I Couldn’t Follow Him

Mark 10:17-22

As he was starting out on a trip, a man came running to him and knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to get to heaven?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good! 19 But as for your question—you know the commandments: don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t cheat, respect your father and mother.”

20 “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve never once broken a single one of those laws.”

21 Jesus felt genuine love for this man as he looked at him. “You lack only one thing,” he told him; “go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor—and you shall have treasure in heaven—and come, follow me.”

22 Then the man’s face fell, and he went sadly away, for he was very rich.

My name is inconsequential. I suppose all you must know of me is I tried to keep God’s Law and that I was very wealthy. Many believed that being rich was evidence that God approved of me. Of that, I wasn’t too sure. I kept the Law out of fear I suppose, and at times I just knew it wasn’t quite enough.

As I studied I began to realize that riches weren’t going to make me righteous. There was enough Scripture in me to let me know that it wasn’t enough. The prophets, especially Isaiah spoke about the deadliness of wealth, but there was that one verse in Proverbs that really disturbed me:

“Your riches won’t help you on Judgment Day; only righteousness counts then.”

(Proverbs 11:4.)

This verse (and all of the others) were the cause of many a sleepless night.

I was tormented by the reality of standing before God with nothing but my money to cover me. Perhaps I was just overly concerned. But coming under God’s righteous judgment haunted me. I thought of it day and night. I was terrified of being damned. My own righteousness wasn’t enough, and I knew it.

I heard about Jesus (and who hasn’t)–some were claiming that he was the Messiah. He was at least a wonderful teacher and many said he worked powerful miracles, and perhaps he had answers for me. I hoped so, but I needed to know. It was my questions that drove me to find him.

And finding him was easy–I just followed the crowd.

I went ahead of the massive crowds. I knelt in his path and waited. I must know what he thought. When he stood before me I asked the question that had haunted me my whole life–“Good Teacher, what must I do to get eternal life?”

Being a good Jew he answered my question with a question. It now seems that he wanted me to see what really mattered. I answered him with my “righteous” commitment to the Law of Moses. I did what was important–at least that’s what I thought.

Jesus looked right at me. I knew deep down that he loved me.

But oh those words, his words really disturbed me. He told me that I only lacked one thing, that I must sell everything and distribute the money to the poor. Only by doing that would discover riches in heaven. And only then could I truly follow him.

But that was the thing I couldn’t do.

I went away grieved. If he had asked for anything else I would have done it. You see, my wealth was my real obstacle. Deep down I suddenly knew that everything I possessed was now my stumbling block. It was my idol, my golden calf, and it was a sacrifice that I could never make.

I’ve come to realize now, over my many years, that when I do finally stand before God, I will have nothing to save me. Jesus invited me to follow, and I couldn’t and I didn’t.

And that my friend meant I would die in my sin.

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

Mark 8:36, KJV

Furnace People

The Furnace

“I have refined you, but not as silver is refined. Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.

Isaiah 48:10

“Once we have come through the ‘furnace of humiliation,’ desperately, fearfully clinging to Christ for all He is worth, then we are fully equipped to march into somebody else’s furnace.”

‘Blessed with Bipolar”

Becoming a real and authentic person starts with the responses that we’ve made in the presence of Jesus. Amazingly, this simple faith becomes the prerequisite, granting us the right to enter into the promises of the Lord. If you have those promises you may enter. However, without faith in those promises, you won’t find anything real.

You will not be able to handle the Kingdom of God unless you’re walking out of a life of brokenness and humility!

Furnace people will often recognize those without any real and tangible connection with God’s work. There are furnace promises, but many, without truly understanding will walk around in unreality. Often ‘they get religion.’ These are those who land on “the rocky soil.” They become ‘quasi-disciples’ who will do and say things that they really don’t really understand.

But furnace people have a connection to that which is honest and true. The Holy Spirit refuses to give up. These people can’t tolerate anything false or manipulative.  Their own hearts are being transformed by the fire, and it seems only then are qualified to minister God’s grace. Only furnace people can enter. You will know them by their scars.

The Church has a tremendous need for those who have withstood the furnace of humiliation.

After we endure its ugliness and its great evil, we’ll discover that we’re in an altogether different place than when we first started. The Church is waiting for those who went in and then come out on the other side. Again, the furnace of affliction will have done its work.

I was thinking today about Joseph, and his ordeal, as found in the Book of Genesis chapters 37-50.  He was a rare kind of person. Perhaps, one in a thousand. You may emulate but never exceed his faith. His confidence in the Lord was true and came from his lousy circumstances.

Furnace people have the ability to function gracefully at this particular stage.

Furnace people are sovereignly brought to a place where they can minister the grace of God into desperate situations. We must convince ourselves, that furnace people have a gift.  They have been through the worst.  They may be battered and bruised.  But they still stand.  We must look to those who are the gracious agents of a loving God.

Our brothers and sisters have carried the Word with wisdom and grace. They come to us, through the fire. But will we receive them?

My hope is that you will personally grasp what God has worked for you. That really is your truest calling.  The things good or bad, that have happened are part of how you’ll understand grace. He waits for you to respond.  Will you come to Him, through the grace you find in flames? The most gracious people you’ll ever meet are those who endured God’s furnace.

 “He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord.”

Malachi 3:3

***

Looking Backwards

Luke 9:57-62

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60 And Jesus[g] said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

There’s to be no whitewashing the way of discipleship–there’s no glamour, no special recognition–no acclaim in it. I guess this is the “real” way of being His follower. The path Jesus has for me demands I give Him my whole heart. Heart enough to turn it all to Him. Heart enough to give Him total commitment.

Jesus seems to make it hard–we can see this in His responses to each prospective disciple. His statements to these possible followers seem harsh, difficult, and a bit “unreasonable,” but He doesn’t receive these men unless they do what He says.

Discipleship demands that we give up what we hold dearest.

What happened to these three “would-be” followers? Did they return home dejected and frustrated? To follow in Jesus’ footprints means we have to give up our personal agendas and turn our backs on what is closest and dearest. We must renounce everything, and give Him preeminence over all.

He must be our Lord, or we can’t follow Him.

These are hard verses with profound implications. But this passage is given to us for a reason. We dare not minimize what it means to be a disciple. We must grasp the plow with both hands, and we can’t look back. The plowman can never look back if he wants to make a straight furrow, and that’s the way the Kingdom works.

Those who follow Jesus realize that they fall woefully short. They start to realize that this path is going to take the grace of God. Every day we must take up the cross, and we must embrace that we’re loved. To be a disciple we need to become intimate friends with the Holy Spirit; He is both our ‘fuel’ and our guide.

“Anyone who claims to be intimate with God ought to live the same kind of life Jesus lived.”

1 John 2:6, MSG

We must obey our Lord. We’re to be intimately close to Him.

“Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. Unless he obeys, a man cannot believe.”

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer


Behold, The Hen of God!

havenlight.com

“How often I’ve ached to embrace your children, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you wouldn’t let me.” 

Matthew 23:37, Amplified

Scripture tells us that Jesus only wept twice. The first was at the tomb of Lazarus when he cried over the evil and destructive power of death. The second is here–the night before he was crucified, where he stood on the Mount of Olives–and wept over the city of Jerusalem.

The disciples saw the tears roll down His face.

Mother hens do not provide milk for their chicks, they simply aren’t equipped for that. Instead, they teach them by example–and occasionally hold food in their beaks until the little ones get the idea that they can scratch on their own. The yolk sack from the eggs they are hatched from will provide food for the first 72 hours–after that, they’re on their own.

The chicks will always return to their mother. They instinctively know who she is, it’s she that provides them with heat and shelter. You’ll see them snuggling up to mom, especially when the weather gets cold, wet–or for protection. The little chicks ‘automatically’ understand that she got what they need. They’ll always stay close to her.

There is no “magic force field” for the believer. We’ll face all the things that the unbeliever does, maybe even more–but he does cover, and lavishly provides the grace and peace that we need. Life can be brutal and nasty, there is no question about that.

“O God, have pity, for I am trusting you! I will hide beneath the shadow of your wings until this storm is past.”

Psalm 57:1

The Lord will always protect his people. He’s deeply and intensely aware of us–he shields and provides everything we need. He covers us, keeps us, and protects us. We truly belong to him. He has adopted us as His own. We’re His sons and daughters, we are “family.”

“The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by Him, we cry, “Abba, Father.”

Romans 8:15

Do we really understand this? Do we really grasp the profound implications of his promises to us?

I have many questions (of course I do.) So why do we do the things our Father hates? Why do we bring him tears by the way we behave? Will we come to him at the first sign of “danger?”

When I’m threatened or challenged do I find shelter under the wings of God?

The city of Jerusalem was stubborn and unreceptive to His love–can I also resist him as well? Is my own hardness blocking His will? Do I ignore Jesus’ protective love?

“But let all who take refuge in You rejoice; let them shout for joy forever. May You shelter them, and may those who love Your name boast about You.”

Psalm 5:11

The Authority of the Lord Jesus Christ

“My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. 17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.”

John 7:16 (context, Vv. 14-24)

Spiritually, Jesus is superior to everything and everyone. All that he did in the Gospels revealed that salient fact–whether he was healing the sick, walking on water, or teaching the Sermon on the Mount, he had total command. An authority soaked all that he did, just like water saturates a sponge. (See Matthew 28:18.)

The Greek word most often translated as “authority” (exousia) in the New Testament basically means: “right, permission, freedom.” Jesus was completely free to do whatever he knew was the Father’s will–he had full and total authorization to do whatever he wanted. (That seems to be what his baptism was all about. See Luke 3:21-22.)

Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

The Greek word “teach” (didaskō) in the NT means “give instruction, impart doctrine, to explain.” Jesus’ teaching was a marvel, he explained God’s kingdom to us crisply, succinctly, and precisely. All we need to understand was freely given to us in red letters. Everything necessary to us was taught with confidence and freedom. (See Matthew 7:29.)

Since Jesus perfectly combined the two words, both teaching, and authority, He could dictate to us everything we need, everything we must have, in straightforward terms. This can’t be stressed enough, the scripture we read–when ignited with the Holy Spirit, seems to be the only thing that can change the human heart.

The preceding verses in this passage reveal the setting for this statement.

  • Jesus stays out of Jerusalem because of the murderous hatred of the Pharisees.
  • There was a deep concern in his family who doubted Jesus’ timing and direction.
  • The origin of his teaching was questioned. He was speaking with the authority of the Messiah. Jesus completely understood the trustworthy source of his teaching.
  • There was a general consensus among the people of Jesus’ authority. Many were finally arriving at a decision in favor of him. Many would reject him.

We have never seen anyone of his impressive caliber, and we can only imagine the impact he was having on everyone he met. Under the Spirit’s direction, his disciples would retain all that Jesus did and taught. (The author of this passage was the Apostle John, and when you read his letters to us, we see that his memories were quite vivid.)

The Lord’s authority soaked all that he did, just like water saturates a sponge.

So what do we do now? What kind of “lordship” does he have over us? First of all, we learn (slowly) that we MUST teach ourselves to submit to our lord, constantly. He carries the authority we need, the authority human beings require. The Holy Spirit knows exactly how to pierce our pride and independence. Our teacher, comforter (and coach) understands us perfectly.

“His authority on earth allows us to dare to go to all the nations. His authority in heaven gives us our only hope of success. And His presence with us leaves us no other choice.”

-John Stott

To Leave Your Nets

Tools used to mend nets

“And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them.”

Matthew 4:21, ESV

“And immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

Mark 1:18

To mend nets was tedious but necessary. You would take your net and spread it on the ground in an open space. Every knot would be carefully examined. All holes would be repaired. Nothing was overlooked. Fishing nets were painstakingly maintained. Every day, without fail.

Fish would school, and if your gear was right, and you were in a prime place, you could catch a lot. But simultaneously, you could let hundreds of fish escape through a hole in your net. Each fish that escaped meant money lost.

Jesus walking along the beach surveyed the boats and crews. Since most of these guys had worked through the night, they were tired and maybe a bit “punchy.” Some had gotten lucky, while others had little to show for working so hard. I suppose the different crews teased each other as they unloaded.

Jesus walked through the bunches of fishermen. He looked at their hauls to see what they had caught. But it wasn’t the catch He was looking at, it was the men. It was from these laboring fishermen that He would choose. These men were rough-and-tumble rednecks. If they had chewing tobacco back then, they would use it.

He looks, sees, and commands.

Now if you are looking for disciples– future apostles and leaders, the seashore is not the best place to recruit. They really have a rudimentary education. No theology, and just a meager understanding of Jewish ritual and religion. Essentially there was no time for them to think outside their occupation. Sure there just might be one, or two that possessed more, but that would be the exception.

But Jesus had no desire to interview them, and take the best of the lot. He didn’t have a Human Resources Department, and there were no tests and no forms that had to list references. He simply commanded, and those who understood followed. Only after they left it all did He get their names and addresses. I think that it is the same today.

Will we leave our boat, with your nets?

Really, you can keep mending or follow Him– it’s your choice. Most of the time though, decisions have a tendency to be irrevocable. Perhaps you have a moment, an instant of time to decide.

Sometimes mending nets can be back-breaking and tedious. But following the Lord Jesus is an unknown; too many choose to keep fixing their nets. Others though are launched into something new, and eternally significant.

The glaring truth is the necessity of obedience to Jesus’ command. There is no other voice we must hear. As a matter of fact, hearing (and really apprehending) is the only foundation we can trust to make our obedience true.

You can keep mending your nets and preparing for another night on the water. That is always your prerogative. But if you decide to follow you will need to leave what you know behind.

That is authentic discipleship.

“Rest in this – it is His business to lead, command, impel, send, call or whatever you want to call it. It is your business to obey, follow, move, respond, or what have you.”

-Jim Elliot, missionary to the Auca Indians

Her Gorgeous Eyes

“You are as beautiful as Tirzah, my darling,
    as lovely as Jerusalem,
    as majestic as troops with banners.
Turn your eyes from me;
    they overwhelm me.

Your hair is like a flock of goats
    descending from Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of sheep
    coming up from the washing.
Each has its twin,
    not one of them is missing.

Song of Solomon 6:4-6. NIV

Her beauty stuns him.

He’s completely overwhelmed and totally undone, he’s looking for words to describe her. He chooses metaphors that we really don’t get and descriptions that seem a little odd. But the emotions of the human heart haven’t changed.

Love is still love, and beauty is still beautiful. Even if our words have changed.

He chooses concepts that we understand–words like beautiful, darling, lovely and majestic. But we really don’t understand the nouns–Tirzah, Jerusalem, and troops carrying banners (and that’s just verse 4!) And yet that’s how he communicates his love to her.

But we do get verse 5, at least in the first half.

“Turn your eyes on me; they overwhelm me.” Love still does funny things to each one of us–but “eyes” still convey love. When we’re really in love we obviously see the outward, but true love sees the inward too.

I think that love can pierce the heart like nothing else.

Again, the descriptions are funny, and believe me–they get stranger–goats, smelly sheep, and having a mouthful of teeth!? And yet he carefully weaves these ideas that still have concepts that are vaguely relatable, but still, I have to admit, they are hysterical. If I tell my wife that her hair is like a “flock of goats” she is liable to punch me.

The metaphors may be outdated, but the ideas behind them are not. We still understand real-life concepts like beauty, love, and true sight. These are concrete–they still ring true today. Time has not diminished them. They are bedrock solid.

But notice, it’s the eyes that get him.

He sees her eyes, and that’s all it takes–they overwhelm him. A person’s eyes can often reveal the person that’s really inside, which is something we can’t really hide.

Can Jesus see your loving gaze?

The Song of Solomon lover sees her love, and I really believe that Jesus does see the love that a believer has for him. Often we make love a one-way deal. God loves me (John 3:16). That is true–I know that God loves me, that is indisputable. But, do we really ever return his love?! maybe, he’s overcome by my gaze at him? Is that heretical?

His descriptions are funny, and believe me–they do get stranger–goats, sheep, and a mouthful of teeth!? And yet he carefully weaves these ideas that still have concepts that are vaguely relatable, but still, I have to admit, they are hysterical. (If I tell my wife that her hair is like a “flock of goats” she is liable to punch me).

But notice, it’s the eyes that get him.

He sees her eyes, and that’s all it takes–they overwhelm him. A person’s eyes still reveal love and kindness, they can reveal the person that’s really inside, which is something we can’t really hide.

Can Jesus see your loving gaze?

(I want to change. Help me Lord Jesus!)

He sees her love, and I really believe that Jesus does see the love that a believer has for him. Often preachers make love a one-way deal. God loves me (John 3:16). That is true–I know that God loves me, that is indisputable. But, do we really ever return his love? Just maybe, he’s overcome by my gaze at him? Is that heretical?

Your Shepherd is Speaking

John 10:1-6, The Message

1-5 “Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you, know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice.”

“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it.”

6 “Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about.

For context: 10:7-18

What joy can be found in our Shepherd’s care, and to hear his voice. Nothing really can match this wonder. We follow as he leads. The voice is an integral part of this passage and the foundation of authentic discipleship. You really can’t walk with him unless you hear him. We belong to him. We’re his flock that he keeps and provides for.

He knows our name! That’s the intimacy found in these verses. We’re never forgotten and he will never overlook us. To think otherwise is slander and an attack on his present-day ministry. Jesus is our good shepherd. He always will be.

“Intimacy with God comes in whispers, not shouts.”

     Woodrow Kroll

He sometimes whispers, and this world can’t hear him. To be perfectly honest, my ‘busyness’ silences him. I suppose that the real issue isn’t with him, but with myself.

“And after the earthquake, there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, there was the sound of a gentle whisper.”

1 Kings 19:12

The gentle whisper to a man afraid. This fits the Father’s m.o. He doesn’t speak through a windstorm, earthquake, or fire. He chooses to speak very quietly, and that’s a problem for me. In the original Hebrew, the word for “whisper” can be translated as calm, silence, or something gentle. He speaks this way if only we shut up for a little while.

If we are to recognize God’s voice, we must belong to Him. We hear His voice when we spend time in Bible study and quiet contemplation of His Word. The more time we spend intimately with God and His Word, the easier it is to recognize His voice and His leadership in our lives(.

(Perhaps Psalm 23 should be brought in at this point?)

The flock hears the shepherd, and it’s that voice that breaks through our cluttered-up life. We can hear, and it’s that communication that encourages us to walk through life—one day at a time. Just today. That’s all you must do.

There are so many other voices. You must ignore them.

So many are speaking, and so many want us to hear and follow them. But in reality, they want us to leave the Shepherd and his flock behind.

But we can’t allow this, we must learn to listen to him alone.

(Art by Eugène Burnard)

Being Tethered to the Cross

We live in this place.

St. Francis of  Assisi once wrote, “The devil never rejoices more than when he robs a servant of God of the peace of God.” 

Sometimes I think I’ve made the devil dance far too many times.

I confess that peace has never been really high on my list. Love, joy, kindness, and even goodness are clear priorities. Peace… not so much. Until it’s not there. And then I get frantic by its absence and look for it with manic bewilderment.

I’m panting for some sign that God still loves me. Anxiety eats at me. I beat myself up by my last failure. The guilt of my latest sin grows until it looms larger than the blood that saved me. Sometimes religious people have the most neurosis.

I’m afraid that we are taking “the present tense’ out of the Gospel. The past tense is far preferable to us as we manage the Christian life. We like to make check marks on our list. Repentance– check. Baptism– check. Bible study– check. I think it gives me a definite feeling of ‘maturity.’

But these matter little without intimacy with Jesus.

I read Luther 30 years ago. (And Bonhoeffer would say something similar.)

“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

Martin Luther

This is the first of his 95 Theses nailed to the door of Wittenburg. There is a present tense here we can’t ignore. I don’t just repent over smoking, beer drinking, fornication, or hypocrisy, once and done. But my entire way of living is to be one of repenting.

Repentance is a ‘moment-by-moment’ grace.

“All of the Christian life is repentance. Turning from sin and trusting in the good news that Jesus saves sinners aren’t merely a one-time inaugural experience but the daily substance of Christianity. The gospel is for every day and every moment. Repentance is to be the Christian’s continual posture.”

John Piper

Luther’s last words, on his deathbed, wrote on a scrap of paper these words, “We are beggars! This is true.” Thirty years before, he was only echoing his first thesis. It seems dear ones, we are to live at the foot of the cross. Everyday. Because we desperately need to.

“Be quiet!” many of the people yelled at him. But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Mark 10:48

Enjoy Your Pig Slop

“After he had spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he had nothing.”

“So he got a job with one of the citizens there who sent the son into the fields to feed pigs. 16 The son was so hungry that he wanted to eat the pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.”

“The Prodigal Son,” Luke 15:14-16

God has a definite way of arranging things to get our undivided attention. The prodigal had blown through his inheritance money and now had nothing. And then there was this famine–a really bad one. (The word can be translated, as “violent.”) I think the Father was working.

Flat broke and having a need to eat, he started looking through the want ads for work. All he found was an ad for a “pig feeder.” That was it, there was nothing else to be had. So now began his new career in porcine agriculture! He was desperate and he was hungry.

A Jewish boy feeding pigs. Oh boy, how the mighty have fallen!

Verse 18 in this passage takes it a step further. As he poured out the slop the things he was feeding the pigs looked mighty tasty. His mouth began to water. He thought seriously about reaching into the trough and grabbing some of the good pods for himself. (Several days without food does funny things to a man.)

God does some interesting things to bring this prodigal home. Not all of them are pleasant and self-affirming. His circumstances got pretty brutal. He still allows hard circumstances to bring back the stupid. It’s very likely his soul was so valuable that this kind of intervention was necessary.

“When he realized what he was doing, he thought, ‘All of my father’s servants have plenty of food. But I am here, almost dying of hunger.”

(v. 17)

What happened at that precise moment of real repentance can be seen in the following translations of verse 17:

  • “he came to himself,”(King James Version and ESV)
  • “he came to his senses,” (Christian Standard Bible)
  • “he realized what he was doing,” (New Century Version)
  • “he turned again to himself,” (Wycliffe Translation)

That I suppose is the power of the trough. It’s a hard place to live.

The prodigal son is jolted by a very real revelation of home. And even though he grossly underestimates the love of the father, he leaves the pigs and returns. No longer does he have any desire to eat pig food.

Often the side effects of our own stubborn rebellion debase and shame us. It reduces a man or woman to a place of ruin and failure. We feel worthless and very much defeated. We know we’re a dirty rotten mess and we believe Satan’s infamous lies about our ‘impossible-to-forgive” sin.

The spiritual danger in self-degrading thoughts and feelings is that we will start to believe things such as, “God’s Holy Spirit can’t help someone like me” or “I’m helplessly addicted to sin” or even “I’m damned without any hope.”

These are some of the vicious lies Satan tells people to keep them in their sin and rebellion. (It has worked well for him over many millennia.) The enemy tells us that we’ll always live with the pigs, and eventually, over time, we will come to enjoy eating the pig slop. Sadly many accept that lie as the truth.

It is not.

God’s Holy Spirit is transformative and powerful; therefore, if we continue to think we are failures and worthless after receiving Spirit, what are we really saying? Do we doubt His power, or question His love? I hope not.

It’s time to come home.

“Because you have been down there Neo, you know that road, you know exactly where it ends. And I know that’s not where you want to be.”

(“The Matrix”)

A Summons to War

battle

Watch, O Lord, with those who wake or weep tonight, and give your angels and saints charge over those who slumber.

“Tend your sick ones, O Lord Christ, Rest your weary ones, Bless your dying ones, Soothe your suffering ones, Pity your afflicted ones, Shield your joyous ones,

And all for your love’s sake.”

Amen.

Augustine

Woven into this ancient ‘evening prayer’ is an idea of God meeting us with overflowing grace and kindness.  There is a strong sense of God watching everyone! And there is also a “tending” sense that He has overall.

As I read this prayer, I seem to focus on the single phrase, “shield your joyous ones.”  To think that these joyful people need protection strikes me as odd.  Why do they even need a “shield?”  Of all people, don’t they have it together?

God sees to our every need, and His flock can be incredibly needy.

As I thought it through, I started to realize that joy is its best standing in the shadow of warfare. The joyful ones are companions– “buddies” who share the same ‘fox hole’ on enemy lines.  But this isn’t a grim thing, Nehemiah told those trying to build the city walls,

“The joy of the Lord is your strength” 

Neh. 8:10

Joy connects with the desperate need of the moment; it is the muscle of all ministry.  And as a result, perhaps more vulnerable.

He didn’t say that the joy of the Lord is our happiness, cheeriness, or merriment. 

But rather, joy would impart strength, and stiffen one’s ability to go to war for our brothers and sisters, our churches, and our communities. There are certain epoxy resins that will only harden when a special light is used on them.  Maybe joy transforms into strength when we step toward our Father.

We need to spiritually protect and cover those who are His “joyous ones.”  They can be found sprinkled throughout our churches and ministries.  And they need us to shield them.  They seem to be quite exceptional, and seemingly invulnerable.  But that isn’t the case.  We need to pray for them. Joyful people inspire me in battle.

“The joy of the Lord will arm us against the assaults of our spiritual enemies and put our mouths out of taste for those pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks.”

     Matthew Henry

Ten Thoughts You Need to Understand

How do you handle the pain as a believer–the physical kind especially? What do you do when you want to curl up in a ball and just want to disappear? Please understand that pain isn’t in God’s original plan, it’s entered our world through human rebellion and sin. We who hurt must be aware of this.

Pain isn’t normal, but yet–it’s very much real. Too much. There are 10 things you really must consider right now.

First, before my list, I need to tell you this. There is pain that at times you can’t even imagine how you are going to handle another day. And the doctors have the audacity to tell you point blank, that you need to get used to it because it’s never going to get better. So now you must sort things out–as outside of a miracle, it’s only going to get worse.

Often there will be little help or counsel from other Christians. What do you do as a believer in Jesus? What will your discipleship look like now?

Here are ten thoughts that come to my mind. They’re not in any order, so don’t look for one.

One–Treat false humility as a worse disease than you’re facing physically. You’ll be very tempted to milk out your pain for all its worth. You’ll try to take advantage of others, and you’ll want to complain, and put yourself in the best possible light. But pain and ego were never meant to mix–especially as a disciple of Jesus. Renounce it now. Turn from it constantly. It will always be an issue, to one degree or another.

Two–Never find fault with God. He’s not to blame no matter what the evil one tells you. The Father loves you, and he will carry you all the way through this. Satan always tells lies. You must take a stand against him. Put on your armor! Super-glue Ephesians 6:19-18 into your thought life–and never let go!

Three–You can never lose track of eternity. My special verse is Revelation 21:4, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” Please keep this front and center. It will help!

Four–You’ll start to learn to see others differently. There’ll always be another believer who has it worse. Think about them, and all that they must deal with. It helps a lot. Also, you’ll discover that your pain will be like new glasses for spiritual astigmatism. You’ll see things much clearer now.

Five–Your walk will deepen. You will learn to be joyful when all you want to do is cry. The littlest things become a cause of great joy. God values your singing more now, especially when you’re singing out of excruciating pain. Your songs are now more precious to him. The Word, and worship music, seem to be more meaningful. Surround yourself with music (and preaching too) that builds you up.

Six–You will discover the art of blending pain into your discipleship. Sleepless nights become diving boards for prayer, reading, and worship. You’ll change and deepen, and that’s always good. There’s something that can only be burned into you by pain. Also, be open to brand new ways of ministry now. Look for doors to open up. They are maybe different than you think.

Seven–You’ll discover that there can be solace in medications and treatments. I know that this is something really practical, but a handful of Motrin or other pain meds will become a special delight and something to look forward to. Also, listen closely to your doctor and therapist. Pray for them, pray they’ll have special wisdom for your situation. (And let them know you are praying for them. They need your encouragement too.)

Eight–You start to see that you’ll never be able to do this alone (and man, do you know it). God is giving you a gift. He’s designed to connect this way with others. You’ll also start to see people less in terms of their giftedness or ‘rank’ and more in the light of what they’ve had to endure. As you begin to see pain and sorrow as special friends, they’ll often show you who your true brothers and sisters are. They may come from unexpected places.

Nine–You’ll understand the Father’s love in a new way. Like an old-style pharmacist, God carefully measures out exactly what we need. He never gives you a single ounce of medicine more than is necessary. He’s exceedingly careful and very conscientious. Trust him. All that happens to you has come through nail-pierced hands. He understands pain. He understands you.

Ten–You must learn to laugh again. Little things become a source of real joy. The smallest things will make you laugh again. (Weird, I know.) Get a joke book, that may help, especially when you get sour and withdrawn, and maybe even mean. “A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom will leave you bone-tired” (Proverbs 17:22, MSG).

Definitely, this list is not complete.

I apologize, there are many others that really should be added, but maybe this is a start. If I’m missing something fairly critical, let me know.

We must be aware that our pain allows us access to His ‘careful’ grace. Our trials, properly received, endow us with special abilities. I’m serious. They are now our new ‘superpowers.’

(So, move over Batman!)

You must learn to embrace your pain and your sorrows. They come to us at too high of a personal cost. Don’t waste these. They’re precious and far too valuable to neglect. Squeeze them and extract all that they can give.

Also–just one more (number 11?) Be easy on yourself. You’ll find that you’ve much to learn. And that’s ok. That’s very much ok.

Here’s a quote that has always sustained me. It’s really good to remember–

“Some Christians are called to endure a disproportionate amount of suffering. Such Christians are a spectacle of grace to the church, like flaming bushes unconsumed, and cause us to ask, like Moses: ‘Why is this bush not burned up?'”

–John Newton

A good site is Joni Eareckson Tadas. She’s a believer who has suffered a great deal and has a ministry to the afflicted, Joniandfriends.org.

Also, brokenbelievers.com has an older teaching post that may help, check it out if you want to go deeper into this–“Suffering Intelligently.”

Opting Out of Cynicism

Cynical

sinikəl/adjective

1.  believing that people are motivated by self-interest; distrustful of human sincerity or integrity. Contemptuous; mocking; derisive; sarcastic.

Dictionary.com

I want to speak from my heart. I woke up this morning intensely cynical about the world. I hate to think I’m becoming critical or judgmental, but whatever it is I must take it in prayer to Jesus. I feel like I’ve been bit by a snake– a venomous one at that.

When I think of our Lord’s example, it helps a great deal. He knows every man’s heart and motives and that didn’t discourage him. He knew when he came what each of us had done, and was capable of doing.

There was this incident at the Temple:

23 Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him. 24 But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew all about people. 25 No one needed to tell him about human nature, for he knew what was in each person’s heart.

John 2:23-25, NIV

People can’t be trusted. Our motives and our desires, although hidden from men, are clear to God. And yet He loves us deeply. And love, “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5.) In his humanity, Jesus was tempted in every way. Discouragement and despair over the sin of men were resisted.

We can become cynical and jaded over the repeated wrongs we see or hear– it’s easy to do. There can become a ‘coarsening’ and hardness of our hearts. That is dangerous. It requires a touch from Jesus. It means it’s time we get on our knees.

When Jesus sent out his disciples he encouraged them, ““Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matt. 10:16.) He knew the hostile human heart had its own agendas– people would be like wolves. But though they would see first-hand the deceitfulness of many, they were to be wise and be completely harmless.

The Holy Spirit will keep us close as we seek his victory in this matter. We will be transformed into the likeness of Christ. Exchange your attitude with His. He will strengthen you. We can renounce the spirit of judgmentalism that is so pervasive. We will love the way he loves.

I know there is much more to say about this. But now the Spirit is prompting me to pray through this issue myself.

Cynicism and skepticism are the crudest form of quasi-intellectualism… Let the cynic become cynical of his cynicism and the skeptic skeptical of his skepticism and join the battle.

     R.C. Sproul

The Believer’s Pain

How do you handle the pain as a believer–the physical kind especially?

What do you do when you want to curl up in a ball, and to disappear? Pain isn’t in God’s original plan, it’s entered our world through human rebellion and sin. We who hurt must be aware of this. Pain isn’t normal, but yet–it’s very much real. Too much. There are 10 things you really must consider right now.

First, I need to tell you this. There is pain that at times you can’t even imagine how you are going to handle another day. And the doctors have the audacity to tell you point blank, that you need to get used to it, because it’s never going to get better. So now you must sort things out–as outside of a miracle, it’s only going to get worse. Often there will be little help or counsel from other Christians. What do you do as a believer in Jesus? What will your discipleship look like now?

Here are ten thoughts that come to my mind. They’re not in any order, so don’t look for one (smile.)

One–Treat false humility as a worse disease than you’re facing physically. You’ll be very tempted to milk it for all its worth. You’ll try to take advantage of others, and you’ll want to complain and put yourself in the best possible light. But pain and your ego were never meant to mix–especially as a disciple of Jesus. Renounce it now. Turn from it constantly. It will always be an issue, to one degree or another.

Two–Never find fault with God. He’s not to blame no matter what the evil one tells you. The Father loves you, and he will carry you all the way through this. Satan always tells lies. You must take a stand against him. Put on your armor! Super-glue Ephesians 6:19-18 into your thought life–and never let go!

Three–You can never lose track of eternity. My special verse is Revelation 21:4, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” Please keep this front and center. It helps!

Four–You’ll learn to see others differently. There will always be another believer who has it worse. Think about them, and all that they must deal with. It helps a lot. Also, you’ll discover that your pain will be like new glasses for spiritual astigmatism. You’ll see things much clearer now.

Five–Your walk may deepen. You will learn to be joyful when all you want to do is cry. The littlest things become a cause of great joy. God values your singing more now, especially when you’re singing out of excruciating pain. Your songs are now more precious to him. The Word, and worship music, seem to be more meaningful. Surround yourself with music (and preaching too) that builds you up.

Six–You will discover the art of blending pain into your discipleship. Sleepless nights become diving boards for prayer, reading and worship. You’ll change and deepen, and that’s always good. There is something that can only be burned into you by pain. Also, be open to brand new ways of ministry now. Look for doors to open up. They’re maybe different than you think.

Seven–You’ll discover that there can be solace in medications and treatments. I know that this is something really practical, but a handful of Motrin or other pain meds will become a special delight and something to look forward to. Also, listen closely to your doctor and therapist. Pray for them, pray they’ll have special wisdom for your situation. (And let them know you’re praying for them. They need your encouragement too.)

Eight–You start to see that you’ll never be able to do this alone (and man, do you know it.) God is giving you a gift. He’s designed to connect this way with others. You’ll also start to see people less in terms of their giftedness or ‘rank’ and more in the light of what they’ve had to endure. As you begin to see pain and sorrow as special friends, they’ll often show you who your true brothers and sisters are. They may come from unexpected places. Surprise!

Nine–You’ll understand the Father’s love in a new way. Like an old-style pharmacist, God carefully measures out exactly what we need. He never gives you a single ounce of medicine more than is necessary. He’s exceedingly careful and very conscientious. Trust him. All that happens to you has come through nail-pierced hands. He understands pain.

Ten–You must learn to laugh again. Little things become a source of real joy. The smallest things will make you laugh again. (Weird, I know.) Get a joke book, that may help, especially when you get sour and withdrawn, and maybe even mean. “A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom will leave you bone-tired” (Proverbs 17:22, MSG).

Definitely, this list is not complete. I apologize, there are many others that really should be added, but maybe this is a start. If I’m missing something fairly critical, let me know.

We must be aware that our pain allows us access to His ‘careful’ grace. Our trials, properly received, endow us with special abilities. I’m serious. They are now our new ‘superpowers.’

(So, move over Batman!)

You must, must learn, to embrace your pain and your sorrows. They come us at too high of a personal cost. Don’t waste them! They’re precious and far too valuable to neglect. Squeeze them and extract all that they can give.

Also–just one more (number 11?) Be easy on yourself. You’ll find that you’ve much to learn. And that’s ok.

Below is a quote that has always sustained me. It’s really good to remember–

“Some Christians are called to endure a disproportionate amount of suffering. Such Christians are a spectacle of grace to the church, like flaming bushes unconsumed, and cause us to ask, like Moses: ‘Why is this bush not burned up?'”

–John Newton

A good site is Joni Eareckson Tadas. She’s a believer who has suffered a great deal and has a ministry to the afflicted, Joniandfriends.org. Also, brokenbelievers.com has an older teaching post that may help, check it out if you want to go deeper into this–“Suffering Intelligently.”

Trying to Make Sense of the Incarnation

“The central miracle asserted by Christians is the incarnation. They say that God became man.”

C.S. Lewis

Incarnation, the central Christian doctrine that God became flesh, that God assumed a human nature and became a man in the form of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the second person of the Trinity.

Christ was completely God and fully man at the same time. This teaching is clear and I really can’t wrap my mind around it. Becoming man did not diminish God–if anything it was an addition and not a subtraction.

Now it’s true that Jesus voluntarily set aside all of the prerogatives of being God; He made the choice to lay His deity aside. Please think this verse through–let it sink into your hearts. It should be a mystery to you. It is to me.

“Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

Philippians 2:6-8

God, Himself decided to make the manger His home. The woman who carried the baby in her womb was created by Him (that should rattle your teeth)!

When we see the implications of all of this–we can only worship, just like the shepherds did. We can only gift Him, just like the wise men. The Christmas story itself becomes our example of acknowledging what He’s done. We are now the worshippers and givers.

All of this is a profound miracle, and can only be accepted by a simple faith, a “Christmas faith.” There is so much I need to learn about all of this, but that’s alright.

Have a blessed Christmas dear one. Know deep down that He has come for you, He holds you and cares for you. He will never ever leave you!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com




Simeon, In His Own Words

Luke 2:25-35

There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, looking forward to Israel’s consolation, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, he entered the temple. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him up in his arms, praised God, and said,

29 Now, Master,
you can dismiss your servant in peace,
as you promised.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation.
31 You have prepared it
in the presence of all peoples—
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and glory to your people Israel.

His father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and told his mother Mary, “Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce your own soul—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Yes, there were rumors. The priest Zechariah had declared that his son would become the Messiah’s forerunner. And apparently, angels had visited shepherds in their fields. Each encounter had come exactly how it was foretold.

I’m convinced that the Holy Spirit led me there that day.

I have no doubt that He was guiding me to the Temple. God had promised me that I would see with my own eyes the coming Messiah. This One would be salvation and be a light to the Gentiles which would bring glory and honor to the Jewish nation.

If these were of God, there needed to be collaborating witnesses that would foretell His work. One or two might be a mere coincidence, but three were a definite declaration. Plus I knew that my own eyes would see Him face-to-face.

To be perfectly honest, I really didn’t know what I expected to see. But I knew God’s heart, and I wanted to do His will. Some might say I was a devout believer in Israel’s prophetic purpose. I knew and believed that.

I had God’s promise that I would see Him.

Something or someone was prompting me to the Temple. I guess I had a divine appointment to keep. God had given me His promise, and I knew I was where I was supposed to be. It seemed like I was always on the lookout for that fulfillment.

It was then I saw the Child.

His parents stood out like something fluorescent. It seemed as if they were color in a black-and-white world, and they held the baby who was going to change the world. When I saw them I knew that everything had fallen into place. I saw the promise and He had come to save the world.

I took Jesus and held Him in my arms.

I was holding the Savior! This baby was to save the entire world from their sins. The Law required me to dedicate Him to God. Who can say what that means? I was to devote Him to God’s purpose and plan. Who had this honor, and who can say that this was their privilege? I had been chosen to insert Him into the purposes of God.

Who can say that?

When I laid my hands on Him it was like touching lightning. I spoke the blessing, but I understood that there was something more. I looked at His mother and spoke. It was both a blessing and a warning. I understood what God wanted to say, and it was a word that Israel’s hope would also have a sting that His mother needed to understand.

When I left the three of them in the Temple courts I began to grasp the reality of it all. I spoke God’s heart to His mother Mary. She had to know and understand who this Child really was. For me my task was complete.

I had spoken, and now it was time to leave.

“In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s Temple
    will be the highest of all mountains.
It will be raised higher than the hills.
    There will be a steady stream of people from all nations going there.”

Isaiah 2:2

Art: “Simeon holding Jesus,” by Andrey Shishkin, painted in 2012, Oil on canvas © Andrey Shishkin. Verses used: Christian Standard Bible

20 Quotes for the Believer at Christmas

Some thoughts about the meaning of Christmas:

He was created of a mother whom He created. He was carried by hands that He formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy, He the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute.    

–Augustine

There were many who saw the babe, but did not see the salvation.  

–Author Unknown

For the Christ-child who comes is the Master of all; No palace too great, no cottage too small.  

 –Phillips Brooks

Rejoice, that the immortal God is born, so that mortal man may live in eternity.    

–John Hus

His poverty was so great that He was born in another man’s house, and buried in another man’s tomb.    

–John Boys

It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the most profound unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. God became man; Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the incarnation.  

–J.I. Packer

Who can add to Christmas? The perfect motive is that God so loved the world. The perfect gift is that He gave His only Son. The only requirement is to believe in Him. The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life.  

–Corrie Ten Boom

The Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the Incarnation.  

— J.I. Packer

There were only a few shepherds at the first Bethlehem. The ox and the donkey understood more of the first Christmas than the high priests in Jerusalem. And it is the same today.    

–Thomas Merton

Christmas is based on an exchange of gifts, the gift of God to man – His unspeakable gift of His Son, and the gift of man to God – when we present our bodies a living sacrifice.   

 –Vance Havner

The idea that there’s a force of love and logic behind the universe is overwhelming to start with, if you believe it. Actually, maybe even far-fetched to start with, but the idea that that same love and logic would choose to describe itself as a baby born in shit and straw and poverty is genius, and brings me to my knees, literally. To me, as a poet, I am just in awe of that. It makes some sort of poetic sense. It’s the thing that makes me a believer, though it didn’t dawn on me for many years.    

–Bono

The central miracle asserted by Christians is the incarnation. They say that God became man.   

— C.S. Lewis

Infinite, and an infant. Eternal, and yet born of a woman. Almighty, and yet hanging on a woman’s breast. Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother’s arms. King of angels, and yet the reputed son of Joseph. Heir of all things, and yet the carpenter’s despised son.   

–Charles Spurgeon

Carols stir us. Holy words inspire us. The golden glow from the manger warms us. A little religion at Christmas is fine. But that glow in the manger comes from the Light of the world. It exposes evil and either redeems it or destroys it. The babe in the manger is far more than an object for sentimental sighs. He is the Son of God who must be accepted as ruler – or confronted as rival.  

–John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.  

–Charles Dickens

Christmas is for children. But it is for grown-ups too. Even if it is a headache, a chore, and a nightmare, it is a period of necessary defrosting of chilled hidebound hearts.  

–Lenora Mattingly Weber

Hark the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn king.”
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.

–Charles Wesley

This Gospel anticipates a world far different from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, where it is “always winter, and never Christmas.” The promise of the Gospel is that it is “always Christmas.”  To be “in Christ” is to enjoy each morning as a Christmas morning with the family of God, celebrating the gift of God around the tree of life.  

–Kevin VanHoozer

The spirit of Christmas needs to be superseded by the Spirit of Christ. The spirit of Christmas is annual; the Spirit of Christ is eternal. The spirit of Christmas is sentimental; the Spirit of Christ is supernatural. The spirit of Christmas is a human product; the Spirit of Christ is a divine person. That makes all the difference in the world.  

–Stuart Briscoe

Here’s a side to the Christmas story that isn’t often told: Those soft little hands, fashioned by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb, were made so that nails might be driven through them. Those baby feet, pink and unable to walk, would one day walk up a dusty hill to be nailed to a cross. That sweet infant’s head with sparkling eyes and eager mouth was formed so that someday men might force a crown of thorns onto it. That tender body, warm and soft, wrapped in swaddling clothes, would one day be ripped open by a spear. Jesus was born to die.    

–John MacArthur

Will You Deny Him?

deny

“Suddenly Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly.”

Matthew 26:75, NLT

Three denials are followed by three reaffirmations.

A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”

John 21:17

The apostle Peter was a fervent disciple. He knew who Jesus was before most. He was always included in special times (e.g.  the transfiguration, Gethsemane). He was favored by Jesus throughout times of ministry. I also believe that he was Jesus’ friend.

Peter is known for:

  • being called on the shores of Galilee, Matt 4:18-19
  • ‘almost’ walking on water, Matt 14:29-30
  • finding the tax money in a fish’s mouth, Matt 17:24-27
  • having his feet washed, John 13:6-7
  • in Gethsemane– cutting off an ear, John 18:10-11
  • his remorse at denying Jesus, Matt 26:75
  • at the empty tomb with John, John 20:3-8

Peter’s own denials were of a serious nature affecting who he was, and who he was to become. Jesus astutely intervenes as they ‘breakfasted’ on the seashore. There would be three affirmations; one for each denial. Peter needed to meet the resurrected Jesus and speak with him about what he had done. Peter needed this.

A denial has different intensities and can be used in many different ways.

Out of our own confusion, we realize that we can also deny Jesus. Perhaps frequently.  And none of us have immunity as of yet. We deny the Lord when we refuse to speak of him to others. We deny the Lord when we fail to do what is right. Sometimes we deny him flagrantly, other times it is a more subtle attitude. At best, we’re still inconsistent, and at worst, we’re apostate.

We’re not punished or abandoned for this behavior.

Human logic would suggest that we should be. But instead, we are gently restored. Given the opportunity, Peter the fisherman would eventually become a wise shepherd to the young Church. I would also suggest that Peter’s personal weakness would serve him well as a gentle, and caring pastor.

Peter, near the end of his life, goes full circle and uses a very precise Greek word found in only two places in the New Testament. It is the specific form of the word “shepherd.” It is only used in John 21:16-17 in Peter’s restoration, and in 1 Peter 5:2. Peter encourages the Church with the exact words Jesus himself spoke to him on the beach so long ago! Peter wrote:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing.”

1 Peter 5:2, NIV

The Lightning of the Almighty

“He also said to them, 

“This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead the third day, 47 and repentance for forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 

48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And look, I am sending you what my Father promised. As for you, stay in the city until you are empowered from on high.”

Luke 24:46-49, CSB (vv. 44-49)

Having His power is critical. These verses are packed full of really strong things. You can’t minimize any issue in this passage without damaging something that matters. I don’t intend to do that. For me, everything he says is crucial. I hope I won’t diminish anything that he has spoken to us.

  • There’s the issue of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We can’t minimize this. It’s the most astonishing event in history. It becomes our message.
  • There’s a critical need for repentance and forgiveness of sins. This is something that needs to be heard. The whole world must understand what has happened, and how they must respond.
  • The disciples of Jesus know this, they understand, and they’re the witnesses of everything Jesus did. All that they saw and learned, isn’t for them, but for others.

But the real significance only comes when these men are empowered by God. They must operate out of what God has promised to them. There’s power coming, God’s electricity is going to meet every circumstance they’ll face. People are going to be shocked by what’s going to happen.

They need to wait for Him though.

Power is coming–they need to hold on. They will witness, and testify about Jesus. They’re being sent, but not in their own strength or effort–but with the father’s power. The gift isn’t given for their enjoyment, but for his work.

The Holy Spirit is the electricity that gives the kingdom its power. Any substitute will mean failure and weakness.

We operate only when we are filled with his Spirit. There are going to be incredible obstacles, but we’ll have insurmountable power. The Word we preach must be done with his power, orders, and authority. The message is one of repentance and forgiveness, a proclamation of spiritual deliverance. And it begins in an upper room in Jerusalem.

What will happen there will be forever known as Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit is about to change the world!

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He is Solid, Just Like Us

38 “Why are you troubled?” he asked them. “And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself! Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” 40 Having said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 But while they still were amazed and in disbelief because of their joy, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?”

Luke 24:38-41, CSB, (context vv. 36-43)

He isn’t a ghost, a hallucination, or some sort of fabrication of hopeful desires. He’s real! As real as you or I–solid, flesh and blood, and real bones. That may seem like a small thing, but it reveals to the disciples (and us) so much. When his resurrection happened, it didn’t alter Him or change his physical attributes. The disciples were floored when the solid Jesus showed up to be with them.

It was a late Sunday evening.

The doors were shut tight, and the eleven were hiding out there–scared and wallowing in doubt. That’s a lousy mixture. Jesus doesn’t knock on the door, he just pops right into their gathering. That must of been a bit of a shake-up in itself. I know I would have freaked. (And I would’ve taken a serious look at that door.)

At the core, they couldn’t believe that he was real. Maybe a ghost, His spirit, or something else? I’m fairly certain that even if this “man” was really Jesus, it would, maybe be something mystical or ethereal. He wouldn’t be flesh anyway. That was a real stretch for them–and me too.

If it was really true, it meant that physical things are really spiritual.

What I mean by that earth was now combined with heaven. Jesus, the King of the known universe–the One who sits on the throne–is solidly human. Concrete and quite tangible. He’s not a vague kind of spirit, but he’s just like like us. Finally, something physical!

Let’s not get confused about this; I think it’s a critical point. Eternity will not be a vague and misty reality–nebulous and celestial. It’s now quite relatable. When Jesus walks with you on the golden paths of his heaven, you’ll not be walking with a ghost. He’ll be as you and I are right now. He’ll be real. You’ll be real.

You’ll be able to touch him. And if you really want to you can stick your finger into his wounds (verse 40.) I love what this solid Jesus told Thomas in John 20:27:

“Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Don’t be faithless, but believe.

This should shatter any misconceptions you might have. Thomas had real doubts, and instead of getting rebuked, Jesus invites Thomas to discover His reality of himself. This is really quite profound when you think of it. I’m so glad that this happened, I needed to hear it for myself.

I may be a very silly preacher and writer, but that’s the way I see it.

A light shining in this heart of darkness
A new beginning and a miracle
Day by day the integration
Of the concrete and the spiritual

Bob Bennett, “Heart of the Matter

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Putting Pain to Work

Some time ago I came across a story that connected. A visiting speaker stood in front of a congregation and shared a painful incident from his childhood. He wanted to bring healing. After he spoke, an elder came and spoke to him–

“You have learned how to become a proper steward of your pain.”

The visiting speaker was profoundly touched by this. Finally, something came together in his heart and soul. Yes, he did learn how to deal scripturally with those ugly things from his past. He was becoming a proper steward of his pain.

The word for steward in the original Greek is oikonomos. It literally means “a keeper of a home.” It describes a manager, a superintendent to whom the head of the house or proprietor has entrusted the management of his affairs, the diligent care of receipts and expenditures.

The issue for us is managing these awful things for the Kingdom of God.

No question about it, we live in a world of darkness. Each of us has been touched by hard things. Scars are part of our lives. When we come to Christ they come with us. All of these grim things are a real piece of us, we have been hurt (or maybe we’ve wounded others?)

Are you a good steward of who you are? Whether it’s a trauma, a physical, sexual, or perhaps a mental illness. It’s a scar you carry from your past, and no one is immune from them it seems. You’ll find freedom if you can use these things for Him and his Kingdom.

We must see and understand that Jesus has taken everything and redeemed it all for His glory.

He understands us fully–our past, present, and future. He ‘knows’ us–the real and hidden us. The challenge I suppose is to take these sad events to the throne. He alone can heal and then use that which has devastated us.

Satan has afflicted you in his dark attempt to destroy you.

Jesus intervenes to save. As we grow to accept this, the Holy Spirit comes as our comforter and guide. He starts to teach us true redemption, and the incredible healing that he brings with him. It really is his work, not ours. We finally understand. It’s then we become broken healers that God can use.

(Read how Joseph handled betrayal: Genesis 50:19-21.)

The light has truly overcome the dark.

We’re being taught (sometimes very slowly) to carry all of these things and plead the blood of Jesus over our past. He covers us completely. He has redeemed us. Luke 1:68 explains much clearer than I can:

“Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel because he has visited and provided redemption for his people.”

Becoming a steward of our pain is his doing. We’re able to touch others with these things that would cripple and destroy others. He has made us “managers” of these things, and we are taught to teach others, declaring that God has completely saved us. He works miracles!

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!”

2 Corinthians 5:17

We’ll sovereignly meet those who need to hear our story. We’re being transformed into authentic witnesses. Yes, at times these awful things still hurt, and I suppose that’s to be expected. But we’re learning to manage them. We’ve become real-life stewards of our pain.

That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”

Romans 8:28, Message

Do You Have Dove’s Eyes?

Behold, you are beautiful, my love! Behold, you are beautiful! You have doves’ eyes.

Doves have single vision. They can only see one thing at a time, which makes them unique. They are one of a kind. Doves are also the emblem of the Holy Spirit in scripture, and when they are mentioned we should be alerted that something spiritual is happening.

What the Shepherd is proclaiming is “she only has eyes for me, she sees no one else.” For the true believer, there isn’t anything that can take the place of Him. Political involvement, Eastern mysticism, vain philosophy, or stifling materialism should never take the place of the Lord Jesus. Never, ever.

We need “dove’s eyes.” We must see Jesus only.

There are a lot of noble things we can get involved in. Good things, yes, but not the best, we need to fix our eyes on Jesus. I have personally seen brothers, sisters, and whole churches lose their vision, and focus on something other than their “first love.”

Satan detests our intimacy with Jesus.

Every time we move into direct contact with our Savior he goes crazy. He wants to diminish and erode our number one love. He detests that relationship, and he short-circuits our connection with Jesus. The devil diverts believers to take the good, and leave behind the best.

There are many preachers and teachers in the Church who no longer have “dove’s eyes. Satan has blurred their vision, and they have lost the intimacy they once had with Jesus. Most of the time, they don’t even realize it. This saddens me.

I’m thinking specifically of a certain worship leader, who is a teacher of Bible school students, she has somehow lost her first love for Jesus, and her stance on a particular political agenda has gradually replaced her wild passion for His presence. She is now teaching things she no longer possesses. I grieve for her.

I remember a once blazing church in Pacifica, California once closed down whole blocks in San Francisco. They worshiped Jesus intensely. They took the Church into the streets and brought with them a passion I’ve seldom seen. They were people on fire. It was a pleasure to work with them, they were in love with Jesus.

Within two years they lost it. They adopted a political stance that was quite commendable, but it diminished their first love for Jesus, and Satan was pleased. The church split in a dozen different ways. This isn’t a new thing, the apostle Paul saw it and was afraid for the church in Corinth.

“For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

2 Corinthians 11:2-3 

In the book of Revelation, chapters 2 and 3 emphasize the level of intimacy each Church possess’. “Angels” come and carry the message of repentance and turning to that “first love.” I have to think that “dove’s eyes” come as a result of being filled with God’s Spirit. We now see things, and look at things, through Jesus’ eyes.

“Return dear one, come back to the Lord Jesus. Let your first love blaze again. Don’t allow Satan to sidetrack you into something that is good, but not the best. Have “dove’s eyes” that only see Jesus.” –Amen and amen.

Sit Lower to be Brought Higher

Luke 14:7-11, CSB

He told a parable to those who were invited when he noticed how they would choose the best places for themselves: 

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, don’t sit in the place of honor, because a more distinguished person than you may have been invited by your host. The one who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in humiliation, you will proceed to take the lowest place.”

10 “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when the one who invited you comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ You will then be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Choose your seat carefully. In Jesus’ day, there was a definite seating order for a wedding feast. It wasn’t first come, first served. There was a strict protocol, where one’s importance mattered. Honored people got honorable seats–close to the front as possible. Average people got average spots; but no one wanted to be at the bottom, having to sit at the “kids’ table.”

Jesus was watching, and what He saw was a spiritual principle of his Kingdom.

Jesus often teaches out of the things we encounter–real-life events. Spiritual truth often hits us from those things we actually see. If you want to know what God is doing in your life, all you need to do is look around at the “practical” things, and start to see the spiritual lessons inside them. We learn from real-life. That’s how he often teaches us, he combines the Word with what we’re experiencing.

Our natural inclination is to move higher up.

We often think that we’re deserving, and so we take our “rightful” positions. That’s the way humans think. We all want to sit in the best possible place, and so we end up wheedling our way up front. We can fall into the subtle trap of self-promotion. But that’s not how discipleship works.

Jesus corrects, advising us to take the lowest place. I think verse 11 is the key to figuring out this seating arrangement. We’re starting to see a physical situation become a spiritual lesson. There’s much to learn. Here’s verse 11 in the Amplified version:

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled [before others], and he who habitually humbles himself (keeps a realistic self-view) will be exalted.”

This translation injects some realism into our lives, especially in how we see ourselves. It’s something quite foundational. It lays down a principle that is always true in his Kingdom (1 Peter 5:6). If we don’t accept and implement this, we’ll suffer a definite deficiency in our discipleship. It stunts the growth of many believers. And that is tragic.

The whole scene lays out how life in the spirit really works, and it seems terribly paradoxical.

Our human logic asserts that deliberately choosing the lesser is foolish, things really don’t work that way. We think, (falsely,) that we’ll only advance by asserting ourselves. But Jesus, quite aptly, clarifies the ways of the Kingdom–true maturity will only come if we decide to take the lowest place.

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”

James 4:10

Jesus Writes in the Dust

John 8:3-11

Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, making her stand in the center. “Teacher,” they said to him, “this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” They asked this to trap him, in order that they might have evidence to accuse him.

Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with his finger. When they persisted in questioning him, he stood up and said to them, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then he stooped down again and continued writing on the ground. When they heard this, they left one by one, starting with the older men. Only he was left, with the woman in the center. 10 When Jesus stood up, he said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, Lord,” she answered.

I remember how Jesus defended me from the religious men. I had been publically led through the crowds. The temple was filled with people who were there for the festival. It was a time of joy and feasting, but not for me. Definitely not for me.

The religious police escorted me to Jesus. I was now the focus of everyone’s attention. I felt dirty and ashamed. Standing there I could feel the leering looks from the Pharisees; but there was something else as well, a look from Jesus that I had never seen before. There was compassion there, something quite extraordinary. I saw a firm mercy.

I’m ashamed, but I had committed adultery. I slept with a man who wasn’t my husband.

I was to be stoned, to know hard rocks thrown by “holy” men. The Law had pronounced my guilt, and I knew exactly how I was to be punished. And I deserved it. Yet the man I slept with was never charged; he escaped, and I would be put to death. I didn’t blame him.

My shame was now public knowledge–everyone knew, the Pharisees made sure of that. Jesus had been accepted by some to be the Messiah and by others not so much. I wasn’t sure one way or another. I was in a daze, not able to even try to defend myself.

They only put me front and center to test Him. These men who brought me had ulterior motives, they desperately hoped Jesus would stumble. I think they wanted to prove once and all to the crowds that were watching that Jesus really wasn’t the Messiah. They tried to trap him.

Jesus realized the ugly implications of this satanic effort against Him.

Only Rome had the power of execution, and the Mosaic Law declared that I was to die. I stood waiting, expecting the worst. What else could I do?

It’s funny, but Jesus understood all of this. He looked right through this theological trick, and He responded in a way that really shocked everyone. He never spoke, but bowed low and began to write in the dirt with his finger. Amidst their vicious accusations, they pressed their case.

Jesus bent down again, and he wrote some more.

I never knew what he wrote–but I had to believe it must have been something about the sin of the men who were accusing me. At that moment, they dropped the case against me and left. They all filed out, one by one, in dramatic fashion. I now stood alone with Jesus.

Jesus looked directly at me. I was still afraid, but it was strange, I felt a wave of peace as well. I quietly waited, not knowing what He was going to say to me. I half expected the worst.

Yes, he did confront me. He wanted me to acknowledge that those accusing men had left. I saw it and understood. Jesus was asking me to believe that I was now really free. But then he wanted me to understand something that seemed quite crucial.

“Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”

That dear one was a powerful moment. He set me free with the understanding that He did not condemn me. My new freedom came with a catch–sort of. I knew then that my sin must be renounced. My freedom came with a price. But knowing I was completely released, meant I was now a free woman.

At that moment I understood everything completely.

Without a Wound?

angel6

Be grateful for the wound that pushes you to God.

The subject of “the pool at Bethesda” alludes to the Thorton Wilder play, “The Angel that Troubled the Waters.” 

The play is based on the biblical verses of John 5:1-4, however, it changes the end of the parable. 

The play tells of a physician who comes to the pool of Bethesda, hoping to see the stir, and then be the first in the water, and healed of his melancholy and debilitating depression.  An angel appears and troubles the water. Everybody at the pool hopes to be the first one in and to be healed of their disability.

…………………………………………………………………

An angel appears and blocks the physician at the very moment he is ready to step into the pool and be healed.

Angel: “Drawback, physician, this moment is not for you.”angel1

Physician: “Angelic visitor, I pray thee, listen to my prayer.

Angel: “This healing dear physician, is not for you.”

Physician: “Surely, surely, the angels are wise. Surely, O Prince, you are not deceived by my apparent wholeness. Your eyes can see the nets in which my wings are caught; the sin into which all my endeavors sink half-performed, cannot be concealed from you.”

Angel: “I know.”

Physician: “Oh, in such an hour was I born, and doubly fearful to me is the flaw in my heart. Must I drag my shame, Prince and Singer, all my days more bowed than my neighbor?”

Angel: Without your wound where would your power be?” 

“It is your very sadness that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men. The very angels themselves, cannot persuade the wretched, and blundering children on earth, as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love’s service, only the wounded soldiers can serve. Drawback.”

…………………………………………………………………

Later, the person who enters the pool first, and was healed rejoices in his good fortune, then turns to the physician before leaving and says:

“But come with me first, an hour only, to my home. My son is lost in dark thoughts. I — I do not understand him, and only you have ever lifted his mood.”

“Only an hour… my daughter, since her child has died, sits in the shadow. She will not listen to us, but she will listen to you.”

 

For me, the play pierces with the ‘bullet message’ of this wonderful line— “Without your wound where would your power be?“ This seems to me to be a slow percolating of Paul’s teaching, mainly, that it’s through my weaknesses that I can truly minister to others like Jesus. It’s the Apostle Paul declaring it’s the weak things that work to create something solid and true in us. And I hope this grows in the many lives that this ministry, alaskabibleteacher.com reaches.

I hope so anyway. Pray for me.

I first encountered this excerpt in the book, “Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging,” by Brennan Manning. The book is a worthy read, and worth finding if you can.

Please check out Brennan Manning’s Facebook page for more info.

AlaskaBibleTeacher.com

A Martha Spirit

Luke 10:38-41, NCV

“While Jesus and his followers were traveling, Jesus went into a town. A woman named Martha let Jesus stay at her house. 39 Martha had a sister named Mary, who was sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him teach. 40 But Martha was busy with all the work to be done. She went in and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me alone to do all the work? Tell her to help me.”

41 “But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things. 

42 Only one thing is important. Mary has chosen the better thing, and it will never be taken away from her.”

My name is Martha and I’m a friend of Jesus. My home was one of His favorite places to stay–a refuge for Him whose life was so busy. I joyfully opened my house for Him and His disciples. When Jesus came I went all out, I wanted the best for them and that meant there were always things to do. Is that really a bad thing?

The kitchen was verging on bedlam–lamb, cucumbers, figs, and so on. Roasting and slicing, I had bread in the oven. All of this was requiring constant attention, and I remember not being able to keep up.

I wanted things to be perfect for Jesus.

I took occasional peeks at He who was teaching in my living room. I just brought in some bowls of figs and raisins as an appetizer and found my sister Mary sitting with the men listening to Jesus and asking questions. It was that which started to get a little ticked off.

I can see now that I was getting irritated.

There was so much to do and I realized I had to have her help. And the more I thought of Mary the more frustrated I got. I suspect she didn’t understand the work that need to be done. I suppose her priorities were messed up–she simply didn’t understand her role as a hostess, and to sit with the men like she was doing was wrong.

Mary didn’t understand her place.

I admit I was having issues with my sister. I had brought out another bowl of figs and that’s when I gently interrupted the Lord’s teaching. I wanted Him to tell Mary that her place was with me in the kitchen. He could correct her and I knew she would listen. “Tell her to help me.”

Instead, it was Jesus who corrected me. I still remember Jesus’ words. I wasn’t expecting this.

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things.”

Was I really that transparent? He understood, but rather than encouraging me I had become another lesson to everyone present. I realize now that the real issue was with my attitude, and not the work. Yes, I was bothered and upset and I know that it’s those things that were the problem.

Only one thing is important. Mary has chosen the better thing, and it will never be taken away from her.”

I suddenly knew that He was right. Jesus was in my home, and all I did was get angry. I thought my work would please Him and after all, wasn’t that important? Didn’t He “deserve” my best efforts?

My younger sister Mary was being praised. She was my example and now I was being gently rebuked. I realized that all I was doing, all my work, was not what Jesus wanted from me. The problem was my own heart—-it wasn’t Mary, it was me!

I had taken my eyes off of Jesus and was immersed in my service to Him.

I had become critical and resentful of Mary, and I had forgotten that my place was at Jesus’ feet, listening and learning. That’s what Jesus wanted from me, and somehow I had forgotten that. The work could wait, my real place was with Jesus.

Martha’s frustration is typical of those who diligently serve with good intent, but forget to also sit at Jesus’ feet. “The Martha spirit says, if the work is done, is not that all? The Mary spirit asks whether Jesus is well pleased or not? All must be done in his name and by his Spirit, or nothing is done.”

C.H. Spurgeon

Learning to Love Prodigals

Learning how to forgive

Once I was punched in the face while preaching. I served as a full-time evangelist with SOS Ministries in 1987. I was leading a group to Haight/Ashbury St. in San Francisco. I remember it was really busy, and the it was a good team, and they were excited to take their church to the streets.

Haight/Ashbury was the place the “summer of love” kicked off, it peaked in 1968. It has a certain sense of notoriety, and even in 1983 it still had a dubious reputation as a center of the counter-culture. “A cult a day is born in San Francisco,” a pastor friend once shared with me.

Normally the neighborhood where I took a team would direct me on how to preach. Tonight I focused on God’s love for sinful people.

That message seemed appropriate for this place, and especially on this street. God loves these people very much.

A young man came forward. He told me that he was a backslidden Christian, and his father was an Assembly of God pastor. He had run away from home. Suddenly he began to weep. The entire team seemed to lean forward and I know they were praying earnestly for him. It seemed to me that he was teetering on the brink.

The punch came unexpectedly.

His fist hit me square in the nose. My eyes began to water. Oddly enough he took a step back and began to really cry out. My team wasn’t quite sure how to respond, but I hoped they prayed even harder. I sort of gasped and tried to shake it off. Someone must have called the police.

The Holy Spirit was very much present, both convicting and comforting each of us.

One or two minutes went by and suddenly he stopped sobbing and he became really angry. He took a step and then tried to kick me in the stomach, but I dropped the mic and caught his foot. I was ready for him this time.

About 20 minutes went by before SFPD showed up and asked if I wanted to press charges. I thought for a bit, but deep down I knew that wasn’t the will of my Father. Maybe I should of, I don’t know. But I thought about my own sin and couldn’t judge no one.

The Father was reaching him while teaching me!

God loves His prodigal children very much, He understands the guilt and shame (and frustration) they feel. The Father however is always watching and waiting. He works through life’s circumstances to lead them home. Each belongs to Him. He continues far past what we think is possible. He will never give up.

“We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

1 John 3:16

I suddenly saw a “wounded” brother, very confused and quite angry. Not with me, the team, or the music–but with God who created him, and died for him.

At that moment I just happened to be God’s love for this prodigal.

“How did Jesus expect His disciples to react under persecution? (In Matthew 5:12 He said), “Rejoice and be glad!” We are not to retaliate like an unbeliever, nor sulk like a child, nor lick our wound in self-pity like a dog, nor just grin a bear it like a Stoic, still less pretend we enjoy it like a masochist. What then? We are to rejoice as a Christian should even “leap for joy” (Lk. 6:23).”

     John Stott

“How did Jesus expect His disciples to react under persecution? (In Matthew 5:12 He said), “Rejoice and be glad!” We are not to retaliate like an unbeliever, nor sulk like a child, nor lick our wound in self-pity like a dog, nor just grin a bear it like a Stoic, still less pretend we enjoy it like a masochist. What then? We are to rejoice as a Christian should and even “leap for joy” (Lk. 6:23).”

    

Jesus Restores Peter (and Me)

15 “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 

16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time,” 

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.'”

John 21:15-17, (context vv. 15-19)

Peter’s denial was a public one, and it was important that his restoration be public as well. It may come as a shock, but Peter needed to do this–even though it was a grief to him (verse 17.) It was necessary for him to heal. It was also a clear testimony to the others that Peter was completely restored.

Repeatedly in this passage, love gets linked to service. (Can you see this, it’s important that you do.) The Lord asks Peter if he really loves him, and most likely it was a solemn affair, not something trivial or casual. The word used is ἀγαπάω, agape–this is the type of love that God has for people. It’s a love that gives 110%.

The third time the word for love is different though, the word used is φιλέω, philo–this is a type of love that a man has for others, a brotherly kind of love. Something good, but less than agape.

And each time Peter responds, he uses the brotherly type of love. I don’t mean to be confusing here, but every time Jesus uses agape to Peter, Peter responds with philo. It’s as if Peter is struggling with loving Jesus wholeheartedly. Perhaps Peter was ashamed of his denial.

We must saturate our work with love. We must serve, but love is to fill our efforts. Always.

Love can’t be seen unless it has a physical aspect. Love can’t be abstract, a vague feeling, or a hazy concept–it has to be seen by others. Jesus’ sheep (and lambs) must be fed, and watched. This is now Peter’s call to ministry.

This is Jesus’ ministry as well.

Apparently, there is plenty of this kind of work to go around! Isaiah prophesied about Jesus’ work in Isa. 40:11. This now becomes Peter’s work as well.

“He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young.”

Whether or not Peter was the first “pope” is debatable. But it’s clear that Jesus focused on Peter. And isn’t it just like him to turn our failings into victories? Peter’s denial was now his ministry to others. It dealt with the pride issue, which often disrupts true ministry to his flock.

“And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.”

Jeremiah 3:15

Speaking His Language

Peter Warms Himself

“The girl asked Peter, “Aren’t you one of Jesus’ disciples?”

“No,” he said, “I am not!”

“The police and the household servants were standing around a fire they had made, for it was cold. And Peter stood there with them, warming himself.”

John 18:17-18, Living Bible

The Galileans had a distinct accent. Just as we easily identify someone from Texas just by the tone and cadence of their speech, Peter had that distinct drawl that told everyone that he came from the same province as Jesus. It was something he couldn’t hide.

Peter was a very different man in his three years of being with Jesus. And you might say that had transformed him–you might even say that he was now a marked man, the enemy was now quite aware of him. He was no longer a captain of a small fishing boat looking for a catch. He was now the leader of Jesus’ disciples.

The entire text (18:15-18) reveals a confrontation that Peter had with a servant girl, and we hear him making a bald-faced lie. At this very moment, Peter was fulfilling the “promise” that Jesus had predicted (Matthew 26:31-32).

What was going through Peter’s head at that moment? She was a simple servant girl, perhaps one who ministered at the gate of the high priest’s home. It’s interesting that she is the first one to question Peter’s duplicity. Most likely she was just doing her job, watching and listening. She was probably quite alert.

It’s easy to point our finger at Peter.

He was a coward, and when he was put on the spot he bailed. People hate cowards–we extol those who take a definite stand against evil. But he was frightened, scared of being connected with Jesus–the man on trial. There was much at stake here.

We also speak with an accent. I know it might be a stretch–but being with Jesus has fundamentally changed us. Our lives now have a specific dialect that others hear, we’re not the same people that we once were.

We open our mouths and others hear the Kingdom of God. (Such as it is.)

Sometimes I try to pretend that I haven’t been with Jesus, and I’m very ashamed of that. Like Peter, I stand with the others and choose to warm myself by their fire, and I try very hard to make myself inconspicuous. But all I have to do is open my mouth, and I betray who I really am.

It’s hilarious, but even servant girls know that I belong to him.

“To stand before the Holy One of eternity is to change.”

Richard Foster

Worshipping With a Knife

 by the Forward

In the doctrine of biblical hermeneutics, the ‘Law of First Mention exists. Essentially it means that the first time a word or a concept is mentioned should go on to determine the way it needs to be understood throughout scripture. It is a guiding principle more than anything, and a good one at that. The Book of Genesis, being the first book, is a blessed repository for many of these ‘first mentions.’

In Genesis 22, we have the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mt. Moriah.

Abraham has tied up his son on an altar to offer him as a sacrifice in obedience to God’s direction (v. 2). This is faith being tested to the ultimate extreme. And Abraham shows us how to enter in.

“Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.”

Genesis 22:4-5

This is the law of the first mention of the word “worship” in the Bible.

It sets the singular tone for all the scriptures on this subject. I guess what is interesting is there were no musical instruments involved. There were just these needful things:

  • stones,
  • wood,
  • rope,
  • fire,
  • a knife,
  • and Isaac, (the would-be ‘lamb.’)

When the Hebrew word for ‘worship’ was used for the first time; it is interlaced with the idea of an incredible sacrifice. Abraham is the first ‘worship leader’ and he has no guitar. No piano, or drums either. No musical instruments whatsoever. No overhead lyrics to speak of.

Just a handmade altar, and a knife.

In the end, as Abraham raises that knife, he is stopped suddenly, to the relief of us all. His faith has withstood the test, and he has genuinely ‘worshipped.’

“But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” So he said, “Here I am.” And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

Gen. 22:11-12

Principle One:

There really can’t be worship without sacrifice.

Recovering this truth concerning worship would be beneficial. It seems we delegate ‘worship’ to a select few who are talented and gifted. We probably don’t do this deliberately, but sometimes we feel it makes a better presentation. We all want to look good, even Christians. (Perhaps this is more substantial then we know.)

Principle Two:

The first worshiper didn’t use a guitar, but a knife.

This difference keeps the idea of sacrifice in its definition. There isn’t worship without sacrifice. The knife thrust he was ready to wield wasn’t backed up by drums or piano. Yet Abraham understood worship every step to Moriah with the knife in his belt.

“The Scriptures include or allude to just about every approach to worship there is: organized, spontaneous, public, private, simple, complex, ornate or plain. Yet there is no comment anywhere about any one way being preferred over another. Rather, it is the spiritual condition of the worshiper that determines whether or not God is at work.”  

Harold Best

Ultimately, we must realize our sacrifice is the Lamb of God. It’s His blood on God’s altar for our sin. As believers, our faith firmly rests in this spiritual fact. We of all people have cause to really worship.

“So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service.”

Romans 12:1

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The Pharisee & the Tax Collector

Luke 18:10-14

 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a proud, self-righteous Pharisee, and the other a cheating tax collector. 11 The proud Pharisee ‘prayed’ this prayer: ‘Thank God, I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don’t commit adultery, 12 I go without food twice a week, and I give to God a tenth of everything I earn.’

13 “But the corrupt tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed, but beat upon his chest in sorrow, exclaiming, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home forgiven! For the proud shall be humbled, but the humble shall be honored.”

Meet the Pharisee:

I had it all together. I had shaped myself to be the ultimate Pharisee–the Pharisees of the Pharisees. I understood the Law; I could quote whole books, forward and backward. I fasted twice a week, and tithed everything, right down to my herbs and spices. I had it all together.

I made sure everyone saw my commitment.

I strenuously kept God’s Law. I was consumed by understanding it, I tried to grasp all its nuances and complexity. The 10 commandments were emblazoned on all that I did. I wanted everyone to know that I was one of “the pure ones,” for that was the meaning behind the word Pharisee. I knew that I was pure.

I went to the Temple every day to pray, I stood holy and set apart, standing before a real and holy God. I was always the truest example to the people of Israel. I always stood when I prayed, for I was completely committed to doing all that the Law demanded of me.

One day I saw a wicked man in God’s holy temple. I had to thank God that we were total opposites. He was a tax collector and an evil person. I really was nothing like him. I rejoiced that I had become a true example of a righteous man.

I knew I was righteous, and certainly not at all like that sinful tax collector.

———————-

Meet the Tax Collector:

I didn’t have it all together. I understood this and was horrified that I had become so evil. I came to the Temple, driven by my guilt and shame–no one had to tell me this, for I knew my sin and I was deeply ashamed.

Why I came, I don’t know. I honestly didn’t belong here, and I kept a distance from the front. I guess that’s where I belonged. On the fringes before the Holy One. It seemed now that I was drawn to this place, and I’m still not sure why I came that day.

I knew that I breathed evil and had become evil.

I fell to my knees, and I begged God to forgive me. I saw the Pharisee standing in the presence of God, but I knew I wasn’t at all like him. He was righteous and I knew I was not. Oh, how I wanted God to forgive me for all the sins I had committed.

I must tell you that my spirit was in agony.

“Humble men are very fortunate!” he told them, “for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them. Those who mourn are fortunate! for they shall be comforted. The meek and lowly are fortunate! for the whole wide world belongs to them.

Matthew 5:3-5, LB

Jesus clearly told us who was truly forgiven that day. When we think we have it all together, we’re deceiving ourselves.

Let’s not pretend otherwise, okay.

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Art: Eugene Burnand, 1850-1924, litho; Scripture used here is from the Living Bible.

Many Troubles, Bad Times

“You have given me many troubles and bad times, but you will give me life again. When I am almost dead, You will keep me alive.”

Psalm 71:20, NCV

“He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”

Isaiah 53:3, NASB

Everyone hurts sometimes. We all will face our special sorrows. But there are times when our pain pounds us intensely, and it can get really bad. The darkness rolls in on our souls like a caustic fog. We might devastatingly discover that there are things that are worse than terrible.

I have never spoken out like this, but my wife and I had a daughter who died— she was stillborn. She was doing great, up to a week before her due date. We knew that in seven days, we would be able to see her– face-to-face.

But that was not to be. Elizabeth Grace Lowe died from strangulation (from her own umbilical cord.) Nothing could have been done. My wife had noticed a moment of very frantic activity, as Elizabeth fought for her life. We plummeted from ecstatic joy to devastating sorrow in just seconds. It came “out of the blue,” totally unexpected.

We were completely undone. 

“For the Lord will not reject forever,
For if He causes grief,
Then He will have compassion
According to His abundant lovingkindness.
For He does not afflict willingly
Or grieve the sons of men.”

Lamentations 3:32-33, NASB

There is pain, but there are also promises.

There can be brutal sadness, but there are psalms. There is a blessing for all those who grieve. This topic deserves far more attention than this simple post. (If you’re in the thick of things, I’m trusting the Holy Spirit will help you to your next step.)

There can be such sorrow in this life, much more than the human heart can possibly contain. But our Savior has a title (one of many.) He is the “Man of Sorrows.” He is the one who is “on point.” He leads us through such intense hostility. He is there when the switch is flipped and it becomes instantly dark. He can’t, won’t, and will not leave you to face your pain alone.

There are a few things that I want to communicate to you. These have come out of great darkness. I have tried awfully hard to be a disciple, even through the worst of it. They may be right, wrong or just okay, I don’t really know…

  1. God takes the full blame for our pain and sorrow. He doesn’t shift the blame or deny His presence in our sufferings. Sometimes you need to adjust your theology. Maybe it’s hard to trust Him right now–that’s more than understandable. In eternity, I believe, it’ll make perfect sense.
  2. Jesus has fully shared our sorrow. All that you are feeling right now, He feels. If you feel you are at a minus 10, then He does as well. As you suffer, He is your shadow. He knows. He feels it all.
  3. Nothing is ever wasted. We really shouldn’t treat these moments of sorrow as a waste. Have you ever wondered at Jesus’ ‘economy’ after the 5000 were fed?  He assigns value to the leftovers. The disciples pick up their baskets and collect everything again. Nothing will go to waste. 
  4. This pain, this sorrow is the intensive crash course in becoming a person of mercy. You now will always walk with a limp. At times the scars will be quite visible to those who can really see. This will become forever a healed wound (but a wound nevertheless.) It helps to seek out others who have walked this same path. I don’t think I will ever fully trust a person who doesn’t walk with a limp.
  5. You will need (but maybe not accept) the transformation of your suffering into glory. This will take some time, and it almost feels like you’re not progressing at all. I encourage you to re-think each of these simple points. The Holy Spirit may be working, perhaps behind the scenes.
  6. Finally remember this: God is not a monster, stomping on us like a boy crushes ants. He has carried all of our pain and illness. He clearly comes alongside every suffering believer. It is Satan who would suggest to you that God is a Celestial Menace, not worthy of our love. I will be very blunt with you, that idea has to be implicitly rejected. Its origins are satanic.

*“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”

Psalm 147:3, NLT

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, for the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.”

Isaiah 61:1, NLT

“He heals the wounds of every shattered heart.”
Psalm 147:3, TPT

*

The Older Brother Syndrome

Luke 15:25-32

25-27 “All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

28-30 “The older brother stomped off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’

31-32 “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”

I hated him. I know I shouldn’t but I did. He betrayed all of us with his nonsense. It all started when he demanded that our father immediately divide up our inheritance. Strange I know. It was a shock, like a punch in the stomach. No one knew what to say, it was so bizarre. I have no idea where this idea came from.

He insisted that we divide things up right this instant. He didn’t have the decency to wait for our father’s funeral. It was such a shameful thing that I couldn’t begin to tell you how mortified I was. No one ever heard of anything happening like this before. Even now, after these many years, I can hardly talk about it.

My father simply did what was asked, there was no argument, no resistance.

The property was appraised, and the money was divided up according to custom. We sat at the kitchen table, and the ass watched to make sure that he received every penny that was coming to him. His hungry greed was beyond belief. He oozed arrogance–it was then I really began to hate him.

Never ever had I been so angry and ashamed.

My younger brother never even batted an eye and my father simply did what was asked. My brother didn’t even have the decency to say “thank you.” I desperately wanted to leave, and I couldn’t. I had to be there, and I felt like I was going to throw up.

Enough of that. Let’s move on.

That ass, that brother of mine, suddenly packed up and left. Oh, occasionally I heard of his escapades. There were awful reports of his drunkenness and whoring. He was spending our father’s money as if it would never going to run out. Even talking about it now makes me angry.

The last I had heard was he was now feeding pigs. He had spent every last dime and now it seems he was getting what he deserved. I didn’t shed a tear, I felt no pity. Good, he was getting what he should have gotten all along. I only wished that things would get even worse.

Coming in from the fields I heard a raucous party coming from the house.

I asked one of the servants what was going on. When they told me I was even more shocked. Our father had arranged a celebration, all because my brother had returned. The fatted calf had been killed, the one that was saved for parties, and I heard shouts of joy and dancing. They were celebrating, and that made no sense to me at all.

I had served the estate faithfully, I had sweated to make things work, and I never got a party like this.

My father came out to find me, I had hidden out in a shed–I didn’t want to be a part of this awful charade. When he found me he said that the party had to happen. It seems the scoundrel had the audacity to return–the money was spent, and apparently, he came home in rags–it served him right. He got what he deserved.

He told me that this celebration must happen.

My mind reeled. Could things get even crazier? Never had I heard of anything so bizarre. It was beyond belief. My father wanted me to come in and join them; I’d rather die. You have no idea.

He kept telling me that this had to happen–apparently he was given a new robe, and worst of all he was given the family ring, the ring that declared that he was now a full-fledged son, someone who could have all of the privilege and authority of a son. I had never heard of such foolishness.

My father said this was necessary, that my brother who I hoped was dead, was now alive.

How bad could things get? Perhaps my father had lost his mind.

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Luke 15:7

Painting: “The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt, c. 1667, oil on canvas. This picture shown is a small part. Scripture is The Message, a translation by Eugene Peterson.

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Lost & Found

On a warm afternoon, a lamb takes a peek at a visitor while eating hay at Fat Rooster Farm in Royalton, Vt., on April 27, 2003. (Photo by Geoff Hansen)

 “All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to him. And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

3 “So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Luke 15:1-7

What does it mean to be lost? Some have that much figured out by now, (and if not, we will.) The Bible nails us with this story, and it rings true of the human condition. You don’t need a Ph.D. in Psychology to understand this. The heart and soul of a man and a woman are in an awful state of separation from God, and some are beginning to understand this.

The three stories reveal that the Pharisees and the scribes have issues.

Their whole belief system–the idea of who’s righteous and who’s not, is being rocked. The sinners are coming to listen to Jesus (maybe for the stories, maybe for something else?) The religious regime is mystified, and maybe a bit jealous. Perhaps they were irked at the grace of God they see in Jesus?

Jesus tells His first story, (and he loves to tell stories I’ve found.) Anyway, the parable he shares is 100 words (more or less) and it describes the condition of every man, woman, and child–everyone who has ever existed. He clearly cuts through “religion” like a hot knife through cold butter. He quite succinctly describes us. And wow, these stories are eye-openers.

We’re all lost sheep–wandering, and sometimes very confused.

The paths we’ve taken to get out of our “lost-ness” have only confused us even more. We’ve had to deal with thorns and vultures; it hasn’t been easy, and we’ve never been able to reconnect to safety. Some become “smart” people, others buy fast cars, and some kill their lost-ness with booze or drugs. We find many different ways to keep us from feeling this separation from God.

A very lost sheep.

In Luke 15, we find three parables that all deal with lost things–sheep, coins, and sons. Essentially, they each explain what now has happened to us. Most of us know that the religion of the Pharisees hasn’t worked. Even the sinners understand that much. Sometimes even the very lost have figured that much out, even before the so-called righteous do.

Jesus tracks us down–our confusion has finally lifted enough to see his outstretched arm. The Father has this odd preference for those who know they’ve lost, and these three parables come in a deliberate succession–that should make things pretty clear.

So dear one, will you insist on wandering? Is that what you really want?

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w

Calibrating Your Heart to His

scalingchart1080tf3

A chart used to calibrate video

“May the patience and encouragement that come from God allow you to live in harmony with each other the way Christ Jesus wants.”

Romans 15:5

“Now make me completely happy! Live in harmony by showing love for each other. Be united in what you think, as if you were only one person.”

Philippians 2:2

The science and method of calibration provide us with a way to bring two, or more things into harmony.  It’s done frequently on diverse things such as scientific instruments, avionics, or music.  Without this need for ‘blending’ things degrade into a symphony of confusion.

A piano is tuned, and the worship leader then tunes into that piano.   

The worship team is blending simultaneous sounds of different pitch or qualities, making chords. This takes practice and a gift. This principle is enhanced when we think of several gears that mesh and turn together.  There is a certain congruity or symmetry that makes it successful. Beautiful music can happen only if the musicians have been calibrated with each other.

We need a calibration of our spirit with God’s Holy Spirit.  We tune in to Him.  His Word is a little bit like a tech manual, showing us, and helping us.  He helps us adjust so that we are harmoniously flowing with Him and with others. Sometimes this takes time.

Have you ever met a believer and they were no longer in harmony? 

I bet you have. They may have a belief that is out of balance.  It may be health or sickness.  That is quite common today.  A common issue is the area of politics. Lately, it’s become a danger for many believers. Be very careful.

I served in San Francisco in the 1980s with SOS Ministries.  There was a small church down in Pacifica that would drive up to ‘worship on the street’ with us.  They were incredible.  They had a sensitivity and anointing that other groups didn’t have.  They loved Jesus very much and loved each other, and it showed.

Within six months they disbanded and went their own ways.  I was told that their meetings were essentially gutted out.  They became fanatical about the ‘anti-abortion’ message to such an extreme they didn’t even have a church service anymore.  It was now nothing more than a political rally, and they were not even reading the Word or worshiping together. 

They were no longer calibrated to the Spirit or the Church. They were no longer aligned with the truth.

I have to be regularly adjusted to harmony with the promises of God.  I need my gauges to be consistent with the Word.  Not to be ‘heavy’ on certain things or ‘light’ on others. I can easily err on emphasis. That’s a real possibility. If I’m not calibrated, I become a spiritual danger to others, my family, and to myself.

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”

1 Peter 3:8

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Are You “Crippled?”

Crutches at the Table

“David asked, “Is there no one still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?” Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in both feet.”‘ 

 2 Samuel 9:3, NIV 

This crippled man was named Mephibosheth.  He was injured by the actions of a nurse;  she dropped him as she was trying to escape the palace (2 Sam. 4:4).  It was not of Mephibosheth’s doing, but someone else made a mistake, and it totally and irrevocably changed his life.

As a result, he would always be disabled.

If you haul out your old musty commentaries, you’ll find that Mephibosheth’s name means, “shame,” and I really believe that this would’ve been an integral part–maybe ‘subtle’ is a better word here, of how people treated him. But David was a different sort of king (as kings go), and he elevates Mephibosheth to the feasting table.

King David wants to bring him to the table!

Interesting. I believe that there are a great many people like Mephibosheth.  They’ve been injured by someone else’s stumbling.  It seems we pass these things on to each other.  And the lameness we inflict may not be physical.  It may be spiritual or emotional.  Sometimes we injure others without knowing what we have really done to them.

Jesus made some powerful statements about people who injure others.  

Some of the most vicious and evil woundings that are done are usually on a moral or spiritual level.  People can heal physically over time, but the wounds of the spirit are incredibly devastating.  When someone harms us on this level it can completely undo us, for a lifetime. (And perhaps, maybe forever).

We are capable of much evil.  We affect others in ways we don’t understand.  We need to seek God’s grace right now; we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of diminishing or minimizing what we have done. A vital point to consider: We cannot go on crippling others without injuring ourselves.

Wounded people wound. But healed people can often become healers themselves.

We can read of King David’s truly majestic treatment of Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9. He actively blessed him, and perhaps that is the proactive action we ought to take. We must make the effort– to bless others.

As a king, this was a very minor incident. Hardly worth recording in the lofty affairs of state. But as a man–to restore Mephibosheth, was definitely one of his greatest decisions. Kindness and gentleness should always be a key part of someone who is in authority, especially over others.

There’s another concept here– we discover something that is profoundly true about us in Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus.  It’s here, in 1:5, that we see that God our Father, acts like David, and receives Mephibosheth; just like God receives us to Himself. We find that we’re adopted, loved, and held, and we get a prime place at the table!

We may use crutches, but we walk by faith. And that may be the greatest lesson in this portion of scripture–and the most profound experience we can have as believers.

God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”

Ephesians 1:5, NLT

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When God Puts You Into a Quarantine

quarantine

Quarantines are a real possibility, even to this day. A quarantine is imposed when a disease is contagious enough that it would harm a society: Measles, Smallpox, and the recent COVID-19 are just a few physical diseases where isolation must be imposed.

It can be severe— an epidemic, with desperate consequences if not adhered to; in some rare cases, the use of deadly force has been authorized to maintain a quarantine until the disease is no longer communicable.

This may surprise you, but there are examples of ‘quarantines’ in the Bible.

The term ‘unclean’ was used for ‘leprosy.’ Those afflicted had to isolate themselves; they had to ‘announce’ their presence when in contact with society. Lepers lived in groups away from the general populace, as a result of their disease.

In Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians, he addresses another kind of ‘quarantine.’ The situation was dire; the church had advocated a Christian living with his father’s wife.

“I have already passed judgment on this man in the name of the Lord Jesus. You must call a meeting of the church. I will be present with you in spirit, and so will the power of our Lord Jesus. Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns.”

1 Corinthians 5:3-5, NLT

Understanding the Principle of Usefulness

Now in a large house, there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor.”

2 Timothy 2:20, NASB

Found in God’s pantry are lots of pots and pans of various uses.  Paul writes Timothy about the ‘large house’ which is the Church inclusive. Look around Timothy, there are gold ones, and there are silver ones. They have a noble purpose fitting for such a great house. These are the ones the guests will use; they befit the significance of the Lord himself. These vessels have great value for they are made of precious metals.

There are vessels of different categories. These are the ones made of wood, and of clay. These are part of the household, make no mistake about it. But their use is one of function, they’re utilized in common and ignoble ways. (A clay ‘bed-pan’ perhaps?!)

21 “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.”

2 Timothy 2:21

Paul, the author of the New Testament doctrine of grace emphasizes the place of personal holiness. We are to ‘cleanse’ ourselves to become a vessel of honor. There is good news here:

  • All are vessels in the Father’s house. Each of us belongs to Him. He alone determines their use.
  • Things are not yet in their final state. Changes in status can be experienced. In God’s economy, clay pots can become ‘golden.’ Silver can become ‘wood.’

Some sin is contagious.

It affects believers, and the Church becomes compromised by what we’ve done. And then sometimes we are quarantined by the Holy Spirit–until the contagion passes. This spiritual disease must not be permitted.

I have experienced this several times in my own discipleship. These are not pleasant times, but there is no condemnation. I’m still His servant, His love for me stays outrageously constant. He has never turned away a sinning child who repents of their sin.

“Yes, I am His servant, but I must wait out in the hall. I haven’t been faithful. So I sit in His waiting room, waiting for His call. This is for my good. And my Father knows what is best.” 

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The Church of Many Colors

“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Ephesians 3:10-11, NIV

Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children because he was the son of his old age. Also, he made him a tunic of many colors.

Genesis 37:3, NKJV

The word “manifold” is very curious and quite engaging. In the Old Testament, this particular word is used to describe Joseph’s coat of many colors. I can only imagine that it was striped like a rainbow, or maybe even tied-dyed. Whatever it was, Joseph was quite distinctive as he wore his colorful coat.

Joseph’s coat

Paul in Ephesians 3, intentionally borrows this word to explain “the manifold wisdom of God.” Paul uses this dramatic imagery of Joseph’s coat to describe God’s wonderful wisdom that has saturated the Church. There is something variegated in this wisdom (balance, comprehension, understanding) that infuses His Church.

We are people of color. There is the wisdom given to each believer. This defines us and portrays us to the world. God’s own wisdom, defined quite incredibly in our hearts and spirits, describes our coloration and hue.

Some are merciful, and other brothers are bold. Some are kind, others are discerning.

Some are very gentle, and others are “prophetic” and sharp. A few are wise, and others can endure much. But our personal coloring should never threaten another. Those who see only blue– should never be shaken when another sees yellow.

Our fleshly attitudes would militate against this understanding. We seem to insist that everyone be green, or yellow even. But this isn’t how God through the Holy Spirit comes to our spirits. We should receive each brother and sister, in the wisdom that God has chosen, to flow and grow. It seems we are each a “prism” that reflects a certain light.

We can see the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.

They are distributed (but definitely never ‘dumped.’) They come out in many ways through many different personalities and backgrounds. But it seems we are slowly learning that each believer has a definite place and purpose.

I suppose that pride confines us into something that is restrictive. We prefer ideas and proclivities we can control (or maybe label.)  Perhaps, it is we that need to be adjusted. We should see the broadness of God’s grace, and how each one is touched and shaped.

The Church is now God’s unique reservoir of wisdom and grace for the world.

We gleam with the certain light of His presence and goodness. Each believer radiates an aspect of grace from the heart of God. We are indeed the “Church of Many Colors.”

“The complaint that church is boring is never made by people in awe.” 

RC Sproul

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When Eagles Go Bad

Looking for their dinner

“I am coming soon. Continue strong in your faith so no one will take away your crown.”

Rev. 3:11, NCV

I have lived in Alaska for over 30 years.  It’s beautiful, probably one of the most enchanting places on earth, by far. Admittedly it does have an “edge” as well. It can get very cold, and we can have snow piled up waist-high in just a few hours. I have to admit though, that the winter nights up here can be excruciatingly long and dark.

But my freezer is full of salmon, halibut, caribou, and of course, moose meat. We can pick berries in the summer, with a wary eye for bears, I never carry a gun though.  We kayak, ski, and snow machine for fun. My son was a snowboarder wanna-be. We get chased by moose–I was very close to being trampled once.

I have always had a strong connection with eagles.

You can find them throughout most of North America, from Alaska and Canada to northern Mexico. About half of the world’s 70,000 bald eagles live in Alaska.  And that is a lot.  You can see them every day here if you want. (And you never let your small dog out, he can become dinner for the eagle. Seriously.)

I’ve been thinking about eagles. When I went to the dump recently I saw several of them working for the trash heaps.  I don’t know, but it really bothered me.  They had the form of an eagle; the wing span and the aloofness, but they were pathetic.  Their feathers were matted down, and they looked completely disheveled.  They were scrounging for scraps, competing with the crows.

The dump here is like a “crack house” for eagles.

A hard day’s night

Perhaps the saddest thing was they were losing their distinctive white heads. They had given it up for dump food.  This is a big problem in many towns here in Alaska.  The eagle’s heads turn in color to a dark grey.  You have to look a little closer to see that they are still bald eagles. You can’t be too sure.

In the Bible, God is identified as being an eagle. But so are Christians. There is something quite unsettling and tragic to encounter a believer addicted and controlled by their appetites. Soon they will change, as they grow more pathetic and disheveled.  They give up soaring and become wretched souls, without joy or purpose. All they know is a steady misery.

We don’t belong, and it isn’t who we are.

Those of us who struggle can’t live out of a landfill. You see, we were meant to soar, strong and free.  No matter who you are– addictions, compulsions, or mental illness. We can still become eagle Christians.

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you
from the beginning?
Have you not considered
the foundations of the earth?”

Isaiah 40:21

Deep down I want to spiritually soar–I resist living out of the dumps.  It is a heavy struggle at times, but we were re-created to fly. Please, never forget that. Keep flapping your wings. You were meant to glide with Him.

The dump is not your home.

 

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You’re a Steward of Your Pain

Some time ago I came across a story that connected. A visiting speaker stood in front of a congregation and shared a painful incident from his childhood. He wanted to bring healing. After he spoke, an elder came and spoke to him–

“You have learned how to become a proper steward of your pain.”

The visiting speaker was profoundly touched by this. Finally, something came together in his heart and soul. Yes, he did learn how to deal scripturally with those ugly things from his past. He was becoming a proper steward of his pain.

The word for steward in the original Greek is oikonomos. It literally means “a keeper of a home.” It describes a manager, a superintendent to whom the head of the house or proprietor has entrusted the management of his affairs, the diligent care of receipts and expenditures.

The issue seems to be of management, how can God use these awful things for building His Kingdom?

No question about it, we live in a world of darkness. Each of us has been touched by hard things. Scars are part of our lives. When we come to Christ they come with us. All of these grim things are a real piece of us, we have been hurt (or maybe we’ve wounded others?)

Are you a good steward of who you are? Whether you’ve experienced trauma–something physical, sexual, or perhaps a mental illness. It could be any scar you carry from your past, and no one is immune from them it seems. You’ll find freedom if you can use these things for Him and his Kingdom.

We must see and understand that Jesus has taken everything and redeems it all for His glory.

He understands us fully–our past, present, and future. He ‘knows’ us–the real and hidden us. The challenge I suppose is to take these sad events to the throne. He alone can heal and then use that which has devastated us. What was intended to destroy is now meant to build.

Satan has afflicted you in his dark attempt to destroy you.

Jesus intervenes to save. As we grow to accept this, the Holy Spirit comes as our comforter and guide. He starts to teach us true redemption, and the incredible healing that he brings with him. It really is his work, not ours. We finally understand. It’s then we become broken healers that God can use.

The light has truly overcome the dark.

We’re being taught (sometimes very slowly) to carry all of these things and plead the blood of Jesus over our past. He covers us completely. He has redeemed us. Luke 1:68 explains much clearer than I can:

“Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel because he has visited and provided redemption for his people.”

Becoming a steward of our pain is his doing. We’re able to touch others with these things that would cripple and destroy others. He has made us “managers” of these things, and we are taught to teach others, declaring that God has completely saved us. He works miracles!

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!”

2 Corinthians 5:17

We’ll sovereignly meet those who need to hear our story. We’re being transformed into authentic witnesses. Yes, at times these awful things still hurt, and I suppose that’s to be expected. But we’re learning to manage them. We’ve become real-life stewards of our pain.

That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”

Romans 8:28, Message

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Burning Bush Believers

“Some Christians are called to endure a disproportionate amount of suffering. Such Christians are a spectacle of grace to the church, like flaming bushes unconsumed, and cause us to ask, like Moses: ‘Why is this bush not burned up?’ (Exodus 3:2-3)

“The strength and stability of these believers can be explained only by the miracle of God’s sustaining grace. The God who sustains Christians in unceasing pain is the same God — with the same grace — who sustains me in my smaller sufferings. We marvel at God’s persevering grace and grow in our confidence in Him as He governs our lives.”

— John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace

 

We all know a brother or sister who seems to be a target of an undue amount of suffering. It looks like they’re always in the furnace. All we can do really is to shake our heads and then give them double honor for their faith in God’s grace and providence.

Ministering to these sufferers can be a challenge.

What can we say to those who seem to be on “God’s anvil?” How can we bless those who are in pain?

Perhaps a simple word of calm encouragement is the most effective. In the midst of some awful difficulties, I once had a dear brother who gently and carefully quoted Philippians 1:6 to me over and over whenever we met and whenever we parted:

 “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Philippians 1:6

It was a precious thing that he did. I didn’t mind it all, as a matter of fact, I grew to like it. At first, I’ll admit it was strange, but my faith began to ‘mix’ with the Word and I began to believe it. It’s now my favorite verse in the Bible.

He refused to preach (or counsel) at me.

He had the maturity to see what God was doing and to make himself available to God on my behalf. Perhaps that patience he showed should be for us the method of choice? I look forward to seeing him someday, someway.

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.”

Romans 5:3

A keyword in this verse is “rejoice.”

It is a good reminder that the pain we feel is not the end. These trials have a limited duration (although it seems far away). There is coming a day when we can navigate through these issues and come out on the other side. “We will shine like the stars” (Daniel 12:3).

Much wisdom is needed in our ministry to disproportionate sufferers. We should have a fear of intruding on the work the Lord is doing. We must be patient and humble in this matter. There is no rushing God, after all, it’s His work. Most importantly we must be very much ‘present’ for our friend.

“But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance”

Romans 5:3

A “word” spoken out of place can cause even more ‘heartache’ for the sufferer. Let us be careful. At times it’s better not to say anything, and that’s alright. Job’s friends were best sitting in the ash heap, saying no word.  

“The Lord God gives me
the right words
    to encourage the weary.
Each morning he awakens me
    eager to learn his teaching.”

Isaiah 50:4, CEB

Trust Jesus to show you how to love, and serve those who seem to struggle so. Ask the Father to give you the right words–He will if you only ask.

 

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He Just Showed Up!

36 “As they were saying these things, he himself stood in their midst. He said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost. 38 “Why are you troubled?” he asked them. “And why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself! Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.” 

40 “Having said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 But while they still were amazed and in disbelief because of their joy, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 So they gave him a piece of a broiled fish,43 and he took it and ate in their presence.”

Luke 24:36-43

Sometimes in a story, everything gets really vivid.  Luke’s account ignites that in me.  With the flair of the dramatic– Jesus, freshly resurrected from the dead, bursts into the room and he scares the bejeezus out of everyone.  I guess it was one of those times when you just had to be there in order to really get it.

“Frightened” and “terrified”–(it takes two words to describe this spooky experience.) 

Not only that, but they got really freaky, after all, He had to be a ghost!  I can only imagine their fear at that moment.  I think everyone present bolted to the door.  But wait for a second!  “The door is still locked?! OMG, what can we do?”

We see Jesus [I think he was lovingly amused] point out that he was still a human being–look at me!  Think for a second, have you ever tried to get a pet dog, who is so scared he’s peeing on the floor, to come to you?  I see the disciples kind of half crawling, stooped, and very unsure about this. 

They slowly encircle Jesus and as they come, I have to believe He’s laughing. He has returned from the dead.

He is laughing from the pure joy of one who has endured the worst of very real hell.

Jesus has come out on the other side, intact.  I believe Jesus is reveling at the moment, and he is among friends whom he loves and vice versa.  He is alive, he has done the impossible, and I can only imagine everyone is laughing and crying at the same time!

I believe each one of us has walls. 

Yes, you and I.  Walls. These borders give us security and protection.  We feel we have to have them or else.  The disciples feel like there’s security in numbers and safety in their walls that protect them.  I can so relate.

But Jesus insists on penetrating our walls.  

And suddenly we come ‘face-to-face’ with the dead one who’s now alive. 

Look closely now, it is resurrection power–and it’s the most powerful force in the universe, more intense than the sun.  A nuclear bomb can’t match this intensity of light and power. It’s funny, when Moses prostrated himself before the Lord’s glory, he changed.  Not only that, but he had to take precautions to cover his face when he returned to camp. These disciples however have just seen the glory of God first-hand.

And they weren’t even wearing protective goggles!

As broken believers, we must be prepared for any eventuality.  Jesus can and will burst into our homes, and into our very lives.  Can you hear him laugh? 

When he comes, nothing really is the same again.  He loves his disciples too much to leave them in a dark stuffy room. 

The resurrected Jesus is coming for you!

**********

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and eat with you, and you will eat with me.”

Revelation 3:20, NCV

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Pulling the King’s Carriage

A message for younger Christians going into ministry.

“Before God can commit a ministry into a person’s hands they must submit themselves to the discipline of the Lord letting Him truly be the Lord of their entire lives. We have long since dealt with the question of open sin but now God is dealing with the inward rebellion of our own wills.” 

by Bill Britton

On a dirt road in the middle of a wide field stood a beautiful carriage, something on the order of a stagecoach but all edged in gold and with beautiful carvings. It was pulled by six large chestnut horses: two in the lead, two in the middle, and two in the rear. But they were not moving, they were not pulling the carriage, and I wondered why. Then I saw the driver underneath the carriage on the ground on his back just behind the last two horses’ heels working on something between the front wheels of the carriage. I thought, “My, he is in a dangerous place; for if one of those horses kicked or stepped back, they could kill him, or if they decided to go forward, or got frightened somehow, they would pull the carriage right over him.”

But he didn’t seem afraid for he knew that those horses were disciplined and would not move till he told them to move. The horses were not stamping their feet nor acting restless, and though there were bells on their feet, the bells were not tinkling. There were pom-poms on their harness over their heads but the pom-poms were not moving. They were simply standing still and quiet waiting for the voice of the Master.

THERE WERE TWO YOUNG COLTS IN THE FIELD 

As I watched the harnessed horses I noticed two young colts coming out of the open field and they approached the carriage and seemed to say to the horses: “Come and play with us, we have many fine games, we will race with you, come catch us.” And with that, the colts kicked up their heels flicked their tails, and raced across the open field. But when they looked back and saw the horses were not following they were puzzled. They knew nothing of the harnesses and could not understand why the horses did not want to play. So they called to them: “Why do you not race with us? Are you tired? Are you too weak? Do you not have the strength to run? You are much too solemn, you need more joy in life.” But the horses answered not a word nor did they stamp their feet or toss their heads. But they stood, quiet and still, waiting for the voice of the Master. 

Again the colts called to them: “Why do you stand so in the hot sun? Come over here in the shade of this nice tree. See how green the grass is? You must be hungry, come and feed with us, it is so green and so good. You look thirsty, come drink of one of our many streams of cool clear water.” But the horses answered them not so much as a glance but stood still waiting for the command to go forward with the King.

COLTS IN THE MASTER’S CORRAL 

And then the scene changed and I saw lariat nooses fall around the necks of the two colts and they were led off to the Master’s corral for training and discipline. How sad they were as the lovely green fields disappeared and they were put into the confinement of the corral with its brown dirt and high fence. The colts ran from fence to fence seeking freedom but found that they were confined to this place of training. And then the Trainer began to work on them with His whip and His bridle. What a death for those who had been all their lives accustomed to such freedom!

They could not understand the reason for this torture, this terrible discipline. What crime had they done to deserve this? Little did they know of the responsibility that was to be theirs when they had submitted to the discipline, learned to perfectly obey the Master, and finished their training. All they knew was that this processing was the most horrible thing they had ever known.

BUT YOU MUST UNDERSTAND THERE WAS SUBMISSION AND REBELLION 

One of the colts rebelled under the training and said, “This is not for me. I like my freedom, my green hills, my flowing streams of fresh water. I will not take any more of this confinement, this terrible training.” So he found a way out jumped the fence and ran happily back to the meadows of grass. I was astonished that the Master let him go and went not after him. But He devoted His attention to the remaining colt. This colt though he had the same opportunity to escape decided to submit his own will and learn the ways of the Master.

The training got harder than ever but he was rapidly learning more and more how to obey the slightest wish of the Master and to respond to even the quietness of His voice. And I saw that had there been no training, no testing, there would have been neither submission nor rebellion from either of the colts. For in the field they did not have the choice to rebel or submit, they were sinless in their innocence. But when brought to the place of testing and training and discipline, then was made manifest the obedience of one and the rebellion of the other. And though it seemed safer not to come to the place of discipline because of the risk of being found rebellious, I saw that without this there could be no sharing of His glory, no Sonship.

INTO GOD’S HARNESS 

Finally, this period of training was over. Was he now rewarded with his freedom and sent back to the fields? Oh no. But a greater confinement than ever now took place as a harness dropped about his shoulders. Now he found there was not even the freedom to run about the small corral for in the harness he could only move where and when his Master spoke. And unless the Master spoke he stood still.

 

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For more of these and other messages: Bill Britton P.O. Box 707 Springfield, Missouri 65801-0707.  This is a faith ministry, made possible by members of the Body of Christ. Not copyrighted, may be translated or reprinted without further permission. All messages are free as the Lord provides

How to Hear God Clearly

In Deuteronomy 15:12-18, slaves who are being set free by their master after six years of service, could, if they loved and were loved by their master, could choose to remain a slave to him forever.

“But if your slave says to you, “I don’t want to leave you,” because he loves you and your family and has a good life with you, stick an awl through his ear into the door; he will be your slave for life. Also, do this to a female slave.”

Deuteronomy 15:12-18, (Exodus 21:6)

This was a decision that required elders to act as witnesses.  It was significant as well as entirely binding.  I like to think of the ceremony as a cross between a wedding and circumcision. (Sounds like fun!)

The slave would be led to a doorpost and the master would take an awl, and push it through his ear lobe.  This designated the slave to be forever “owned” by a specific master.  The slave would then wear an earring to remind everyone who they were. Herein lies a picture of the consecrated Christian.

Many times in the New Testament people called themselves bondservants of Christ.

Peter, Paul, James, and Jude each referred to themselves as “bondservants of Jesus Christ” to open up their epistles. An example:

(“Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.”)

This is not a forced servitude. This a choice made from love!

There are many believers who have done the same, they have fallen in love with their Savior.  They do not plan on a life apart from Him. They’ve decided they won’t serve anyone else. So spiritually they have gone to the doorpost, the awl is pushed through their ear, and they are marked from that point on.

Although the ear was pierced physically in the Old Testament, a spiritual kind of piercing takes place in the New. We see glimmers of that decision,

“Surely you know that when you give yourselves like slaves to obey someone, then you are really slaves of that person. The person you obey is your master. You can follow sin, which brings spiritual death, or you can obey God, which makes you right with him.”

Romans 6:16, (NCV)

Just a thought. When the prodigal son returned home from the far country he fell before his father and humbly asked,make me your servant” (Luke 15:19, 21). He, in essence, was saying to the father, “pierce my ear.” The father made him a son, but the attitude of the son’s heart had changed into the heart of a bondservant. So it must be with us.

We each will have a chance to live out a “pierced ear life.

Perhaps it’s then will we’ll truly hear His voice in a new and clearer way. Maybe this is the next step we should take. It’s not demanded, or required. Sometimes hearing Him can be a challenge, but the Father delights in this. He will share with you what’s on His heart.

“Savior, I know Thou hast allowed me absolute liberty, to serve Thee, or to go my own way. I would serve Thee forever, for I love my Master. I will not go out free. Mark my ear, Lord, that it might respond only to Thy voice.”

— Jim Elliot, Missionary, and Martyr

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It’s Time to Mend Your Nets

Tools used to mend nets

“And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them.”

Matthew 4:21, ESV

“And immediately they left their nets and followed him.”

Mark 1:18

To mend nets was tedious but necessary. You would take your net and spread it on the ground in an open space. Every knot would be carefully examined. All holes would be repaired. Nothing was overlooked. Fishing nets were painstakingly maintained. Every day, without fail.

Fish would school, and if your gear was right, and you were in a prime place, you could catch a lot. But at the same time, you could let hundreds of fish escape through a hole in your net. Each fish that escaped meant money lost.

Jesus walking along the beach surveyed the boats and crews.

Since most of these guys had worked through the night, they were tired and maybe a bit “punchy.” Some had gotten somewhat lucky, while others had very little to show for working so hard. Most likely the different crews teased each other as they unloaded.

Jesus walked through the bunches of fishermen. He looked at their hauls to see what they had caught. But it wasn’t the catch He was looking at, it was the men. It was from these laboring fishermen that He would choose. These men were rough and tumble rednecks. (If they had chewing tobacco back then, they would’ve used it.) 🙂

He stands, looks, and then commands them.

But Jesus had no desire to interview them, and then take the best of the lot.

He didn’t have a Human Resources Department, there were no tests and no forms that had to list references. He simply commanded, and those who understood followed. Only after they left it all did He get their names and addresses. I think that it is the same today.

Will we leave our boat, and leave behind your nets?

Really, you can keep mending or you can follow Him– it’s your choice. Most of the time though, decisions have a tendency to be irrevocable. Perhaps you have a moment, an instant of time to decide.

Sometimes mending nets can be back-breaking and tedious. But following the Lord Jesus is an unknown; too many choose to keep mending. Others are launched into something new, and eternally significant.

The truth that glares at you is the necessity of obedience to Jesus’ command.

There is no other voice we must hear. As a matter of fact, hearing (and really apprehending) is the only foundation we can trust to make our obedience true.

You can keep mending your nets and preparing for another night on the water. That is always your prerogative. But if you decide to follow you will need to leave what you know behind.

That is authentic discipleship.

“Rest in this – it is His business to lead, command, impel, send, call or whatever you want to call it. It is your business to obey, follow, move, respond, or what have you.”

-Jim Elliot, missionary to the Auca indians

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A Stone’s Throw Away

tumblr_static_tumblr_static_1odvenqfc6kkgwo0sg0skgsco_1280

“And He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and began to pray,”

Luke 22:41

WHO KNOWS WHAT JESUS IS THINKING as he entered the Garden? His disciples followed Jesus but scripture states that he proceeded ahead of them. He knew He must find some much-needed strength through prayer— this verse tells us he went “a stone’s throw.”

Often we share in the sorrows of the people closest to us, and Jesus wants His disciples to follow him. And they do, but not all the way. They came very close but didn’t really understand the full nature of the pain that was beginning for Jesus. They slept while he agonized. He was for the first time perhaps, needing someone close.

Some who are reading this will make the same trip to the garden.

Perhaps every believer makes the trip to ‘Gethsemane,’ but not as mere observer or tourist. The garden is a distinct place of testing and of sorrow. And each disciple will experience it for themselves. The servant is not above his master.” We must follow the Lord Jesus, and it’s not going to be easy.

I’ve gone to the Garden myself, sitting in the dark, waiting for Him to come. And He does. And He is my light.

Jesus is very close. He stands by us. He listens and watches.

He completely understands what it means to be alone with sorrow. The believer can lean on Jesus as the pain continues. He sends his “Comforter” to each, as He personally escorts us through this time in the “garden.” He comes in grace and is completely kind. He truly is just a stone’s throw away.

“God is our refuge and strength,
    always ready to help in times of trouble.”

Psalm 46:1

“No physician ever weighed out medicine to his patients with half so much care and exactness as God weighs out to us every trial. Not one grain too much does He ever permit to be put in the scale.”

   Henry Ward Beecher

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Are You Carrying a Heavy Burden?

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30, ESV

To be honest, this passage has yet to be fully processed by me. Sometimes I understand, but then I forget. Because of this, this post is preaching to me, and if you decide to bail on reading this that’s ok. I write because I truly believe that these things are possible. I don’t always put this passage in action. I ask for your forgiveness.

Jesus issues an invitation to His listeners that’s earth-shaking. He sets Himself is far above the rule of the Pharisees; these declarations can’t be explained away. Jesus puts Himself as the only one that brings true peace. That’s pretty arrogant, especially if it’s wrong.

But it’s really a false statement. Jesus bursts though this confusion, and life eternal is what He carries to each believer.

The Pharaeses have long ago decided the Law was the the Mosaic yoke that kept the people in line. Jesus taught otherwise.

“Come to Me.”

I suppose the operative word here is “Me.” Jesus Christ is the exclusive giver of peace and strength. He must be acknowledged as the believer’s complete focus–He is a man, not a religious set of rules and regulations. When we decide to follow Jesus it puts us at odds with legalism.

“All who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Interesting, the Greek word for labor means “exhausted or toiling.” The word for heavy laden has the idea of someone who is fully loaded, carrying a pile, it also has the implication of having spiritual anxiety.

All means everyone–not a select few, nor those who think that they’re doing all right on their own. “Labor and heavy laden”. Both words describe those who carry burdens, and who have backs that are bending because of a difficult load. I believe that they’re those who struggle with defeat and failure.

The rest He gives is profound. And notice the word “give.” His desire is to free us, and that dear one is a gift, it’s not earned or achieved. The word “rest” means to refresh or to make calm.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me,

We lay down our cares, concern, and all spiritual anxiety and to receive another kind of weight–His yoke. Jesus also calls us to another burden. We are called to “learn” from Him.

In training oxen, a wise farmer has the new, weaker one to be yoked with the one who is older. They are to be trained properly pull the plow. The older one teaches the younger.

Two things I ask that you consider:

  • We are learners. A student discovers that his teacher’s lessons can be challenging. I remember trying to grasp Geometry. I went around and around trying to understand. The teacher was patient, and she made an effort to communicate. In the same way the Holy Spirit works to share heavenly truths to me. One of His titles is “Teacher.”
  • The Lord deeply desires to release me from my “spiritual anxiety.” Perhaps I offend Him everytime I pick my sinful burden up. I do this fairly often. But He promises us we’ll have we’ll have a spiritual victory if we choose to follow Him.

“For I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

“Gentle.” and “Lowly in heart.” This is how He explains Himself to us, which is pretty much opposite of what we think Jesus is. Somehow when we forget the yoke, sin and Satan muddles our thinking, and we often walk out our spiritual anxiety. This is incredibly exhausting, and our fear grows and we try hide it.

I suppose to be yoke-less opens us up to everything religious effort has to offer.

The Greek for “rest” is defined as an intermission or cessation of any activity, rest or recreation. It’s good word rhat when we become quiet; outward and inward. That seems to be opposite of what we think we must do. Often we ratchet up our activity to somehow show the Father that we deserve His love.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

What Jesus offers us is His own yoke of unconditional love. He replaces out heavy burden with His gentle weight. The yoke of Jesus replaces the burden of legalism. What He gives is of no comparison to what we think we might understand.

The yoke of Jesus is fairly easy. It’s meaning in the original is wonderful. It means something that’s mild or pleasant. Jesus’ gift of a yoke replaces our spiritual anxiety. We don’t walk in the constant fear of our failure to measure up.

“Easy” and “light” is the very nature of His yoke of discipleship.

Following Him shouldn’t be grueling or hard, and yet we stilldon’t grasp this .What Jesus offers is our chance to become real. He wants us to share His yoke, but it’s not hard. Yes, we must forsake everything to be one of His followers, but Jesus offers us far more than we ever dreamed.

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Surviving the Furnace

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you cross rivers, you will not drown. When you walk through fire, you will not be burned, nor will the flames hurt you.”  

Isaiah 43:2, NCV

There is a very special immunity that is given to a believer who’s simple. They find that suddenly they have been inoculated against a supernatural reality that others can’t understand.  Passing through the waters, we find the divine presence.  We discover it and find that it covers us.

Daniel tells us of three men dropped into a super-heated furnace. Surviving was impossible, and yet they felt no heat or flame while inside. That is a tremendous thing for believers to understand.

Having Him cover us is a profound thing. 

There are many reasons this should not be happening to us, and not given any serious thought.  And yet He appears out of nowhere and declares that we are completely immune to every attack against our desperate souls.

Jesus watches over us. 

He concentrates His focus on us, and we find a strength that is almost absurd, something that doesn’t make any sense at all.  He covers us from all the ugliness that could be focused on us.  A barrier is put around us.   His care protects us and shields us from insidious attacks on our very vulnerable hearts.

Isaiah 43 declares that there is a protective grace that surrounds our souls. 

We encounter a sense that He is there and that He will not let anything destroy us.  This security is not from anything we produce, maintain or manufacture.  He brings it to us without any logical reason.  It’s called “grace” and it gives us certain protection.

This world generates so much spiritual ugliness. There is so much danger. We need help.

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”

Ephesians 6:11 

We must enter and pass through a whole lot of difficulty and pain.  Water and fire, in abundance, are things that will happen to us.  We will deal with these things, and work our way through them.  One thing needs to be understood,   His spirit in us resists being controlled by sin. He will not be constrained by darkness.

We travel through intense times when our faith seems ludicrous when it seems weak and illogical.  But somehow we make it, and we will pass through this and other challenges.  He intervenes and brings us safety and strength.  We are indeed survivors, and we pass through all evil and darkness without being scorched or singed.

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Philippians 1:6, NLT

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God’s Night Shift, Psalm 134:1-3

A song of ascents.

“Now bless the Lord,
all you servants of the Lord
who stand in the Lord’s house at night!
Lift up your hands in the holy place
and bless the Lord!

 May the Lord,
Maker of heaven and earth,
bless you from Zion.

Psalm 134:1-3

Not every Levite labored during the day. The night shift continued their work. Granted, no sacrifices were offered, but the “night priests” stood to protect the Ark, gather wood, and keep the incense burning and cleaned up the blood. But most importantly they must worship and pray for Israel.

“Servants of the Lord” is a phrase that resonates in my heart. Those words are both a comfort and a responsibility and that seems to open this passage up. We’ve got a Master, and we serve Him only. And I know and believe that worship was the main responsibility of the night watch!

“Christians believe that true worship is the highest and noblest activity of which man, by the grace of God, is capable.”

-John Stott

Worship is the central work of the disciple, it’s what we’re called to do. Evangelism, missions, and preaching are fine. But prayer and intercession must be the heartbeat of each believer. It’s the holy calling of the Church. When does the church service end? Never!

The service really gets going Monday through Saturday!

In this short Psalm, (just 3 verses!) we’re introduced to a group of Levites who are working the night shift. What they do is hidden–it’s not seen by others. They keep the fires stoked, gather wood, and patrol the walls. But more importantly, they stand and worship and intercede for Jerusalem.

No real recognition is given, and the spotlight is rarely shined on them.

They serve at night, vitally essential but seldom seen. And yet they intercede for the nation. They “bless” the Lord and the people of God. That’s their place and position. They must do this. Israel must be blessed. These night shift workers insist on it!

The church needs nursery workers and Sunday school teachers. So many are working behind the scenes. Often the deacons and elders of a church are rarely seen and seldom acknowledged. So much is concealed. Their work is a hidden one. But the Father sees.

In a church, someone has to clean the bathrooms and take out the garbage, and others will make coffee or shovel snow. They vacuum and straightened the chairs. They are the ones who collect the mail and prepare the overheads. There’s always something to do. And it’s a hidden work carried out with no one watching. No one, but God.

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
    to sing praises to your name, O Most High;
to declare your steadfast love in the morning,
    and your faithfulness by night,

Psalm 92:1-2

Serving at night can be a challenge, not all can lead worship or preach the sermon on Sunday morning. Those called to do those tasks serve in the day. But those who serve the Lord at night also labor, and sometimes that hiddenness behind the scenes has its own special challenges.

This may come as a surprise, but it takes as much of the Spirit to work the night shift as it does to stand behind the podium and preach the Word. I believe that this is true! These hidden ones carry out much of the ministry of the Church. Few notice, but God Himself sees them.

“They [Levites] are exhorted to fill the night with prayer and watchfulness and to let their hearts go up in blessing to Jehovah. The voice of praise should echo through the silent night and float over the sleeping city.”

Alexander MacLaren

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