Monday, October 31, 2016

Don’t You Get It?


Scripture
 
Luke 12:49    “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!  50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!  51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!  52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three;  53 they will be divided:
    father against son
        and son against father,
    mother against daughter
        and daughter against mother,
    mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
        and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Luke 12:54   He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens.  55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens.  56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Luke 12:57   “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?  58 Thus, when you go with your accuser before a magistrate, on the way make an effort to settle the case, or you may be dragged before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you in prison.  59 I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”

Observation

To follow after Jesus is to walk in radical faith. That radical faith will not make people comfortable for it will be counter-cultural. Households will be divided for there will be those who will follow the way of Jesus and others who will not. In the meantime people will find excuses for their behavior and will not want to take responsibility. Jesus is asking the people, “don’t you get it?” His message is clear — just as clear as the signs of the times.

Jesus reminds his listeners that they are able to forecast the weather because they know how to read the signs. Their hypocritical behavior comes, not from their inability to read the spiritual signs, but their refusal to do so. Just to help them understand things more clearly — to help them get it — Jesus gives them one more example. If you can read the signs and know that you are going to jail wouldn’t you try and cut a deal before you got there? Jesus is offering them the deal because he knows a day of judgement will finally come. It’s a wake-up call for the people to pay attention to the signs that he is giving them on a daily basis. He is giving all of humanity a chance to be saved. He seems to be crying out, “don’t you get it?”

Application

The truth of the gospel is powerful and challenging. Complacency leads to hypocrisy which will be the death of us if we are lulled into indifference.

Sometimes it seems as if the clamor of this world is trying to drown out the truth of the Gospel. The noise which drowns out the good news is often found in the busyness of our daily lives. The people of Jesus’ day were busy going about the ordinary activities of life and didn’t want to bothered with a call to life in the kingdom. The sad part was that so many didn’t get it. Even when confronted with the reality of the Messiah — they refused to see him for who he really was.

Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. These days we have better weather forecasters than they did in Jesus’ time. Think of all the radar and equipment and education which meteorologists have to help them forecast the weather for us. The spiritual signs of the times can be just as clearly forecast. Stop being lulled by the noise of this world and turn toward Jesus. The call is to a wholehearted commitment to follow Jesus in a radical relationship with him that will not make others happy. The Gospel will bring division between God’s people and the world. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Following Jesus was never meant to bring us into the mainstream of society.

The signs of the times are written in the sky, or the news headlines of our day. But, don’t we get it? Our answers and our salvation will never come from feeling secure in the secular structures of our day. The signs are pointing to a sharp distinction between Christ-followers and the world. The world will not embrace the radically transformed lifestyle of a Christian. It is like a burning fire which creates division in a family. God’s love is a consuming fire which burns away that which cannot exist in God’s holy presence. Don’t you get it — we are called to be transformed into the image of Christ and to be his holy people. Living as God’s holy people will not be compatible with the values of the world. These are the signs of the times and we can see the storm clouds coming. We are challenged to respond to the signs. Don’t you get it? We either have to be all in, or all out for Jesus.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to live all in for you today.  Amen.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Abandon Anxiety


Scripture

 
Luke 12:22   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.

Observation

Just preceding this section on worry, Jesus had been commenting on the people’s desire for material goods. He presented them with the parable of the man who had so much that he was tearing down his barns to build bigger barns. He needed more space to store his stuff and yet, he didn’t keep the eternal in mind. His life ended before he could finish the project. Matthew Henry says, “If we value the beauty of holiness, we shall not crave the luxuries of life.” The whole message here from Jesus is about priorities. When we worry about having more things, we will not be about kingdom business. It’s time to abandon the anxiety and keep the focus on the kingdom. In doing so, God will take care of our material needs (not our wants).

Application

I think that Jesus knew there would be people like me in the world who like to think through situations to the very end. However, in doing so, I tend to think about every little detail that can go wrong, and that gives me lots of things to be anxious about. Jesus is telling us that this is not the way in which we are to live our lives. We are to keep our focus on doing kingdom business and become so engaged in kingdom work that we will not worry about our worldly needs. This is not about excess, but about having our needs met.

It’s easy to say that we are to abandon our anxiety, but what does anxiety say to us about our trust in the Lord? The more that we are anxious, the less we are trusting in, and focusing on the kingdom. Anxiety becomes a great distractor from those things which are really important in life. Jesus speaks to the absurdity of worry because the actual act of worry will do nothing to change our lives for the better. The reality is that worry can only affect our lives in the negative. We can become consumed with fear and paralyzed from participating in life.

Abandoning anxiety means embracing Jesus. When fear begins to well up inside of us, we should run full-force into the arms of our Lord. Abandon the anxiety and embrace the Savior. The Father really does know what we need and the promises are true. Let’s seek first the kingdom.

Prayer


Lord, thank you for your promises. May I live into faith and trust in you.  Amen.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

WYSIWYG


Scripture
 
Luke 12:1   Meanwhile, when the crowd gathered by the thousands, so that they trampled on one another, he began to speak first to his disciples, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, that is, their hypocrisy.  2 Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.  3 Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.

Observation

The religious leaders had a reputation of appearing to be spiritual on the outside and yet, were driven by the self-centered motivations of the heart. Jesus was concerned that his disciples might be influenced by these religious leaders. He warned that they were like yeast which penetrates the dough and has an effect on the entire batch. Trying to be like the Pharisees would not result in the type of authentic spiritual life that Jesus wanted for his disciples. There was to be no pretense in their lives. The ways in which they believed and the ways in which they acted and responded were to be the same. A true follower of God would never “act” religious, but would continually reflect Christ.

Application

This will date me but I remember when WYSIWYG became a thing. Don’t know what that is? WYSIWYG — "What you see is what you get." It had to do with computers and when we moved beyond coding in certain stages and were able to do work that looked like the final result. It made things like designing web-pages much easier — but I digress. The point is that Jesus was calling out the Pharisees for the hypocritical ways in which they lived their lives. What you saw was NOT what you got. They put on a type of false spirituality in an effort to appear spiritual. This had become the practice of religion and Jesus came to break this down.

The ways in which the Pharisees lived their lives became a temptation to those who were following Christ. There are plenty who would consider themselves religious leaders who garner attention these days. With the rise of social media it’s easy to become “well-known” without ever really accomplishing that much. I believe that may be one of the temptations of our day. More people are becoming famous just for being able to get attention than for having really accomplished anything. This is true in the secular world and, I believe the that the temptation may be the same in the religious world. It’s easy enough to sound religious and write about good things. (I’m speaking to myself here today as well — may even be stepping on my own toes — ouch!) Jesus isn’t all that concerned about what we are able to portray to others — he’s concerned about the authenticity of our lives. Would someone be able to say “What you see is what you get” about you or me?

The breathing in and breathing out of our lives takes on a rhythm, one in which we are called to reflect Christ. When our eyes are focused on him, then we draw closer to Christ and the reflection becomes clear. Not only is the reflection clear but our participation with Christ becomes so great that when people see Christ on the outside, the experience Christ in an encounter with us. This is authenticity and this is “what you see is what you get.” Jesus knew the need of his followers was a deeper walk in which the yeast of the Pharisees would have no influence. I love to bake bread but using yeast past it’s expiration date will result in a failed batch of dough. Once yeast dies, it can no longer make dough rise. We must be wise and create intentional barriers to influences which may try to distract us from knowing Christ. When we truly know Christ our entire lives will be focused on him and WYSIWYG will be real and authentic in our lives.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to seek you more and more each day.  Amen.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Give Us A Sign


Scripture
 
Luke 11:29   When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.  30 For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation.  31 The queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here!  32 The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here! 

Observation

The crowds had come wanting a sign and expecting Jesus to perform for them. He would never succumb to the temptation to turn the power of God into some type of magic trick. As the people crushed in upon him he spoke to them regarding a sign. They would never receive the type of sign that they desired because they were looking for the wrong thing. Jesus had already brought them all the sign that they needed and they hadn’t responded. The comparison is to Jonah and the city of Ninevah, for even the people of Ninevah had responded to the words of Jonah. The Israelites had received more than Jonah, and yet they had rejected the truth that they had been told.

The queen of the South and the people of Ninevah had accepted the pronouncements that they had heard. They had not originally been included in God’s holy people — and yet, the signs were enough to help them repent and follow in the way of truth. The Israelites should have been living as God’s holy people and have recognized the Messiah. Jesus was greater than Jonah and yet the people failed to respond. There would be no other sign for they had failed to recognize the majesty of the one who stood before them. Their lack of faith would be condemned by the faith of the Gentiles. And if the very presence of the Messiah were not enough, he would rise again in three days, new life in Jesus, just as Jonah was resurrected from the belly of the fish.

Application


It’s easy to condemn the Israelites and yet, I often wonder whether I would have been in the crowd clamoring for a sign. Over and over again the Messiah reveals his faithfulness to God’s people and yet, we want just another sign. I know there have been times when this has been true in my own life.

Jesus encouraged the people to reflect upon that which they had already experienced. They didn’t need another sign because what they had already experienced was miraculous. The place of testimony in the life of the church is significant for it provides space for us to recount the deeds of Christ in our lives. It’s an opportunity to affirm the signs which we have already experienced.

When we fail to praise God and take stock of God’s intervention in our life we may find ourselves begging for another sign. When seeking for another sign we may need to stop and recognize that we have focused our attention in the wrong direction. When our eyes are on God, then we engage in praise and worship for the things that God has done in our lives. We begin to seek signs when we take our eyes off of Jesus. Just as Peter found himself drowning in the water, we will begin to drown in our circumstances because we are looking down for a sign. Jesus is the sign. He is the answer which has already been given and we need no other. His resurrection power is provided for us in the time of our deepest need. Look no further for “something greater than Jonah is here!”

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the sign that you have already provided.  Amen.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Danger in Waiting


Scripture
 
Luke 11:24   “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’  25 When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order.  26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.”

Observation

The new believer repents and turns to follow Christ. The old is gone and the new has come, but instead of following Christ a period of waiting begins. Maybe there is a period of questioning and assessing the depth to which the new believer will follow Christ. While waiting, the person places themselves in terrible danger. What they need is to follow the passions of their heart headlong in following Christ. There is power in following the affections of the heart and soon the home is filled with the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. But if that home isn’t filled and the waiting game persists, there will be a relapse which may be worse than the original condition in which the person found themselves. The spiritual life will always be one of growth and ascent in the direction of Christ. The waiting game becomes a dangerous game.

Application

This is one of those passages that probably makes most of us a bit uncomfortable. It seems unfathomable that a loving a gracious God would allow for seven more evil spirits to enter into an individual. But this message isn’t so much about evil spirits, as it is about discipleship. When we neglect to help people draw closer to Christ, we will have failed them. George Whitefield, the evangelist lamented his ministry which did not focus on discipleship. Whitefield commented, “"My brother Wesley acted wisely. The souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined in societies, and thus preserved the fruit of his labor. This I neglected, and my people are a rope of sand." (John Wesley the Methodist, Chapter 13) It’s this realization that without discipleship there is a disintegration of the spiritual life which helps us see the danger in waiting. There can be no waiting when it comes to our spiritual lives and any excuse to wait is simply a lie of the enemy.

Intentional discipleship was the secret to Wesley’s Methodism. It, quite literally, transformed the world. Jesus was trying to get the same point across. The more that people were simply “exposed” to Christianity, the more “immune” they would become without good discipleship. The example can be seen in the lives of many, including Joseph Stalin who studied at a Seminary as a young man, and later became an atheist. The same can be said of Karl Marx. Something went awry in their lives and instead of growing and embracing their spiritual journey they allowed the void in their lives to be filled with ideas and “spirits” which led them to becoming antagonists of the faith. Would the course of history have been different had someone invested in the discipleship of these young men?

Authentic Christianity is in high demand as there are those who are hungry to see real faith in action. Real faith never waits but embarks upon a journey of spiritual growth and development that continues throughout eternity. Jesus warned of the dangers of waiting and so, we never leave the house empty, but continually work to fill her with the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer

Lord, please fill my life with your presence and lead me, always onward and upward.  Amen.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Two


Scripture
 
Matthew 18:19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.

Observation

Unity and harmony within the body of Christ seems to reflect the unity and harmony found within God. We are invited to fellowship with the divine nature — with the Holy Trinity. When two agree on earth — or when two or three gather together in prayer the fellowship of the Trinity is reflected in them. The power of God’s people being united in praying God’s will over situations and circumstances seems to tap into kingdom power. Jesus was revealing this secret to his disciples.

Application

This past week I had the privilege of preaching at rural church in Ohio. The pastor has had a powerful influence on the local community as he intentionally engages with those around him on a daily basis. He wears a pin with “2” on it — daily. This is very intentional as he hopes that it will encourage someone to ask, “Why are you wearing the number two?” At this point he proceeds headlong into a conversation on prayer. He brings them to this verse of scripture and asks them about their deepest need. He asks if he can partner with them in prayer about their need — and in this way, the two agree. He told me about the numerous people with whom he has prayed and the blessing in his own life to see so many answers to prayer. He then asked me for my need — and we are agreeing and praying.

Intentionality in prayer is important to the spiritual development of God’s people. This is not to be a solitary experience, but to be shared in community with the people of God. We are to reach out, to partner with others who are in need of prayer. When God’s people unite together there is synergy that may result in more than we could have imagined. But it takes intentionality, by spending time together as God’s people, seeking God’s face, and being led into the throne room where God’s will becomes my will.

Find a friend and become two who agree together. Then, let’s participate with God, as God changes the world.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for the moments of encounter with you through your people.  Amen.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Better Part


Scripture
 
Luke 10:38   Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.  39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.  40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”  41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;  42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Observation

This story has often been used to contrast the behaviors of Mary and Martha, making one seem to be in the right, and the other not. That does not seem to be the point that Jesus is making. It was an important ministry to prepare food and feed Jesus and the group of travelers with him. Jesus often speaks of showing hospitality, and he feeds the 5000, so what Martha is doing is not wrong. Some commentators would argue that Martha was showing greater devotion by all of her careful preparation. The only problem was that her devotion to him may have allowed her to become distracted from the better part. It’s a theological message which is given through this story. The service to the body which is being performed by Martha is necessary, but transitory. The better part is that which is eternal. Living in the already and the not-yet of the kingdom of  God, she is to find balance and not over-extend in one area over the other. 

Application

This illustration from Mary and Martha is played out on the church front. Some argue that the church should be engaged in the physical needs of the day. Jesus is saying “Yes!” that is vitally important because we live in the “already” and “not yet” of the kingdom of God. The “already” means that we have to focus on the daily needs which confront us. We have the hungry to feed, the naked to be clothed, the addict to be set free! At the same time, if we do not find balance, and we allow service in the “already” of the kingdom to consume us so that we don’t spend time in the “not yet” of the mystery of the kingdom, we will miss out on the better part. It’s not one or the other, it’s a balance of both.

Prayer

Lord, may you lead me to find that place of balance in my life.  Amen.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

When You Already Know the Answer

When you know the answer

Scripture

Luke 10:26
He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?”

Observation

The lawyer comes to Jesus to ask what he has to do to inherit eternal life. This was a well educated man and he really did know the answer to his own question. The problem is that he had not been living in this way. Therefore it was easier to pretend he didn't know and ask Jesus. In that way he could claim ignorance. But Jesus didn't let him get away with it. He knows that the man would know God's law. Therefore he asks him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?"

It's obvious if the man is a lawyer that he must know the law, and that he must read it! The man has been caught in his own ruse by Jesus. The man gives the right answer to Jesus. It is then that Jesus responds, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:28) he knew the right answer all along but the problem was that he didn't want to live like this. Jesus followed up with the story of the Good Samaritan. At the end Jesus admonished the lawyer to go and show mercy, just as the Samaritan.

Application

There are plenty of times in life when we know the right answer, but instead of acting on that knowledge we go to others. I have always dreaded when people ask me my opinion of someone they are dating that you know is completely wrong for them. As you look into the future, all you can see is tragedy. They can see it, and yet, they don't want to see it. They want affirmation from those closest to them that they're ok and doing the right thing. In reality they don't want your opinion. If you tell them your real concerns they may not listen and your relationship with this person may be permanently damaged.

The questions may not be about relationships or marriage but can cover a variety of topics. When we already know the answer to the question but we go to someone else we are, more than likely, looking for validation of our position. I'm sure that's what the lawyer was expecting. He was not expecting the truth and that he was to respond as someone from Samaria.

God has given us the resources to know the answers to our questions. Don't keep asking just because you don't like the answer. Accept the answer at you already know in your heart and then go, and live in this way.

Prayer

Thank you for e truths which you are constantly revealing to us. Please, help me live into these truths. Amen.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Discipleship Continuum


Scripture

Luke 10:1    After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.  2 He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.  3 Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.  4 Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.  5 Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’  6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.  7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.  8 Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you;  9 cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’  10 But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say,  11 ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’  12 I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.

Observation

Jesus had been discipling many people besides the twelve. Here we see that the number is so great that Jesus is able to send out seventy (or seventy two depending on the manuscript) to go out into the places where he was unable to go on his own. These were people who had started their walk with Jesus with little or no faith and yet, he had led them to such a place of understanding that they were ready to be sent out in his place.

Jesus tells them to pray for laborers, which is really a prayer for evangelism. Unless more individuals follow Jesus, there will be no laborers in the harvest field. It is a part of an entire continuum in which people come to know Christ, grow in Christ, and then go out to proclaim Christ.

Instructions are given for those who have been discipled and are ready to participate in evangelism. The world will not accept them, but they will be like lambs in the midst of wolves. There will be people who will intentionally frustrate their work and make it difficult to fulfill the Lord’s calling. However, that is not to stop God’s children. They are to travel in simplicity and without provision so that entire dependence will be upon God. There is also no temptation to “sell” discipleship, for they are the voice of the good news of the kingdom, and not merchants of a product. Dependence upon Jesus is of utmost importance in the life of a disciple.

The response to the gospel message is not the responsibility of the disciple. This is the work of God and there will be those who choose to respond and those who do not. The ministry is not about convincing people to give their lives to live in the kingdom. However, it is about making disciples and pointing the way to life. Discipleship included fellowship, eating of meals together, curing the sick and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. Sadly, there would be many who would not respond and would not want to become disciples, but they would face their own destruction.

Application

We all find ourselves on the discipleship continuum, all the way from just getting to know about Christ, to following Christ, to learning about him and then being sent out by him. It is a process and therefore when Jesus prays for laborers, he is praying that there will be those who will be discipled to the point of making disciples.

If I were to diagnose the problem in the discipleship continuum today I would suggest that we have a breakdown which occurs after people have come to know Christ. We may disciple for a deeper walk but very few seem to make it to the place of having a passion for evangelism. It seems that in some circles evangelism has been viewed negatively, and possibly because it has been done by those disciples who have not yet been mature enough in their faith.

The disciples that Jesus sent out were not allowed to take any resources with them so that they would be dependent upon God. They were not to be peddling faith. When we are not mature in our faith we will be tempted to peddle the gospel — to sell her for some type of return. The return is up to God. Jesus says that we are to pray for the laborers, which means we ought to be praying and disciplining people along the continuum, to that deeper walk with Jesus Christ the place where there is an incredible passion to bring others to Christ. I may be rather idealistic, but I believe that the church would do well to focus on discipling and praying for laborers, and then watch God raise up the evangelists. If people grow in their faith they will become so passionate about the Jesus with whom they have fallen in love that they won’t be able to be quiet about sharing their faith with others.

The process is never easy and there will be wolves along the way who will try to frustrate the process. They come in from time to time and capture sheep who aren’t paying attention. This discipleship business is serious business and one must remain ever attentive and ever-growing. We have never “arrived” but must continually move on in our relationship with Christ, remaining on the continuum, moving ever closer to Christ.

Prayer


Lord, I pray for laborers in your harvest fields.  Amen.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Absolute Commitment


Scripture
 
Luke 9:57   As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”  61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”  62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Observation

The public appeal of following Jesus had tickled the ears of some people.  Why not put yourself in the place of apostolic honor? It appears that it was easy to say that you would follow Jesus without really understanding the commitment. Jesus wasn’t calling followers who would be with him for a short period of time and then run back to their regular way of life. He was asking people to give up their regular way of life, putting it all behind and live in wholehearted commitment to the kingdom of God. There would be no turning back and all three sayings suggest an attitude of absolute commitment to following Jesus.

Basil of Caesarea suggests, “A person who wishes to become the Lord’s disciple must repudiate a human obligation, however honorable it may appear, if it slows us ever so slightly in giving the wholehearted obedience we owe to God.” (Concerning Baptism 1.1) Absolute commitment is what is required of those who will take up their cross and follow Jesus.

Application

The excuses provided to Jesus could be translated into our modern context. There are plenty of people who would like to say that they are ready and willing to follow Jesus but then Jesus begins to explain what that commitment looks like.

What is our attachment to our material lives? My husband and I are at that point where we are continually evaluating the status of our retirement funds. It means that we look at our material lives in a different way and we wonder about the longevity of our resources. You also begin to look at the material in a different light. Do we really need the kind of house in which we live? What kind of a vehicle (and how many) do we really need? What is our attachment to our “things?” There are a number of folks who have experienced a total loss of their material goods in the last few weeks with Hurricane Matthew. If you were the one who had lost everything how would you react? Jesus is calling us to become unattached to our materialism and become free to be engaged in the work of the kingdom.

Burying the dead was considered the highest priority for a family member. Jesus steps on toes again when he says that the kingdom is even more important than that which you think is the most important.

Basil’s comment strikes and interesting chord. Sometimes the things to which we believe we are called seem pretty important in the eyes of the world. We can begin to tell ourselves that we are needed in a particular position because from there we will be able to make a difference. Absolute commitment to Jesus means that positions lose their appeal as we live into the kingdom and the kingdom alone. We don’t look back and we don’t imagine the good we could have done when heading a different direction. It may not make sense to anyone around and yet, you live into the life of discipleship — wherever that may lead. This is absolute commitment to following Jesus.

Prayer

Lord, may the things of this world grow strangely dim.  Amen.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Trusting Chariots and Horses


Scripture
 
Psa. 20:7     Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses,
        but our pride is in the name of the LORD our God.
8     They will collapse and fall,
        but we shall rise and stand upright.

Observation

Surrounded by enemies who had much more “firepower” than he did, David still proclaimed his faith and trust in the LORD. According to God’s law, David was not allowed to have chariots, nor horses. These were signs of strength in a worldly political system backed by an overwhelming military presence. The great and powerful rulers of this world had chariots and horses and they took pride in all that they had.

Because David didn’t have horses, nor  chariots it would appear as if he had nothing. His enemies probably thought the idea of going into battle without the usual armaments was foolish. He didn’t fit the mold of a leader and his enemies would have simply laughed at what he was trying to accomplish. But David had complete and total trust in the LORD God. He believed in the power of God and that this would be much more powerful than any number of horses or chariots. Standing in the strength of the LORD, David would prevail and stand upright.

Application

I can only imagine how much David would have been tempted to trust in chariots and horses. These were visible signs of strength and force which, one would assume, would have made a great difference when doing battle with his enemies. We have our own contemporary versions of horses and chariots and these begin to appear when we put our trust in earthly powers and systems to bring about the kingdom of God. David trusted Jehovah and his pride was in God. He refused to be drawn into trusting in worldly systems to come to his defense. Instead, he believed in God for deliverance — and not just deliverance, but victory. The very powers of the world collapse under the weight of God’s rule.

David trusted in God, but his son Solomon succumbed to the temptation to fight his battles on the same level as the world. We read in 1 Kings 4:26 “Solomon also had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen.” That’s a lot of firepower! His pride was not in the name of the LORD his God, but in his own things and his own perceived strength. Solomon justified himself before God and others. In the meantime, his possessions became a distraction to his relationship with God. He trusted his chariots and horses and ultimately the kingdom split and fell into ruin. Thinking he was great and powerful made him forget the One who had given him that strength and power in the first place.

When we begin to believe that our solution will be found in chariots and horses we will stumble and fall. Our gaze is to turn heavenward and our pride is to be our God, Jehovah. The promises of old remain true today. As kingdom citizens we are to be about the business of our heavenly Father. The systems will collapse and fall. They always have! But kingdom citizens will ultimately rise and stand upright because the kingdom of God is eternal.

May God help us if our gaze has turned toward having chariots and horses. Seek the face of God and walk in the grace of the kingdom of God. There will be no horses, nor will there be chariots, but there will be pride in the same of our LORD.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to ignore the horses and chariots and keep my gaze toward you. Amen.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Struggling with Temptation


Scripture
 
Psa. 119:9        How can young people keep their way pure?
        By guarding it according to your word.
10     With my whole heart I seek you;
        do not let me stray from your commandments.
11     I treasure your word in my heart,
        so that I may not sin against you.
12     Blessed are you, O LORD;
        teach me your statutes.
13     With my lips I declare
        all the ordinances of your mouth.
14     I delight in the way of your decrees
        as much as in all riches.
15     I will meditate on your precepts,
        and fix my eyes on your ways.
16     I will delight in your statutes;
        I will not forget your word.

Observation

Purity of life has always been a challenge. The temptations of the flesh are great and yet, the Psalmist comes up with a solution. It is only by seeking God that one will not stray. The word of God becomes a weapon against sin. Jesus himself employed this tactic when he was tempted.

The LORD will teach us and lead us when we are absorbed in the word. It is in the Scriptures that we find our way. Praying the Scriptures can become a strength by day and by night. Temptation is destroyed as the focus becomes God’s word.

Application

Jesus, the incarnate word provides us with an great model for dealing with temptation. Knowing and meditating upon the Word is vital for our lives.

I began this journey of spending more concentrated time in God’s word about six years ago. I have followed a couple of different reading plans, but both in the desire to soak in the word. These plans have taken me to places in the scriptures where I may not have normally gone.  God has been speaking to me through these daily readings and I’ve learned more than I would have imagined. This discipline has helped me be able to bring the word more and more often into my daily life.

Seeking God with our whole heart includes study of the Scriptures. Devotional guides are good, but knowing the word is something different. The Psalmist believed that he had to really know the Scriptures to be able to deal with the temptations that he would face in life. As walking with the LORD  in the word on a daily basis becomes more natural, the more one knows God. A pathway has been provided to the LORD’s heart, and that is through the written word.

A life of purity is possible when the temptations of life are tackled with the word.  We must create space in our lives for soaking in the word and in this way, get to know God. The struggle remains real but the ability to face the issue is empowered by the strength found in  God.

Prayer


Lord, may my life be empowered by knowing you through your word. Amen.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Trying to Hide


Scripture

 
Luke 8:47 When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed.

Observation

The woman with the issue of blood had reached out and touched Jesus. She had the faith to believe that simply touching him would heal her. She knew, however, that this was not the right thing to do, for she was considered unclean. Touching Jesus would have made him unclean and this would have been a horrible thing to do. But in her desperation, she reaches out and touches him anyway. Little did she know that he would sense healing power leaving his body and touching her. Now, she is embarrassed that he realizes something has happened. She has broken the law by touching this man. Therefore she decides that she will hide but she realizes this is futile. She has to admit what she has done and so she comes before Jesus and tells what she has done.

Application


Sometimes we really want the Lord to do something for us but out of embarrassment we hide in the shadows. We are not sure that we want anyone to know the depths of our need, including Jesus. We try to sneak up on him and reach out and get from him what we need without fully engaging with him. We try to hide so that neither the Lord, nor the world can see that we are in trouble. But it doesn’t work that way.

The Lord will always see our need, no matter where we try to hide. There is nothing that can be hidden from God, so why do we try? We are welcomed to step out of the shadows and into the grace of our Lord. We don’t have to be afraid of what we are going through, because Jesus, the one with the power to provide will not condemn but will reach out to us in holy love, welcoming us into a relationship with him. Standing back in the shadows we are unable to have a face to face relationship in which we will reflect Christ.

The woman realized that she couldn’t be hidden and rather than being embarrassed she was embraced by Jesus and his love. It’s never worth it to try and hide from Jesus. It is in our woundedness that God brings healing, filling those wounds with love and grace. Come out of the shadows and allow God’s love to pour over your deepest need.

Prayer


Lord, thank you for your promise of love and acceptance. Amen.

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Saturday, October 8, 2016

Hidden Secrets Disclosed


Scripture
 
Luke 8:16   “No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light.  17 For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light.  18 Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.”

Observation


The light of the kingdom of God will shine brightly in those who follow after Christ. Eventually no one will be able to hide the mysteries and secrets of the kingdom for they will all come to light. The light of kingdom will continue to burn brightly and therefore, those with the light are charged to be responsible with that light. Allow the light to shine brightly and lift it up before all. The more that you care for the light, the more hidden secrets will be disclosed.

Application

There are good secrets and there are bad secrets. No matter how hard we try, secrets will eventually come to light. Mostly we hear of the consequences of bad or negative secrets. When the light of truth shines on them they become an embarrassment.

The hidden secrets of the kingdom of God will never be an embarrassment. The more that light shines from the kingdom of God, the more that the truth of the kingdom will be revealed. As followers of Christ we are to be reflections of the light of the kingdom in all that we do. The hidden mysteries of God are disclosed by the ways in which we engage in kingdom work in the world. The more that we engage in Christ’s activity, the more that he is revealed. This is why when we receive the light of Christ and new life in the kingdom we are not to hide this news from others, but we are impassioned to share it with the world.


What kinds of secrets would you like your life to hold? The good or the bad? Choose you this day whom you will serve!

Prayer

Lord, may your hidden secrets be disclosed in and through my life. Amen.

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Friday, October 7, 2016

Teamwork


Scripture
 
Luke 8:1   Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him,  2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,  3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

Observation

Partners in ministry may not always be those whom we expect. The disciples traveled with Jesus, along with a group of women whom Jesus had touched and cured of numerous infirmities. They comprised the rag-tag team that served together with Jesus, and it took all of them to complete the ministry.

So much of this teamwork was counter-cultural. Women would never have been allowed into the inner circle with a religious leader and yet, here they were. While they came with great gratitude for what Jesus had done in their lives, they were able to give back to Jesus in return. Jesus humbled himself, though rich, he became poor, so that the women would be able to minister to him.

The disciples would follow this model into their future ministry, even after the ascension of Christ. Teams of disciples, men and women, would partner together in the spreading of the good news about Jesus Christ.

Application


A synergy is created when God’s sons and daughters partner together in ministry and become a part of a team. I would guess that when we think of Jesus and his disciples we just imagine him with the twelve men. However, if you look closely at the scriptures you discover that it was a larger team and this included the women who helped to resource the ministry. It took this kind of a partnership to fulfill Jesus’ mission, and it takes this kind of a partnership today as well.

If we take Jesus as our example, then how would we do work or ministry differently? In the last few decades a number of Christian leaders have adopted a set of rules or standards which they believe will protect them from having their image tarnished. While I do understand where and how this began, there are unintended consequences. Had Jesus been concerned about his reputation with the religious leaders there are a lot of things he would not have done. In regard to his relationship with women, he found it more important to break down cultural barriers and raise the status of women in the kingdom, than to protect his own reputation. Therefore he was accused of hanging out with the wrong people — including women of questionable repute.

When we create barriers to protect our own reputation, others will be hurt. Suddenly the person on the other side of the barrier is viewed as being dangerous. They are isolated and are no longer participants in casual conversation. Decisions about work and ministry are made without a variety of voices at the table and the teamwork which was on display in the life of Jesus is no longer reflected. The kingdom loses in the long-run.

Whether we are talking about women, or ethnic minorities, or people of a different socio-economic class — we will find strength in diversity. The teamwork on display with Jesus’ rag-tag team astounded the world. Jesus intentionally broke down barriers which had existed for centuries and provided us with a little glimpse of the way in which work was to be done in the kingdom. We are to reflect that kingdom — already today! Kingdom work is teamwork.

Prayer

Lord, please open my eyes to provide opportunities for intentional inclusion in your kingdom’s work. Amen.

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Thursday, October 6, 2016

A Contagion


Scripture
 
Acts 24:5 We have, in fact, found this man a pestilent fellow, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.

Observation

The High Priest is bringing his case against Paul to the governor of the region. Trying to explain what it is that Paul has done he uses a descriptive word “loimos” — which can be translated pestilence or plague. While this is meant to be a negative descriptor, for Paul, it was probably a badge of honor. At the root of this word is an understanding of something infectious or contagious. The religious leaders were trying to contain an outbreak of the Nazarenes. So great and powerful was their faith that it was reaching epidemic proportions and the leadership felt that something had to be done to stop it.

Application

The faith of Paul had become contagious and an entire group of people, known as the Nazarenes had also become infected. The result was that nothing in the world could stop what was happening in and through their lives. The fledgling church continued to grow and spread as if it were the outbreak of an epidemic.

In the first few centuries this contagion of Christianity was simply the norm. This was a characteristic of the Christian faith — it was a contagious faith, and this was taken for granted.

I am writing this morning while flying at nearly 30,000 feet above the earth. As I look out the window I am watching the world come to life. Lights are flickering in the cities that we pass below. I see whips of clouds floating along the Appalachian mountains and the sunrise is creating a rainbow of color right outside my window which is more beautiful than anything a human could create or capture. Yet, I realize that I take flying and the beauty which can be seen from this vantage point for granted. It has simply become the norm, but I have faith to trust and believe that this airplane will carry me to my intended destination for that is the nature of commuting by air.

The nature of Christianity is that it is to be contagious and human powers have no ability to stop its spread. But if this is the case, then we must examine ourselves. If there are places where Christianity is no longer contagious, what has happened? It is quite possible that there has been a mutation of the original agent. We may may have introduced something into the contagion of Christianity which has made it less virulent and stifled its ability to spread spontaneously. More than likely we have infused the purity of our faith with our own preconceived notions of how things are to be done. It’s as if we are trying to fly an airplane by flapping our arms and hoping that we would have the same results as I have experienced today on an Airbus.

The plague of Christianity was spread through the firepower of the Holy Spirit. We are called to be agents who will deliver this contagion into the world for this is not a disease that brings death, but life. We have the great vaccine to what ails those around us. If we become an obstacle to the delivery of that agent, then those around us will die.

May we seek to follow the example of Paul and be accused of being a pest for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. And may my tribe, the Nazarenes, again become an unstoppable host for the movement of God's Holy Spirit.

Prayer

Lord, please help me to be a pest for you. Amen.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Protected


Scripture
 
Psa. 121:5        The LORD is your keeper;
        the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
6     The sun shall not strike you by day,
        nor the moon by night.

Observation

The Psalmist lifts up his eyes to the hills and recognizes that his strength doesn’t come from the gods which dot the mountainsides, but from the great Protector. The LORD — Yahweh is the one who will keep us in the time of trouble. The LORD stands at our right hand as one who bears a shield of protection so that our right arm is free to engage in spiritual battle. There the LORD stands between every threat, those real and those imagined. The sun brightens the daylight so the enemy can be seen and identified. In the shadow of the midnight hour imaginary threats begin to loom in the moonlight. No matter what the threat, whether excessive heat or baneful chills, the LORD is our keeper and our protector.

Application

Threats abound in life, whether real or imaginary. Whatever it is that strikes fear in the heart of a believer, this can become a barrier to abiding in the presence of the LORD.

The LORD is our protector so that we may continue to press on. This is the beauty of the Psalmists words, that the LORD will protect and provide shade of our right hand. The LORD protects our right hand with which we are to continue to press on. The promise is not for the right hand to be replaced by the LORD, but that the LORD protects so the we may participate as partners together in God’s mission in the world.

The imagery of the keeper and protector of the right hand is one of warfare. There is no promise of an easy life, but there is a promise of partnership. God is aware of the enemies, both real and imaginary. The moon represents that which we imagine in the shadows of the night and in this place there is often more fear than in the daylight. When our minds begin to imagine every single worst-case scenario we can be driven to the abyss of darkness. But the LORD promises protection, even from the places in which our mind may wander.

Spiritual victory may be won in the deep recesses of our mind where our thoughts may wish to take us captive to fear. The LORD protects us — even from ourselves. This is the promise when we lift up our eyes and see that God is greater than the idols which dot our landscape. We are protected.

Prayer

Lord, thank you for your great and precious promises in the day and night. Amen.

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Monday, October 3, 2016

Spiritual Sight


Scripture
 
Luke 6:39   He also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?  40 A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.  41 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?  42 Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Observation

In preparation for leadership, the disciples needed to understand their role as teachers. They were the ones who would be teaching and leading others in a life of faith. However, they would only be able to lead others as they had spiritual sight. If they were unable to see, they would cause others to stumble and to fall. It was their responsibility to care for their spiritual sight so that those who followed them would be able to be spiritually robust.

To become a teacher of others  one must be open to critical self-examination. Spiritual sight will be distorted when there is a “log” in your own eye. Jesus is using humor and exaggeration to make a point. When there is something going on in the life of the teacher which blocks his/her ability to reflect Christ, then that individual can’t be showing others how to reflect Christ. First, the teacher has to deal with the problem in their own life, and then they will be able to teach and lead others.

Spiritual sight, and insight, is required to be a spiritual leader.

Application

“So you want to teach others?” This has been my response several times in life when individuals have come to tell me about their newest passion. Sometimes the explanation has included a call to a speaking career in which one travels the country and shares “their story” with many people. Next, they’ll ask me how to get started in this kind of a "career."

There are a lot of problems with the above conversations because anyone who is seeking this kind of work is probably not the person who should be doing it! Also, there is a misconception that this is a career-path that people plan out for themselves. We live in a “microwave” society that wants everything now and we fail to see what is required to become a person of influence for God.

Jesus was preparing his disciples for a kind of life and ministry that they would have never imagined. They were going to be fishers of men and lead people to Christ all over the known world. However, they were not going to be invited onto stages in the public arena. Instead, they were going to travel with very light luggage, going house to house, sharing Jesus. Some people would welcome them and others would hate them, but they would continue.

Let’s go back to the one who wants the successful career and a speaking tour. What would Jesus say? I think he would say that your motivations have become distorted because the passion must be for Jesus and not for a career. The desire must be to make Jesus increase, and for us to decrease. Jesus must be the focus of everything that we are to do. We follow Jesus and sometimes it may be in front of a crowd hungry to know truth, but it may also be to a town where they try to shove you off a cliff.

For Jesus to increase, we must have spiritual sight. We must know Jesus Christ and unite with him in his mission in this world. That’s why we must be open to critical self-examination. Wanting a speaking career about Christ for one’s own personal benefit is a pretty big log in the eye. When this is the case, then one cannot be a spiritual guide, for the log is obstructing the spiritual landscape. This was Jesus’ warning to his disciples. They had to be able to see Jesus clearly before they could lead others.

Jesus does need teachers, and preachers and speakers. If we are called into these roles, then we must seek to see spiritually on a daily basis. Just as I have to clean the lenses of my glasses on a daily basis to be able to see clearly, so we must focus on Jesus daily. In this way, he helps to keep our vision clear and directs us in the path that lies ahead. This is required to be a spiritual leader.

Prayer

Lord, please examine my vision today and remove the specks or logs which may have settled into my life. Amen.

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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Spiritual Discernment


Scripture
 
1Cor. 2:14    Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.  15 Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.
16     “For who has known the mind of the Lord
        so as to instruct him?”
But we have the mind of Christ.

Observation

There is an assumption here that Paul is referring to Isaiah 40:13, “Who has directed the spirit of the LORD, or as his counselor has instructed him?” The passage is intended to turn his readers to spiritual discernment, for Paul is consumed by a desire to know Christ. This is not an exercise in intellectual gain, but in participating together with Christ, and in doing so coming to know the mind of Christ. The result is the Divine source that infuses the life of the believer and provides spiritual discernment for life.

The confidence of Paul is his confidence in Christ and therefore his understanding has expanded far beyond his own personal education. That which he receives in his secret counsel with Christ transforms his understanding and this becomes absurd to the world for the wisdom of God is often beyond human comprehension. At the same time it is of great comfort to the children of God who have become united with God, and have the mind of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Application


What type of thinking is influencing our judgment these days? If I look around at the landscape of this world, whether the political, spiritual, geo-conflicted, or racial relational, we can feel overwhelmed. The problems and concerns are complex and reach beyond our human understanding and discernment. If anything, just listening to the news on a daily basis ought to drive us to our knees. We need to know the mind of Christ for his ways are much higher than our ways, and his understanding beyond that which we can comprehend.

I think the Apostle Paul knew that there would need to be followers of Jesus Christ who had studied and who brought the best education possible to the table. However, until that educated individual was united to the mind of Christ, there would be no spiritual discernment. What is done in the flesh can be empowered exponentially when united with Christ.

It is in light of the mind of Christ that we begin to see the political landscape differently. We discern what is happening in the spiritual lives of those with whom we live and worship. Our lens for the geo-political conflict is cleared when the individuals involved are seen through the wisdom of Christ — and human borders are obliterated in the process. Spiritual discernment and the mind of Christ help us to see racial injustice for the ugly truth that it is, and our hearts break along with his.

I provide this warning: Having the mind of Christ brings spiritual discernment but this will seem as foolishness to many, even those who call themselves believers. But we cling to the words found in 2Timothy 1:12 “I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.”

Prayer

Lord, I pray for your wisdom and discernment in all I do. Amen.

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