paul made this plain in his well known passage on ‘love’. He wrote, “If I give away all I have … but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3). We will never find it more blessed to give if our motivation is not love.
It is the Spirit of God who gives us the compassion and the generosity of spirit to give. We will give according to our means and even beyond our means, as did, for example, the churches of Macedonia (2 Cor. 8:1-3). The Spirit will enable us to give not just as a duty but as a joy. That is why today’s reading says that we can give “cheerfully” (v.7). The Greek word gives an even stronger feel: ‘hilariously’! Yes indeed, “God loves a cheerful giver” (v.7).
I believe this abandoned attitude to giving is exemplified in the giving of the widow whom Jesus observed putting her last mite (her all) into the collection plate. In doing this, she gave more than many rich people who put in large sums” (Mark 12:41).
Teach me my Lord to give and not to count the cost. Teach me to give just as you have given to me. Amen.
“Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor” (v.22) RSV
Why should Jesus tell the ‘rich young ruler’ to give away all that he owned? And is he telling us to do the same? Some people have argued that the early Christians sold their possessions and pooled them so that they had ”all things in common” (Acts 2:44). But a closer reading reveals that Peter told them that no one was under any obligation or necessity to do this (Acts 5:4).
Down through the ages some groups of Christians have decided to share their wealth and possession and live in community. Monasteries were based on such a model. Vows of poverty were quite usual. But the Church has never taught that all believers should follow such a practice.
So again I ask, “Why did Jesus tell the rich young ruler to sell all and give the proceeds away?” It seems that this particular young man was suffering from a terminal sickness which is quite common today, namely, addiction to riches. We read that he “was very rich” (v.23).
The only solution to this cancerous growth in his life was amputation. As we have seen previously money is not evil in itself and indeed if rightly viewed and rightly used it is a blessing from God. But this young man had not got the right attitude; he felt he could not live without his wealth. The advice given by Jesus was rejected. The man was sad and so was Jesus.
The great riches had become a curse, destroying life rather than giving life. All of us need to check ourselves from time to time to see if money has got its tentacles wrapped round us too tightly. Like ivy it will gradually squeeze the life out of us. The best cure is to give some money away. You will find it breaks the hold – the spell will dissolve.
If we don’t, then we will find that we are like the camel; we will not be able to pass through the eye of a needle! God will disappear behind a closed door.
Father God, you have been so generous in so many ways. Forgive me when I grab and keep. Deliver me. Amen.
1 What is the description of a man obsessed by wealth?
2 If we do not give but hoard, what is the result?
Money and riches are not filthy. They are gifts from God to be used wisely and generously. They are gifts, whether inherited or earned. Today’s reading describes Solomon’s dream and the promise of God to give him not only wisdom, but also riches. Hopefully Solomon kept in mind the words of his father, David, who said, “All things come from thee, and of thine own have we given thee” (1 Chronicles 29:14).
Everything we have is to be received as a boon and a blessing. God has given us health and strength, brains and talents. And if we use these, then the likelihood is that we will make a living, and maybe a lot more besides. But we couldn’t earn anything if he didn’t enable us to do so.
Consequently nothing that we have or earn is ours. It all comes from God who gives us richly all things to enjoy, but it also comes with the responsibility to share it with those who are poor and in need. Indeed, our money is a blessing to us because it enables us to be a blessing to others.
Solomon spent a lot of money on himself, perhaps too much. For instance, he built many houses and he kept many wives. However, he also amassed an army and erected stables for thousands of horses for the benefit of the nation. His primary contribution was the building of the first Temple in Jerusalem. In other words, his riches were used to benefit Israel.
Unfortunately, his great wealth was achieved at the expense of the taxpayers; a fact that was going to cause the country to split in two when his son Rehoboam came to the throne. It seems that Solomon tried to achieve even more riches than God had legitimately blessed him with.
Nevertheless, our wealth if we have any (!) is always to be received with thanksgiving. While we have it let us use it not only for our enjoyment, but also for the benefit of others.
Thank you, Lord, for your promise always to provide food and clothing. Thank you that I am blessed with so much more than that! Amen.
1 Besides Job’s faithfulness, why else was his prosperity restored?
The word ‘mammon’ is a transliteration of the Greek word. Despite its current usage it does in fact only occur twice in the Bible. It is used by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount: “You cannot serve God and mammon” (v. 24), and in Luke’s difficult parable, ‘The Unjust Steward’ – “make friends … by use of unrighteous mammon” (Luke 16:9).
Mammon could well be translated by the word ‘money’, since in these days money represents our wealth. But in fact mammon is wider than money and includes all the riches of this world. In other words it could be summed up in the word ‘materialism’. Its danger lies in the fact that we live for it and put our trust in it. It replaces our primary trust and love of God. As Paul warns: “As for the rich in this world, charge them not … to set their hopes on uncertain riches …” (1 Timothy 6:17).
Riches may of course consist of lots of money in cash, in bank and in investments. It may also consist of luxurious possessions and lands. It may consist of beauty and brains or even brawn. One way or another mammon consists of all the good things that God gives us richly to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17), but ruined by becoming a substitute for God.
These things, these created objects, no longer become the signs of God’s goodness to us, but become in themselves objects of worship. We attribute to them far more worth than we do to God.
Jesus warns us that we cannot serve two masters. We cannot pursue material prosperity and security, and hope to fit in God as well. But if we put God first, even though it may seem to be to our financial detriment, we will find that he will always provide all our needs. After all “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul” (Mark 8:36)?
Help me, O Lord, to trust you in all things. May I love you more than money and financial security. Thank you. Amen.
Peter sadly failed Jesus during his trial; he denied him three times. He did this while warming himself over a charcoal fire. We now see him approaching Jesus on the shore whilst he was cooking fish on a charcoal fire. Smell is a very strong sense and links occasions and triggers memories. The fire on the shore brought back to Peter his three denials of Jesus. Jesus knew that Peter was still staggering under the burden of guilt, and the subject had to be broached.
His first question was “Do you love (agape i.e. sacrificial love) me more than these?” (v.15) Peter had claimed that even if all the other disciples failed him, he would not. Manifestly, he had not loved Jesus more than the other disciples had. Peter replied “You know that I love (phileo i.e. human friendship) you.
The second time, Jesus asked him, “Do you love (agape) me?” (v.16). In other words, forgetting about others, can you, Peter, say you love (agape) me? Peter replied, as he did each time, “Lord, you know that I love (phileo) you”. Peter knew that he had not loved with agape, but loved with phileo.
The third time Jesus asked him, “Do you love (phileo) me?” (v.17). Peter was grieved with this question. He was not grieved that Jesus had asked the same question three times (for he had not), but that “the third time” he had asked him a different question. That time he was querying whether Peter had even loved him as a friend. Peter’s reply was adamant. “You know everything; you know that I love (phileo) you” (v.17).
Jesus wants us too to face the past honestly. Only when we acknowledge our limitations as well as our sins, can he open the way for a better future. Peter was restored and re-commissioned: “Feed/tend my lambs/sheep” (vv. 15-17). This he will do for us too.
Thank you Lord that you give me a future and a hope. Amen.
“A threefold cord is not easily broken” (v. 12) RSV
Two are better than one, for if one falls the other can help. This is the thrust of our passage from Ecclesiastes. The best example of this is to be found in a good marriage. This is not to decry the single life, but most people find that they need mutual companionship and encouragement. Marriage can be an enormous strength to both parties.
But another example of the strength of two is to be found in the friendship of Jonathan and David. The bible says that their love for one another was stronger than the love of women (2 Samuel 1:26). David was hounded by Jonathan’s father, King Saul, and was in fear for his life, but Jonathan helped him and saved him. Yes, two are better than one, especially where there is love.
But our text extols the presence of a third. Surely there is a problem here. We normally say, ‘Two is company, but three is a crowd’. That certainly applies to marriage.
But Ecclesiastes insists that the “threefold cord” (v.12) is strongest. What is meant by this?
There is a ‘third’ who is always welcome and who will always enrich. God wishes to be at the centre of any relationship or partnership. This third Presence will not diminish or threaten the other two, rather, it will enable true love and sacrifice to flow. The two will become as one through the inspiration of God’s presence.
What is our state? Are we in a business partnership, or marriage, or companionship? Seek the Lord’s presence and blessing. If you can pray with your other half then do so.
Remember that God is himself a happy threesome. He manifests perfect harmony and huge creativity!
Thanks you Lord that you will always come and make your dwelling where you are honoured and invited. Amen.
1 Who were the three who were joined by a divine fourth?
2 Look at the promise that God will dwell with us.
When we remember Jesus each time we take the bread and the wine there are, I believe, three things in particular that we can ‘remember’. The first is the life and death of Jesus in the past. The second is the life and strength of Jesus in the present. And the third is the life and return of Jesus in the future. So today’s ‘trinity’ is the past, the present and the future.
The Bread and Wine help us remember our Lord who went about in Israel “doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil”. (Acts 10:38) We remember his love and death, his resurrection and his ascension. In every way, we are drawn to praise and thanksgiving for such a live lived and sacrificed for us. We remember that as a result, our sins are forgiven and new life has been received.
Then secondly, we remember that the risen Christ is present with us right now. He not only lives in heaven to intercede for us, but he also comes to us through the Holy Spirit to be with us. He strengthens and guides us through daily life. He is our breath, our joy and our constant companion. He promised that he would never leave us or forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5)
Finally, we remember that we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (v.26). In this life we are sojourners; we are passing through. As the song goes, ‘This world is not my own; I’m just a passing through’. Of course we love this beautiful world that God has made and we seek to bless it in every way. Yet, always in our sights there lies that vision of all things made new: a new heaven and a new earth. One day Jesus will return, banish evil and create a united heaven and earth. “Even so, come Lord Jesus”. (Revelations 22:20)
Heavenly Father, thank you that the Last Supper (Holy Communion) speaks of the wonders of Jesus; such a Saviour. Help me to remember his life in the past, the present and the future each time I eat and drink. Amen.
See Matthew’s emphasis on the past and Luke’s emphasis on the future.
“… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace …” (v.22) RSV
Now, of course we know there are nine fruit of the Spirit as listed by Paul in his letter to the Galatians, however the first three – love, joy and peace (v.22) are usually linked together; maybe because they are the first three and our memory is challenged to remember the remaining six!
The fruit of the Spirit really all hang together. They are not divisible. If we lose one, we lose all. Unlike the ‘gifts’ of the Spirit they are not apportioned out, one to one and another to another (1 Cor. 12:11). All nine aspects of the fruit lie accessible to every believer.
Love, joy and peace are the marks of a follower of Christ; they are also a blessing to that follower. These three energise us. Their opposites, hatred, misery and stress, drain us of life. So in every way we want to pursue love, joy and peace.
Love forgets about self and seeks the blessing and welfare of others. This is supremely demonstrated for us in the love of God who “sent his only begotten son” to save us (John 3:16).
Joy enables us to ‘re-joice’ in all circumstances. Joy is a steady state dependent not on circumstances, but on the blessed presence of God, a sense that all things work together for good, and above all, the wonderful prospects set before us. Remember Jesus “who for the joy set before him endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12:2)
Peace is not produced by absence of conflict; that is the peace which the world can give. The peace of God passes all understanding (Phil. 4:7), and gives us calm in the midst of the storm.
Forgive me Lord when I am not filled with your Spirit. Fill me afresh with your love, joy and peace. Amen.