Day 34. The Light of Hope

Day 34. The Light of Hope

Read:

Matthew 5:14-16

14 Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”


LIGHT OF HOPE

We don’t think too much about light and darkness these days: we have light at the flick of a switch. But the imagery of light that Jesus uses here is not lost on us simply because we live in well lit cities: it is because we live in an age of relativism and tolerance. I’m told that some years ago the President of Cornell University addressed a meeting of educators at Harvard University. He was speaking of the need for educational reform and was stressing the need for universities to take seriously the students’ intellectual and moral development. As he said this there were astonished and angry gasps from the audience: ‘Who is going to do the instructing?’ one angry student demanded. ‘Whose morality are we going to follow?’ The audience applauded. The university president sat down: he had no reply.

In an earlier age the answer would have been to point to two thousand or so years of accumulated wisdom and to the moral law of God found in the Old and New Testaments. Today it is a different ball-game: few educators or political leaders would challenge the prevailing assumption that there is no morally binding objective authority or truth above the individual.

THE GOOD NEWS

‘How then do we reach this age with God’s good news?’ we ask. ‘How can we be the light of the world?’ The context of Jesus’ words in verse 16 gives us the clue: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven…”

light-of-hope-anglican-connection-lenten‘Everything you are, everything you do,’ Jesus was saying to those who would follow him, ‘must reflect all that I have taught you. For that is how others will come to see the mind and the will of God. It won’t happen otherwise.’  

It’s an awesome thought. It involves all of us: no-one who calls themselves a Christian is exempt. All of us as individuals are called upon to reflect the light of God in our lives to the world. Whether we like it or not, when people come to know that we go to church they look at us. They want to know whether we are genuine, whether what we profess is true; underneath the cry for freedom, the cry to do things ‘my way’, there is a cry for help.

Jesus is saying that his followers will be responsible for bringing others to the worship of the one true God. In fulfillment of the words of Isaiah 49:6 they will take the news of God’s salvation, light of the world, to the ends of the earth. Through the light of our lives others will be drawn to find out about Jesus. Through the words of our lips people will hear the good news, and come to glorify God on the final day. All of us have a part to play.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it like this: ‘Flight into the invisible is a denial of the call. A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow him.’

Consider:

  1. the way in which the first followers of Jesus worked out his words – in the larger context of the Sermon on the Mount they worked at their marriages, loved their enemies, prayed for their persecutors, and cared for the poor (see, for example, Acts 6:1-7);
  2. the fact that good deeds are not the gospel or a gospel tactic, but are the fruit of the gospel;
  3. the way in which people drawn by good deeds will see the truth of the gospel.

Let me encourage you to pray

 


© John G. Mason, Reason for Hope – 40 Days of Bible Readings and Reflections – 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Day 33. The Prayer of Hope

Day 33. The Prayer of Hope

Read:

Matthew 9:36-38

36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”


THE PRAYER OF HOPE

These verses form the hinge of Matthew’s gospel. Up to this point in his narrative Matthew’s focus has been on who Jesus is together with Jesus’ mission. Attention now turns to the preparation of Jesus’ disciples for their mission.

Matthew begins this passage by describing Jesus’ compassion for the crowds who were harassed and helpless. We can feel his emotion for people who had no hope: they were sheep without a shepherd who could direct them to green pastures. However, with this note of hopelessness, there is a positive encouragement: the harvest is plentiful;… ask the Lord

The news of the kingdom of God is for everyone,’ Jesus was saying. ‘Once this news gets out there’s going to be no way you will be able to do all the work yourselves. Those of you who have been chosen by me and trained by me are not going to be sufficient for such a vast task – even seventy will not be enough. My kingdom is such that before it is complete the crowds who will be drawn to it will be countless in number. The work will require workers far more numerous than you think. Your first task is to look, not for converts, but for colleagues. “The harvest is plentiful,” Jesus said, “but the laborers are few; pray the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.” ‘Unless you see that God is the one who must raise up these people the task is foiled before it has begun.’ Our first response to the work of the gospel is not activism but prayer.

prayer-of-hope-missionary-mindset-lenten-anglican-connectionGod has ordered his government of the world in a way that includes our prayers – not least when it comes to mission: praying for those who do not yet believe and praying for the ongoing work of the gospel. (See also Colossians 4:2-4)

It is very easy to feel overwhelmed and exhausted when we read of Jesus’ agenda: ‘The job’s too big,’ we say. ‘What can I do?’ Jesus tells us, ‘First pray for colleagues – pray that the Lord of the harvest will raise up a mighty number of people. The Book of Revelation tells us that in the last day the Kingdom of God will include a huge multitude, drawn from every nation and tribe and from every generation. It will be as countless in size as the stars in the sky. A vast international company like this cannot be reached by just a few. Many thousands will be needed – thousands who are willing to leave their comfort zones and serve the cause of Jesus Christ; thousands who, left to themselves, would sit comfortably in church on Sundays and for the rest of the week forget about their faith and the great task of the church. Pray the Lord of the harvest that he will raise up the missionary mindset and resource that is needed.

You may want to consider:

  1. the compelling description of Jesus’ compassion for the crowds;
  2. your own response to people you know and others you see – the cynical friend, the amoral colleague, the plight of God’s people in the Middle East and elsewhere;
  3. Jesus’ call to us to pray, literally plead, that God would raise up people to tell the gospel.

Let me encourage you to pray

 


© John G. Mason, Reason for Hope – 40 Days of Bible Readings and Reflections – 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Day 32. The Ministry of Hope

Day 32. The Ministry of Hope

Read:

2 Corinthians 4:1-6

1 Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.


The reference here to ‘veils’ and ‘glory’ shows that Paul has in mind a contrast he has made between the old and the new covenants in an earlier chapter. In chapter 3 he argued that the Jewish people really didn’t understand their Bible: there is a ‘veil’ over their hearts and minds, he said which was blinding them spiritually. Now in chapter 4 he includes all men and women. Anybody, he says, who hears the gospel, and does not make sense of it, is like a Jew reading the Old Testament law – they do not see the glory of God in the person of Jesus.

He tells us why: the god of this age is blinding their eyes. Many consider this a reference to the work of Satan. However, there is another way of reading the sentence. The phrase, ‘the god of this age’ is an appositional phrase, meaning ‘the god who consists of this age’. People make this age their god: it is the idolatrous preoccupation with the material things of this world that makes people blind to the spiritual realities of the next.

This line of interpretation is consistent with the overall teaching of the Bible – it is because men and women have chosen to worship what is less than God that God has given them over to a darkened mind; in turn, the devil finds it so easy to steal the word of God from their hearts.

alone-ministry-of-hope-anglican-connection-lentenHow then does anyone come to believe? Surely we are all in the same spiritual boat of ‘blindness’ Paul would agree. However, he is certain that God himself is pleased to accompany the human work of proclaiming the gospel with his miracle of illumination.’ In verse 2 he says: We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake. In other words it is not the gifts of oratory, charisma and charm that win men and women to faith, it is an encounter with Jesus. Paul sees that his task is to introduce people to Jesus. And, says Paul, ‘As I do this, God by his Spirit takes the veil from their hearts and enables them to see the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ. It’s just like opening the blinds in the morning – darkness gives way to the dawn.’

Paul’s words go to the heart of gospel ministry: to proclaim God’s good news that Jesus Christ is ‘the Lord’. It is by God’s grace that we who are blind to this truth come to see Jesus as he truly is – the Son, the true image of God, who reveals God and who brings us to God.

You may want to consider:

  1. what Paul says about the ‘god of this age’ blinding human hearts to God’s good news;
  2. the implications of Paul’s analogy: just as God brought light physically into the world of darkness, so he is committed to bringing light spiritually; why prayer is so important;
  3. Paul’s own ministry style, focus and ethic.

Let me encourage you to pray

 


© John G. Mason, Reason for Hope – 40 Days of Bible Readings and Reflections – 2016. All Rights Reserved. 

Day 31. Generous Giving

Day 31. Generous Giving

Read:

2 Corinthians 8:1-9

1 We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; 2 for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, 4 begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— 5 and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, 6 so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. 7 Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.


GENEROUS GIVING

It is sometimes said that the Bible is against money, saying that it is evil. That is not so. The Bible tells us it is the love of money that is the problem. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that we should view money as our servant, something to be used for service.

In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 Paul writes of a collection he was taking up in Asia to assist impoverished Christians in Judea. And Paul had talked with the churches in Greece, especially the Corinthians, about this. In chapter 8:10 he tells us the Corinthians had responded well to the idea of an appeal, being not just the first church to contribute, but also one that had pledged further contributions.

Chapters 8 and 9 form a model fund-raising letter, for Paul sets out why God’s people should give.

GENEROSITY

The Corinthians needed a reminder of the Appeal to which they had given at first. Now, in Paul’s mind, some competition wouldn’t go astray: ‘You don’t want to be outdone by the churches up-state, do you?’ he is asking. Many churches in the western world today deserve to be embarrassed when we hear of the generosity of some churches in the emerging world.

* Sacrificial giving. Macedonia was an exploited impoverished colony. God’s people there had suffered persecution, often losing jobs and property. Yet instead of using lack of resources as an excuse for reducing their contribution, the Macedonians had increased their giving (8:2-3a).

generous-giving* Enthusiastic giving. The Macedonians were begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints (8:4). They counted such an opportunity a privilege, literally a ‘grace’. They really believed what the Lord Jesus taught: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’.

* Faith-driven giving. In 8:5 Paul tells us that the Macedonians were not just giving money to the church in Jerusalem, they were giving themselves to the Lord. Their genuine concern for others sprang from their own relationship with Jesus Christ. It was because their lives were centered on him that they were motivated to extravagance and cheerfulness in their giving.

* Incarnational Giving! 2 Corinthians 8:9 is sometimes said to be the jewel in the crown of Paul’s appeal to give. He speaks of the pre-existence of Christ before his birth – he was rich. From all eternity Christ had been enthroned in the splendor and glory of heaven. He speaks of the birth of Christ – he became poor.   He took to himself something that in all eternity he had never known – poverty. We also see Christ’s generosity – so that you through his poverty might become rich.

Christ condescended to such monumental humiliation – his lowly birth in Bethlehem and his ignominious death at Calvary – so that he could enrich us. We give, says Paul, because God gave. Anyone who understands what Christ has done cannot help but be generous themselves.

You may want to consider:

  1. the context of Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians;
  2. the example of the giving of the Macedonians;
  3. the impact of verse 9 – we give because of Christmas!

 Let me encourage you to pray

 


© John G. Mason, Reason for Hope – 40 Days of Bible Readings and Reflections – 2016. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Day 30. Money: A Resource for Ministry

Day 30. Money: A Resource for Ministry

Read:

Luke 16:9-13

9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. 10 ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth,* who will entrust to you the true riches? 12And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’*


MONEY: A RESOURCE FOR MINISTRY

Back in 1985, Neil Postman in his Amusing Ourselves to Death, wrote that the average American was exposed to one thousand TV advertisements a week. When you factor in cell phones and computers, how many more ads are we exposed to thirty years later! Money and what money can buy dominate our minds more than we realize.

Two thousand years ago Jesus knew how money tugs at the human heart. In fact, he spoke more about money than about anything else.

With the first words in Luke 16:9, there is a change of subject: ‘I tell you’ (literally, ‘To you I say’), make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth, so that when it is gone they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

In 16:1-8, Luke records Jesus’ parable about a dishonest manager who faced an existential crisis in his life. Now, in 16:9-13 Jesus urges his listeners to consider how they should live in the light of the temporary nature of life. Specifically, how will they view and use their money and resources?

money-a-resource-for-ministryThe words translated dishonest wealth capture the idea that it is possible to obtain money or hold on to it by unworthy means. Jesus may have in mind the way some fail to pay their taxes. He is not saying that money in itself is necessarily wrong or evil.

In Luke 12:33 we noted Jesus’ injunction that we need to acquire ‘treasure in heaven’. Here he is saying, ‘win friends now so that ‘they may welcome you into the eternal homes.’ While ‘they’ has been thought to be a reference to God or to the angels, it is more likely to refer to people who heard the gospel through the generous giving of God’s people.

‘It is absurd to make money and possessions your life’s goal,’ Jesus is saying. Support the ministry of God’s gospel in your church and beyond. Alongside this, show practical compassion to the poor.

There’s a story about two men laying bricks. Both were asked what they were doing. The first replied that he was building a wall. The second responded that he was constructing a magnificent cathedral. Jesus wants us to see life now in the context of eternity.

How do we do this?

Here are some practical ways we can apply Jesus’ principles:

  1. Adopt a biblical pattern of percentage giving: 10% is the guide.
  2. Support the ministry of your church as a first commitment. We may not always agree with all the policies of our church, but if the Bible is being taught and the gospel proclaimed we should have no hesitation. It is through the effective witness and ministry of Bible-based, gospel-centered local churches that people are normally built into God’s kingdom.
  3. Invest in the training of ministers: the future of the church depends on it.
  4. Support mission in the wider world and include Christian ministries that care for the poor.

Let me encourage you to pray

 


© John G. Mason, Reason for Hope – 40 Days of Bible Readings and Reflections – 2016. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Comments on the text of The Gospel of Luke are adapted from, John G. Mason, Luke: An Unexpected God, Aquila: 2012
Day 29. Money Matters (2)

Day 29. Money Matters (2)

Read:

Luke 12:22-34

22 He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

           32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.


MONEY MATTERS

Anxiety. People tell me it is all very well for Jesus to say that we should not worry about money and possessions. ‘What about our daily material needs – food, clothing, and a roof over our head?’ they ask. We need to consider the context of his words: he is making a commitment to his disciples, to those who follow him.

Think of the logic. Jesus tells us that to be preoccupied with the basics of human life, food and clothing, is to underestimate human worth. We are more than that the sum of our parts. There is a spiritual dimension to our existence. To be preoccupied and anxious about these things is to be blind to what makes our existence so special and precious.

Further, we need to consider the way God feeds the birds and clothes the flowers (12:24, 27). God does not work a special miracle each day to achieve this. Rather, he provides for them in ways that are consistent with the nature he has given to each. Birds have beaks to forage for food and a digestive system to benefit from it. For their part, flowers have a biological structure to harness the sunlight, the soil and the rain. ‘If God has taken so much trouble to provide for the needs of these transitory elements of creation, how much more trouble will he take with you?’ Jesus asks.

Furthermore, to worry about material things, is to overestimate human power: ‘You can’t add to your length of life’ (12:25). The irony is that worry about our lifespan can actually shorten it. Just as we can’t add to our years by worry, so we can’t guarantee success in all our financial affairs. There are too many variables.

GOD’S COMMITMENT

‘Be assured,’ Jesus says, ‘that God your Father knows your needs; he cares for you and promises to provide for you for as long as you need it (12:28-30).

It is tempting to say that this is empty talk – like an election promise. Jesus is assuring us that as God has provided an environment where the needs of the birds and the flowers are met, so too as our heavenly Father, he has provided environments where our needs can be met. He provides the soil for the seed, the sun and the rain for the growth, and the human skill to harvest and harness the food we need. Anxiety about material needs puts blinders on our eyes and ignores God’s goodness and grace.

Jesus is making a commitment here to provide for the practical needs of his people for as long as we need them. ‘Don’t be anxious about your material needs,’ Jesus says (12:29). He is speaking not about wants, but needs. ‘Centre your life on God,’ he says (12:30).

‘Do not be afraid,’ he continues, ‘for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom’ (12:32). Nothing we have now can be compared with the riches God has in store for his people. God’s great joy – something that makes him happy – is to give us the riches of his kingdom. ‘You may think you are hard done by now,’ Jesus says, ‘but one day God will give you everything to enjoy’ (12:32).

THE CHALLENGE

Jesus is not saying material things are evil: God created all good things for us to enjoy. Nor does he go on to say that we all need literally to sell up everything we have (12:33). His disciples didn’t. Yes, there are some who will be asked to do this – as we see was required of one young man (Luke 18). Rather, he sets out a principle: we need to learn to sit lightly to the things of the world. And if a situation demands it, we should be prepared to sell. There is more to life than a successful share or property portfolio. We are to put spiritual values at the top of our priorities. Instead of hoarding money, amassing wealth, putting it into more investments or more real estate, we should consider ways we can use it in the service of God.

You may want to consider:

  1. the three reasons Jesus gives for us not to be anxious about material things;
  2. the commitment he makes to provide for our needs: can God be trusted?
  3. the ask that he makes of each one of us – to put God’s kingdom first!

Let me encourage you to pray

 


© John G. Mason, Reason for Hope – 40 Days of Bible Readings and Reflections – 2016. All Rights Reserved.


  1. Comments on the text of The Gospel of Luke are adapted from, John G. Mason, Luke: An Unexpected God, Aquila: 2012