Sunday, March 31, 2019

Luke 9:27 & The Kingdom of God

Luke 9:27
[27] But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

Not everyone will die before they see the Kingdom. Judas didn’t see the kingdom. Some of those hearing Jesus words, because of unbelief on their part, would never experience the kingdom. Peter, James and John, in the very next verses saw the king in his glory. 120 followers of Jesus, in Acts 2, would experience the Kingdom when the Holy Spirit came upon them. Peter, in his Pentecost sermon quoted Joel regarding the last days and the coming of the Lord. He said, “this (referring to the coming of the Holy Spirit) is what was uttered through Joel.” The Kingdom was not yet, and still the Kingdom was here. The Kingdom is here. 2 Corinthians 1:21 says, “It is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee (or down payment).” The Kingdom is not yet, but it is now through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

When you get or renew your driver’s license, you to get a temporary Driver’s License, at least in some states. It is a full-fledged driver’s license, but it was temporary. It doesn't have your picture on it, and it isn't intended to be permanent. Once the real license comes the temporary isn't needed anymore. With the temporary license, you have your license, but you don't have your license yet. Similarly, the Kingdom is here through the indwelling Holy Spirit, but the kingdom is not here yet.

Luke 9:27 says, “Not everyone will taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” The “not everyone” included Peter, who had denied knowing Jesus. It did not include Judas, who betrayed him. Judas lost his life. Peter was blessed (Lk 24:51). What made the difference? Judas’ choice was a commitment to take sides against Jesus. Peter’s choice was a momentary failure followed by brokenness and faith (Lk 24:52-53). Peter came to understand what Jesus meant when he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily.”

“Come and die,” the Master calleth, “Come and die;”
If you save your life, you’ll lose it every time;
You can gain the whole wide world, lose your soul at the same time;
Be ashamed of him and lose, “Come and die.”

Where do you need to die today? To your will? To your reputation? To your plans for the future? To your insistence on working to earn God’s favor? To the humility of receiving the gift of life from God with nothing to offer in return? Today is a good day to die.

Luke 9:23
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Dying to Live

Luke 9:24-26 (ESV)
[24] For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. [25] For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? [26] For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. [27] But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

In verse 23 Jesus told his disciples that in order to follow him, they must deny self, take up their cross, and follow. Verses 24-26 give us three reasons why this is necessary. First, he says that saving equals losing and losing equals saving. Just one example, often when we are chasing after joy we fail to find it, but when we lose ourselves in the service of others joy sneaks in and surprises us. Losing equals saving and saving equals losing.

The second reason for Jesus’ instruction about taking up the cross it that this world is of less value than life. I wonder if Jesus had Judas in mind as he was talking. Judas traded his life for thirty pieces of silver. He thought he was trading Jesus life for thirty pieces of silver, but it turned out to be his own life that he lost. Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus reminds us that gaining the whole world but losing self is valueless. Life is of more value than the entire world, and life is found in death.

Third, Jesus warns that if we are ashamed of him now, he will be ashamed of us when he returns. I wonder if Jesus had Peter in mind here. Peter would shortly deny that he even knew Jesus. How do you suppose Peter felt when He denied Jesus, and Jesus turned and looked at him (Lk 22:61)? How much worse on the day of Jesus return in glory to have him look into our eyes and say, “I am so disappointed that you were ashamed to know me. How could you?”

Death is the way to life. Ted Dekker’s trilogy Black, Red, and White is an interesting allegory paralleling the Old Testament, the Gospel, and the New Testament. In Black, people must wash daily in the lake in order to be clean of their disease, similarly in the Old Testament people were required to offer daily sacrifices to cover their sin. In Red washing changes to drowning in the lake. The result is that once they drown they are alive, and they are perpetually clean. They no longer require daily washing. That is a picture of the Bible story moving from law to grace.

This is the gospel. Once we take our own agendas, our own attempts at gaining God’s approval, our own will and desires, and lay them all at the feet of the cross . . . Once we come to the point of realizing that our only hope is Jesus and we intentionally place our trust in him, then we have real life. From that point on it makes no sense to go back to our old ways. Death to self is the way to life. The good news is that the Bible says that when we were baptized into Christ we were baptized into his death. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4).

Why must we die in order to follow Jesus? Because saving equals losing and losing equals saving. Because life is of more value than the entire world, and life is found in death. And finally, because if we are ashamed of him now, he will be ashamed of us when he returns. Let us choose the way of death that leads to life.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Luke 9:23 and Caskets

Jesus said that following him involves denying oneself and taking up one’s cross in order to follow him. There is an aspect of daily death in the life of following Jesus.

At the Funeral Museum in Houston Texas I learned that the word casket refers a small ornamental box or chest for holding jewels, letters, or other valuable objects. We use the word to refer to the box in which we bury our loved ones. The difference between a coffin and a casket is the shape. Caskets are rectangular. Coffins are wide at the head and narrow at the feet. We rarely see coffins today, except in old Westerns. Most often caskets are used for American funerals. Why call it a casket? It is because we see life as valuable. The casket holds the body of our loved one. We see it as a valuable object. We hold life as perhaps one of the most valuable things we possess. Jesus says that to find real life we must give up our most valuable possession.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 Our life is precious, but it is not our own. We recognize this in death, but do we live it in our daily life?

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Luke 5 Commitment

When Christians read Luke 5, they often focus in on the "commitment" to Christ demonstrated in vs 11, "left everything and followed Him." But, I'm not convinced the passage is about commitment at all. Leaving everything to follow Jesus was predicated upon vs 8, "When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!""

Peter's willingness to drop everything and follow Jesus was motivated by a clear view of his own sinfulness in the light of Jesus teaching and power. When we focus on commitment, we focus on us. When we see ourselves in the light of Jesus, our desperation drives us to commitment because we have nowhere else to turn.

Lord, let me see Jesus clearly and may I rest in your grace.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Luke 4 Temptation & Sin

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.
Luke 4:1-2

Is it possible to be "led by the Spirit" and "tempted" at the same time? Apparently so! Temptation and sin are not the same thing. If I don't understand that, I will find myself either giving in to sin because "I can't help myself," or carrying a huge burden of guilt, constantly confessing sin and seeking forgiveness for things I'm not actually guilty of. Either way the enemy wins because he has successfully distracted me from Christ and the grace of God.

Jesus was led by the Spirit, tempted by the Devil and remained sinless all at the same time. Thank you Lord that my life is hidden in Christ! By your grace, may I never confuse temptation with sin, and may I walk faithfully by your Spirit.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Luke 9:23-27 - Come and Die

Revelation 4:11 says that God is worthy to receive “glory and honor and power.” In Luke 9:22 Jesus says to his disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” That statement is immediately followed by three short passages. In verses 23-27 Jesus challenges his disciples to deeper commitment. They are to honor him by denying themselves, taking up their cross daily and following him. Verses 28-36 reveal his glory in the transfiguration. Verses 37-43 demonstrate his power in healing a boy with an unclean spirit. He is worthy “to receive glory and honor and power.” This is not because he demands it, or because he is power hungry, or because he is egotistical. He is worthy “to receive glory and honor and power” because he created all things.

All things exist and were created by his will. They are his, not by reason of possession or brute force, but by reason of creation. He brought all things into existence by his word. God said,

“Let there be…” and there was. Jesus “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). “By him all things were created, … and he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17). All things exist, were created, and hold together “by the word of his power.” That is why He is worthy “to receive glory and honor and power.” It is that glory and honor and power that Luke 9:23-43 demonstrates. He is worthy!

The fact that he is worthy leads us to consider his kingdom. The Lord’s prayer includes the phrase, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” What does that mean? In 1906 Pastor John Widmeyer was preparing a sermon on John 21:12, where Jesus, after the resurrection, invites the disciples who have been fishing to come and have breakfast with him on the beach. Widmeyer wrote a hymn to go along with his sermon that day. The chorus of his hymn goes like this:
"Come and dine,” the Master calleth, “Come and dine”; 
You may feast at Jesus’ table all the time;
He Who fed the multitude, turned the water into wine,
To the hungry calleth now, “Come and dine.” 

But in Luke 9 the invitation is not to come and dine, but to come and die. So I wrote a different chorus:
“Come and die”, the Master calleth, “Come and die”; 
If you save your life, you’ll lose it every time; 
You can gain the whole wide world, lose your soul at the same time; 
Be ashamed of him and lose, “Come and die.” 

“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done will one day look like “Come and dine,” but right now it looks a lot more like “Come and die.”

Monday, March 25, 2019

Luke 3 Works Suitable to Repentance

Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. 
Luke 3:8a (ESV) 

What are works suitable to repentance, or fruits keeping with repentance? John the Baptist calls the crowds to produce works suitable to repentance. The things that immediately come to mind are confession, prayer, meditation on the Scriptures, typically religious stuff, but that's not what John called for. When asked, "What should I do?" John responded, "The person who has two tunics must share with the person who has none, and the person who has food must do likewise." To the tax collectors he said, "Collect no more than you are required to." And to the soldiers he responded, "Take money from no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your pay." These are the works suitable for repentance.

I think that perhaps we are far too "religious," and neglect to understand that what God really wants is for us to live out our faith in very practical but counter-cultural ways that reflect the love and truth of Christ where we live and work, rather than where we worship.

Father, teach me what it means to live out my faith and repentance in the real world rather than in the church world.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Luke 2 Jesus Human Roots

Luke 2:4-5 tells us, "(Joseph) went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child."

What a scandal! Mary living with Joseph, engaged & pregnant but not yet married. This little fact is often lost in the shadow of shepherds and angels, prophecy and blessing, and the incredible beginning to the incredible life and ministry of Jesus. From the beginning, it seems, Jesus is identifying with sinners.

How quickly we forget Jesus own words spoken later during his ministry, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Lk 5:32

Lord, forgive me for how often, in the midst of "ministry," I forget why you came. May I ever remember that ministry is about your gospel for sinners, not about meetings for the "righteous."

Friday, March 22, 2019

Luke 1 Certainty

" that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught." 
Lk 1:4 

There is never a lack of opinions and perspectives in this world, but it is not often we speak of certainty these days. The events surrounding the birth of John the Baptist are pretty amazing, even unbelievable, yet Luke thoroughly investigated and assures us of the trustworthiness of this story. Ours is a sure and certain faith.

Lord, may I rest securely in the truth of that message, particularly in the uncertainties of these times.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Mark 16 Fear

Mark 16:8 says, "Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid." They've just encountered an empty tomb and an angel who has instructed them to tell the disciples. Still, they tell no one "because they were afraid." What exactly are they afraid of? If they are afraid of the angel, then why don't they do what he says? If they are afraid of the guards or the officials, why does that keep them from going privately to tell the disciples? Fear is a strange animal. It pushes us to do things we otherwise would not do, like deny Jesus. It keeps us from doing what we might otherwise do, like run and tell the disciples. It is often irrational and sometimes we can't even say what exactly we're afraid of. But, "perfect love casts out fear" (1Jn 4:18) and "we love Him because He first loved us" (1Jn 4:19). Father, may my love be perfected because your love is perfect. May I walk today in your love rather than in my fear.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Mark 15 More Irony and a Beautiful Picture

It is ironic that the Son of the Father should be sentenced to death when they can find no crime that he had committed, while a criminal, Barabbas, named "son" (bar) of the "father" (abba) is set free. What a beautiful picture of the significance of the cross. Jesus, the innocent one, died so that I, the guilty one, could go free. That is why we gather to worship.

Father, never let me forget that I am your son because your Son willingly died for me.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Mark 14 Irony & Fear

What irony! The Jewish leaders want to arrest Jesus but are afraid of the crowds. An anonymous woman honors Jesus with expensive perfume, apparently unafraid of what anyone thinks. The leaders fear seems to prolong Jesus life, while the woman's lack of fear motivates Judas to betray Jesus, thereby hastening His demise. The Good News is that Jesus demise is precisely what provided us with the gift of life.

Later in the same chapter (Mk 14), Peter is convinced that nothing can scare him into denying Jesus, yet by that night he was adamantly swearing that he never knew Him.

The woman apparently loved and feared God more than anything. The Jewish religious leaders, and Jesus lead disciple, apparently feared man more than they feared God. I fear that I am more like them than I am like the woman. I have no faith in my faith; I only have faith in God who is faithful even when I am not. Just because Peter denied Jesus does not mean that Jesus denied Peter. Isn't that amazing?

Lord, by your grace may I love and fear you more than I do any person, thing or circumstance.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Mark 13 Waiting for His Return

In Mark 13, Jesus says, "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come." That raises the question, what does it mean to be on the alert?

Titus 2:12-13 says that the grace of God "teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ."

What does it mean to "be on the alert"? I have a feeling it means saying "No" to ungodliness, living "self-controlled, upright and godly lives." What is it that keeps me from doing that? Weariness? "Be not weary in well doing." (2 Thess 3.13). Busyness? "See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil." (Eph 5:15-16). Laziness? "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: … a little sleep, a little slumber, … So shall thy (spiritual?) poverty come …" (Prov 6:6-11).

Maybe it's just that I don't really understand and appreciate grace. It is grace that teaches me how to live in anticipation of Christ's return. The truth is, it's not about me. It’s about Him. How often I forget that.

Lord, forgive me for how often I look to myself to pull me up out of the mire of "ungodliness and worldly passions … to live self-controlled, upright and godly." Forgive me for the times I forget to look to you and your grace. It was your servant Paul who asked, "who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" But then he answered, "I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Rom 7:24-25) Father, thank you for your grace! By your grace may I live in anticipation of your Son's return.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Mark 12 More Responses to Jesus

In Mark 12 it is interesting to track the responses to Jesus that are experienced by those who encounter him, particularly the Sadducees and Pharisees. In vs 12, they are seeking to seize him, but are afraid of the people. In vs 17, they are amazed at him but, they continue to try to challenge him. And finally, in vs 34, no one dares ask him any more questions. Jesus then goes on the offensive challenging them to explain the scriptures, in vs 35. Perhaps the key to the whole thing is in vs 24 when Jesus says that they are mistaken because they "do not understand the scriptures or the power of God."

Now we come to it. The Pharisees and Sadducees fancied themselves religious, serious students of the scriptures, and protectors of God's reputation yet, Jesus says they know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. That leads me to wonder how well I know either of these things myself. I did okay in Bible College and pretty well in Seminary. I've been preaching and teaching the scriptures for years, but so had the Pharisees.

God, help me read your Word with fresh eyes. Help me to open your Scriptures with a heart prepared to hear and embrace your truth. Help me glimpse your power, and never let me think I've got it all figured out. Lord, never let me fancy myself "keeper of the realm," but rather servant of the Most High God. While I know that I do not know your scriptures or your power as I ought, may it never be said of me, "you're mistaken because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God," or worse yet, may it never be said of you, "you don't care."

Lord, I lay my agenda at your feet. Teach me!

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Mark 11 Inappropriate Responses to Jesus

In Mk 11, I find three inappropriate responses to Jesus between verses 12-18. First is the fig tree. It’s not bearing figs because "it was not the season for figs." Isn't that our response often? "Jesus I'd love to do that for you BUT... it's not the right time. If only I was younger. If only I was older. If only I had more opportunity to raise support. If only I had a good job to support my family, I'd be happy to serve you but you called at the wrong time."

Second are the money changers and merchants in the temple area. They were more concerned about making a profit than about hearing a prophet. "Jesus," we say, "I'd be happy to serve you BUT... it's not convenient. I might have to give up my nice home. I might have to go somewhere I don't like. I might have to sweat, or freeze, or be uncomfortable, or eat food I don't like... I'd love to serve you, but you know I can't handle stress. It's really not convenient."

Third, the chief priests looked for a way to kill him "for they feared him because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching." In other passages, they wanted to kill him but didn't act against him because of their fear of the crowd. In this passage they fear Jesus because the crowd is listening to him. Is it possible that their response to Jesus was jealousy? How often have we allowed our own ego to get in the way of ministry? "Jesus, I'd be happy to serve you BUT... just make sure that people know it was my idea; just make sure that I get credit for my sacrifice; just make sure that SOMEONE acknowledges me in this thing." Someone once said that you can get a lot done if you don't care who gets the credit. We fear that we won't get the credit we deserve. We fear our own loss of acknowledgement more than we fear Jesus.

I've been guilty of all three inappropriate responses to Jesus at one time or another. I have found only ashes when I take these paths, but joy and blessing when I say, "Yes Lord, I will go now in your time, wherever you say, no matter who gets the credit." That changes everything and I've never once been sorry.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Mark 10 Impossible Salvation

Mk 10:27b states, "All things are possible with God." I've seen and heard that statement often, but I have almost as often forgotten the context in which it was made. In reference to the disciple’s question, "Who then can be saved?" (Mk 10:26) Jesus responds, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."

This statement is not so much a reminder that God can do anything: sell our house, find us a job, protect us in a storm, etc. It is a reminder that we cannot save ourselves. It is a reminder of what a miracle our salvation truly is. We have a tendency to look in the mirror and say, "Yep, God got a pretty good deal." And then look across the street and say, "That person will clearly never come to Christ." God forgive us. Salvation is a miracle from start to finish. It is about grace, not greatness. It is about mercy, not deserving. I was as unsavable as the rest, but here I rest in the unimaginable, unfathomable, undeserved grace of God. With me this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God. Our salvation is truly amazing. May we never forget that.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Mark 9 Encountering Jesus

In reading Mark 9, three things are abundantly clear to me. First, no one encounters Jesus unmoved. They might be frightened, confused, overwhelmed or relieved, but no one is unmoved.

Second, the best response to Jesus in the whole chapter is the father who cries out, "I believe, help me in my unbelief." It is an honest response. He's not trying to be important. He's not trying to pretend that he has more faith than he does. He just knows that Jesus is his only hope.

Third, are Jesus words in verse 40, "Whoever is not against us is for us." Someone had been casting out demons in Jesus name but they weren't part of the disciple's little tribe. Now which group was doing the work of Jesus, those casting out demons in his name, or the disciples who were trying to stop them?

As believers in Jesus Christ, we often forget what it means to encounter Jesus. We get so caught up in the systems of ministry that we forget to really see him and be moved. We are often more concerned about what people think of us than of Jesus. As a result we are dishonest with others, with ourselves, and with our God. We pretend to be more holy than we really are, and we level most of our attacks at brothers who are not part of our own little tribe, when we should be besieging the gates of Hell with the Good News of Jesus.

Father, I recognize that I have been as guilty as anyone in these things. I believe, help me in my unbelief.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Mark 8 Dense like the Disciples

In Mk 8, Jesus' disciples have seen him heal; they have seen him cast out demons; they have seen him feed 5000 people with a few loaves and fish and have 12 baskets left over; they have seen him feed 4000 and have 7 baskets left. After all that, when Jesus talks about the leaven of the Pharisees the disciples don't get it. It makes me wonder at how often I have been so dense. God must sigh, shake his head and say, "Have we walked together so long and you still don't get it?"

Lord, don't let me continue in my own dense lack of understanding. Open my eyes and soften my heart that I might walk in your light.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Mark 7 Focusing on Nonsense

The crowds say, "He has done everything well." The Pharisees say, "Why don't your disciples wash their hands?" It makes me wonder how often I've been guilty of focusing on nonsense like the Pharisees while missing what God was up to. God, give me eyes to see, ears to hear, and a tongue to proclaim your goodness.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Mark 6 Like the Disciples

For they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.
Mk 6:52 

What a strange description of Jesus disciples. Weren't these the same guys Jesus sent out preaching in groups of two earlier in the chapter? Weren't these the same guys that were casting out demons and healing the sick earlier in the chapter?

Is it possible, even probable, that I mistake spiritual victories for expressions of my spiritual power and forget it is His power, not mine? Is it possible, even probable, that God uses me in spite of my hard heart rather than because of my deep spirituality? Is it possible, even probable, that I am a lot more like the disciples than I am like Jesus? Yes, and may God forgive me for thinking anything else!

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Mark 5 Responding to Jesus

As I read Mark 5, I was struck by the fact that when people begin to understand and believe who Jesus is they respond with either fear or devotion, or perhaps fear and devotion. Many people claim to look up to Jesus, to view him as a great teacher and role model, but I'm not sure they really "get" him. If they really understood and believed who he is, their response would be very different. They would see him not as a role model, but as the one with power over the natural and the supernatural; one who inspires both fear and devotion.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Mark 4 When People don’t “Get It”

With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand.
Mk 4.33 

"As much as they could understand;" that seems a strange phrase. It seems to me that the attitude of the American church has been that it is our responsibility to make them understand. Whatever it takes, we need to make sure we are communicating. We need to pick the right illustrations. We need to use the right words. We need to establish the right setting. We need to grab on like a pit bull and not let go until they "get it."

That results is frustration on our part and irritation on the part of those we're trying to reach/teach. If our hearers don't "get it," we assume that either we have somehow failed or they're just not willing to get it because we've made it perfectly clear. This idea of speaking in parables so they don't "get it" and speaking only "as much as they could understand" is truly foreign to us. 

Why is that? Is it because of pride, fear, not being taught correctly, or could it be that we don't really trust God in the process? After all, it's His Spirit that will convince people of the truth. Jesus said, "I will draw all men to me," not "you must draw all men to me." I sometimes wonder if at the bottom of this is a simple lack of faith on our part.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Mark 3 Enemies

Jesus enemies didn't like who he was or what he was doing. They responded by planning to kill him. In the mean time, because that didn't stop him, they attempted to discredit him. They accused him of doing good by demonic power. Funny that, just a few verses earlier the demons were crying out and confessing that he was the Son of God. In fact the actual accusation his enemies made was that Jesus was casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub the prince of demons. How did Jesus respond? He kept on doing good.

Our tendency is to take up arms, to defend ourselves, to make sure we're correctly understood and not misquoted, to cry, "Unfair." Jesus understands that his enemies will think whatever they want to think and that those who believe him will believe him. We act as though God can only be God if we're in control. How silly is that?

This blog was originally written on Memorial Day, the day we honor those who gave their lives for our freedom. The ultimate sacrifice was Jesus, who gave his innocent, holy, untainted life to give us the free gift of freedom and life. May we honor those who died for our freedom, and let us use that freedom to live out the love and truth of Christ no matter what people say of us. God never stops being God.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Mark 2 Sinners

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Mk 2:17

Since Jesus came for the sinners, why is it that we have made the 11th commandment, "Thou shalt not hang out with sinners"? Why is it that we want sinners to come to church but we want them to clean up their act first? Why is it that when we walk into a room full of sinners we want to hide or run rather than celebrate the opportunity God just gave us to rub shoulders with the very ones he came to save?

I don't think Jesus would make a very good "Christian" in most of our churches. He was always hanging out with sinners and making excuses for it with statements like the one found in Mark 2:17. Then again, maybe that is exactly what Christians are supposed to do.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Mark 1 Authority

I am amazed by Jesus authority. It didn't come from wearing the prophet’s garb of John the Baptist, or holding a "position" of authority. It came from who he is. He is the Son of God. He is the Lord whose way was prepared by John the Baptist and prophesied by Isaiah the prophet. He is the one to whom God himself said, "You are my beloved Son with you I am well pleased" (Mk 1:11). He is the one who was tempted by Satan and prevailed. He is the one who called Simon, Andrew, James, and John to follow him and they left their father and their livelihood to follow him. He is the one who healed a man with an unclean spirit, who spoke and taught with authority, and healed many including Simon's mother-in-law. He didn't just hold a position of authority. Authority resided in the person of Jesus.

As I think about this, I realize that's where my authority comes from as well. My authority to preach, my authority to present the gospel, my authority to stand for moral and ethical truth, my authority to call sin what it is, my authority to reside in peace when all the world is in chaos. All of that comes not from me, but Jesus. Authority is not a position one holds. It is not an office to which one is elected. Authority does not come from having enough letters behind one's name, a badge that one wears, or a title that says you are important. Authority comes from who Jesus is and how closely I am connected to Him, and that authority is not exercised in power and arrogance, but him humility and service. 

Jesus closed the Gospel of Matthew with these words, "All authority in Heaven and Earth has been given to me" (Mt 28:18). He started the Gospel of Mark with a demonstration of that authority. When he stood trial before the crucifixion, he said to Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above" (Jn 19:11). All authority rests in God and Jesus is God. All authority rest in him. My authority to live, to love, and to speak comes from my relationship to Jesus. Nothing more. It is time to stop worrying about respect and honor. It is time to stop worrying about being recognized. It is time to stop worrying about who we think we are or who others think we are. All authority belongs to Jesus. Jesus followers find their authority him, and nowhere else. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Matthew 28 Jesus Prime Directive

According to Harold Camping a large earthquake was to hit the entire earth on May 21, 2011 and all true believers would be raptured. Then the world would end in October of that year. I didn't put any stock in Mr. Camping's prediction for several reasons. Since you are reading this, you know that his prediction failed and his understanding of the scriptures was faulty, but it raises a valid question. If Jesus is coming back, how should we live? 

Matthew 28 is the record of the resurrection. Matthew's account is an exciting, fast paced account. He records in 20 verses what Luke and John each take over 50 verses to describe. In Matthew Jesus rises from the dead and an angel announces it to the women. They then have a brief encounter with Jesus, the guards run off to report to the Chief Priests, and the disciples go to Galilee. What does this have to do with Harold Camping's prediction? Just this, Harold's followers quit their jobs, left their homes, and are spent what they expected to be their last days driving around in RVs passing out literature about the end of the world. In contrast, Jesus words were, "Make disciples, baptizing and teaching." There is no last minute, panicky literature distribution. There is only one plan: Get involved in the lives of people.

This chapter is an exciting, fast paced conclusion to the story of the King. He has now called us, in the activity of life, to be about the business of the King. A few chapters earlier Jesus warned us not to go rushing off to find him if we hear that he has returned. Neither, I believe, are we to just start distributing as many leaflets as possible. It’s not that God can't use leaflets, but the primary directive the King left us with is, "In your going make disciples."

Now before you read my concluding paragraph I suppose I need to write a disclaimer. For my good friends who have written, printed, and/or passed out tracts for years, please understand that I have nothing against printed literature. My concern arises when tracts become an excuse for impersonal evangelism that misses the whole concept of what it means to make disciples. So keep printing and distributing the literature. Just don't limit your efforts to that.

Father, I confess that I could do this better. Forgive me for the times I have substituted sermons, tracts or some other impersonal communication of the gospel for relationships that lead to disciples. Forgive me for the times I have been more interested in decisions than disciples. May my life be characterized by your prime directive. Open my eyes to see how you are at work in my neighbors' lives. Don't let me be satisfied with watching from a distance.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Matthew 27 Peace

Matthew 27:20 NIV 

But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. 

Everybody in this chapter recognizes that Jesus is someone special. Judas grieves over his actions, returns the blood money and hangs himself. Pilate can't find anything wrong with Jesus, and his wife warns him to leave Jesus alone. The crowds like Jesus until they are stirred up into a mob by the Chief Priests and Elders. The soldiers are blown away by the events surrounding his death. Joseph of Arimathea buries Jesus in his own tomb. Only the religious leaders and religious elite are opposed to Jesus. See what a few people driven by fear and jealousy can incite?

While the Chief Priests, elders and Pharisees are driven to do the unthinkable, crucify an innocent man, God's purpose is not thwarted. Once Jesus is dead, you would think those who pushed for his crucifixion would relax. Not so. Now they are driven by another fear.

Matthew 27:63-64 NIV 

"Sir," they said, "we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise again.' So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first." 

Evil never finds rest. What a contrast to Jesus who doesn't even defend himself. The crucifixion was excruciatingly painful, yet who demonstrated peace through the whole process? Not Judas. Not the religious leaders. Not Pilate. Not the crowds. The innocent victim in this story is the only one experiencing peace. It's almost as if he had volunteered for this fate and trusted his Father.

Father, thank you for Jesus willingness to die for us. Thank you that in the deepest crises you never lose control. By your grace may I walk in your peace today. A peace not determined by circumstances and comfortable conditions; a peace that finds rest in you no matter what; the peace of Jesus.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Matthew 26 Rejection

Matthew 26:2 NIV 

"As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified." 

This chapter is filled with pain and rejection. I don't handle rejection well. Few of us do. But in this chapter the whole world, including his closest friends, turn against Jesus. The chief priests and elders plot to kill him. His disciples criticize him. Judas agrees to betray him, which Jesus is clearly aware of. The disciples fall asleep on him. Judas betrays him with a kiss, and Peter vehemently denies that he even knows him.

Matthew 26:49-50 NIV 

Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed him. Jesus replied, "Do what you came for, friend." Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. 

Reading through the chapter, I have to wonder if this was perhaps the most painful moment, up to this point, in this chain of events. Judas has been a trusted friend. Here he is pretending that everything is normal. "Greetings Rabbi!" followed by the kiss of friendship, all the while betraying his master and teacher. That kiss must have stung Jesus cheek.

This makes me wonder how my own failures cause my Savior pain. How often have I fallen asleep on my master? How often have I criticized his ways? How often have I denied him? How often have my lips declared friendship but my actions betrayed him? This isn't a fun chapter. Father, thank you for your patience, grace and forgiveness. May I be found faithful, and may I demonstrate your grace to others when I experience rejection.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Matthew 25 Kingdom or Theology

Sometimes we just don't know what to do with Jesus' teaching. Let's be honest, this chapter just doesn't fit very well with our gospel theology. We spend most of our energy making sure that the eternal destiny of a person is secure because they prayed a prayer. Jesus apparently has very different concerns. Do the virgins have oil in their lamps? I suppose a case could be made for having oil in their lamps equating to trusting Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit. That raises a lot of additional questions though when we read it through the lens of our modern American understanding of church and evangelism. Why didn't the virgins with oil share their oil? How much Holy Spirit do we need in order to get into heaven? Why weren't they warning the oil-less virgins all along? Didn't they care about them? Who are the oil merchants they are sent to? Aren't we all supposed to be sharing the gospel? I could go on, but I think we are missing the point.

Jesus is concerned that the virgins have oil. He is concerned that the servants entrusted with his wealth invest it for gain rather than sitting on it. When I read this story I want to ask, "What if the servant invested the money and the stock market dropped? Would he have been in as much trouble as the one who buried it?" Jesus is concerned that they were good stewards of that with which they had been entrusted.

Jesus is concerned about the virgins having oil. He is concerned about the servants being good stewards. He is also concerned about how people treated strangers, the sick, and the imprisoned. It is unfortunate that we have often shown more interest in getting people to pray a prayer and come to church than in the things Jesus seems to be concerned about.

Clearly this is not the passage you take someone to for a clear expression of the gospel. But, this is a picture of the kingdom. Let's not get distracted by a discussion of which kingdom, when the kingdom is, and where the kingdom is. Let us rather embrace the practical theology of Jesus that says, "Throw down your paradigms of religion. Watch carefully for the coming King. Use everything God has entrusted to you for the good of the King and the kingdom. Start paying attention to the needs of the hurting and needy. Love people more than you love your theology.

Father, I confess that theology and form are often easier to love than you and your people. Let me see my world through Jesus eyes today.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Matthew 24 Things that will not last

This chapter is the "end times" chapter of Matthew. It is fascinating to me how the chapter begins.

Matthew 24:1-2 NIV 

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. "Do you see all these things?" he asked. "Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down." 

The disciples are fascinated with buildings. Jesus has something else on his mind. Buildings will fall. People last. The eternal destiny of people, according to this chapter, has nothing to do with buildings. It has everything to do with Messiah.

How often I have visited a pastor and the first thing they want to do is show me around the building. That's not bad, but the Kingdom is not about buildings, it's about people.

Matthew 24:14 NIV 

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. 

It is so much more exciting and encouraging to hear stories of what the gospel is doing in the lives of people than to see what buildings are going up. I wonder sometimes if the world believes that we're more interested in buildings than in people. Jesus has called us to be about the Kingdom and the Kingdom is about people. Hear his final challenge on the subject at the end of this chapter.

Matthew 24:45-46 NIV 

"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns." 

Father, you have given us buildings, and in many cases they are a part of the story of your amazing provision. But may we never be more enamored with buildings than we are with your gospel. May we never be more interested in our buildings than we are in the community and people you have called us to impact with your gospel. Father, forgive us for our fascination with those things that will not last.

Reflections on Psalms 77-78

Psalms 77:7 (ESV) [7] “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?   The first nine verses of this psalm express abso...