Receive the kingdom of God like a little child

“Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Luke 18:17

The main reason that I love my job (I’m a teacher) is because I get to work with children. Whilst they can get a little annoying (and by 4pm on a dark Thursday afternoon they can seem VERY annoying…), for the most part it is a real pleasure to work with young people. Children have yet to adopt the cynicism that seems to plague our society. They are much more open to new ideas and new ways of thinking than most adults are. They also have a remarkable sincerity seldom found in the adult world; if an eleven year old child tells you that they really enjoyed your lesson, the chances are that they genuinely mean it.

It’s interesting, therefore, that Jesus in today’s passage says that if someone is to enter the kingdom of God, they must receive it like a child. The only way to know Jesus is to strip away the cynicism of the world, to be open to him, and to be sincere about accepting his words. Sometimes the necessity of being like a little child is seen by non-believers as a bad thing, as accepting the Gospel without questioning. I do not think that is a valid criticism, however, since children are generally far more likely to question an idea than adults! It’s also interesting in the full passage today that Jesus is speaking in response to babies being brought to him. Just as babies are completely dependent on adults to look after them and to provide for them, we too have to place out total trust in Jesus, and to make ourselves fully dependent on him.

As we reflect on this verse today consider if you receive the kingdom of God like a little child. Are you uncynical, open and sincere in receiving the kingdom of God? Or do you approach the Gospel with a world-weary cynicism and a hardened heart? Let’s pray today that God would help us all to be more like children as we receive his kingdom.

The kingdom of God is in your midst

“The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”

Luke 17:20(b)-21

One of the aspects of my job as a teacher that I enjoy the most is taking pupils on school trips. Over the years I’ve run many trips and visits, day trips and residential visits, trips within the UK and overseas. The trip I’ve probably enjoyed the most is one that I established for pupils in Year 7; a four day visit to Normandy. Pupils that age can find long journeys particularly tiresome, however, and the question, “how much longer?” is asked very regularly! My stock response to this question (blame my odd sense of humour) is “about ten minutes.” It’s interesting to see how soon pupils cotton on to the fact that they always get the same response!

In today’s passage, the Pharisees have asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come. Jesus had already spoken on several occasions of the kingdom of God and, quite naturally, they want to know when this development would come about. Jesus answers the question in a very surprising way; the kingdom of God isn’t something that you can see or point to. The kingdom of God is right there, amongst them, ‘in their midst’! How can this be, they must have thought. There was nothing at all to show that God’s kingdom was present, no armies ready to liberate God’s people, no buglers announcing his arrival, no choirs of angels praising his name. They misunderstood what Jesus was referring to, however. It was the work that Jesus was undertaking was building the kingdom of God. Through his preaching and through his miracles he was touching the hearts and minds of the people he encountered. Through his teaching Jesus told his followers the true meaning of life, namely to love and obediently serve God, and to display this love to all they encountered. This was how Jesus was establishing the kingdom of God, and this was why the kingdom of God was already present, in their midst.

Jesus is still working to bring about the kingdom of God. Since his resurrection, however, he is doing so through the Holy Spirit at work in us. It is we who are now responsible for bringing about God’s kingdom! Let’s pray today that God would equip us for our part in his plan, and that he would show us what he would have us do to bring about his kingdom in our midst.

If they repent, forgive them

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Luke 17:3(b)-4

Pretty much every time we go to Church, we say what has become known as ‘The Lord’s Prayer’.  Sometimes I worry that because we say it so frequently it has become meaningless.  Do we really stop to think about what we’re praying?  I wonder how many people reflect on the word’s ‘forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us’?  Perhaps we think how fortunate we are that we have a God who forgives us, but do we pay attention to that next statement, that we forgive those who wrong us?  I personally find forgiveness very hard.  It’s one thing to forgive someone because they’ve turned up late to a meeting, or because they forgot your birthday, or because they took the chocolate that you were saving for later, but it’s quite another to forgive someone for something more serious.  How can we possibly forgive someone who has caused us physical or emotional pain, someone who has abandoned us, made our life a living hell, or caused us a permanent, disfiguring injury?  In circumstances like these it becomes very, very hard to forgive.

Today’s verse teaches us about forgiveness, but it speaks into a specific context – that of a fellow Christian who wrongs us – and there are two important aspects of this verse.  The first is the importance of repentance.  If we wrong a ‘brother or sister’, that is, a fellow believer, it is important that we repent.  To repent is to apologise, but also to consciously strive not to do this wrong again.  We can expect to be rebuked, but that should not stop us asking for forgiveness.  The second important aspect is the need to forgive those who wrong us.  If we believe that someone has sinned against us and they ask for forgiveness, then we must forgive them.  What’s more, this forgiveness should be endless.  Even if they wrong us in the same way again and it starts to feel like a malicious attack, if they repent, we need to forgive.  We must take them at their word that they are genuinely sorry and will try hard not to sin against us again.  We should think only positive thoughts towards our brothers and sisters and must remove from our minds any thoughts that they are deliberately slighting us.

If we’re to build God’s kingdom on earth, it is vitally important that we maintain good relationships with those in our own faith communities.  Let’s all strive to think only positive thoughts about our brothers and sisters in Christ, to always repent if we know we’ve done wrong, and to take a loving, forgiving attitude to those who we believe have wronged us.

They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Luke 16:31

In today’s full reading, Jesus tells a parable about a beggar named Lazarus who died, and was carried by angels to Abraham’s side.  Lazarus had lived at the gate of a rich man’s home, who died at the same time.  The rich man, rather than joining Abraham, went to Hades where ‘he was in torment’.  He asked Abraham to send Lazarus to him to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool his agony, but Abraham responded that during the man’s life he had received good things whilst Lazarus had received bad things.  The rich man then asked if Abraham would send Lazarus to warn his family so that they would be spared his torment.  Abraham said that this was unnecessary since they had ‘Moses and the Prophets’.  The rich man replied, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent’.  Abraham then told the rich man that if his family ‘do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead’.

The rich man’s attitude during life seems fairly dominant in our culture today.  People act like the rich man, ignoring those less fortunate than themselves.  Jesus makes it clear in this parable that the end result of living like this leads only to ‘Hades’ – a place of fire and torment.  People refuse to acknowledge the truth of the gospel because ‘there is no proof’.  Yet scripture – and we’re more fortunate than the rich man in the passage, because we have both the Old and New Testaments – provide a multitude of reasons for believing and trusting in God, and also how we should live our lives.  In the New Testament we also have convincing proof of someone rising from the dead, namely Jesus Christ himself.  What more could be needed to convince people of their ultimate destination after death, and their need for repentance?

In today’s passage there is a real warning to us about how we live our lives, particularly how we treat those less fortunate than ourselves.  But there is also a compelling reason to ensure that we proclaim the Gospel to all those whom we know and love, so that they won’t ultimately find themselves in the position of the rich man in today’s parable.

No one can serve two masters

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Luke 16:13

Have you ever been in a position at work where you feel caught in the middle of internal politics? When I was a retail manager I seemed to find myself in this position pretty much every day! My day-to-day manager would ask me to do something, and then the store manager would visit on his daily walk round and ask me to do completely the opposite! I felt like a ball being pitched between two people, or like a small child playing “Piggy In The Middle,” the one trapped at the centre. I didn’t know what to do, because it seemed whatever I did I would get it in the neck from one or other of my bosses.

Sometimes being a Christian can feel like that. We try to follow God, to live as he would wish, to work for his glory, but at the same time we live in a world that has turned its back on God. One of the key issues that can be at the heart of the battleground of faith and life in the “here and now” is that of money. As Christians we know that all we have has been given to us by God. We know that we have to be careful stewards of his gifts to us. And we know that we should give money away, to our churches, to charities, to those less fortunate than ourselves. But at the same time, we have to pay the rent, pay our fuel bills, pay the phone bill, put petrol in the car, and feed ourselves. What’s more, in 2013 we find ourselves in a situation where salaries are stagnating or even falling, whilst our bills go up and up. How can we possibly be expected to give money away when we find life such a struggle?

Today’s verse gives a clear warning about our attitude to money. Jesus talks of money being a “master.” He warns us that, as I found in my retail days, it is impossible to serve two masters. If we allow money to dictate our lives, if the acquisition of it becomes the focus of our existence, if it drives all that we do, then it has become our master, and we cannot honestly follow God. Instead, we need to ensure that God is our master, that it is he whom we love, and that it is he who drives all that we do. If we love and trust in God, we trust in his provision, and therefore we do not need to make the acquisition of money the focus of our lives. A tough principle to live by at the best of times, but even more difficult when living in an economic downturn. I’m sure I’m not the only person who needs to pray about this in the coming days!