“Questions about an architelones”, Luke 19.1-10

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My next sermon is about an “architelōnēs”. A what? A chief tax collector. The word appears just once in the New Testament, and it refers to someone who turns up just once – Zacchaeus.

I’m in the early stages of sermon preparation – probing the passage for ideas, insights and information. A few questions have occurred to me so far. What are yours?

  1. What is the least appreciated part of this story? Many Christians will know the text well. What might we have missed?
  2. Is there any significance in the fact that his Hebrew name meant, ‘pure’ or ‘righteous’?
  3. The word “today” appears twice. Is Luke telling us something? (Luke 2:11; 4:21; 5:26; 12:28; 13:32–33; 19:5, 9; 22:34, 61; 23:43)
  4. How did Jesus know the name of the man in the tree? Is it important?
  5. The crowd “mutter” in a similar way to the Israelites in the desert. Are we meant to notice that connection? If so, what is the point?

There are more, but these five will do for now. Do these same questions matter to you? Or are there different issues you’d like resolved? Please let me know by leaving a comment, or emailing me, mccx@mac.com.

God bless,

Malcolm

“The Healing Power of a Question”, Luke 18.41

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Jesus knew all the answers, but he still asked questions. Seems a bit odd, doesn’t it? As Conrad Gempf comments in his book, it must have been obvious to Jesus what the man’s need was.¹ He may not have had a white cane or a guide dog, but the way he walked and looked was surely enough. Questions were very much part of Jesus’ style of dealing with people and advancing his mission. Let’s look at some examples.

James and John ask Jesus for a favour, and his response is, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:36 NIV11) He encounters an invalid in Jerusalem and asks him, “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6 NIV11). A woman touched his cloak and he responded, “Who touched me?” (Luke 8:45 NIV11) At a critical point in his ministry he asks his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15 NIV11) In each case he is not the one confused or lacking information. He is asking what he wants to know. The question is – what do the answers reveal?

In Luke 18, the answer reveals faith. This makes sense of Jesus saying, “your faith has healed you” (v42). The beggar could have asked for money, for clothing, for food, shelter, friendship, and a myriad other things. Things that normal mortals could provide. But the blind man had faith in Jesus, that he was not like other men, but something and someone different. Someone with the ability to “save” (‘healed’=’sozo’ – Gk). That faith caused him to ask for what must have seemed ridiculous to the crowd. It seemed perfectly reasonable to Jesus.

A question to myself: do my requests to Jesus reflect faith? Am I asking for what a kindly Uncle, expert or wise person could provide? Or am I asking the impossible – the ridiculous? In fact, am I asking for what I really need?

If you have a comment or question about these ideas, please contact me by leaving a comment or dropping me an email.

God bless,

Malcolm

 

¹”Jesus asked what he wanted to know” (Zondervan)

The Sunday Sample: reflections on corporate worship

eg 156w, http://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/fullsizeoutput_19692.jpeg 521w" sizes="(max-width: 132px) 100vw, 132px" />Sampling Sundays

One of the hats I wear is labelled, “corporate worship leader”. It’s my job to help develop the corporate worship of the Watford church of Christ and the Thames Valley churches of Christ. Defining that responsibility in a few words is hard, but it has to do with training speakers, singers and musicians practically and spiritually.

It occurred to me while praying the other day that a written reflection on the previous Sunday’s corporate worship might help. Getting thoughts onto ‘paper’ after a night’s gap could provide perspective. Hence today’s blog post. Let me know if it helps you in your assessment of worship. Additionally, please let me and others know what you do to think through the spiritual inspiration or otherwise of a service.


Date: Sunday 26th March

Location: Lower Earley

Special occasion: Mothering Sunday

Speakers

It was inspiring to hear Wale speak. Here is a mature Christian, but someone who had never preached in this congregation. He spoke clearly, with accurate points on the nature of God, and with reference to the theme of the day – Mothering Sunday. He also displayed sensitivity to the congregation, cutting his sermon short so as to end the service on time.

Today’s lesson: not to wait too long before asking someone to speak – even if I’ve never heard them before.

Music

We were denuded of singers, but God helped us! As a result we changed the usual setup. Rudie and I lead songs while playing instruments and singing in the centre together at times. Moving the keyboard centrally worked better than I expected. Michelle recruited Funke to help with the singing, and even though she’d never joined us before, her presence was most helpful. God was with us and I felt his strengthening.

Today’s lesson: not to get too hung up on whether the set up is the same every Sunday. 

Connection

The best connection was when the speakers gave away something of themselves in an endearing and/or self-deprecating way. Involving the whole Johnson family at the start was also helpful – husband, wife and children all speaking, reading & praying.

The singing varied according to song. I think I included one too many less-well-known songs. One is enough for most services, but this week we had two.

Today’s lessons: remind the speakers to be personal in what they share. Involve entire families more often. Select just the one new or unfamiliar song most weeks.

Other Matters

  • We started late. Not sure if that was to do with the clocks going forward. It would be helpful to find a way to encourage timeliness without being too heavy about it.
  • The flowers arranged by Lizelle for the mothers were a lovely touch. The children came up to distribute the flowers willingly. Can we find more ways of involving the children other than on special days such as mothering Sunday?
  • The speakers and musicians prayed together before we started, which, I believe, played a large art in the effectiveness of our corporate worship. While we do this most weeks, it does not happen every time. We’ll do well to make sure the time is available for group prayer each Sunday.
  • The congregation were especially widely scattered around the room with big gaps between people. It would have been good at some point in the meeting to encourage people to move to the front. We’ve done this before and it helps the connections between speakers and congregation.

The service was positive, and God-honouring. Our next meeting in Lower Early is 9th April. I’m going to pick just three actions from this reflection. More than that will be confusing. I’ll prioritise:

  1. Prayer together before we start
  2. Only one new/unfamiliar song
  3. Start on time

Let’s see what happens. Let me know your ideas. You can leave a message here, or send me an email: mccx@mac.com.

God bless,

Malcolm

The Right Response to a Wrong Rebuke: Luke 18.39

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How does it feel to be rebuked? Not pleasant, I’m sure you’ll agree. A friend once asked me how I responded to criticism. I replied that I handled it rather well. He begged to disagree, and he was right. I was talking about how I reacted publicly (with dignity, restraint) – he was referring to what was going on inside me (panic, fear). It was a valuable and insightful conversation.

The blind man in Luke 18 felt the full fury of a rebuking crowd, “Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”” (Luke 18:39 NIV11) I wonder what it was that caused him to respond with louder shouts instead shutting up? The “calling out” of verse 38 has become a shout. The Greek word for shout is, ‘krazo’ (v.39) and is more dynamic than ‘boao’ (v.38). “Such shouting can be in hostility, anguish, joyful elation, or urgent authoritative testimony”.¹

He swam against the crowd-current. Peer pressure was ineffective in preventing this poor man’s perseverance. He looked wrong, but was right. He sounded wrong, but spoke sense. What drove him on?

Of course, we can point to his desperate need for a solution to his blindness. We can speculate about his life challenges. They were undoubtedly many and various. But, even then, there are many people who would buckle under the weight of numbers and public rebuke. What do we do when we are rebuked? How do we respond when we know the rebuke to be wrong?

This short article cannot address all the associated issues, but here are some thoughts that arise from this situation in Luke 18. We’ll approach them by asking two questions.

  1. If I accept and act on this rebuke will it take me nearer to Jesus, or further away? We all need to be nearer to Jesus, don’t we? Are the people around you taking you closer to him, or further away? I’ve been reading my 1974 schoolboy diaries. In one particular week I went to two church choir rehearsals, two church services (on the same day), one Sunday school class (also on the same Sunday) and two confirmation classes. I’m so glad neither my parents nor anyone else rebuked me for so much exposure to Jesus.
  2. If I accept and act on this rebuke will it prevent me from receiving help with something I genuinely need? A clue as to how much we should listen to someone rebuking us is to consider whether they are qualified to stand in the way of our need being met. The crowd were seeing, the beggar was blind. It’s all very well for them to rebuke the man, but they don’t have the same need as him. It’s a bit rich, such a rebuke coming from a group of people who are just fine thank you very much!

Some rebukes are right, and some are wrong. Our emotional response is not the best guide as to which is which. If, however, the rebuker is preventing you from moving closer to Jesus and/or standing in the way of your needs being met, then go with the blind man and ‘shout’ all the louder. Jesus will hear. And he will accept you.

What are your thoughts on the best way to evaluate a rebuke? And what are your opinions on how to respond to an inappropriate rebuke? I’d like your ideas, since I’m preaching on this passage soon (2 April, 10.30AM, Laurance Haines School, Watford).

More on this passage in the coming days.

God bless,

Malcolm

¹ Mounce, William D., D. Matthew Smith, and Miles V. Van Pelt, eds. MED. Accordance electronic edition, version 1.3. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.

Solitude is Golden: A review of “Thoughts in Solitude” by Thomas Merton

Preamble
The world is populated by too many mindless men and women. “Automatons cannot make a society”, and thus we must learn how to choose, and especially how to choose the life of faith. We “cannot choose faith unless we have self determination and freedom.” Solitude is a vital tool in enabling choice – “coming to this place [of ability to choose] requires some solitude”.

Summary
Developing spiritual strength and intimacy with God requires spiritual disciplines. Perhaps solitude is one of the most important and least utilised. Jesus sets the example: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35 NIV11; cf. Luke 5:16). Merton’s message is a challenge to courageously enter the ‘desert’ of solitude, “Man’s despair will never be solved by conquering the wilderness with materialism, instead his despair will be solved by embracing the wilderness and it’s solitude, and there finding God.” p22 I recommend the book with some caveats. It is best read a chapter at a time, and perhaps once a week. The text deserves proper reflection and assessment as to the accuracy and efficacy of his recommendations. Not all suggestions will appeal or work for all people.

Body of the Book
In part one, “Aspects of the Spiritual Life”, Merton introduces us to the value of the ‘desert’ as wildernesses, “created by God so people can only enjoy him.” In other words, since there is nothing else other than God in the wilderness, we can settle the heart on him. Deserts require self-denial which, “should strengthen our appreciation of emotion.” Joy is heightened by focus, not abundance. The desert is conducive to self-work, enabling us “to have enough mastery of ourselves to renounce our own will into the hands of Christ – so that he may conquer what we cannot reach by our own efforts.” Christlike behaviour is aided by remembering the pleasure of a good act, not to feel good, but to remember that it is more delightful and fruitful “than the acts of vice which oppose and frustrate them”. It is good to take pleasure in serving the poor, speaking the gospel to people, and such like.

Discretion is a key aspect of the spiritual life, but laziness and cowardice can mask as discretion. “Discretion warns us against wasted effort: but for the coward all effort is wasted effort. Discretion shows us where effort is wasted and when it is obligatory. Laziness flies from all risk. Discretion flies from useless risk: but urges us on to take the risks that faith and the grace of God demands of us.” Courage is needed. Cowardice prevents both faith and hope. Yet we are weak. How will God respond? Going to God fully conscious of our weakness is helpful and necessary for us to fully experience his love for us. Therefore we should rejoice in our poverty.

God gives us pleasures in this life, but we do well not to grasp them too firmly. Merton reminds us, “My hope is in what the eye has never seen. Therefore, let me not trust in visible rewards. My hope is in what the heart of man cannot feel. Therefore let me not trust in the feelings of my heart. My hope is in what the hand of man has never touched. Do not let me trust what I can grasp between my fingers. Death will loosen my grasp and my vain hope will be gone.” Instead, we are grateful for whatever God provides. “Gratitude of itself makes us sincere – or if it does not, then it is not true gratitude”, says Merton, and true gratitude is the strongest defence against tepidity.

Humility is perhaps the king of virtues. But, can we love ourselves while remaining humble? The proud man loves himself because he thinks he deserves it. We love ourselves because in loving what we are, it means we have accepted it and that takes us to the mercy of God. Jesus lived a humble life for a purpose. He “lived the ordinary life of the men of his time, in order to sanctify the ordinary lives of men of all time.” Living as he lived requires meditation in prayer. Meditative prayer is bringing the whole of the self to God. Physical, spiritual, emotional. Therefore, it requires significant effort, or “upheaval” as Merton calls it. And prayer, while meditative, is not pure introspection – “We ruin our life of prayer if we are constantly examining our prayer and seeking the fruit of prayer in a peace that is nothing more than a psychological process.” Pure prayer helps refine our will to that of God. To live a truly spiritual life, and one which glorifies God, we must live the will of God and this will connect us with his mercy, because we can only do this with his mercy empowering us. This leaves the question as to how we know that we are living the will of God. Merton seems to be saying that this becomes clear when we remove desire for anything attached to this world. That might work for a monk, but will it work for everyone else?

Reading is a spiritual discipline. It “ought to be an act of homage to the God of all truth”, because books can “bring us light and peace and fill us with silence.” While reading we must not forget to look for the person in the words and the book, instead of just an idea. It’s all about Jesus – “the incarnate Word, is the book of life in whom we read God.” Looking for Jesus stimulates our humility, even though it is a frightening prospect. It is frightening because it is impossible. Merton says that we like a false and shallow humility, humility that he describes as making a person “charming and attractive”. But true humility is a humility that knows it is a liar!

Part two, “The Love of Solitude” focusses on how to enjoy and value solitude. We will have to reckon with anxiety. Merton suggests that “our anxiety is not imposed on us by force from outside. We impose it on our world and upon one another from within ourselves.” How do we respond to challenges and incompletions? “We are not meant to resolve all contradictions but to live with them and rise above them and see them in the light of exterior and objective values which make them trivial by comparison.” (see Isaiah 30:15) Merton appears to be urging us to employ silence as a state that will prevent us from trying to fix our problems by human effort, but instead letting God be God and allow him to define himself to us and his relationship with us. Is this passive?

What action is needful? Merton would argue that listening is not passive – “He is heard only when we hope to hear Him, and if, thinking our hope to be fulfilled, we cease to listen, He ceases to speak, His silence ceases to be vivid and becomes dead, even though we re-charge it with the echo of our own emotional noise.” Resting in God does not mean we do not continue to seek him. A growing relationship requires that we are active in seeking. If we become passive, the resting will become a false contentment and we will find God withdrawing. Or is it us who withdraws?

How is prayer affected? Merton comments, “If my prayer is centred in myself, if it seeks only an enrichment of my own self, my prayer itself will be my greatest potential distraction.” When our hearts are truly centred on God, and everything within us is unified in that, then we do not seek things from God as our fulfilment. Because God is already our fulfilment. However, I would question how this fits with Jesus telling us to ask for our daily bread.

Solitude helps us grow because it is in silence that we become more aware of the immensity of God. “It is a greater thing and a better prayer to live in him who is infinite, and to rejoice that he is infinite, than to strive always to press his infinity into the narrow space of our own hearts.” Trying to bring God into us diminishes him. Taking ourself into him grows us.

Solitude is not an end in itself, however. “Actions are the doors and windows of being. Unless we act we have no way of knowing what we are. Hence to find our spiritual being we must travel down the path made by our spiritual activity.” We find who we are in solitude and in action. “I do not have to run away from myself; it is sufficient that I find myself, not as I have made myself, by my stupidity, but as he has made me in his wisdom and re-made me in his infinite mercy.”

In essence the book is concerned with creating space to be heard, to hear and to handle reality – with God. Merton gives us plenty of sound reasoning to demonstrate the value of solitude. His use of scripture to support his points is of variable effectiveness, and some of his interpretation ventures into more allegorical territory than is warranted. Indeed, more scripture overall would have been helpful. My primary criticism of this book would be Merton’s argument that to be a solitary is a vocation. There is scant Biblical testimony for this. To choose such a life cannot be easy. But it does avoid many of the community aspects of the way God forms Christ in us. I can’t help but wonder if a certain kind of person becomes a solitary to avoid those hardships.

Conclusion
Most of the short chapters are compact nuggets of spiritual gold. Some are more questionable as to their relevance for the average Christ-follower. Read this book and you will likely benefit from its company and reach the conclusion that more ‘solitude’ in your life would be helpful. Keep an open mind about what makes you uncomfortable, but do not accept all Merton’s ideas just because they come from such a persuasive writer and deep thinker.

Malcolm Cox

24 March 2017

The final chapter contains this helpful paragraph on how we read the Bible:

“To those who read scripture in an academic or aesthetic or merely devotional way the Bible indeed offers pleasant refreshment and profitable thoughts. But to learn the inner secrets of the Scriptures we must make them our true daily bread, find God in them when we are in greatest need-and usually when we can find him nowhere else and have nowhere else to look!”

“Mercy Me!”, Luke 18.38-39

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“Mercy me!” is an old fashioned expression these days, but I grew up hearing it in my home and that of my grandparents. It came out at times of surprise. Presumably it originates from the request to God to have mercy on the person saying the phrase. Either as a need for forgiveness, or strength. Old phrase or not, we all need mercy.

I’m preaching on Luke 18 (the blind man’s healing) in two Sundays’ time, and the more I ponder the passage, the more questions I have. Such as, “What kind of ‘mercy’ was the beggar asking for?” Here are his requests: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”, and, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38-39 NIV11)

My Greek dictionary tells me the word here is, ‘eleeo’, meaning “to pity, have compassion on; to be gracious to any one, show gracious favour and saving mercy towards; to obtain pardon and forgiveness”. This gives us some indication as to meaning, but how would a first century Israelite be interpreting this mercy? Perhaps a clue is in the designation by the beggar of Jesus as, “Son of David”. He is an Israelites seeing ‘mercy’ through the experience of Israelite history.

Deuteronomy catalogues God’s mercies to the Israelites, “the Lord your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your ancestors, which he confirmed to them by oath.” (Deuteronomy 4:31 NIV11). And God never did abandon nor destroy them for century after century, despite weakness, sin and outright rebellion. His mercy towards them was an expression of His ‘hesed’ (covenant love), causing Him to be patient and protective.

Perhaps the blind man had this in mind, and added to it the character of the promised “Son of David”, the Messiah to come. Passages like this may have occurred to him,  “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,” (Isaiah 61:1 NIV11) And perhaps he has heard tell of the way Jesus appropriated this passage to himself when speaking in the Nazareth synagogue, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4:18–19 NIV11) Note the difference I’ve highlighted above – “recovery of sight for the blind”.

Could it be that as the crowd told the beggar, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by” (Luke 18:37 NIV11), something twigged in his mind. “Here is the one I’ve heard about who is fulfilling the promises of Isaiah. Could he be God’s expression of healing ‘hesed’ for me?” In asking for ‘mercy’ the blind man is requesting something deeper than simple compassion (although I’m sure that’s included). He is hoping that this Jesus of Nazareth is the one fulfilling Isaiah’s promises. If he’s right, his request for ‘mercy’ is a plea for God’s love to touch him, and heal him – in every sense. Restoring him to community fellowship, wholeness of body and, I would imagine, spirit and mind.

What comes to mind when you hear the beggar’s cry? What questions do you have about his mercy shout? Leave a comment here on this blog, or contact me via the usual media outlets.

More on this passage soon.

God bless, Malcolm

“What’s In A Name?” Luke 18.37-39

How does it feel when someone gets your name wrong? Mine is often spelt incorrectly. I’ve had Malcom, Malcombe and Malkom, among others. Just for the record, it’s “Malcolm” – and always has been since my birth certificate was signed.

Accuracy is important at some times more than others. Passports come to mind. And sometimes the importance is what the name signifies. Here’s something I’ve been pondering from Luke 18 (a passage I’ll be preaching on in a couple of weeks).

The differences between the crowd and the beggar seem to be along these lines. First we hear the crowd tell the blind man, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” (Luke 18:37 NIV11) Then, we hear his cry, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Luke 18:38 NIV11) Two different names for the same person. Who is right? What does it mean?

There’s a clue in the reaction of the crowd to the blind man’s cry. They “rebuked him and told him to be quiet”, but he “shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”” (Luke 18:39 NIV11) The crowd’s response is probably connected to their understanding of the title “Son of David”. They are aware it is a royal messianic designation. In 2 Samuel 7:12–16 Yahweh promises David a descendant, and that he would “establish the throne of his kingdom forever”. In addition, he would be Yahweh’s son. The crowd are not ready to see Jesus in this way. They do not have the eyes of faith given to the blind man. It appears presumptuous to the crowd, but entirely appropriate to the blind man. The beggar will not be deterred either in his shouting, nor in his affirmation of the full identity of Jesus.

As it says in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary, “The title is Messianic and Jesus’ healing of the man in response to its use looks like an acceptance of its implications.” The name in itself was not the point, but it did point to something significant. Jesus was not just a wandering preacher, nor even an impressive healer, but the one prophesied, son of God, with an eternal authority.

The same issue arises today. Which ‘Jesus’ are we seeing when we read the Bible and listen to others talking about him? The blind man ‘saw’ more clearly than the crowd. What gave him that clarity, I wonder?

If you have any ideas on this, or on what can help us today to ‘see’ Jesus clearly please let me know. Leave a comment here, or drop me a line.

More on this passage in the coming days.

God bless, Malcolm

“Coming, or Going?” Luke 18.35 & Mark 10.46

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It’s good to know if you’re coming or going. Occasionally, after a long day and in times of stress, I’m not so sure myself whether I’m coming or going! What about the Gospel writers? In particular, what about the story of the blind man? I’m preaching on the Luke version from chapter 18 this Sunday and it’s on my mind.

Mark tells us:  “Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging.” (Mark 10:46 NIV11)

However, Luke’s version reads: “As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.” (Luke 18:35 NIV11)

Has one of them got a glitch in their GPS? Mark says they were departing, but Luke records them arriving at Jericho. Is this a gift to those who claim the Bible is riddled with contradictions? Not at all. Jericho was a city with a long and complicated history. My Bible software gives three locations for the city (see picture below).

eg 300w, http://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Jericho-Image.001-768x432.jpeg 768w, http://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Jericho-Image.001-1024x576.jpeg 1024w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" /> Jericho location(s)

These variations do not indicate uncertainty as to the sites, but the fact that the city was built and rebuilt over the centuries. Two Jerichos were known at the time of Jesus, the old one, famous from the Old Testament, and the new one built nearby by Herod the Great. They sort of merged here and there, so that it would be entirely possible to be both leaving Jericho and arriving into Jericho at the same time.

Any of us who have lived in large towns or cities with significant history may be able to see parallels with our own experience. As an example, London can be viewed in two different ways. The “City of London” is a small area in the heart of “Greater London”. One could be leaving (the City of) London and entering (Greater) London at the same time.

Hence, there is no necessary contradiction between Luke and Mark – just a difference of perspective. I hope this helps us to strengthen our confidence in the accuracy of the Bible, and also that it stimulates us to do our own research into tricky questions raised by the scriptures or people around us.

I’ll blog some further thoughts on this part of Luke 18 soon. Until then, have a super week, and God bless,

Malcolm

Always Bring Back the Jar

A friend of mine makes honey. Or, rather, the bees make it, I suppose. His part in the process is vital, however. The bees haven’t mastered the trick of getting the honey into the jars as yet. And the jars are important. Apparently they are of a special kind. Tim (my friendly apiarist) buys them from a specific supplier. Who knew? I’m very grateful for my personal honey supply (goes marvellously on toast, porridge, yoghurt), and I know he’s grateful when I return the jar – empty and clean. Of course, it is then refilled and returned to me as soon as feasible. My honey-fest continues.

A spiritual parallel occurs to me. We’re all filled with the Spirit at baptism, but, like Moody was reported to have said, “I leak”. There’s a need for re-filling. The theological details of this image could be refined, but human experience tells us that, even though we have the Spirit, we feel empty and needy at times (“Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” (2 Corinthians 11:29 NIV11). What is the healthy way to respond at those times when everything seems to be “blah”?

We’ll do well to remember that we are jars precious to God. Our jars may not seem impressive, but they are capable of carrying treasure – “the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:4 NIV11) This treasure is often unappreciated, opposed or rejected. Our experience of carrying it can be tough, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9 NIV11) But why is this? It is so that the glory may be God’s, “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7 NIV11) And God knows our condition. He will supply what is lacking, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16 NIV11)

But this resupply, this refilling, this re-energising can only happen if we bring back the jar. When it is empty, clean it, pick it up, take to the master apiarist and he will replenish it with sweet honey. Prayer and reading God’s Word are most necessary when we are most empty. When we least feel like it. When it is least convenient. But, God give us all strength to bring back the jar again and again so that we may experience, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalms 119:103 NIV11). Always, always, always bring back the jar.