Wednesday, December 30, 2015

What does it mean to be born Again?

Read John 3.

Not all Jewish religious leaders were hardened against Jesus.  Nicodemus is given to us as an example of one whose heart was open.  He concluded that "no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him" (v.2).  Jesus knew of the national stature of Nicodemus, calling him "the teacher of Israel" (v.10).  Typical of Jesus, He did not respond to Nicodemus' words but seemingly changed the subject.  Making such a personal and penetrating statement is how Jesus also dealt with the woman at the well and the rich, young ruler.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (v.3)

The term born again was foreign to Nicodemus.  Literally, the translation is "born from above."  This speaks directly against a system of belief to a personal experience that results in a new life.  It is a transformation of the person.  Once they were not born and now they are.  This teaching is not isolated to John 3.  Being "born again," "born of God," "born of the Spirit" is taught by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 4, by the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 2, and by John again in every chapter of 1 John except chapter one.

1. The Contrast. (v.6a)
John 1:12-13 says "....children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."  
"Blood"-Jesus made it clear that being born into one's earthly family is not enough to get to heaven. Parental decisions have no bearing.
"Will of the flesh"-Others cannot make this decision for you.
"Will of man"-All of our good works will not allow us to be a part of God family.
"But of God"-This is a spiritual birth that the Spirit of God enacts at the moment a person receives Jesus as their personal Savior.

2. The Comparison (v.8)
Since this is a spiritual birth, it has nothing to do with any external doings on our part.  Jesus compared it to a blowing wind.  We do not see the movement of air, but when it moves the results are evident.  When one experiences the new birth, their life change becomes obvious to everyone around them.  They are no longer the same.

3. The Condemnation (v.18)
There is an natural place in every one's conscience that one day there will be a eternal judgment of each life.  Just notice how often unbelievers use the word hell, the place of eternal torment.  The problem with the thinking of so many is that any condemnation by God happens later.  Jesus clearly said that "whoever does not believe is condemned already."  That statement alone should strike fear in every unbelieving heart.  First, a person must realize their peril and their need of God's forgiveness now, in this life.  Then, there must be an acknowledgement that Jesus is their only hope.  The reason Jesus came the first time to earth was "in order that the world might be saved through him" (v.17).  He is the one and only Savior (v.16).  The good news of faith in Jesus is "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." (Romans 8:1)

4. The Condition. 
How can one be born again into God's family?  Jesus said regarding Himself, "...whoever believes in him may have eternal life" (v.15).  Note that this is not a religion but a relationship.  It is not faith in a philosophy but a person.  This is not a belief of content but a believing, or trusting, in Jesus that transforms a person from the inside out.  "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." (v.36)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The purpose of the Signs

Read John 2.

There are no less than 35 recorded miracles of Jesus.  Turning water into wine was the first one.  Yet, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, verse 11 uses a different Greek word and refers to them as "signs" instead "miracles."  John's Gospel is organized around seven signs and seven claims of Jesus, proving that He is the Messiah.

When Jesus performed a miracle, it was done with intent.  He never used His power to gather a crowd or to put on a show.  Indeed, it appears that He never did a miracle in the same way twice.  What was the intent, then, of displaying such ability?  Verse 11 goes on to state that these signs "manifested his glory."  Our focus then should not be on the deed but on Jesus.  As John wrote in 1:14, "...and we have seen his glory, glory as the only Son from  the Father, full of grace and truth."  God, the Father, has glory.  Jesus, the only Son of God, has His own glory.

In verse 18, the Jews wanted Jesus to do a sign for them to prove Himself to them.  This reminds one of Satan's direct temptations of Christ to misuse His power.  Jesus' response was that "this temple" would be destroyed and then raised in three days.  The inquirers took that to mean the Temple.  Jesus was speaking of His own body.  This is the first reference in John of the coming resurrection.

At the Passover in Jerusalem (v.23), Jesus did other signs not recorded by John, resulting in many believing in Him.  But, their faith was in what they saw.  As Edwin Blum wrote, "They believed He was a great Healer, but not necessarily a great Savior from sin." (BKC, NT, p.280)  The reason we know this to be true is found in the last two verses.  He knew their hearts, whether their trust in Him was for forgiveness and eternal life, or not.  In Matthew 7:21, Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."  In other words, lip service and compliance will not suffice.

A whole-hearted response of trust in Him is what He looks for.  A relationship with Jesus is a trust.  When we fully commit our lives to Him, He entrusts us with eternal salvation, with His name, with His reputation, with His Word, with His life, with the Gospel, and all forms of resources for our stewardship.

May we humbly grow today in our trustworthiness.

Monday, December 28, 2015

18 identifiers of who Jesus Is

Read John 1.

The Bible is the written Word of God.  Jesus is the Living Word of God.  The descriptions of the Living Word are clearly presented in the written Word.
1. He was "in the beginning." (v.1)  What does this say to those who deny the eternality of Jesus?

2. He is "with God." (v.1)  What does this say to those who think Jesus was just a good man?

3. He "was God." (v.1)  What does this say to those who deny the deity of Jesus?

3. He made "all things." (v.3)  What does this say to those who hold other ideas about origins?

4. He is "life." (v.4).  What does this say about other philosophies of how to live?

5. He is "light." (v.4)  What does this say to the eastern mystics who pursue enlightenment?

6. He gives "the right to become children of God." (v.12)  What does this say to the universalists and those who think everyone is a child of God?

7. He "became flesh." (v.14)  What does this say to those who believe Jesus was only a spirit?

8. He "dwelt among us." (v.14  What does this say to those who think God is an impersonal being?

9. He is "full of grace and truth." (v.14)  What does this say to the legalists on one hand and to the truth seekers of the other?

10. He is "Jesus Christ." (v.17)  What does this say to those looking for the Messiah and all those in need of a Savior from sin?

11. He "has made (God) known." (v.18)  What does this say to those who those think we cannot know God with certainty?

12. He is "the Lamb of God." (v.29)  What does this say to those who think they can atone for their sins in some other way?

13. He is "the Son of God." (v.34)  What does this say to those who deny the Trinity?

14. He is the "Rabbi (which means Teacher)."  What does this say to those who have not learned what Jesus taught?

15. He is "the Messiah." (v.41)  What does this say to Jews today?

16. He is "whom Moses in the Law and the prophets wrote." (v.46)  What does this say to those who have never studied the Old Testament?

17. He is "King of Israel." (v.49)  What does this say to those who do not believe in a future earthly reign of Christ?

18. He is "the Son of Man." (v.51)  What does this say to those who deny the humanity of Jesus?

The Holy Spirit moved upon John to write these things, not for debate, but "that all might believe through him" (v.7).

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A time to remember and Respond

Read Luke 24.

We are notoriously forgetful creatures.  With the busyness of work and life, our true priorities-the things that will matter long after work and life have ended-can get pushed away in our memories.  Tragic events so easily cause us to self-focus and become emotionally stuck on the temporal loss, losing sight of the eternal perspective.  It is important, therefore, to take some intentional time to remember God's word.

Despite the fact that Jesus often spoke of His suffering, death and resurrection, those closest to Him seem to have forgotten.  Indeed, there was an epidemic of disbelief.  Yet, it was written down in the pages of the Old Testament all along.  They just did not understand and remember what they had been taught.  That is, until Jesus appeared.

This chapter contains "many infallible proofs" (Acts 1:3 KJV) of the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
He walked.  He talked.  He ate.  He offered to be touched, having "flesh and bones" (v.39).  Even then, it was hard for His followers to believe what they were seeing.

Why was it so difficult for them?

1. The condition of the Heart. (vv.25-32)
Jesus identified the problem as He walked with the two on the road to Emmaus.  They were still in some shock.  Their emotions were stunned and disappointed by the death of Jesus.  Going home from the Passover celebration, they shuffled along with their hopes dashed (v.21).   He stated that they were "slow of heart to believe."

When Jesus began to review the Scriptures and teach them, their hearts began to "burn within" (v.32).  They understood the meaning of God's word.  They were regaining confidence in their faith.  Feeling inspired, they wanted more, even inviting Jesus to stay with them.

2. The position of the  Mind. (vv.44-49)
Nothing enters a closed door.  If one closes their thinking to the truth of God's word, they shut off the only source there is to lasting hope.  Even as Jesus stood in front of them, the disciples struggled with belief.  "Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures" (v.45).

The content of Luke 24 begs us to ask ourselves some personal questions.
Are my emotions focused on selfish temporal stuff or the eternal hope in Christ?

Is my mind open to receive the truth of God's Holy Word?

Have I experienced "repentance and forgiveness of sins"?

Am I involved in proclaiming this good news "in his name to all nations"?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The non-sense of hating Jesus

Read Luke 23.

It is nearly impossible to make any human sense of the hatred of the religious rulers in Israel.  These who were supposed to be the spiritual leaders of the nation were plotting how to murder an innocent man.  His crime?  Jesus simply and consistently revealed His true identity as the Messiah, the King of the Jews.  The last straw came in Luke 22:67-71.  His accusers understood clearly that Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh.

Because they had no power of capital punishment, the "whole company of them arose and brought him to Pilate."  The Jewish leaders hated the Romans also, but they were more than willing to use the government to achieve their ungodly goal.  Notice the intensity of their emotions toward Jesus.

v. 5-"They were urgent."
v.10- They "stood by, vehemently accusing him."
v.18- "They all cried out together, 'Away with this man..."
v.21- "They kept shouting, 'Crucify, crucify him!"
v.23- "They were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified."
v.35- "The rulers scoffed at him."

Little did they realize then how they were being controlled by Satan himself.  From Genesis 3:15 on, the Evil One had made one attempt after another to stop the line of Messiah.  Satan is a defeated foe and now can only can stir up those who reject God's word for their own selfish goals in life.  The cross for some brief hours seemed a victory for Satan and his religious minions.  But, what the Devil planned for evil, God had planned all along for our redemption.

Those who reject Jesus today fall into the same hate-filled crowd of Luke 23.  Though some may have been hurt and disillusioned, their rejection of Jesus makes no human sense.  Some will hide behind religion, as the self-righteous rulers in this chapter.  Some will attempt to lay blame on something or someone.  However, the truth remains.  There is no alternative for the forgiveness of sin and eternal life.

Devout Jews had been praying for and looking for the coming Messiah.  Simeon was such a man in Luke 2:25-32.  When the Holy Spirit revealed the true identity of Jesus, He broke out in praise and a prayer of thanksgiving.

"O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!"

Monday, December 21, 2015

Jesus fulfilling Scripture

Read Luke 22.

Though a seeming tragedy for the moment, the trials and crucifixion of Jesus was the plan of God all along and took place right on time.  The case for a suffering and sacrificial Messiah begins in Genesis 3:15.  It continues with the atonement offerings of a blood sacrifice from Genesis into the Gospels.  Passages such as Isaiah 53 are graphic prophecies of the experiences of Jesus,  The angel told Joseph that the baby would be called "Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21)

That payment for sins would require His death by shedding of blood.  Throughout His ministry, Jesus spoke of the time when He would suffer and die in Jerusalem.  "The chief priests and scribes were seeking how to put him to death." (v.2)  Jesus knew all along of the coming betrayal by Judas (John 13:27) and the denials of Peter (vv.31-32).

It was time to celebrate the Passover.  This is a memorial meal, remembering God's deliverance of Israel from the slavery of Egypt.  Jesus, in His omniscience, had the place for the gathering.  Here, His statements become even more clear as to what will take place in the hours to come.  He even gave references to that future kingdom of God when He will rule and shepherd Israel.  The second half of the prophecy in Micah 5:2 will be fulfilled then.

1. "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer." (v.16)

2. "For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." (v.16)

3. "...I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." (v.18)

4. "For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined." (v.22)

5. "...that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel." (v.30)

6. "For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me." (v.37)

7. "For what was written about me has its fulfillment." (v.37)

8. "But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God." (v.69)

In the meantime, the followers of Jesus were given two admonitions:
Serve-"Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves." (v.26)
Pray-"Pray that you may not enter into temptation." (v.40)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

8 signs of the return of Christ

Read Luke 21.

As God in the flesh, Jesus revealed His omniscience.  He watched the offering and knew if people gave God a tip, a tithe, or sacrificially.  Jesus also let the disciples know that He knows the future.  This chapter parallels Matthew 24 and 25.

While His followers were struck by the beauty of the Temple, Jesus saw it as a teachable moment.  First, He stirred their curiosity with a statement regarding the Temple's destruction.  They responded with two questions: 1) When will this happen? and 2) What will be the indicators of that time?  He answered them in reverse order.  His prophetic teaching concerned Christ's return to establish His earthly kingdom, but the message, too, urged some immediate behaviors.

Jerusalem's destruction, along with Solomon's Temple, took place in 586 B.C. at the hands of the Babylonians.  Though this rebuilt Temple during Jesus' day was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., it is obvious from this chapter and the rest of Scripture that Jesus had much more in mind.  The descriptions here all point to the Great Tribulation period just prior to our Lord's return.  Many of these signs have always been present in the world, but the time Jesus spoke of here will be unprecedented.  "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no and never will be." (Matthew 24:21)

1. Political Wars. (v.10)

2. Natural Disasters. (v.11)

3. Agricultural Devastation. (v.11)

4. Astronomical Omens. (v.11)

5. Theological Persecutions. (v.12)

6. Relational Divisions. (v.16)

7. Geographical Convergence. (v.20)

8. Celestial Upheavals. (v.25)

Jerusalem will be surrounded by Gentile nations "until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled."  The Apostle Paul used this same phrase to write that at that time "all Israel will be saved" (Romans 11:25-26).  See Zechariah 14:1-2.

"Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory."  See Revelation 19.
-Who will see Him at His appearance?  "All who dwell on the face of the earth" (v.35)  This is how we know Jesus was not just referring to the Roman destruction.
-Why is Jesus returning to earth?  To set up His earthly kingdom of God (v.31), as the prophets and Revelation 20 foretell.
-Why did Jesus say these things to His followers?  "Watch yourselves."  "Stay awake at all times, praying..."  Because "that day...will come upon you suddenly."

Friday, December 18, 2015

6 signs of false Workers

Read Luke 20.

The authority of Jesus was challenged again.  The religious leaders of the day thought they were in charge because of their training and position.  They forgot without a heart for the LORD none of that matters.  Though Jesus did not answer their direct question, He did address the issue in a parable.

In the story, there is an owner who entrusted the care of his property to tenant workers.  The owner's full expectation was that they were to be working for him and that there would be fruit given to him as a result of their work.  But in time the true character of these workers was revealed.  This is a very thinly disguised rebuke to these self-righteous inquisitors concerning God, as the Owner, and their role as stewards of God's work.

They had been given a responsibility to oversee and expand the work of God.  Instead, they assumed it as their own and did what pleased them.  This led ultimately to their part in the crucifixion of God's Son.  The LORD wants profitable ministry in the lives of His people.  Jesus made it clear that there is coming a severe judgment upon false workers in the kingdom of God.

Here are at least a half dozen signs of these false workers in this parable.
1. A false worker behaves as if he is the owner.

2. A false worker rejects the notion of accountability to God.

3. A false worker dismisses the authority of God's word.

4. A false worker thinks it is all about them and other people.

5. A false worker will experience eternal judgment.

6. A false worker is not a steward of God's work  but a usurper.

These same warnings may apply to all of us today.  God has entrusted life, resources, and opportunities to every person on earth to know and serve Him fruitfully.  Our hearts desire should be to please the Owner all day, every day.

Monday, December 14, 2015

An unmistakably changed Life

Read Luke 19.

In chapter 15, Jesus taught three parables in succession on the value of one person and the importance of individual repentance.  This same theme is unmistakable in the opening of chapter 19.  With a crowd of people desiring to see Jesus, He turned His attention to the one whose heart was spiritually open.

This meeting with Zacchaeus and the subsequent parable falls within a string of Jesus' teaching about money.  The religious leaders of the day loved money and saw it as a sign of God's pleasure, except if the person was a tax collector.  These were Jews who gained authority from the Roman government to do this work.  The tax collector could then charge whatever and whenever he wanted.  The abuses resulted in great personal wealth but hatred from his countrymen.

Do not miss the two main outcomes of this encounter.  The man knew he had a need that only Jesus could meet.  Admitting that need was the first step in receiving forgiveness and eternal salvation.  It is for such people that Jesus came.  "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost."  Second, a changed eternal destiny resulted in a changed behavior.  A changed life is the real proof of genuine faith.  "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Few things in life demonstrate our faith in God like our attitudes toward money and generosity.  The first response of Zacchaeus' new life was to make financial restitution and to demonstrate radical generosity.  A godly person is a giver, not just a tither.

The first lesson we must all acknowledge, sooner or later, is that God owns it all (Psalm 24:1).  The demonstration of faithful stewardship is found in our giving records.

One day there will come a reckoning of what we did with what the Lord allowed us to use during this life.  That accounting is foretold in the parable of the Ten Minas.  He expects us to use our God-given resources for "gain by doing business" (v.15) in this life on His behalf.  His reward is not only in receiving His pleasure but also in responsibility in that future earthly kingdom.

The question is this: Does my giving record show my life has changed and that I am practicing generosity?

Sunday, December 6, 2015

4 reasons to Pray

Read Luke 18.

Life is not fair.  We live in a world of injustices.  People are taken advantage of everyday.  Many times the instigator of the injustice appears to get away with it, whether that be a person, an organization, or a government.  Victims look to legal authorities to right the wrongs.  But, the very ones empowered to enact law and order, justice and right, often become part of the problem.

This can be so discouraging that some see no hope for the future.  What is a person to do?  Jesus told His followers a parable in verses 1-8 "that they ought to always to pray and not lose heart."

The Choice.
The decision is this: do we pray and seek God's help or do we become discouraged and give up?  "Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you." (Psalm 55:22)  The more we express our dependence upon God, the more we will experience His sustaining grace in our lives.

The Contrast.
A common misconception is that Jesus was comparing God to the unjust judge and we should be persistent in prayer until God gives in to our requests.  Such a view paints the God of heaven as uncaring and unwilling and only gives in to get rid of us.  In great contrast, God like the unjust judge at all and He is not reluctant to hear our prayers and answer us.  There is a difference between persistence in prayer and mere repetition of the same words over and over.  "The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears are open toward their cry." (Psalm 34:15)

The Confidence.
Jesus closed the story with a question.  "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"
This query directly relates to the parable of the widow's faith in ultimate justice and Jesus encouragement to His followers to be faithful in prayer.

"Your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask him." (Matthew 6:7)  Bringing our needs to God in prayer is not for His benefit.  It is for ours.  Someone once said, "When we ask God to do something for us, He generally does something in us."

1. Praying reminds us of our dependence.
2. Praying reminds us who really is in control.
3. Praying reminds us of God's perspective on our lives.
4. Praying allows us to see God's power at work.

"Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16)

Saturday, December 5, 2015

4 characteristics of true Servants

Read Luke 17.

"If you think you have a servant's heart, how do you feel when you are treated like one?"  That has become a common quotation regarding humility and servant-hood.

In that day, many of the religious leaders expected gain from their "service" financially or positionally.  Not so with the followers of Jesus.  The true gain for those who are committed to Christ is the opportunity to serve and help others in His name.

Jesus taught on the subject of humility and service many times, as well as did the Apostles.  Jesus exemplified it as no one else could.  Though He was God, He laid aside His rights as God, "humbled him by becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death on the cross." (Philippians 2:8)
Here are four things that characterize true servants from verses 7-10.

1. Servants work.
They are not spectators, otherwise they would be fired!  True servants of Jesus Christ are gifted by the Holy Spirit to serve God effectively.  He then opens doors of opportunity to employ that giftedness to further His kingdom.  One of the hallmarks of a healthy congregation is to see themselves as a ministry employment agency for every person who attends.

2. Servants never stop serving.
When one job is over, there is always something more to do.  Some may not be physically able to do what they once did, but the greatest prayer-warriors in most churches are senior adults.  Dr. Crawford Loritts once said, "We get tired in the work but not tired of the work."  We who love Jesus enjoy being involved and look for ways of doing more.

3. Servants listen to and obey their master.
When God called him in 1 Samuel 3, young Samuel responded, "Speak, LORD, for your servant hears."  It is with such eager anticipation that servants of God arise each day.  We live and do what God wants done, not what is self-pleasing.

4. Servants are faithful with their responsibilities.
A servant trusts his master will take care of basic needs and resources.  If the master did not, the servant would not have shelter, clothing and food to do his job.  That is the master's responsibility.  The servant's responsibility is to be faithful with the given assignments.  The true servant of Jesus feels a constant sense of unworthiness to be used of God and, yet, eternally grateful for the privilege.  It is then that we may honestly say, "We have only done what was our duty."

There is great gain awaiting for such servants when the work is ultimately over.  Jesus taught in Matthew 6:19-20 that we may store up for ourselves treasures in heaven.  And, in addition, we will get to hear those wonderful words of welcome, "Well, done, good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.  Enter into the joy of your master."  (Matthew 25:21)

Friday, December 4, 2015

5 lessons from Hell

Read Luke 16.

Jesus taught more about the subject of money that, perhaps, any other subject.  The story recounted here would have perked up the ears of the Pharisees, "who were lovers of money" (v.14).  But the conclusion Jesus made caused them to "ridicule him."  Jesus said, "You cannot serve God and money." (v.13).

Hearing their remarks, Jesus told the next story to teach a proper evaluation of this life and to put eternal life into a correct perspective.  All money and material gain will one day be left behind.  Our few short years here are nothing in comparison with eternity.  Therefore, judging a person's worth by the amount of one's possessions or position is short-sighted and foolish to say the least.  This is why Jesus taught on two separate occasions that "many who are the first will be last, and the last first."  (Matthew 19 and 20).

Immediately upon one's death, the spirit separates from the physical body and enters eternity.  Hell is real.  It is not a joking matter, nor a word to be used for profanity.  Several times Jesus taught this same description of the judgment for those who reject Him.
1. It is a place of eternal torment. (v.23)
2. It is a place of eternal thirst and unbearable flaming heat. (v.24)
3. It is a  place of eternal loneliness and anguish. (v.25)
4. It is a place of eternal separation from God. (v.26)
5. It is a place of eternal regret. (vv.27-28)

In great contrast, the one who had nothing in this life but believed God's message experienced great comfort.  He enjoyed fellowship with God and others.

Everyone will spend eternity somewhere.  The decision of where is made in this life.  What most people do not realize is that God's judgment is already upon us.  Only faith in Jesus saves us.  "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him."  (John 3:36)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The importance of One

Read Luke 15.

Seeing Jesus being friendly with and even eating with "sinners" annoyed the religious leaders.  They thought, first of all, that being born a Jew automatically made them part of God's family.  Second, they believed that maintaining outward practices, many of them man-made, caused them to be accepted by God.

Jesus was aware of their misunderstandings and their grumblings.  He took full advantage to teach those who would listen.  The parables are earthly stories filled with heavenly truth.  These three contain the same core elements.
-Something or someone valuable was lost.
-Then, it was found.
-The owner or father rejoiced.
-There was a public celebration.
The first two conclude that there is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents.  The third illustrates that truth.

1. One in a Hundred. (vv.3-7)
He first appealed to their culture and work.  No shepherd wants to lose an animal.  He will go after it until he finds it.

2. One in Ten. (vv.8-10)
Losing ten percent of one's savings would have gotten their attention.  Everyone would seek diligently until they found the missing one.

3. One in Two. (vv.11-32)
Now that He has gained their attention, Jesus delivered the third.  The first two parables merely set the stage for this most personal application.  This was not a animal or an asset.  This was a son who went his own way to the displeasure of the father.  Rejoicing took place only after the wayward one turned around, renouncing his lifestyle and coming home.  There he found a waiting father ready to celebrate.

No matter the family or group we are in, whether it is one in a hundred, one in ten, or one in two, we all must turn from of our sin as individuals.  Then, we will find a waiting heavenly Father ready to receive us with open arms of forgiveness and acceptance.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

3 Characteristics of true followers of Jesus

Read Luke 14.

Jesus had been invited to a meal with many other guests.  The host was a leader among the Pharisees.  Jesus did two things during this dinner.  First, He observed people and how they behaved.  Second, He used this natural setting as a teachable moment.

A man with dropsy had been brought in the room to see what Jesus would do.  This was highly unusual for these leaders to allow one who was ceremonially unclean to be at such an event.  They held to thinking that they had prominent places in the future kingdom of God, but these outcasts and, especially the Gentiles, would not be included.  Jesus presented a very different viewpoint.

1. The way up is down. (vv.7-11)
As Jesus watched the people arrive and find a place at the table, He noticed the jockeying being done for position.  In that culture, the pecking order of honor could be seen by those who sat closest to the host.  This demonstrated nothing more than selfish pride.  To live as a disciple of Jesus, one must serve, not just sit, and do so in humility.

Pushing one's way as a guest to a position of prominence could lead to embarrassment.  Refraining from self-promotion and waiting to be asked is a pure honor.  The Apostle Peter repeated this theme.  "Humble yourselves, therefore,  under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you." (1 Peter 5:6)  It is a mark of a true follower of Jesus.

2. Personally respond to God's grace. (vv.12-24)
The pride-filled listeners hosted such banquets for each other, expecting equal or greater treatment in return.  But grace cannot be earned.  God's grace is not quid pro quo.  We can do nothing in exchange to merit grace.  In Jesus' story, those originally invited to a lavish event were too busy with their own priorities to attend.  The host opened wide the invitation to whoever would come-the outcasts, the ceremonially unclean, and even those outside the community.

Such a parable would have gotten the attention of these hearers.  The kingdom of God would not be limited to Jews but, as the Abrahamic Covenant foretold and the prophets predicted, the whole world would be included in God's great invitation.  Those who do not personally respond will not be present in the kingdom of God.

3. There are high personal costs in being a follower of Jesus. (vv.25-33)
-Priority.  Jesus will not be satisfied with second place.  He demands first place in one's life.
-Planning. Following Jesus requires thinking ahead.  What will a committed life mean?  What must change in order to put Biblical faith into practice?
-Sacrifice.  A committed follower of Jesus desires to be "able to finish" well (v.30).  As a steward of God's provisions, one is required to manage those resources successfully.

His conclusion in verses 34-35 is as clear and straightforward as the above principles.  If these things are not in practice, one has no value to the kingdom of God.  Note the last sentence.  Are you listening to Jesus?

Monday, November 23, 2015

A horrible wrong that needed a right Focus

Read Luke 13.

In the opening verses of this chapter, there were some who reported a horrific incident to Jesus.  Pontius Pilate served as the governor of Judea.  He had been appointed by the Emperor Tiberius.  Evidently, there were some Galileans who had rebelled against Pilate's authority.  When they came to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices, Pilate had them massacred.  Even more, alarming was that their blood "had mingled with their sacrifices."  This sacrilege and the hatred of the Roman occupation added emotional fuel to the fire of their spiritual misunderstandings.

It appears that the purpose of relaying this story had more to do with judging those who died than their concern for human life.  This is reveal by Jesus' response.

During this time, the religious leaders in Israel taught that bad things happen to bad people.  Indeed, unchecked, personal, sinful behavior may lead to disastrous consequences.  Yet, in this life, that is certainly not a universal truth.  Bad things happen to everyone, even the most godly among us. Physical maladies, accidents, and violence can and do happen to anyone at any time.  Our daily newspapers are filled with such examples.  To assume, as these in the crowd did, that the worshipers were killed because of some great sin was a gross misunderstanding of God's character and the frailty of human life.  One way or another, everyone will eventually die physically.

Jesus tried to turn their focus away from judging others and to look at themselves.  Twice, He stated, "...unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."  Repentance of sin and faith in God is the only guarantee of eternal life.

To illustrate His point further, Jesus told a story about a fig tree.  The owner planted it and then gave the tree some time to grow in order to produce fruit.  In his patience, he even allowed extra time before he took decisive action.  This delivered a thinly disguised message.  Just because one was born a Jew and went through the motions of obeying the Law does not automatically spare one from God's ultimate judgment.  He is looking for the evidence that one is a genuine believer.  It is an inside out faith.

The same is true with followers of Christ.  Being born into a Christian family and going to church will not suffice.  God is looking for true repentance from sin that is evidenced by a changed life and bears spiritual fruit that others can see.    This life is temporal at best.  Faith in Jesus secures our eternal life.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

3 Questions that will change your Life

Read Luke 12.

Jesus continued to teach the crowds but privately He expanded on those themes.  This section begins by reminding everyone that there is coming a day of accountability.  Even secret sins will be exposed.  No one gets away with unconfessed sin.  Those remarks were directed particularly at the Pharisees who endeavored to rule the people with fear.

From there Jesus taught a series of truths concerning how to really live.  Each of these subjects strike at the heart of our character, our behaviors, and our faith.

1. Whom do you fear? (vv.4-12)
Physical threats in this life are always present.  Worry and/or fear of an accident, an enemy, or a disease cause some to live in a paralysis.  Others respond to such threats with preparation of planning, protection, and healthy living.  But the truth is 100% of humans will eventually leave this life, one way or another.  Jesus said that these things we should not fear.  What should be the chief of all human fears is spending an eternity of torment in hell.

The solution to the eternity's fear is placing our individual faith in the One who created, loves and values human life.  "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

Living each moment with eternity in view is the key to overcoming fear.

2. What do you do with money? (vv.13-34)
This teaching came in response to a question from one in the crowd.  There was an argument about how to divide the family inheritance.  Jesus could see this man's true motive and responded with a story to illustrate that there is accountability for those whose goal with money is temporal consumption.  "So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."

Common motivators for attaining and spending money on oneself is feeding the ego to be better than others or fear that our need will not be met.  Jesus responded that real life is more than temporal goods.  And, again, He underscored the fact that our heavenly Father loves and values us.  He takes care of the natural world that will not endure forever.  Of how much more is He concerned to provide for us?  The problem is not with God.  It is "O you of little faith!"

Yes, we must earn to take care of basic needs.  This, too, is an opportunity from God (Deuteronomy 8:18).  But, one day we will leave it all behind.  "Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you."  What we invest with God and His work will reap eternal rewards as others come to place their faith in Jesus.  The problem is not money, but the individual's heart.  "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

Living each moment with eternity in view is the key to overcoming selfishness and greed.

3. What are you doing in preparation for Jesus' return? (vv.35-56)
Some have chosen to disbelieve that Jesus will return at all.  As a result, they waste their God-given lives only for the here and now.  A very rude awakening is in store as they will experience an eternity that Jesus warned about in verse 5.  They had full and fair warning with opportunity to respond to Him in faith.

Some believe that Jesus will return but their daily lives are nearly identical as those who do not.  In the parable, here, there is a stern accountability for those who knew better and did not prepare accordingly.

Our Lord's admonition is to "be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect."

Living each moment with eternity in view is the key to being ready in these perilous times.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Jesus on Prayer

Read Luke 11.

Though He was God in the flesh, Jesus carved out time to regularly talk to God the Father.  He set an example for the disciples to follow.  They saw and heard Jesus pray.  On this occasion, one of them asked, "Lord, teach us to pray."

1. The Model (vv.2-4)
Verses two through four were not the praying words of our Lord.  It was a lesson on prayer.  He had no sins for which to seek forgiveness.  So, this is not the Lord's prayer.  He never prayer it.  A lengthy prayer of Jesus is found in John 17.  Though memorizing and quoting Scripture is certainly commendable, there is no instruction that these verses were to be repeated, word for word, as a prayer..  But this is a model, a lesson, in order for His followers to know some key elements to keep in mind when talking with the Father.

2. The Illustration (vv.5-8)
What is prayer like?  It is akin to a person going to a friend in the time of need.  The first lesson of prayer, then, is found in the word relationship.  In the model, the One we speak to is called "Father."  That indicates a personal, family relationship.  Here, in this example, Jesus used the word "friend."  There is such an established, personal, relationship that at any hour of the day or night, this person knows they can go this "friend" for help.

Jesus did not stop there.  He continued unpacking the illustration to highlight the need for persistence in prayer.  The purpose is not to keep on and on, saying the same thing over and over again, in order to talk God into something we want.  Rather, as followers of Jesus have discovered, persistence in prayer hones our own willingness to accept and trust of what God wants.  Most often, God has a very different timetable than we do.  At other times, He has something far better for us than what we originally wanted.  Persistence in prayer requires time, a surrendered heart, and spiritual work.

3. The Principles (v.9-13)
With each key word describing the initiative and persistence of prayer comes a promise.
A-Ask.  How many times have we had a need and never stopped to talk to God about it?  The encouragement from Jesus is to ask!  Our heavenly Father wants us to bring our concerns to Him.  If we would do that, the promise is "it shall be given to you."

S-Seek.  How many times has the answer to our prayers been right in front of us but we did not see it immediately?  God wants us involved in the process.  Sometimes, His delays are for the purpose of motivating us to do our homework.  As Jesus said to the disciples in Mark 6, "How many loaves do you have?  Go and see."  He was not just going to hand them a miracle.  They would have learned nothing by doing so.  The promise is "you will find."  Once the disciples did the research, what they discovered was their total dependence upon Jesus to meet the needs they faced.

K-Knock.  How many times have we prayed for something and then forgot about it?  That would be like looking at a door but never knocking until someone answered.  This underscores again the need for persistence in prayer.  As our yielded hearts cast our dependence upon the Father, the Holy Spirit takes our burdens and translates them into the very will of God (Romans 8:26-27).  The promise of such praying is "it will be opened to you."

Then, Jesus closed the lesson on prayer by comparing our heavenly Father to a good and caring earthly father.  God knows "how to give good gifts" to His children.  Trust Him and see.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Celebrating what Counts

Read Luke 10.

All facts are not equal.  Knowing what is important is vital to evaluating success.  Often when reading the Gospels it is easy to be enamored with the story and miss the point.  There are three encounters in this chapter.  Each has its own context and impact.  But notice how Jesus zooms past the surface issues and zeros in on what truly matters.

1. Celebrating Success. (vv.1-22)
Jesus instructed, empowered and sent out seventy-two missionary disciples.  They returned with exciting stories of what they were able to do in the name of Jesus.  But it was not about them.  It was, in fact, the Holy Spirit's power working through obedient servants.  Jesus reminded them what they should be celebrating: "that your names are written in heaven."

We should never get over the fact that we know the Lord Jesus personally, that we are set apart to Him for eternity, and that are names are recorded in heaven.  That is a cause for a daily celebration.

Then, Jesus reminded them who they truly are in His prayer of thanksgiving.  He called them children.  Humbly they believed and humbly they had served.  All the glory goes to the One who chose them and revealed Himself to them.  That is what counts.

2. Evaluating Behavior. (vv.23-37)
No surprise, the lawyer had a couple of questions.  It was meant to test Jesus on Old Testament content, but Jesus turned the conversation to test the lawyer's heart.  Jesus gave him three case studies to evaluate the application of God's command to love your neighbor as yourself.  It did not matter about one's position in life, their knowledge of the Law, their job, or even their race.  The fulfillment of God's expectation was putting mercy into practice.  In the final evaluation, it is not the one who understands mercy from a book, but "the one who showed" mercy is what counts to God.

3. Cutting through the Clutter. (vv.38-42)
Martha did not do anything wrong.  She was busy taking care of needful things.  After all, Jesus was in the house.  No doubt, she wanted to do her best as a good hostess.  Then, she became frustrated that her sister was not helping her.  "But Martha was distracted with much serving."  She missed the real value here.  Jesus was in the house.  The kitchen could be cleaned up later.  This was a prime-time opportunity to sit down with the Savior and be still.

Surely, Mary understood the need to help serve.  But, Jesus commended Mary in that she had focused on the "one thing" that is necessary.  He called it the "good portion, which will not be taken away from her."  The food, the housecleaning, and serving are all temporal things.  Stopping to spend time with Jesus was an eternal investment.  In all of our busy lives, this is the "one thing" that counts.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

A Man on a Mission

Read Luke 9.

Jesus came to fulfill a mission.  He let nothing deter Him from His appointment to complete the plan.  Though it was prophesied of old and though He repeatedly spoke of it, His followers truly did not understand until later.

When Peter responded that Jesus is "The Christ of God,"  Jesus went on to foretell that He will suffer, be rejected, killed, and raised on third day.  This was the redemptive plan of God all along, "before the foundation of the world" (Ephesians 1:4).

Isaiah 53 explained centuries in advance that the Messiah would be a suffering Savior.  The angel told Joseph, "You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).  From the Garden of Eden it has been clear that sin carries an awful price.  "...without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins." (Hebrews 9:22)  "He (Jesus) has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." (Hebrews 9:26).

Next, at the His Transfiguration, Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah.  Their conversation included "his departure which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem" (v.31).

Then, the following day, He alerted the disciples that he was "about to be delivered into the hands of men." (v.44)

"When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem." (v.51)  And, again, "...his face was set toward Jerusalem." (v.53)

Jesus' own example of living with a known and focused purpose provided the integrity for His statement to those who wish to follow Him.  "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."  Like the farmer, there is work to do for God that demands our full attention and priority.

Hours before His crucifixion, Jesus responded to Pilate saying, "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world--to bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." (John 18:37)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The seed and the secrets of the Kingdom

Read Luke 8.

When Jesus taught in public, there was a mix of listeners.  Some were devoted followers.  Some were seeking to understand.  Some were hoping to see a miracle.  Some were angry critics.  Therefore, He would often use earthly stories to communicate spiritual truths.  Not everyone understood the meaning of what He said.  This was predicted in Isaiah 6:9, the verse that Jesus quoted in Luke 8:10,

The parables would raise the curiosity of the disciples to ask the meaning.  That is when the mentoring took place.  Jesus explained step by step so His followers fully understood.  He called it "the secrets of the kingdom of God" (v.10).

What are the secrets and how is it that some get them and others do not?  This is fully revealed by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16.  People do not comprehend spiritual truth by natural means--sight, sound, reasoning.  To understand God's word requires the Holy Spirit revealing and confirming the truth.  When one commits their life to Jesus, the Holy Spirit immediately takes up His residence within them and helps them understand.

1 Corinthians 2:9 is one of the most misused verses in all the Bible.  The reason is that most often people stop mid-sentence and miss what Paul was saying in verse 10.  "'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him'--these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit."   In other words, we who have the Holy Spirit, can know "the secrets of the kingdom of God."

In the parable, Jesus clearly stated that "the seed is the word of God" (v.11).  Only by communicating God's word is it possible for people to ever become what God wants them to be.  Sometimes, among efforts to reach others and gain a hearing, this basic necessity may be lost.  The seed that will bear fruit is not--
my relationship building
my style of music
my community service
my commitment to excellence
my leadership skills
my superior intellect and debate skills
my speaking skills
or anything else.

The only seed that has the hope of eternally changing a life is the word of God.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The impact of individual Faith

Read Luke 7.

A person turns to Jesus when they realize He is their personal hope, the source of their help, and the fulfillment of their purpose in life.  Dr. Luke recounts one individual encounter after another to illustrate that truth.

When a Roman centurion believed Jesus could heal his servant by merely speaking a word, Jesus "marveled" at his faith.

When Jesus saw a widow weeping in a funeral procession, He brought her son back to life.  The crowd said, "God has visited his people!"

When John, the Baptist, had questions and needed confirmation, Jesus demonstrated unmistakable power for His messengers.  Then, He commend John as "none greater."

When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to dinner, He gently taught him a lesson on forgiveness.

When the woman humbly tended to the feet of Jesus, He saw her repentance and faith.  She was forgiven.

One by one.  No one experiences forgiveness and faith because they belong to a family or group.  It is always personal.

The religious leaders saw the miracles.  They heard Jesus' teaching.  They witnessed firsthand the lives that were instantly changed.  They saw those who publicly professed their faith in Jesus through baptism.  But, in their pride they still thought they knew better.  Jesus was not part of their group.  He did not come up through their ranks.  He did not conform to their way doing things.  Therefore, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, they refused to acknowledge Him as the Messiah.

Are there more condemning words in all the Bible that verse 30?  They "...rejected the purpose of God for themselves..."  That left them without fulfillment in this life, without help, and without eternal hope.

Contrast that with the epitaph of King David.  May it be ours.
"For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep..." (Acts 13:36)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

3 foundational pillars of a life that Lasts

Read Luke 6.

After Satan falsely claimed authority over the kingdoms of this world in chapter 4, Luke, under the Spirit's control, established the all-encompassing authority of Jesus.

1. Jesus has authority over the natural world. (Luke 5:1-11)
Even fish obeyed His command.  In chapter 8, the wind and sea respond at His word.

2. Jesus has authority over the physical world. (Luke 5:12-26)
He cleansed the leper.  He healed the paralytic.  In chapter 6, He restored the man's hand.  And, in 6:19, He "healed the all."

3. Jesus has authority over the spiritual world. (Luke 5:20-21)
As God, He forgave the man's sin.  In chapter 6 verse 18, "those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured."

4. Jesus has authority over the Scriptures. (Luke 6:1-6)
The positional religious leaders were supposed to be teaching and implementing what God had said.   Instead, they tried to control the nation by their own made-up laws that emphasized outward conformity.  Jesus' lack of yielding to their authority caused them to consistently look for ways to trap Him.  They criticized Jesus for reaching out to sinners with God's forgiveness (Luke 5:27-32).  They criticized His disciples for not fasting (Luke 5:33-39).  In chapter 6, verses 1-11, they called His actions unlawful regarding the Sabbath.

What they forgot was that the Old Testament Law had been given for human good, not as a punishment.  Resting one day a week was a healthy thing to do.  Eating and helping on the Sabbath were good things to do (6:9).  And, when it comes to who is in charge, "The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath" (v.5).  Here, the Son of God, the Messiah, stood right in front of them.  They saw the miracles.  But, the liberals and legalists were more concerned with maintaining their rituals.

Jesus, then, taught about the inward commitments to God that transform a life.  Almost every statement is the opposite of human thinking: hungry-satisfied, weep-laugh, hated-rejoice, enemies-love, give-receive.

This section closes with a parable of how to build a life that is rock solid and endures (vv.46-49).  Any other foundation than this will eventually fall.  Jesus said,
Come to Me.
Hear my words.
Do them.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Fishing versus Catching

Read Luke 5.

This chapter opens with Jesus teaching a crowd on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  The fishermen have come in and are cleaning their nets.  It has been a long night of work for them and they have nothing to show for their efforts.  They must be tired, discouraged, and ready to go home.

Then, Jesus came.  First, he got into Simon's boat so he could continue teaching the people.  But what He did next changed Peter's life and the lives of his partners.  "And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, 'Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.'"

I cannot read verse five without hearing the whine in Peter's voice.  "We tried that and it did not work."  "This is not a good time to go fishing."  "We're tired."  "We are the professionals here.  We know more about fishing than you do."  Then, he complied anyway.  "But at your word I will let down the nets."  He had just cleaned them and he let Jesus know that the only reason he was doing it was "because you say so."

It is of particular interest that Jesus asked them not to fish but to "catch."  This anticipates what will happen.  Peter's boat could not handle all the fish.  His partners, James and John, were called to help.  Both boats began to sink from the load.  Without question, it was their greatest day of business ever.  As a result, Peter confessed his sin of unbelief.  Next, the three men walked away from their business to follow Jesus.

The miracles of Jesus were never an end in themselves.  They were always used to deliver and validate a message.  The message here was not about fish.  If Jesus can do that with temporal things that will either be consumed or rot in a short time, wait until you see what He can do to eternally change people.  "From now on you will be catching men."  That is the message for every disciple of His.

The will of God and His plans for us have little to do with human capacity, human reasoning, or even human expertise.  At His word creation came to be out of nothing.  By His word He hold all things to together.  He commands and it is so.  It is not what we have but the power of God that makes the difference.

Like Peter, we all have our excuses as to why we are not fully following Jesus and "catching" others for Christ.  We should be praying for and anticipating results.  The old Sunday School song is true.  "I will make you fishers of men, if you follow Me."

Saturday, October 31, 2015

3 essentials for overcoming Temptation

Read Luke 4.

Few chapters reveal the deity and simultaneous humanity of Christ as this chapter.  If Jesus was not God, this spiritual encounter would have never taken place.  The comments and challenges of Satan would make no sense.  If Jesus were not human, the offers of Satan would not be temptations at all.  This is truly God in the flesh as John 1 describes.

Yet, all true followers of Jesus can identify with the temptations to sin.  Further, we may learn how to overcome temptation by Jesus' example.

1. Provision.  (vv.1-4)
Food is a basic human need.  The hunger was real.  After a 40 day fast, nourishment became life-saving.  The temptation was to misuse Jesus' ability, almost like a magic act.  In truth, He would have been doing the will of Satan.  The answer was that there is more to life than meeting a physical need.  Again, while food is crucial to sustain human life, if that one is not right with God they will still spend an eternity in torment and punishment.

God's provision was already on its way.  Matthew 4:11 states that when Satan left, angels came and ministered to Him.  This is the principle on which we stand.  Jesus said in Matthew 6 that we are not to worry about what we shall eat, or drink, or clothes to wear because our Heavenly Father already knows our needs.  In faith, we trust Him to take care of us by putting Him and His work first in our lives.

2. Power.  (vv.5-8)
Satan is a liar, a deceiver, and a destroyer of those who yield to him.  He has been allowed to exercise limited power on this earth.  His claim that the kingdoms of the world have been given to him and that he has the authority to give them to others is not true.  But all temptations are based upon a lying deception of a false fulfillment.  Again, this was an attempt to get the Son of God to do Satan's will.  The response from Jesus was not to argue against his statement but to refocus on the real issue.  There is only One who is to be worshiped and served.

The temptation was not true from the beginning.  The truth is that Jesus is the Creator of all things (Colossians 1) and He is the rightful Owner (Psalm 24:1).  As He said in Matthew 28:18, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."  Our response in times of temptation to sin is to remember the truth and practice our worship and service of God.

3. Protection.  (vv.9-12)
Again, this is an attempt to get Jesus to do his will and for Jesus to perform for him,  Interestingly, Satan knows and can even quote Scripture.  Is the passage from Psalm 91 true?  Yes.  But Jesus would have none of it.  His response that the Lord God was not to be put to the test ended the conversation.

God has promised to take care of us.  But, that does not include foolish decisions of presumption.  Is God able to rescue us from jumping off a cliff?  Yes, He is able.  But, He is more likely to allow us to suffer the consequences of our stupidity.

Three proactive steps in overcoming temptation:
1. Jesus never wavered from His purpose for being here.  Without understanding God's purpose for our lives, we will spend our days only in temporal activities.  
2. Jesus quoted Scripture.  God has given us His word in writing as the one and only offensive weapon for winning spiritual battles (Ephesians 6).  Learning and being able to call to remembrance exactly what God has said is vital.
3. Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit (v.1).  After the temptations, Jesus "returned in the power of the Spirit" (v.14).  He claimed that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him (v.18).  He ministered to the needs of others and taught in the power of the Holy Spirit (vv.22, 32 and 36).

How much more do we who seek to live for Jesus need these three things every moment of the day!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A call for public Commitment

Read Luke 3.

Thirty years have passed and we have no information about John, the Baptist from his birth until here.  He preached because "the word of the Lord came" to him (v.2).  His message was simple.  It was a call to repentance that would be evidenced by a change life.

John A. Martin wrote this insight into the quote from Isaiah: "When a king traveled the desert, workmen preceded him to clear debris and smooth out the roads to make his trip easier.  In Luke the leveling of the land was a figurative expression denoting that the way of the Messiah would be made smooth because through John a large number of people were ready to receive Jesus' message." (Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament Edition, p.211)

Being baptized in water pictured what had spiritually already taken place inside that individual; a burial of the old life and a resurrection to now live for God.  It was public so others would know that this one is no longer the same.

Because they were descendants of Abraham, many believed they were automatically in right standing with God.  They just needed, then, to keep up the outward demands of the Law.  But John, just like the prophets before him, reminded them that being right with God begins with a personal commitment from the heart.

John preached a coming judgment for those who did not repent and "bear fruits" of a changed life in keeping with their commitment to God.  He gave specific examples in verses 10-14 of what that may look like for certain individuals.

When he told them that their belief in "we have Abraham as our father" was not good enough, that got their attention.  Just as today, having believing parents, joining a church, going through certain rituals, and doing good deeds will not result in the forgiveness of sin and eternal life.  "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:12-13) 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Introducing Jesus

Read Luke 2.

At the birth of Jesus, there were several announcements and pronouncements.  Some of those were terrifying at first, while other statements were not immediately understood.

1. Shepherds at the barn. (vv.8-20)
A multitude of angels appeared to these men to announce Jesus' birth.  They were scared to death.  The lead angel first had to tell them "fear not."  This heavenly appearance was for "good news" and "praising God."  Immediately, the shepherds made their way to Bethlehem to see for themselves.  And, they, too, began "glorifying and praising God."

Those who heard the shepherds recount their experience were amazed.  Mary "treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart."  She heard what they said, but she could not fully comprehend it.  So, she continued to think about it and "weigh" it in her mind.

2. Simeon and Anna at the Temple. (vv.22-38)
By Old Testament Law, a baby boy was to be circumcised on the eighth day.  The mother was required to present herself 33 days later, after she had recovered from giving birth (Leviticus 12:3).  Simeon was another godly, praying priest in the Temple, looking for the Messiah.  When he saw Jesus, the Holy Spirit revealed to him that this is the One.  His words of blessing concerning God's salvation included the Gentiles!

Then, Anna, the elderly, praying widow began to praise God for "the redemption of Jerusalem."

Though Mary and Joseph heard these words, they "marveled" at them.

3. Jesus at the Temple. (vv.41-51)
At age twelve, Jesus traveled with all the other family members and friends to Jerusalem for the feast days.  How alarming for any parent when they believe they have lost a child.  "After three days," they found Jesus interacting with the lead teachers of the nation.  He not only held His own in the rabbinic discussions, but the teachers were "amazed" at Jesus' understanding.  When Mary and Joseph saw what was happening, "they were astonished."

Jesus reminded these earthly guardians that the Temple was His true "Father's house."

"They did not understand" what Jesus meant.  And, again, Mary "treasured up all these things in her heart."

If somethings in Scripture create a sense of wonder and amazement, you are experiencing the supernatural joy of God's word.  If certain passages cause you to think and meditate on their meaning and application, you are in very good company.

Friday, October 23, 2015

How can this Be?

Read Luke 1.

Luke was a medical physician of his day and traveled with the Apostle Paul.  There came a time when the Holy Spirit moved upon him to write down what he knew to be true concerning Jesus and then the early church with the book of Acts; totally, about 28% of the New Testament.  His gospel is the longest of the four by content and thematically he emphasizes the humanity of Christ.

Chapter one is power packed with miraculous events.  So much so, that twice an angel is asked, "How?" (vv.18 and v.34).

1. A miracle for Luke. (vv.1-4)
Dr. Luke was not one of the twelve Apostles.  So, how was it possible for him to be able to write such authentic and reliable information?  He did his homework.  He, evidently, had read what "many" others had written.  He listened to those who were "eyewitnesses and ministers" of the time.  He "followed closely" or investigated all these things "for some time."  But overriding all his personal research and findings was the movement and superintending work of the Holy Spirit.  The miracle was not just for Luke.  It was for the world to have this record.

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness..." (2 Timothy 3:16)

It is only by this miraculous work of God in Luke's life that this gospel could be proclaimed "that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught."

2. A miracle for Zechariah. (vv.5-25 and 67-80)
This elderly, faithful, and godly couple were childless.  But God had plans for them.  While representing the nation of Israel in prayer within the Temple, an angel appeared to foretell the birth of John, the Baptist.  How is that possible (v.18)?   It was beyond belief that these two, well-past the age of a pregnancy, would have a baby.  The miracle was not just for them.  It was for the world to be prepared for the appearance of the Messiah.

The coming Messiah had been on Zechariah's heart and in his prayers.  In the closing verses of the chapter, the old man broke out in a song of praise for answered prayer.  Their child "will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of sins..."(vv.76-77)

3. A miracle for Mary. (vv.26-66)
All we know about  to this point is her family lineage, her virginity, and her engagement to be married.  But God had plans for her.  Gabriel appeared to announce the birth of the Son of God (not Joseph's), one who would sit on the royal throne of his human ascendant David.  How could such a virgin birth ever happen (v.34)?  God chose to use this chaste, young woman for a miracle.  It was not just about her.  It was for the entire world to have a Savior.

Indeed, in her song, like everyone else, she acknowledged her own need for forgiveness of sin.  "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior" (vv.46-47).  She knew the promises from the Old Testament.  "He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever." (vv.54-55)

How does the miraculous happen?  It is beyond human explanation.  The angel Gabriel provided the answer.  "For nothing will be impossible with God." (v.37)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

3 personal responses to the Resurrection

Read Mark 16.

"When the Sabbath was past..."  The Sabbath is from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown.  Genesis 2:2-3 states, "And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.  So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation."   Later, resting on the Sabbath from work was incorporated into the Old Testament Law.

The resurrection took place on Sunday morning, the first day of the week.  In 1 Corinthians 16:2 it appears to be a given that followers of Jesus gathered on Sunday.  It is not a day of rest but of ministry.  There is much to do.

When the women came to the tomb, they did not expect a risen Messiah.  The mixed emotions of bewilderment, trembling, fear and joy overwhelmed them.  The angel's words brought comfort and confirmation of the identity of Jesus, as God in the flesh.  Everything Jesus had taught concerning Himself had come true.  With some allowance, his next words are applicable to us.

1. "You seek Jesus"
Some who claim to be Christians only think about the Lord on Sundays.  Though a true believer has found a personal and eternal relationship with Jesus, if we are to grow in our faith, we need to seek His will and way daily.  These women did not seek Him alone but together.  The church is a gathered group of believers seeking to encourage each other in the faith.  "...not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (Hebrews 10:25)

2. "See..."
The angel's announcement could have been good enough.  But he invited the women to personally see for themselves the evidence of the resurrection.  A growing disciple of Jesus understands the necessity of reading and studying the evidence of our faith daily.  Christian books and other encouraging resources may be helpful, but there is no substitute for consistent, life-changing time invested in opening one's Bible and seeing the truth for ourselves.

3. "Go, tell..."
These women were the first to share the good news.  The message they told was not what someone else said.  It was what they saw and heard for themselves.  Every person who has experienced personal salvation in Christ has a story to tell.  It is not a story of our religion, our church, or our group.  It is the wonderful story of Jesus and what He has done for us.  "To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."  (Acts 10:43)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Disciples behind the Scenes

Read Mark 15.

While the selected disciples all fled and forsook Jesus, the Bible tells of others who filled the void.

1. Simon of Cyrene. (v.21)
The location of Cyrene was on the north coast of Africa.  Today, it is part of Libya.  The man had journeyed some distance in order to arrive in time for the Passover.  Simon's involvement appears to be a random act by the Roman soldiers.  The fact that Simon's sons are mentioned may indicate that this family were Jewish believers and known to the disciples.

2. The Centurion. (v.39)
This Roman officer watched Jesus die and experienced the surrounding events of the earthquake, darkness, etc.  How much he knew and personally believed by his statement here is unknown.  But the truth of what he said stands.  And, he stated it loud enough for others to hear it.  As Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16:17, "For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven."

3. Mary Magdalene. (v.40 and 16:9)
Magdala was in the northern province of Galilee.  Mary had been possessed by seven demons.  Then, she met Jesus.  As part of the crowd, she followed Him to Jerusalem for the feast days.  She ministered to Him in His life and now she would be there for His death and resurrection.

5. Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses. (v.40 and 16:1)
Often called "the other Mary,"  She, and apparently her sons too, followed and served the material needs of the disciples.

6. Salome. (v.40 and 16:1)
She was the mother of James and John and had followed Jesus for sometime.  She is famous for her request in Matthew 20 that her sons have the chief seats next to Jesus in the coming kingdom.  Salome, also, came willing to serve in the burial process of Jesus.

7. Many other women. (v.40)
This is a group for the most part unnamed, believing women who faithfully followed and served our Lord.  In Luke 8:1-3, some are identified as those who had been healed.  Joanna was the wife of Herod's household manager.  And, "many others, who provided for them out of their means."  As the disciples traveled and ministered, food and financial support came from these godly ladies.

8. Joseph of Arimathea. (vv.43-46)
This could not have been a popular move on his part.  He was "a respected member of the council."  His daring involvement indicated that not all on the Sanhedrin agreed with the mistreatment of Jesus.  Joseph had the positional influence in order to ask for Jesus' body.  He also possessed wealth to be able to have such a tomb.  In an act of faith and generosity, he gave it to Jesus.  Mark points out that it was Joseph who purchased the linen shroud for the burial.

These and many other quiet workers behind the scenes have always been the backbone of any ministry.  While the preacher and the persons "up front" receive the notoriety, there is a huge requirement of others to support with their time and resources.  This does not go unnoticed by our heavenly Father who will reward each one according to their service for Him.  Jesus taught that "many who are first will be last, and the last first." (Matthew 19:30)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The ups and downs of Discipleship

Read Mark 14.

No one lives life on a straight plane and certainly not on a constant upward slope of spiritual growth.  In the Christian life, we all experience highs and lows, good days and other times, successes and failures.  It was no different with the original followers whom Jesus selected.

This chapter demonstrates the humanity of the disciples in its rawest form.
1. Obedience.
High.  Jesus told them what to do.  They believed Him and did it.  Simple.

2. Commitment
High.  When Jesus prepared them again as to the trouble ahead, He mentioned that they would all scatter and deny they knew Him.  In verse 31, Peter's statement is a noble one and all the rest joined in a promise of loyalty to the death.

3. Praying.
Low.  In both His humanity and His deity, Jesus was feeling the extreme stress of becoming sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Jesus asked for the human support of  His friends and the spiritual support of watchfulness and prayer during this spiritual battle.  But in verses 37-38, the disciples were asleep on the job.

4. Desertion.
Low.  "And they all left him and fled." (v.50).  This was not their finest hour.  One young follower was so scared that he ran away naked (v.51-52).  Most believe this youngster to be Mark himself.

5. Repentance.
Getting up.  The closing verses of chapter 14 recounts Peter's denials, just as Jesus had predicted.  We need to keep in mind that none of the disciples stood up for Jesus during His trials.  When the reality hit of what he had done, Peter's heart was broken and he wept bitterly for his disloyalty to Christ.  "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret." (2 Corinthians 7:10)

There is no discipleship without personal discipline.

Every day, the Apostle Paul fought to spiritually discipline himself.    "So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand....Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord."  (Romans 7:21-25)

When we are up, His grace can sustain us.  When we are down, His grace and forgiveness are waiting to lift us back up.

Friday, October 16, 2015

While we Wait

Read Mark 13.

Peter, James, and John privately asked two questions of Jesus concerning the end times.  When will it be and what will be the indicators?  Jesus answered them in reverse order.

There is coming an unprecedented time of world-wide tribulation (v.19).  The good news is that after that time Jesus will visibly and powerfully return to earth (vv.24-27).  This is further described in the second half of Revelation 19.  Jesus went on to say concerning the timing "no one knows."  Luke quoted Jesus in Acts 1:7, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority."  So, when someone proclaims that they know, they are claiming knowledge and authority in opposition to the Scriptures and usurping the authority of God, the Father.  Indeed, they will be revealed as false prophets.

In the meantime, while we wait...
1. What are followers of Jesus to do?
Jesus said in verse 10, "And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations."  After 2000 years that mission remains unfulfilled.  The tireless missions' efforts of translating the Bible in all earth's languages and communicating the good news continues.  But still many people groups have not heard and do not have access to the truth.  We have work to do.

2. What are we to know?
Despite the changing times, diversities of cultures, and world developments, one thing remains constant.  Jesus said in verse 31, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."  The Word of God is always under attack and dismissed by many as irrelevant in an attempt to justify their sin.  But this is the unchanging standard by which every human being who ever lived will one day be judged.  Twice Jesus warned, "See that no one leads you astray" (vv.5 and 22).  Followers of Jesus may stand firm and with confidence of the truth.

3. What are we to be?
v.9-Be on your guard
v.23-Be on your guard
v.33-Be on your guard, keep awake
v.35-Stay awake
v.37-Stay awake
How many times does He need to remind us?  Obviously, a lot.

"Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."  (1 Peter 5:8)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

3 Final Questions

Read Mark 12.

Religious leaders of the day took turns in attempts to accuse Him of some punishable statement (v.12).  Though Jesus repeatedly demonstrated His true identity, the hardness of their hearts refused to accept Him as the Messiah.

1. The positional question. (vv.1-11)
This context begins in 11:27, with the chief priests, scribes, and elders.  These men were all about positional leadership.  It threatened them greatly that one not under their authority, such as John, the Baptist and now Jesus, would teach and serve great crowds of people without them.  John and Jesus did not received education from their system, nor were they authorized by the Temple leadership.

In response, Jesus told this parable.  The owner has full authority over what belongs to him.  Those he placed in charge of his property have accountability to the owner.  This is a very thinly veiled reference to these religious leaders and their lack of stewardship responsibilities for the nation on God's behalf.  God, the Owner, will reject these who have rejected His Son, and open the spiritual stewardship to others.

They were so selfishly protective of their positions that they failed to fulfill their Scriptural duties.  They should have been the ones to lead the nation in recognizing and worshiping Jesus as the promised Messiah, as Zechariah, the Temple priest, did in Luke 1:67-79.

2. The political question.  (vv.13-17)
Next, the Pharisees, who were the legalists, along with the Herodians, who were supporters of the Herods, came.  This was a strange alliance between these two groups.  But, if Jesus were not politically correct, then, perhaps, the Romans could arrest Jesus as some rebel, teaching people to disobey the government.

Jesus' responded with a shrewd bit of wisdom that rebuked both groups.  The Pharisees were more interested in their traditions than the Word of God.  The Herodians were more enamored with the ruling political family than God Himself.  Obeying human law is one thing.  Obviously, neither group was giving God His rightful place in their hearts.

3. The theological question. (vv.18-27)
Much like the liberals of today, the Sadducees spent time discussing silly issues and dismissing the authority of the Word of God.  This question of marriage reveals the error of their human reasoning.  Jesus rebuked this group stronger than the others.  He twice bluntly said, "you are wrong,"  How did these phony religious leaders get to this erroneous place?  "Because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God."

If they had been students of the Scriptures, instead of following human thought...
If they had surrendered themselves to God, instead of their group...
They would have experienced the power of a changed life and worshiped the great I AM who stood before them.

With that the questions stopped (v.37).

Friday, October 9, 2015

Jesus as fruit Inspector

Read Mark 11.

Jesus had made His way into Jerusalem being heralded with songs and shouts, praising God.  It was time for the Passover Feast and the city was crowded.  In verse 11, "he had looked around at everything," evidently sizing up what needed to be forthrightly addressed.  The next day, things began to change.

1. The cursing of the tree. (vv.12-14)
On the surface, this incident does not make sense.  Jesus knew there was no fruit on that tree.  In fact, the Scripture states that it was not the season for figs.  Yet, He pronounced that the tree would never bear fruit again.  The very next morning, the tree had "withered away to its roots." (v.20)

Obviously, Jesus was trying to communicate something greater by this demonstration.  The Old Testament prophets often compared Israel to a fig tree.  See Hosea 9:10 and 16.  There the LORD judged them for their lack of fruit.  In Jeremiah 8:12-13, the nation's lack of repentance from their sin is compared to a fig tree with no fruit.

The nation of Israel was producing no spiritual fruit.  But, they were ripe for judgment.

2. The cleansing of the Temple. (vv.15-19)
Of all places, the Temple at the time of the Passover celebration should have been the world's center for spiritual fruit.  But instead, the people were treated as objects of unjust gain.  The Temple officials were more concerned about profit than the Word and worship of God.  They forced worshipers to exchange their money to Temple money, for a fee.  Then, there was nothing wrong with trying to help those who needed an animal to sacrifice.  To inspect animals for suitability was ordered under the Law.  But to price-gouge was so sinful that Jesus intervened.

In righteous indignation, Jesus over turned the tables of the money-changers and drove out the animals of those who were cheating the people.  After all, this place belonged to God.  Those sellers had no relationship with God and not business in His Father's house.  John's Gospel (2:17) includes that the disciples connected this incident with Psalm 69:9-"For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me."

3. The challenging of the religious leaders. (vv.27-26)
These were the very men who should have been teaching the people God's Word, making leadership decisions based upon the Scriptures, and relying solely on that for their authority.  But instead of serving the nation in order to bear spiritual fruit, they had become the source of the nation's spiritual barrenness.

How dare Jesus to walk in and destroy their lucrative business in the Temple?  By what authority could He think He could get away with this?  Jesus' response was to asking a spiritually revealing question.  The religious leaders of the nation never considered answering truthfully!  Instead, they looked for the popular answer.  As politicians do under pressure, they tried to table it, even though they had made up their minds.  By doing so, they stood self-condemned.  It was not a trap question from Jesus but an opportunity for them to confess Jesus as LORD.
Jesus is inspecting our lives for spiritual results.
Later that week, Jesus addressed spiritual fruitfulness with His disciples.  "By this my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples." (John 15:8)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

What must I do to have eternal Life?

Read Mark 10.

Jesus was teaching outside with the crowds and then privately with the twelve.  But as they leaving, walking toward Jericho, something unusual took place.  A wealthy young man approached Jesus.  It was not a casual meeting; the man ran to Jesus.  Though obviously a man of position in the community, he knelt before Jesus.

1. He showed a sense of desperation.
He had plenty of stuff, but something was missing on the inside.  He came because he knew Jesus to be a wise teacher.  The question that plagued him and caused him to cast aside his dignity in public was how a person may attain eternal life?  Every person wants to know the answer.  Some have tried to ignore it.  Some have made up their own answer, as if they knew better than God.  But when a person reaches a point of desperation, they will listen.

He referred to Jesus as good and the response was that none are good but God (Romans 3:23).   So, do you see Jesus as more than a wise teacher?  The first issue  to address in answering the question is "This is not what you do, but who I am."  Then, Jesus took on the second part of his question.  "Well, if you want to do something, did you try keeping the commandments?"

2. He lived a disciplined life.
The Scriptures were important to him.  He had done his best to perform all he knew to do.  However, it was not enough.  Something was still missing.  He sensed he was not right with God.

Jesus looked at him.  Jesus saw beyond the clothing, jewelry, and the success of this man.
Jesus love him.  Here is a man who outwardly practiced all he had been taught to do.  Surely, his friends thought if anyone can make it, he can.  But Jesus saw the obstacle, the hindrance in his heart.  It was that one thing that blocked his having eternal life.  He had another god.

Matthew 6: 24-"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money."

This rich young man wanted to keep his wealth as the god he worshiped and have eternal life.  But the LORD of heaven will not share His throne with anyone or anything.  The issue was not the money but the priorities of his heart.  Jesus knew that and called him on it.  Instead of recognizing God's ownership of all things and living his life as a faithful steward of God's stuff, he claimed ownership in God's place as a so-called self-made success.

3. He left a disheartened man.
As much as he seemed to desire eternal life and to be right with God, he could not bring himself to give up what he could not keep to gain what he could not lose.  Mr. Success walked away sorrowful.

This is where the real teaching began.  If this guy cannot make it, "Who then can be saved?"  It is not possible on our own.  We have all tried and we can never be good enough.  It is only possible by forsaking all that hinders us from freely and fully receiving the unmerited favor of God through faith in Jesus.  It is not what we can do, but what He has done!  "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God," (John 1:12)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Where is the Power?

Read Mark 9.

The Apostle Paul wrote, "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (Romans 11:33)

Even for the most diligent follower of Christ, it takes time and repeated hearing to begin to understand what God is saying to us.  After years of studying His word, we still can gain new insights and fresh applications for our lives.  In 8:31, Jesus foretold of His suffering, death and resurrection.  He repeated it in 9:9.  But Peter, James, and John did not understand, "questioning what this rising from the dead might mean." (v.10)  Spiritual growth is a never ending process.  It is evidenced in this chapter.

As the four of them came down from the mountain, they witnessed the other disciples arguing with the scribes.  A young boy could not speak and experienced seizures.  But there was more. The convulsions were violent to the point of self-destruction.  The disciples perceived that this was more than a physical or mental condition.  Demonic possession had become evident.

Previously, when Jesus had called and sent out the twelve, He empowered them to preach and "heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons." (Matthew 10:8).  But their attempts to help in this case went were in vain.  Then, came Jesus with His assessment and instruction.

1. No faith. (v.19)
Jesus did not hide His frustration with those who surrounded Him.  They should have known better.  The scribes, scholars of the Old Testament, should have perceived the situation and depended on the power of God.  The disciples should have remembered their calling and empowerment.  For them it was a crisis of their faith.  Do we truly believe God in every situation?

2. No ifs. (vv.22-24)
This is not an example of "if it be Thy will", looking toward the result of prayer.  This kind of "if" questions the character of God and His goodness.  This "if" questions the ability of God to help in time of need.  The strong statement by Jesus erases those types of "ifs".  "All things are possible for the one who believes."  Why would God answer the prayers of those who do not think He can help?

What a transparent admission by this hurting dad!  "I believe; help my unbelief!"  We all have been there.  We do trust God and we do know He can do all things.  But, in the midst of a crisis and pain we realize there is room to grow in our faith and to trust Him more.

3. No prayer. (vv.28-29)
The disciples saw the spiritual war yet wanted to know why they were powerless in helping this boy.  Jesus' answer seems to indicate that His followers tried to solve the issue on their own, instead of seeking God's power in prayer.  Yes, the Holy Spirit has gifted each believer to serve the Lord successfully.  But the empowerment is not in our abilities.  Our strength is not in our knowledge.  In John 15:5 Jesus spoke plainly to them: "...for apart from me you can do nothing."

Friday, October 2, 2015

Discipleship 101

Read Mark 8.

Jesus taught, revealed, and demonstrated His true identity as God in the flesh.  Progressively, He told why He came and what would eventually happen to Him.  However, the twelve did not immediately understand the full implications.

Yes, they responded to Jesus' call.  They heard His authoritative teaching.  They witnessed the many miracles.  But, in verse 15 when Jesus warned them about the dangers (leaven, 1 Corinthians 5:6-8) of legalism and politics, they did not understand.  The disciples were focused on physical needs and missed the spiritual point Jesus was making.

Then, even after the Holy Spirit helped the disciples declare aloud who Jesus is, they still did not understand why He came.  Jesus told them plainly, exactly, who and what would take place, including His resurrection.  Instead of being in awe, Peter voiced strong rebuke against Jesus.  Such opposition on a spiritual level has only one source and that is Satan.  It is his scheme to try to thwart any plan of God.  On a human level, it was a selfish response on Peter's part.  He did not want to entertain the thought of losing Jesus.

It was time for the next lesson on what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
1. Give up. (vv.34-35)
The cross was an instrument of death.  Salvation in Christ only takes place when a person realizes they cannot save themselves.  When the Holy Spirit points them to Jesus as the only hope of forgiveness of their sin and eternal life, changes will happen.  Death to self means a new life as a believer.  If you want to save your life, lose it.  Complete and total surrender to Jesus and gospel is the only acceptable definition of a follower of Christ.  This new life requires living in total dependence on Him.

2. Give in. (vv.36-37)
Throughout life we make exchanges.  We exchange our time for a paycheck.  We exchange our money for possessions, goods, and services.  Materialism leads one to believe that the measure of a successful life is in how much of those things we have accumulated.  Jesus' questions cause us to see what is really important.  One day we will leave that stuff behind.  It is all temporal and none of it can meet our eternal, spiritual needs.

3. Give out. (v.38)
If Jesus has changed your life, say so.  In verse 35, Jesus stated that a follower of His loses his life for "my sake and the gospel's".  In this sinful world, we who know Jesus are the only ones who have really good news to communicate.  We have been called to be "ambassadors for Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:20) telling others what we have personally experienced (Acts 4:18-20).

Unbelievers hold tightly to the things of this world, as if that could bring them comfort and hope.  Followers of Jesus use the things of this world in order to further communicate a sincere comfort and a lasting hope.