Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Lord's Supper

Jesus once responded to a young rich man’s rejection of the gospel with this timeless phrase, “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” (Matthew 19:30)

One of the prerequisites for entering the kingdom is poverty and humiliation! But who wants that kingdom?! We naturally seek a land that offers “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” A place where “dreams come true” and “hard work pays off” Is that the picture of God’s kingdom?

In a world that frequently rejects those things that seem “less” in our eyes, God redirects our focus on those with less as an opportunity to model kingdom behavior towards them. To do that, it often means we have to take less so that they can have more.

The Lord’s Supper was a fresh perspective on an old memorial feast that reflected on God’s faithfulness to deliver those in trouble. The Passover feast had certain conditions in which it must be eaten (Exodus 12). While that was a feast of remembrance, it was also a reminder that the journey has just begun, and there will be a great day of feasting when we get where we’re going!

I’ve heard people say that communion doesn’t fill you up. But it wasn’t designed to fill you up but remind you of the things to come. The lesson in the encounter with the rich young ruler wasn’t necessarily aimed at the rich man (although Jesus hoped he would get it), but rather the lesson was for those who chose to give up what they could be “feasting on” for the anticipation of what’s to come. Jesus said it another way in Luke 18:29-30, “No one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Paul reminds us of a passage from Isaiah, “‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human mind has conceived’ the things God has prepared for those who love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9) But Isaiah continues that message of hope for the Israelites who had lost so much because of their poor choices, “The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create…” (Isaiah 65:17-18)

The Lord’s Supper is intended to cause you to reflect on the sacrifices necessary to make heaven a reality for you. 1 Corinthians 11:24, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” But its bigger focus is for us to keep in mind that we will be filled up when we give our allegiance to God by sharing our blessings with others.

Like the small bite-sized portions on a sampler plate of desserts is intended to make you want more, so is the paradoxical “supper” of “little” intending to cause you to want more of it. The way to the kingdom should bring new hope to how life will be like when Jesus truly is king!

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Judas Iscariot

When the Romans took over the world, the Celtic’s Day of the Dead was moved around and purified a bit to become a more holy event – All Hallows Eve, which means “all the holy people” was celebrated on November 1. But what about the bad people, not “holy” ones?

[Enter Halloween stage left]

What made the “holy” ones different from the “unholy” ones? We should feel confident to say, "Decisions." Hebrews 5:12-14, “You need milk, not solid food! [Because you are] not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”

Making good decisions is something parents should be teaching their children to do (Deuteronomy 6:7-8; Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 6:1-4). When someone knows how to make good decisions, they can look ahead to see where that decision could lead them and determine if it’s good or not.

Judas made a decision that cost him tremendously: he betrayed Christ! But what else can we know about Judas Iscariot? Apparently, he was a businessman, since he was given the charge of the purse (the bank account).

In John 12:5-6, we read that it was Judas who objected to the woman anointing Jesus’ with expensive oil by saying, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” The next line paints a picture that will probably never be erased, “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” Was this an inspired description of Judas, or did Jesus call Judas to serve alongside Him just like the others? In Matthew 26:13 Jesus says of the woman anointing His feet, “Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” It’s Judas’s decision that would become his identifying mark forever!

In fact, most people don’t their child after Judas because of how bad his decision was.

We may not know much of him, and what we do know may be skewed a little because of the impact Judas’ decision had on all of the followers of Christ, but hopefully, we can see that Judas teaches us about the cost of our decisions, and the impact those decisions can have on others. Remember that all the apostles decided to follow Christ at one point. And in time, they all had to make other decisions about how long to follow Him, under what conditions, and whether or not they were willing to truly give all for Him. That’s true for us as well.

Remember Paul’s words to the churches of Galatia, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel…” (Galatians 1:6) They too were making decisions that made a negative impact on the body. It’s healthy to reflect on the life of Judas and ask what we can learn from his weakness? Our weaknesses have probably been the source of many acts of betrayal towards our pledge to Christ; thankfully God can provide a way out (1 Corinthians 10:12-13), just as Jesus told Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.”

The key? Don’t give up on Christ when it seems like He can’t help (perhaps Judas’s weakness) – that’s when He shines the brightest!

Sunday, November 8, 2020

The End of All

Try to imagine what it must have been like for God to speak the cosmos into existence. Those first words echoed through the formless and empty void of darkness, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:1-3) To know that God had a plan in mind is evident by the way He created an increasingly more complex infrastructure to support the pinnacle of His plan—mankind! Yet, the first scene we read, after mankind was created, was mistrust, rebellion, and deception. The story just gets worse from there; read Acts 7 some time to hear Stephen’s recount of the “chosen people” of God. It’s quite dismal!

Isaiah 46:9-10, “Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I [planned].’”

As God had a plan in the very beginning, He knew how the very end would happen, too. That didn’t stop Him from making great efforts to convince His creation to trust Him, to obey Him, and to live by His truth. He has given mankind plenty of reasons to put our faith in Him, and yet…

Jesus spent much of His time on earth preparing His followers, those who trusted Him, how to stay faithful even through hardships. In Luke 21 Jesus informed them that the things they’ve put a lot of trust in (like the temple), wouldn’t be what would “get them through” the difficulty.

Paul would remind Timothy of the need for a deep faith in Jesus (not the temple) in 2 Timothy 3:1-5, “There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.”

Peter would tell God’s elect, exiles, scattered throughout [Asia] that we have so much to praise God for, giving us an amazing inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade; protected by our faith in Jesus! But he told them, “for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” But these “opportunities” make our faith stronger than ever, and because of that strong faith, we will be filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy—the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9).

Thinking about “the End” can be a scary thought. But it’s one that God has had in mind from the beginning, and it doesn’t have to be awful—if we trust Him.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

End Game for the Temple

The mission statement for Habitat for Humanity describes their “love for God being modeled by bringing people together to build homes, communities and hope.” Their vision: “A world where everyone has a decent place to live.” The concept is great! People help others who are helping build their own homes. The people who will be living there are required to help on a large percentage of the construction of the home, with only limited customizations they can make to the design. Once the foundation is poured, the layout is set. From there, they won’t get to move in until the final touches are complete. But in the end – it’s theirs!

When you think about the house that Jesus is building for us, we too have to be patient for the final touches to be completed. He says in John 14:1-3, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.”

“But when will it be completed?!” is a question that many homeowners ask during the construction process which is similar to the question about the end of time. As Jesus’ earthly ministry was drawing to a close, He emphasized the difference between an earthly kingdom and the one He was building.

Imagine how you would have interpreted what He said in Luke 21:6, “The time will come when not one stone [of the temple] will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” To a Jew, the temple represented God’s dwelling with them (Exodus 25:8-9 or 1 Kings 8:27-30). Therefore, to have it destroyed (again!) would seem so utterly hopeless. The Jews had suffered the loss of their temple at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar (587 B.C.), and now Jesus was talking about something similar.

Even today people are still asking those questions, still wondering what it's all about. After all, the walls of the temple did fall in 70 A.D. by General Titus, Vespasian’s son. How are we supposed to grapple with the events leading up to “the end” when some of the specific language Jesus used has already taken place, but we’re still here!? Basically – Trust!

We must trust that what He has planned for us will come at the appropriate time. Those aren’t always the words we want to hear, but that’s what we’re reminded to do… “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown” (Revelations 2:10b). Perhaps our biggest lesson, as well as the Jews listening to Jesus, is that bad events will happen, but you must be part of God’s kingdom (the church) to remain hopeful. The temple they put their trust in was just man-made, but Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.”

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Trust in God

When did you know you were an independent person? When you got your driver’s license? Graduated high school? College? Got married? Started your career? It’s hard to know when the process actually began because there are many little steps that led to each (or most) of those achievements. The process of becoming more confident in life is quite complicated.

The actual driver’s license doesn’t mean you really know how to drive, any more than the diploma means you’ve learned what’s needed in your job. And having a marriage certificate doesn’t mean you understand what it means to pledge your heart to someone or that you’ve got it all figured out.

Somewhere in that process, there are natural moments of doubt, conflict, and then growth. These are points along the pathway that cause you to question whether or not you’re on the right path––career, spouse, even faith! Does that equate to sin?

Is it wrong to pause and reflect on your choices? Perhaps the sin comes in when I realize a flaw in my plan and choose not to do anything about it. James 4:17, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”

During Jesus’ ministry, He was under fire by the religious leaders. People who, we would assume, longed to know God and His will better. Yet, when His will was revealed, they refused to budge. In other words, they doubted the legitimacy of Jesus’ claim to be “one with the father” – (Read John 6). At one point He was asked in John 6:28, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe (trust) in the one He has sent.” To which they asked, “What sign then will You give that we may see it and believe (trust) You?”

People all throughout the Bible didn’t always understand what they were experiencing, which seriously threatened their trust in God! (Read Psalms 88 & 89 as an example). Even Job wanted a face-to-face counsel with God, Jacob wrestled God, and multiple people weren’t persuaded to fully trust God yet. In part, that’s the beauty of Scripture––we get a raw glimpse into the lives of people who chose to trust even in the uncertain spots, a decision that led to a more mature faith, but the complete abandonment of faith for others. Struggles happen!

Jesus demonstrated that He not only has power over illness, disease, hunger, even death, but He also demonstrated how He was acting out what had been prophesied about the Messiah. They could trust Him (believe in Him) to be the Messiah, the promised anointed king, or they could reject it. But that’s true for us today as well––we can choose to accept the words of God as the map that leads to our heavenly father, or we can reject them and head out to the pigpens (e.g. Luke 15:11-32).

The widow in Luke 21:1-4 trusted God with her livelihood. Her trust was her faith in God. That faith led her to give all. Those who wouldn’t be persuaded gave nothing except themselves over to their own jealousy. On this path of life there are many turns and twists that challenge our trust in God, but remember that God’s words and His actions were the proof that they needed to trust God… Are you persuaded?

Sunday, October 18, 2020

What Does Marriage Mean?

What does marriage mean? Psychology Today defined it as “the process by which two people make their relationship public, official, and permanent. It is the joining of two people in a bond that is supposed to last until death…” But a psychology magazine isn’t the best place to find out about marriage. It helps to go back to the source that shows how and when it started––the Bible.

But what do the Scriptures tell us about marriage? The purpose of it might constantly be in question in our culture, but the essence isn’t that difficult to grasp. The very fundamental purpose is bound up in creation. Creating another generation of humans to occupy the planet God has made for us. Genesis 1:26-28, where God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may… Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it…” The bigger challenge is modeling behavior that helps to love and respect others to ensure continual harmony in as many lives as possible.

However, marriage is also a very powerful symbol of our relationship between God and mankind. From Genesis to Revelation the Bible is filled with, and begins and ends with, a marriage (Genesis 1-2 and Revelations 21:9, 22:17). At the heart of it all, marriage begins with a promise to love, honor, and cherish. But, for humans, there is a lot of inconsistency in keeping promises––in marriage or otherwise. The solution is making love… into a verb. This is what Jesus demonstrated during His time on earth: Love is visible and therefore it helps define itself by what it does.

Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

If “God is love” (1 John 4:7-12), then everything He commanded us to do, is an acknowledgment of that love in action. In other words, we’re created to recreate the demonstration of God’s love to others. Marriage is probably the most universally recognized union between two people that starts with a promise, deals with differences, focuses on bringing up another generation, and ultimately has the most lasting influence on people.

Jesus compared the kingdom of God to a marriage for a reason––God has a marriage-style commitment to us, and those worthy of that commitment will have a similar commitment to those God has made in His image.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

A Rock of Offense

Most of us talk to someone every day, therefore, as Ecclesiastes 5:3 says, “…too many words make you a fool” (NLT), or as Proverbs 10:19 says, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable.” (NASB) What do I mean by bringing these verses up? Basically, the more you talk to people the more likely you say something that offends them.

To some degree, that’s just life. We’re all imperfect people, hopefully doing our best to get along with others. But it seems that we are living in an increasingly angry and easily offended world. While that’s too bad, it does give us more opportunity to exercise the principles that Jesus instituted in the Sermon on the Mount… “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.…” (Matthew 5:38-45).

Here are a few thoughts on what might help us react to times when we are offended. After all, how we handle being “offended” can make a huge difference.

1. Be cautious. Sometimes the best response is no response. James 1:19, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

2. Be calm. If you go looking for a fight, chances are you are going to find one. Romans 12:17-18, “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

3. Be clear. Think through what you want to say before you say it. Then make sure the words you use don’t create more friction. Take time to pray and meditate on what it means to be a “peacemaker,” since Jesus said that they would “be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

These high-tension moments allow the heart of who we are to shine the brightest. While we shouldn’t be looking for conflict and being offended (or being offensive), it will happen. Our goal is to lean on God’s directions to better handle those situations.

Take some time to reflect on how easily “offended” the Pharisees and priests were by Jesus’ teachings. But had they responded with more godliness, they may have been able to see more of the picture and even change their destiny. What about you? What do you need to do to mend an offended relationship? God’s word will help!

Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Authority of Christ

From our earliest years of life, most of us were taught to “respect” those in authority: parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, police, etc. And yet, most of the defining moments of our lives are developed from those crossroads where we break away from “the nest” and go our own way and establish our own “authority.” It’s as if we’ve been trained so that we can establish personal authority in a responsible way at the appropriate time.

In fact, when we meet an adult who isn’t able to make a decision without the approval of a parent, most would agree that there was an over-dependence issue. In 1961, a trial was conducted in Jerusalem concerning the Nazi war crimes committed during WWII. One person in particular on trial was Adolf Eichmann, who played an integral part in the death camps. Yet, at the trial, he claimed that he wasn’t guilty because he was “just following orders.”

Long before that trial in Jerusalem, another trial was underway against Jesus, the son of God most high. The claim was that He claimed authority that He wasn’t authorized to claim (Luke 20:1-8). However, He’d been proving his authority over and over again throughout His ministry, from His beginning sermon (Matthew 5-7), where the people recognized that “He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (7:29) to His own disciples who quickly learned that “even the winds and the waves obey Him!” (Matthew 8:27)

Jesus verified He was the Messiah to John the Baptist’s followers by doing things that demonstrated His authority. Luke 7:22-23, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of Me.” This happens to be a quote from Isaiah 61, and that entire book had a lot to do with establishing the authority of God through His promised redeemer of the world–the Messiah.

Although questioning authority is healthy if done respectfully and at the right time, the Pharisees didn’t have pure motives. When we read the Bible, we get a peek into the mind of God, and therefore we can begin to understand what His will is (Ephesians 5:17, Matthew 7:21). Jesus proved He had power even over death! That proof gives credibility to all His other actions and teachings that point to His authority over everything! It’s difficult to truly let God’s will be my authority, and not just my own interpretation of it.

Ephesians 1:18-23, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he Has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people, and His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength He exerted when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority…”

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Power of Questions

After Jesus drove out the money changers from the temple courts and began teaching the good news (Luke 19:45-20:8), those in "authority” questioned Jesus’ authority. Have you considered how important a question can be? Asking a question can be THE motivator for some meaningful endeavors. Questions can become leverage for problem solving and discovery. Questions serve as fuel for conversations. Questions can help define your passion and purpose. Think of passion and purpose as a push/pull effect, where passion pushes you toward a goal, then purpose tugs you along. Nobody likes being pushed, which is why passion only lasts for so long before it runs out. Jesus’ response wasn’t hateful, but it exposed the religious leader’s passion or purpose.

Think through scriptures to see where some important questions were asked by mankind or by God. Genesis 3, God asked Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” There’s more to that question than just a logistical inquiry: “Where are you with Me?” or “Why aren’t you where you usually meet Me for our daily walks?” To think that was a question that God asked not too long after creating mankind, but those same kinds of questions would repeat themselves. God asked Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?” (Genesis 4:6). Then He gave him the wise counsel that Cain refused to listen to. If we consider that God is asking us to “follow Him,” although He knows we have fears and doubts, then perhaps we see Him guiding us towards something that we can appreciate and become passionate about, and then find our purpose.

Purpose is different than passion. Purpose pulls you along while continually beckoning you to confirm—and re-confirm—its validity. Our purpose can be driven by our passions, which tends to be a dangerous thing. A noble purpose like service, growth, improvement, and making a positive difference, is the exception rather than the rule.

David said in Psalms 26:2-3, “Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for I have always been mindful of Your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness…”

The religious leaders seemed to recognize Jesus’ authority (John 3) but were unwilling to humbly accept it and adopt His purpose for their life. Instead, they were on a path to destroy Him. It seems they were too proud to ask the question about their own passions and purposes. What’s your passion when it comes to your religious convictions? Do you find yourself opposing God?

Consider these instructions from James 4:7-10, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God, and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn, and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.”

Sunday, September 20, 2020

The Triumphal Entry

Think about the biggest event that has happened in your life as of today. Although everyone’s “big day” might look different, there are some that are obvious to all. Jesus had one of those days. While He did a lot of amazing things that impressed people, changed lives, and even revealed the true nature of God’s will, there was still one day that was the culmination of His entire ministry and purpose for being here – The Crucifixion.

It’s the highlight of the Good News “Gospel.” Why? Because His death paid the penalty for our sins. The forgiveness of sins is essential for salvation. Thankfully, Jesus was willing to do that. The interesting thing, however, is how the entire Jewish sacrificial system reflected this one event in history that would change all cultures forever.

It began with the lamb selection day, or the triumphal entry (Luke 19:29-44). This was part of the Passover meal preparations. The Passover was a time of feasting and tension. It was a time of deliverance and fear. Those trusted God were delivered; those that failed to trust Him… weren’t.

That feast was intended to be an annual reminder of their freedom from bondage (Exodus 12:14). Yet, the Israelite history was full of captivity, defeat, failures, and rejections. It seemed that what they had been freed from still haunted them for many generations. In fact, even during Jesus’ time on earth, the people still didn’t truly honor God for being the source of deliverance. Many had a different idea in mind – a more selfish idea of what the Messiah would do for them.

Christ’s sacrifice clearly demonstrated God’s level of commitment to redeem us. Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Even though His own disciples urged him “not to return to Jerusalem!” (Matthew 16:21-23) to which Jesus replied, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

What Jesus was doing was fulfilling a greater ancient story of redemption that served as further proof of His deity and His purpose for mankind (Philippians 2:6-8) -- starting with allowing Himself to be “selected” for slaughter. 

This was one of many prophecies that would be fulfilled before Jesus would proclaim, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Perhaps as we read these passages, we can find reassurance that Jesus truly is the king that we’ve been waiting for. As the people in Bethany shouted the 118th Psalm, “…Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord, we bless You. The Lord is God, and He has made His light shine on us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will praise You; You are my God, and I will exalt You. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” (Psalms 118:15-29).

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Risks and Rewards

There are many important lessons we could learn about building our character rather than focusing only on building our careers. This can be a challenging balancing act; and one that many young professionals are constantly faced with. “Get ahead without losing yours (spiritually speaking).”

There was a concept I heard years ago in the real estate industry that I think is definitely applicable to our responses to opportunities in life… “If the joy of having it (whatever the ‘it’ may be) is worth the pain of paying it off, then the price is right.” But it takes spiritual wisdom to see the “it” from God’s perspective.

Jesus tells us, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). Jesus also reminds us it will cost us to be His disciples (John 14:25-35). Initially, we may think the risk of giving up our own desires and comforts is too great. However, when we begin to experience a transformed perspective (Romans 12:2), the Holy Spirit enables us to see and receive the rewards of a life lived in Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ first disciples risked a lot to follow Him—they left jobs, family, and security. What the disciples saw in Jesus was so profound the rewards of following Him outweighed the risks. To the disciples, the joy of following Jesus was worth the pain of losing all that was familiar to them.

Consider how that might look in the secular arena. Young professionals have to weigh the risks and rewards of taking an entry-level job after college. Should I move across the country in order to follow a career? Should I seek a higher degree to help in my career?

As God builds my character and opportunities arise, He gives me a kingdom lens to see my life. Having a kingdom view of life means God gives me the strength and the desire to love and serve others, even when it is inconvenient. It also means that God enables me to find my true identity in Jesus Christ and not in my job. Perhaps most importantly, having a kingdom view of life allows me to consider risks and rewards from an eternal perspective.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

What Do People Think of You?

In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge had a bad reputation among his peers. His selfish, cruel way of living created barriers for him. Throughout the course of his three visitors, he was given a chance to change his heart. And he did! But did people instantly trust Scrooge?

Changing your reputation can be a very difficult thing to do, perhaps because it involves a level of humility. The apostle Paul understood that very well. We can read about a time when the believers near Damascus didn’t really believe he’d changed his ways of persecuting Christians (Acts 9:23-24).

What’s your reputation like? Would you want to know how people think of you? We can spend countless hours creating an image that we want the world to see – virtually or physically – but as Jesus said in Matthew 7:20, “by their fruit you will recognize them.”

How do you change what you’ve been or how others see you? Sometimes it requires gathering new friends around you. Friends that resemble the reputation you want to emulate. Another important reputation-rebuilder is to join a team! Get involved in a place where the group has a goal of helping others. Hebrews 10:24-25 reminds us of one of the reasons for congregational assembly… “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another…”

Another thing might be to smile more. It may be skin deep sometimes, but there’s something about smiling more that helps us focus on more positive things. Paul said in Philippians 4:4, “Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do.” 

We can look back through scriptures and see several people who had to redefine who they were to their peers. One, in particular, was Zacchaeus, the tax collector. To be a Jew collecting Roman money from the Jews created instant enemies. Regardless of his job, his heart longed to see Jesus. But even Zacchaeus understood that in order to be accepted as a true follower of Jesus, he’d have to change his reputation. So, he proclaimed to the crowd, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” (Luke 19:8).

Consider how we can learn from Zacchaeus’ brave move. Do you see something in Jesus’ life that makes you want to stop being or doing things a certain way? God wants us to respond to His presence the same as Zacchaeus – in repentance!

Sunday, August 30, 2020

True Sight

Are you one of the many people who are visual learners? If so, you’re not alone – most are! That’s true in all forms of learning, including in faith. Many people followed Jesus because of what they saw him do.

Jesus said to Thomas after His resurrection, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). But Thomas wasn’t the only one to struggle with doubting that Jesus was truly the king.

It’s been an ongoing struggle that many people have to deal with – believing without seeing it first. Hebrews 11:1 reminds us that “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” And as followers of our king, it is imperative that we “live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Otherwise, we can easily be duped into believing something of this realm is more important than the kingdom of God.

Many have failed to be able to see who God really is. Eve was the first to fail at believing that God was all she needed. But “we’ve all done wrong and fail to see the glory of God’s standard” (Romans 3:23). But just like in Eve’s case, there’s someone always “prowling around like a roaring lion” who wants us to stay blind. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, “if our gospel is unrecognizable, it is unrecognizable to those who are perishing. The god of this age (Satan) has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

Blind Bartimaeus saw it, even though he was blind! In Luke 18:35-43 is this amazing story of a blind man who gained sight, but he really already had spiritual sight. When he heard that Jesus was coming through town, he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

He understood what the Apostles would later try to help the crowds “see” that Jesus was truly the heir to the throne that David spoke of in Psalms 110, “Sit at My right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion…”

The scriptures constantly reveal the power of God and the authority of Christ (Messiah) to us so that we can truly live by faith. But we, like Bartimaeus, must trust God’s plan even if we are in the midst of a storm.

1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

Friday, August 21, 2020

Not Power but Humility

Lord Acton, a noble of Groppoli, wrote this in a letter to a priest at the end of the 19th century: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men...” Acton was pointing out an inherent danger of obtaining power, prestige, and popularity – pride!

Paul said of the hunger for money in 1 Timothy 6:9-10, “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” As you read that verse in context, Paul had been addressing the need to honor those leaders who work hard among you… “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” (Deuteronomy 25:4 and Leviticus 19:13). But ultimately he was addressing the risky position of “desiring the office of overseer” both for those who follow their leadership and those who lead. Power is a sensitive quality to claim.

Jesus had already described the kind of leader that was worthy in God’s eyes. He said after He washed the disciples’ feet in John 13:13-16, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” He had said earlier in Matthew 23:11, “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

In Luke 18:10-14, Jesus tells a parable of two men: Pharisee and a tax-collector. As we’ study through Luke, we can see how much attention Jesus gives towards the arrogance of those who “think” they are the righteous ones. They thought of themselves as the religiously powerful ones, which would prove to be their failing.

Seriously consider the point Jesus is making in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10)… “Blessed are the: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted because of righteousness… for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The power of God isn’t in worldly power but in humility. 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Persistent Widow

Imagine it’s your first day of work at your new job. You get up early, get ready, head out the door, only to find your tire on your car is flat! In a desperate attempt to change it without getting dirty, you realize you can’t find your jack. Plan B. Call your neighbor and ask them if they’d be willing to take you to work, but you discover they are on vacation! So, you go another route; you call a friend across town and beg them to take you to work. The phone rings and rings, but…no answer! Finally, you call an acquaintance that you hope will be merciful to you and come pick you up. They agree, and you get your ride and show up with five minutes to spare.

In that scenario, the desperation drives you to do something you normally wouldn’t do: humble yourself and ask for help. Perhaps that scene is more real to you than you’d like to admit. When we are in a serious pinch, we tend to become bolder or more courageous.

As Jesus is describing the nature of God’s kingdom to His followers and the Pharisees, He shares the story of the Persistent Widow. It’s a story of a woman, all alone, needing something she can’t provide on her own. And Jesus reveals that it was her persistence that paid off.

In comparison, the Pharisees did not feel they were in a desperate situation. As far as they were concerned, they were a perfect example for the people. Just read Matthew 23:1-7 or verse 15, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” Even Paul had considered himself to be a higher caliber of person before coming to Christ – Philippians 3:4-6.

Satan constantly points us in different directions to chase after things that make us feel secure, but ultimately, they are “meaningless!”, like the author of Ecclesiastes says. False security tends to kill perseverance. Perseverance is the fruit of hope as Paul writes in Romans 5:2-6, “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

God’s kingdom isn’t like the kingdoms of this world. Therefore, we find security in His power to make all things right in the end. That’s what the souls under the altar learned when the slaughtered lamb opened the Fifth Seal in Revelations 6:9-11. They learned they would need to wait on the Lord’s justice to avenge the wrongs they had faced. We have to do the same thing – be patient, trusting, “never give up in doing good” (Galatians 6:9).

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Promised Kingdom

Could you walk away from your friends, your career, your faith if it went against God’s will? That’s a serious question that people all around the world throughout the centuries have had to ask. Jesus said in Matthew 16:26-27, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what they have done.”

Sin has a way of looking so sweet, so enticing, so easy and comfortable that it causes many to chase after it. In fact, John tells us, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world— the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)

The challenge is to recognize God’s way as superior to anything else offered to us. Is that easy? Not usually, but very worth it. Jesus told His disciples that His kingdom was prepared for people that know how to stay focused on the eternal (AKA–remain faithful). That kingdom is a beautiful promise that was made long ago, but we are still waiting for the full picture to be seen.

People like Noah and Moses faithfully prepared for and followed the pathway that would lead to God’s kingdom. We even see stories from the past that foreshadow the final coming of God’s kingdom–like the Exodus, or even Lot leaving Sodom. “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4).

We’re told in Luke 17:32, “Remember Lot’s wife.” She had trouble leaving her past. In fact, her past consumed her, and she didn’t make it through the fiery trial her family faced. What about you? Are you facing a trial that seems too big to turn down, too hard to walk away? Find comfort in these words from 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Blessings in The Kingdom

It’s been my experience when I travel to a foreign country that I must look American. They just know it. What if God’s kingdom works like that? People know we’re part of God’s family by how we carry ourselves--what we say, how we say it, what we do, where we go, or where we don’t go.

Jesus indicated that we would be known by our love for others. John 13:34-35, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples if you love one another.” Everyone will be able to see it!

Peter reminds early believers, in 1 Peter 2:12, “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.”

Our lifestyles tell a lot about the kingdom we are associated with. Paul wrote to the folks in Colossae about how to conduct themselves. Colossae was located in the tri-city region of the Lycus valley, known for its refreshing cold springs but also for its devastating earthquakes. In a place where both blessings and curses were recognized, it was important to live a life that reflected a blessing.

Colossians 3:12-14, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”

These words were true for them as much as they are true for us. People may not always be convinced of what makes America great by reading the headlines, but when they get to know people that belong to the kingdom of God, I hope they see what a blessing really looks like! Be the light!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Being Grateful

If you read the headlines much, COVID-19 is probably going to be found somewhere in what you read or watch fairly quickly. It’s a virus that has consumed nearly every conversation. While there are many feelings being expressed about the steps the world has taken to protect us, at the end of the day, the inconveniences of it all can cause us to become more frustrated.

The exact number of those who have had the virus, those who have died from it, and those who have recovered, may be a little challenging to find. However, one thing that might be helpful to reflect on is that more recover than not. More people don’t even get it than do.

Another way to say it is, “be grateful for your health.” If you get out amongst people much (perhaps before Corona), you meet all kinds of folks: some better off than you, some not; some prettier than you, some not; some smarter than you, some not.

When you’re in a situation you don’t want to be in, remember it nearly always “could be worse.” Most likely, I’m writing to believers. And as believers, you can see how God has outlined a plan that can, and has, rescued us from a lot of awful things in this life. It’s our job to share this “good news.”

There were 10 lepers we read about in Luke 17 that had been ostracized from their families; they’d been regarded as rejects of society, yet they recognized what turning to Jesus was their only hope. What Jesus prescribed for them to do was to “go show yourself to the priest" and follow the law given by Moses.

Focusing on Jesus--and His way of living--isn’t limited only to those with diseases. His way of life is exactly what we need to promote in our hurting communities. Consider this passage from Romans 12:9-18 as a good pattern for us to follow. “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

These actions aren’t easy, but they help people be grateful for the blessings they enjoy and even help them through the difficulties they don’t enjoy. Be a blessing!

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Law of Christ

Doing the “right and just” thing may not always be the best route to further friendships. However, ignoring sinful behavior or something that harms a relationship isn’t a good route either. Paul mentions in Galatians 6:1-2, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

What’s it mean to live according to the “law of Christ” as in Galatians 6:2? In the context of his letter, Paul is dealing with some “Jew vs. Gentile” issues like the lawyer who asked about how to inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25). Sadly, many followers of Christ make stipulations for “carrying someone’s burden. Jesus answers the lawyer by telling him the famous “Good Samaritan” parable. That story focused on loving people by helping people regardless of who they are or what they’ve done.

Jesus continued to illustrate through a series of parables the difference between worldly kingdoms and God’s kingdom (Romans 8:5-8). Perhaps Godliness can seem impossible to live out at times. One of the most challenging attributes to adopt is forgiveness. To forgive someone who has wronged you is incredibly difficult for many people. Why? Pride? Vulnerability? There might be many reasons, but it has been a continual plague on societies since the beginning of time.

Jesus highlighted something in Luke 17 that I believe addresses what it takes to forgive the way God does – FAITH! “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you…” (Luke 17:3-6)  A tree requires soil to grow, and it couldn’t survive without it. In the same way, it’s a foreign concept to forgive people who wrong you without seeking justice. Showing mercy, forgiveness, takes a lot of faith in someone who just hurt you in some way. It may seem like the relationship can’t grow, but Jesus was illustrating the power of faith in those situations. To have faith that NOT exercising justice may be best for the relationship.

Jesus carried our burden on His shoulders on the way to the cross, and His approach was unfathomable by religious leaders and people knowledgeable of the prophets. 1 Corinthians 2:7, “We declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.”

God’s wisdom of loving a neighbor as our self seems as impossible as planting a tree in the ocean, but to have faith that mending relationships by God’s way can mean growth in that relationship is still possible regardless of how they sin against us.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Increase My Faith

In a court of law, good evidence is critical. With it, a jury can feel more confident about making a difficult decision about someone’s freedom. But evidence is key in bringing justice. While that makes perfect sense in the legal arena, what about in the spiritual one?

Jesus said in Matthew 7:16, “By their fruit, you will recognize them!” Meaning that our actions serve as evidence of our faith, or our lack of faith; our love, or lack of love. How we treat people becomes one of the most opportune areas of our life to show a lack of faith. What I mean by that is that people let us down, people have secret agendas, people don’t always show us the respect we feel we deserve, and therefore people probably test us more than any other thing in existence on whether or not we will demonstrate “faith” in God’s will.

Jesus prayed in John 17 an amazing prayer of selfless love for all those who would follow His example. I’ve taken the liberty to modify verses 14-21 to reflect how “the world” is really the people, and “the people” He’s referring to are those who oppose God’s will that we “love one another” (Galatians 6:2). So, prayerfully consider this paraphrase of Christ’s last prayer before His arrest. “I have [revealed to them what Your will is] (Matthew 22:37-39); and [people] have hated them [for it], for [these followers don’t pursue selfish desires] any more than I am [selfish]. My prayer is not that You take them [away from selfish people] but that You protect them from the evil one. They [are not living by selfish standards anymore], even as I am not [living selfishly]. Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent me [to reach out to selfish people], I have sent them [to reach out to selfish people. So, I set myself apart from that human weakness so they can follow My example]. My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.”

Being “of the world” is more than just selfishness, but that is a flaw in humanity that causes more retaliation, more prejudice, more division, and more hatred than nearly anything else. The Pharisees' selfish desires were not only hurting their neighbors but also jeopardizing their own souls! “...unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20). What must we learn from them? What must we do to increase our faith in God’s plan for mankind?

Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Why Questions of Life

Why? Such a deep question, or sometimes a thoughtless question. Sometimes it’s a lazy question. Truth is many people have the “why” question itching in their minds for a whole host of scenarios in life. We also find ourselves asking a lot of why questions when we read the Bible – “why is that?”

The big challenge is understanding what our Creator wants us to see. But in reality, it's no different than any other relationship we’ll ever be in. We might say of our spouse or a friend, “Why don’t they get it?” Or “Why do they continue to act that way when they know how it makes me feel?” There are just so many times we don’t really understand why someone acts the way they do… including our own actions!

The story of the Rich man and Lazarus has served as a sneak-peak into an “after death” scene for many people. Not all scholars agree that this is the intention of Jesus in telling this. But if not, then “Why tell it?”

One important step to take in trying to understand a passage of scripture is the context. The context is the setting: geographically, or the prior conversations, things like that. (Go back to Luke 14 for some help). Another important step is having an overall gist of God’s plan or His will. (A great example is found in Matthew 22:37-39.) Some might say, “How can I know the will of God?” Yet, that is in part the purpose of giving us a written word to go back through and discover how God reacted to one human behavior versus another. Romans 15:4, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”

Paul reminds us in Ephesians 5:17, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” In a sense, the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 was an example of a foolish man. He ignored what apparently was already being revealed to him by Moses and the prophets. Proverbs 10:8, “The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin.”

We’re not told much about the rich man except that he had an opportunity to help someone in need with the wealth he’d been blessed to manage, but he completely ignored that opportunity. Why? Why didn’t he ever feel compassion for the hungry man lying at his gate with boils? Why didn’t he give him anything? How about us? What kind of opportunities are right at our gate that we’ve been blind to?

In this story, the moral was that the scriptures (Moses and the prophets) were revealing God’s will to the rich man so that he could have listened and obeyed and avoided that awful place. He chose to stay ignorant. Perhaps that’s the big lesson that we should take from this passage even more than whether or not this story is a snapshot of the afterlife or not.

“Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest…” (John 4:1-38 – read this passage to get the context) serves as a great reminder of our purpose down here.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

A Rich Father

Fast food restaurants try to figure out the best combo meal deal, so you'll be enticed and satisfied enough to want to keep coming back for more. There probably is some combination of sweet deals, or loving words, or adventure that might catch your attention in life.

What would God use to catch your attention? Eternal life?! Being truly loved? Peace?

Jesus often used a series of parables or teachings to get his point across. One place in particular is Luke 15, the parable of lost sheep, coin, and son. They all tell a story that in some ways "entices" you to long for God's kingdom and how it functions.

But there may be a different set of parables that Jesus was using to help us "get it" than those three together.

The lost sheep and coin highlight the value God places on anyone in his kingdom - no favoritism! (Romans 2:11).

But what if the prodigal son, prodigal manager, and the rich man and Lazarus were intended to be "heard" together?

They all start in a story form, more so than the sheep and coin parables. They all address a rich man. The big difference is between the character of the rich men. One is sacrificial in his giving even to someone who didn't deserve it (the son), the next one focuses on his response to his servant who "blesses" the rich man's debtors with a kind of forgiveness of debts (but for a personal gain purpose), the last one tells of a rich man was stingy towards those needing "blessings."

When read together, it helps shed light on the meaning of the "unjust steward" (Luke 16:1-13). This parable has caused many scholars to scratch their heads in confusion.

God is the rich father who is willing to bless His children (Matthew 7:7-12), and even empowers them to bless other people with what He has entrusted to them (2 Corinthians 9:6-11). He doesn't want us to be stingy with what He has blessed us with (Hebrews 13:16).

In each of these stories, there is a mention of, or a reference to, the fact that generosity is a big deal to God and that's what all of the law and the prophets were pointing towards--a rich father who wants us to use the riches He bestows upon us to bless others.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

A Father's Tale

Sometimes we read stories in the Bible, and they are either so familiar or so foreign to us that we can’t seem to find a focal point in the lesson. The prodigal son is one of Jesus’ most famous parables, but it’s more than a story of a forgiving father. It’s also a picture of how our Father’s kingdom functions. I found this fantastic summary of this parable that I wanted to share with you.

Luke 15:11-32
“Feeling footloose and frisky, a feather-brained fellow forced his fond father to fork over the farthings and flew to foreign fields and frittered his fortune, feasting fabulously with faithless friends.

"Fleeced by his fellows, fallen by fornication, and facing famine, he found himself a feed-flinger in a filthy farmyard. Fairly famishing, he fain would have filled his frame with foraged food from fodder fragments. “Fooey! My father’s flunkies fare finer,” the frazzled fugitive forlornly fumbled, frankly facing facts. Frustrated by failure and filled with foreboding, he fled forthwith to his family. Falling at his father’s feet, he forlornly fumbled, “Father, I’ve flunked and fruitlessly forfeited family favor!”

"The farsighted father, forestalling further flinching, frantically flagged the flunkies to fetch a fatling from the flock and fix a feast.

"The fugitive’s fault-finding brother frowned on fickle forgiveness of former folderol. But the faithful father figured, “Filial fidelity is fine, but the fugitive is found! What forbids fervent festivity? Let flags be unfurled. Let fanfares flare”

"And the father’s forgiveness formed the foundation for the former fugitive’s future faith and fortitude.” -- (Attributed to W.O. Taylor)

Would you be able to summarize this story based on what you just read? Truth is we often get hung up on words or one scene from the story, and we fail to see what the story is really telling us. The beauty of God’s word is that the more you see the big picture of God’s goal, the more you see how each teaching, miracle, or command leads us closer to acting like we’re part of God’s kingdom!

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Lost Coin

On March 12, 2009, Bernie Madoff pleaded guilty to operating the largest private Ponzi scheme in history. He defrauded over $65 billion from clients that trusted him for the security of their financial future. Workers at places like Enron experienced an extreme loss of their retirements, and although some of that money has been recovered, many people will end their time on the earth with much less than they planned on.

What happens when our plans change due to someone else’s neglect or irresponsibility? Culturally speaking, it makes our blood boil to hear of those kinds of stories, especially when it involves those we love. However, what would it be like to have been one of his employees that didn’t know anything about the scam? Their next steps might make all the difference to those that knew them well. Did they help fight to get their money back? Or were they helping out in other ways to help people cope with their loss? Those people trusted Bernie to help them have a secure future, but they put their trust in the wrong guy!

Spiritually speaking, the Jews were supposed to be the mouthpiece for God’s kingdom; however, their track record proved that they did a lousy job of that. Paul said in Romans 2:17-24, “Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know His will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: 'God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.'”

In other words, they misrepresented the Messiah and God’s kingdom to their own people. Jesus repeatedly reprimanded the religious leaders for their hypocrisy. Consider the story of the Lost Coin (Luke 15) as an example of someone who lost something in his own house. That “someone” was the Jewish leaders who had been negligent of what was in their care – the Kingdom's message. The house represents the nation they possessed – Israel. The object didn’t know it was lost; it just stayed where the careless owner had left it. Jesus is revealing the humility required to admit something is lost and then the effort to find it.

God, and all heaven with Him, rejoices when people turn to God for the help that only He can provide. How about you? Do you need God’s help?

Sunday, June 7, 2020

The Purpose of Parables

What does it take to get the message? Parents will often say something like that to their kids when they keep making the same mistakes. Employers say that to employees; coaches to players; generals to soldiers.

But the truth is we do continue to make mistakes when we should be learning from them. Paul said it this way in Romans 7:18-20, “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”

Any honest believer can completely own those words. Jesus said in Mark 14:38, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

However, sometimes the right story, the right time, or the right person saying it, can hit home perfectly. That’s why preaching is important; maybe someone else saying what you’ve been thinking about helps it all to make sense. (Just consider why there are four gospels, or why there were over 40 authors of God’s inspired word?!)

Jesus told parables as a huge part of His teaching ministry. But they weren’t just cute stories about God; they were memorable ways to get the concept of God’s kingdom into our minds. Ultimately, the parables serve as a kind of “chewable” version of what the Bible has spent over 1500 years explaining how God’s kingdom would function.

In God’s kingdom, the people are the important piece, not the crown, or the castle, or even the titles. He values each person, and He wants every last one of them to accept the invitation to join Him at the Table to celebrate His Kingship together… (2 Peter 3:9) “…[He’s] not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

God’s kingdom functions upside-down from the principles of this world, but it takes a great deal of faith and maturity to bear up under what seems “unfair” or “unjust” (Ephesians 4:2-3) and trust that God’s will has the power to overcome anything – in this life or the next!

People want things to function like they’ve always seen it function. Sometimes, even if it doesn’t work very well! As we’re trying to “get back to normal,” let’s try to explore what we need to do in order to function more like the image of God’s kingdom rather than our culture.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Promoting the Kingdom

How do you promote America? Are you proud of this nation? Imagine going to a land where very little was known about how America is supposed to function, or how its laws are implemented. Would it be easy to describe to someone who had never experienced freedom before? Or been part of a democratic republic like ours?

Jesus had a mission to reveal the Kingdom of Heaven to the world. It makes sense that God’s kingdom would have something similar to what God created in the first place. After all, it was sin that messed up His paradise. So, His kingdom would be a kind of copy of what Eden had started off being.

In fact, throughout God’s relationship with the Israelites, reminders of Eden were constantly being brought to their attention. Within the tabernacle, God had a scene that was to be observed that mimicked Eden.

In Exodus 31, God commissions Bezalel and Oholiab to build everything in the tabernacle “just as He tells them too.” Think how a homeowner tries to convey their plans and ideas to a home builder: they want it just right. So does God, and for a good reason.

Eden is seen in the Tabernacle, later the temple. From Adam and Eve being commissioned to care for God’s “temple” or Eden (Genesis 2:15) to the most holy place being where God meets with them every day (Genesis 3:8). The place was filled with images of trees, fruit, pools of water, a never-ending light, etc.

The point is that everywhere the Israelites moved to, they took this image of Eden with them. So, a subliminal message was always being planted in their minds about what God’s kingdom would “look” like, but Adam and Eve (and everyone else) failed to realize is how it functions. That’s what Jesus came to reveal.

Hebrews 9:23-24, “It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.”

After Jesus showed us a true and powerful love for all mankind by giving His life to save ours, He established a kind of diplomatic union (church) to go help other people see how His kingdom will function upon Christ’s return.

Take time to reflect on the importance of promoting God’s kingdom.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Favoritism Rejected

What if we could crawl inside the mind of God and see what He sees when He looks at us…all of us? I can only imagine, how on that day that He created mankind as the crowning pinnacle of the cosmos, what He reflected on during His Day of Rest. He saw something with great potential to powerfully impact all that God spoke into existence. But temptation took control of His creation. In fact, it was that very desire to “know what God knows” that caused them to fall (Genesis 3).

The rest of the Bible serves as a tool to get inside the mind of God. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:11-12, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.”

What the Spirit reveals is God’s unique look at us! Romans 2:11 reveals this simple truth about our creator: “God does not show favoritism.” Time after time, Jesus healed anyone who would seek Him. The religious leaders even recognized that in Luke 20:21, “Teacher, we know that You speak and teach what is right, and that You do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.”

Unfortunately, Christians can fall under the same temptation as Eve and the rest of the world. We can want to be elevated to a higher position in people’s eyes, but that hunger usually comes at a price.

Jesus warned against that in Matthew 6:2-4, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Or James said in James 2:1-4, “Believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism… If you show special attention to [someone], have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (5-8) Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? … If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing right.”

Consider how you can practice this kind of Christian demonstration during these odd
and challenging times. To view one another through a God-like lens, it may surprise
you the opportunities around you to bless someone in a special way.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Repentance: A Kind of Graduation

Graduation is a time of celebration when completing one phase of life and moving on to better things.

1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”

Philippians 3:12-14, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

In context, Paul is reprimanding the Corinthians for their divisive and selfish nature (1 Corinthians), and he’s encouraging the Philippians to continue in their love for people (Philippians 1:9-11). In either case, he’s promoting the concept of repentance! If repentance is turning away from one way of doing something and turning towards another, then we could say that repentance is a kind of graduating from an old way of living and starting a new way of living.

It’s true that moving on can be a little scary, but when you have the support of experienced “graduates” cheering you on, it’s much easier. That is what Paul spent most of his time writing to churches to repent or to give up that old way of living and embrace the brand-new road ahead that’s filled with promise and hope.

Hebrews 12:1-3, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Struggles

The struggle is beyond the planting and raising. 

From the first moments, a mother welcomes the little life of her baby into this world, she understands the responsibility that comes with being a mother. For some, the pressure is too great, but for many others, it’s a noble calling filled with ups and downs. In the end, raising children is the most fulfilling venture in human existence.

But the struggle doesn’t go away at graduation. Perhaps as the mother’s body nurtures that baby while it grows in her womb, so parenting nurtures that child’s life while it's still at home. Time will tell if the effort, the wisdom, the sacrifice, the struggle a parent goes through for 18 years was successful or not.

Every God-fearing parent surely longs to hear the news that John heard about those worshiping with Gaius in 3 John 4, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” But walking in the truth is more than going to church; it’s living according to the kingdom of God. This helps us see the roles of parents in a child’s life – to teach kingdom principles!

Proverbs 1:8-10, “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck. My son, if sinful men entice you, do not give in to them…”

Psalms 119:9-11, “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

Share God’s word with your children. They grow up to be men and women who will be faced with decisions of morality, faithfulness, and justice. How will they do it alone? Mothers wear the burden of parenting their entire life. To see their children utilize discernment and wisdom brings such a wonderful sigh of relief.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Understand

Why didn’t the Pharisees pick up on the many fulfilled prophecies by Jesus (over 300 by His crucifixion), during His ministry? These were the guys trained in the Torah, they read the prophets, and they knew the history – how could they miss it?

In reality, they chose to miss it! After all, King Herod called the religious leaders together years earlier to help reveal when and where the Messiah would show up (Matthew 2:3-6). And Nicodemus (a Pharisee) came to Jesus at night and confessed they knew (John 3:2). But what they “knew” and what they understood was different. At least, when we read 1 Corinthians 2:8, “None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

Perhaps the most logical explanation is they were jealous! Jealousy is a destructive force that has left a trail of collateral damage throughout history. Paul describes the human condition by summing up our actions when left on our own. Galatians 5:19-21, “The acts of the flesh are obvious: …hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions…”

Jesus, our king, came to earth to accomplish amazing spiritual things for us that through Him we can live not to the human nature, but to the spiritual nature. To do that it takes patience, kindness, forgiveness… all the fruit of having the Spirit that is mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23!

Our desire, as citizens of the heavenly kingdom (Phillipians 3:20), should be to truly embrace what the Pharisees didn’t want to understand. God’s kingdom has a new way to live that blesses people around us; it embraces times spent with loved ones and even total strangers. Right now, we are living in a unique time in history when our secular government has tried to prompt us to spend time together.

These are serious times with serious issues going on, but the positive side is we’ve had the opportunity to let our jealousies go and seek for ways to encourage one another. And all of this makes our longing to be near to those we love so much even stronger.