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."