Today’s Scripture – December 11, 2017

Luke 11:37-41 (NIV) When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. But the Pharisee, noticing that Jesus did not first wash before the meal, was surprised.
Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But give what is inside [the dish] to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.

The Pharisees placed great pride in their external holiness, their conspicuous obedience to the smallest detail of every commandment. This got them great praise from the common people, but, as Jesus was about to demonstrate, it did not earn them any praise from God.

Devout Jews performed a ceremonial washing of their hands before they ate and any time that they came in from the world, in case they had contacted anything unclean. Their fear was that the uncleanness would adhere to their hands, and then contaminate their food, and thus make them unclean when they ate. But this Pharisee noticed and was dismayed by the fact that Jesus did not perform this traditional ceremonial washing before He sat down to eat. His question was, how can someone who is supposed to be such a great holy man not do this small ritual to maintain His holiness against the spiritual uncleanness of the world.

But Jesus knew that physical contact with the world was not what made a person unclean. Instead, it was what came out of a person’s heart that caused them to be seen as unclean by God (Mark 7:14-16). We can scrub our hands for hours and still have a corrupt heart filled with hatred and violence, and thus still be completely unclean in God’s sight, even if our hands are squeaky clean.

And this was the point that Jesus was making with this man. Even though Jesus’ hands were unwashed, His heart was free of pollution from the world. The presence and power of the Holy Spirit so filled Jesus, so forcefully flowed through His life and out of His life, that no spiritual uncleanness could ever swim against the current to penetrate His heart.

If the Pharisee really wanted to stay spiritually clean in the midst of a sinful world, he needed to have a generous and giving spirit that would open a path for the Holy Spirit to penetrate his heart and flow through his life. Then he would not be able to be defiled by the world.

Father, we can still fall into the trap of doing good things on the outside, and believe that that makes us good on the inside. We can surround ourselves with ceremonies, believing that those ceremonies will somehow purify our hearts. But what is really needed is a heart that is open to Your cleansing power, and the sanctifying and sustaining power of the Holy Spirit. Help me to keep my focus on the positive holiness of actively living in Your kingdom economy, instead of simply trying to keep bad stuff out or cleaned off. Then I can be truly holy in Your power. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 10, 2017

Luke 11:33-36 (NIV) “No one lights a lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body also is full of darkness. See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your whole body is full of light, and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of a lamp shines on you.”

The people who belong to the kingdom are full of light. But it is not our own light. The brightest light of this world is darkness compared to the light of the kingdom. Jesus’ own light is the light of the kingdom, and the true light of the world, as well.

That truth lies behind Jesus’ statement in John 9:5: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” But it also lies behind Jesus statement to His followers in Matthew 5:14: “You are the light of the world.” Again, this light does not originate in our own spiritual vitality or holiness, but is derivative of Jesus’ spiritual vitality and holiness as He indwells His followers through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Just as Jesus did not hide His light under a basket, but let it shine conspicuously everywhere He went, so He calls on His followers to put their light on a lampstand to shine conspicuously. Jesus came to do away with the darkness by shining the light of God into the areas where it lives – and that is a huge function of His disciples as well.

For that reason, the followers of Jesus have two aspects of their lives that they must keep tabs on. The first is to ensure that the light within them does not get darkened by sin. Otherwise, there will be nothing within them that can shine, nothing in them that can fight the dark.

The others aspect is to ensure that there is nothing blocking the escape of the light. A “good eye” in Hebrew is a figure of speech that symbolizes a generous heart. A “bad eye” is a figure of speech symbolizing a stingy heart. Jesus’ point then is that a stingy heart will negate any light that exists in a person, but an open, generous heart will act like the clear glass of a lighthouse, allowing the light of God’s presence in our hearts to shine brightly.

Father, it is easy to remember that Jesus said that HE was the light of the world, but we forget that He identified US as the light of the world as well, as His light shines through our lives. Help me to make sure that no sin is allowed to dim Your light in me, and that no stinginess or lack of love is allowed to shutter the light inside, so that You can use me to light up all of the dark places around me. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 7, 2017

Luke 11:29-32 (NIV) As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.”

Many of the religious leaders pestered Jesus for a miraculous sign that would prove that He had come from God. The signs that He was already doing were surprisingly not good enough for these people, signs that included healing the sick, casting out demons, feeding multitudes with miraculously produced food, and even raising the dead! They would not accept any of those as adequate proof. Instead, they demanded that Jesus do a miracle of their own choosing; that Jesus, and by extension God, jump to their tune before they would be willing to believe.

Of course, Jesus was not willing to fit Himself into their agenda to try to win their approval, because He knew that He would not get it, even if He did comply with their request. Instead, He promised them an amazing miracle of God’s choosing that He called the sign of Jonah. Jesus more clearly defines this sign in Matthew 13;40: just as Jonah was in the belly of a great fish, disgorged alive on the third day, so He would be placed in a tomb in the belly of the earth, and come forth alive on the third day.

But there was more. Just as Jonah had come as a sign to the Ninevites, proclaiming God’s doom on them unless they repented, his miraculous deliverance from death proving the validity of his credentials, so Jesus was a sign to those in power in Jerusalem, proclaiming God’s doom on them unless they repented, and His miraculous resurrection from the dead would prove His credentials to make such a proclamation.

The Ninevites had repented in sackcloth at the preaching of Jonah and saved themselves and their city from being utterly destroyed by God’s wrath. But Jesus knew that these leaders would not repent, and that ultimately they, their city, and their temple would be totally destroyed (Luke 21:6). And, of course, it all happened exactly as He foretold.

Jesus also condemned the leaders of the Jews for standing far off and building walls between themselves and Him. The queen of Sheba had come seeking Solomon for his amazing wisdom. But these leaders refused to acknowledge that Jesus had even greater wisdom than Solomon ever dreamed of having, even though it was something that He demonstrated to them on a regular basis.

 Father, only those with open eyes can see who Jesus truly is. Only those with open eyes can see that the things that He did were signs of His credentials directly from You. Even today so many are satisfied with debating Jesus from their lofty seats in academia, but the whole time are totally blind to who He truly was and is, with eyes that cannot see Your truth. Thank You, Lord, for opening my eyes, so that I can see. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 6, 2017

Luke 11:27-28 (NIV) As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”
He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

The crowds recognized that Jesus’ words were true and right, even though the Pharisees did not. The crowd recognized that Jesus’ power came from God, because they saw what He was doing without bias, even though the Pharisees saw everything that He did through lenses tinted by their biases against Him.

One of the women in the crowd shouted, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” She was not being impious in the least, nor was she attempting to instill worship of Mary, Jesus’ mother. She was simply stating that Jesus was such an amazing and exceptional person that His mother was blessed to have a son like Him, and even implying that a woman would have to be especially blessed by God to bear a son like Him.

This does not go against Scripture at all. In fact, Gabriel twice told Mary that she was highly favored by God (Luke 1:28, 30), Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, twice pronounce her especially blessed among women (Luke 1:42, 45), and Mary herself understood that she was especially blessed to be called upon to be the mother of the Messiah (Luke 1:48).

Jesus could have taken this opportunity to double down on all of this and affirm the unique blessedness of His mother. But He didn’t. Instead, He turned the focus away from all of that, and toward the key to kingdom life: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” In other words, even though Mary had been blessed indeed to be used as a vessel for the birth of Jesus, God’s focus was forward, to the establishment and growth of His kingdom. The blessed ones were not those who had been selected in the past, but those who elected to live in the kingdom in the future.

The people of God’s kingdom, those who are blessed now, are those who both hear God’s word, and who obey it. Who not only know the righteous requirements of the law, but who obey them as well. This is the basis of James’ urging to not “merely listen to the word,” but to “do what it says.” (James 1:22)

In essence, God’s focus on blessedness is not on the saints and heroes of the faith in the past, but on the saints and heroes of the faith in the present. Those who obeyed in the past were blessed indeed. But there are great blessings reserved for those who live in His kingdom here and now.

Father, we do so often get caught up in elevating the so-called saints of the past without realizing that we are called to be saints today – bright lights in our sin-darkened world, beacons that lead the way for those lost and wandering in sin. Help us to live out that calling, not forgetting those who have gone before, but also not elevating them in our own minds above what You are able to do in and through us today. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 5, 2017

Luke 11:24-26 (NIV) “When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first.”

The tragedy that Jesus is talking about here was experienced by many people in His day, and is still tragically experienced by many people today. Jesus cast out many demons during His earthly ministry, sometimes several from the same person. He did this not only to deliver those held captive, but to show forth the reality of the kingdom.

The tragedy came because some of these people simply returned to their old lives, their old ways of doing things that had opened them up to demonic influences in the first place. So they were easy targets to become “repossessed.” The same old demons that had been cast out returned to find the heart of their victim empty, and so simply moved back in, often with additional demons as well, making that person more wretched and miserable than they were before.

The same thing happens today in a subtly different manner. When someone decides to turn away from habits and activities that have them bound, to start going to church, maybe even to “accept Jesus,” but then go back to their old lives, their old ways of doing things that had opened them up to captivity in the first place, they become easy targets to be taken captive again. May quickly revert to their old habits, and often end up worse off than they were before.

The solution today is the same one that was necessary in Jesus’ day. That is, to realize that it is not enough to simply cast out the old evil spirits. The empty space then needs to be filled with the Holy Spirit, so that when the old spirits return, they do not find an empty space simply waiting to be refilled. They will find a holy occupant filling every space in that person’s life, leaving no room at all for them. And they will go away, and not return as long as the Holy Spirit is in residence.

Father, this is an all-too-familiar story. We see it happen all the time that a person “gets saved,” but then turns away soon after, often falling deeper into captivity to sin than they were before. We write them off as “shallow soil,” but the reality may simply be that we stopped too soon, and did not ensure their stability and the presence of the Holy Spirit in their hearts before we left them on their own. How many of those “relapses” could have been prevented with better, more intentional discipleship and mentoring? Help me, Lord, to walk more closely with those who are new to the faith, to ensure that they are well-discipled, well-rooted, well-established, before I move on. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 4, 2017

Luke 11:23 (NIV) “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.

Jesus is still addressing these words to the Pharisees who have accused Him of being able to cast out demons only because He Himself was possessed by the king of demons. In the previous two paragraphs, He has successfully rebutted their accusation, as well as credibly painting Himself as being personally much more powerful than the demons, and even more powerful than the king of demons, satan himself.

Now Jesus goes on to make two self-confirmatory statements that speak not only to His power, but to His identity.

The first statement, “He who is not with me is against me,” seems strange for him to have to verbalize. Isn’t it obvious that if someone is not for a person, they are on the opposite side?

But Jesus is not being philosophical. He is actually challenging the Pharisees to choose one side or the other. And in the light of the previous discourse and the power that He has demonstrated over the demonic forces that had stymied the best efforts of the Pharisees, this statement has an extra impact.

Jesus has shown that He is more powerful than the demons, because He is literally driving out the demons by the finger of God, and as a sign that the kingdom of God was present in His own life (verse 20 above). That means that if the Pharisees continue to work against Jesus, they are aligning themselves with the demons that His is defeating, and ultimately against God Himself.

The second statement nests neatly with the first: “He who does not gather with me scatters.” If Jesus really is the messenger of God’s kingdom, which the miracles and His ability to cast out demons proves, the He is at work gathering God’s people into God’s kingdom, the work to which He was called (Luke 19:10). And, consequently, any who oppose Him, who try to cast doubt on who He is and on where His power comes from, are frustrating His efforts. And, if they succeed at all, they will only succeed in scattering those that God is trying to gather to Himself through the work of Jesus. Thus, again, they will find themselves working against God, and against what He is trying to accomplish through Jesus.

Father, Jesus’ strength in the face of this opposition came from His sure knowledge that He was doing Your work in every detail. There was not a speck of His own agenda in there, so He could actually say that to stand against Him was to stand against You, and that to frustrate the work that He was doing was to work against what You were doing through Him. Lord, help me to do Your will as completely, as selflessly, as passionately as Jesus. Help me to so identify with You, to so commit myself to Your agenda, that Your purpose becomes fully my own, and Your own passion fully consumes me, so that Your kingdom work will advance powerfully through me. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 2, 2017

Luke 11:21-22 (NIV) “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils.”

Jesus continues to teach those who accused Him of being able to cast out demons only because He Himself was possessed by the king of the demons. Jesus had already challenged that idea successfully, effectively showing where His ability did not come from. Now He moves on to show how He was able to do what He did.

The key point in this paragraph is that, even though satan is strong and has the ability to lock a person up in sin and bondage, and even to possess them and take their freedom and autonomy away, Jesus is stronger than satan. He is, in fact, strong enough to attack satan where he lives, to overpower him, and to take away every defense in which he trusts. Then He is able to take away his spoils, the people that he had taken captive.

This is key for Christians, as much now as at any time in the past. Today, thanks in large part to poplar novels, movies, and television shows, most people, even many Christians, see satan as an unbeatable foe that must be feared. Borrowing from Gnosticism and Greek philosophy, many Christians see satan as the opposing force of evil to God’s goodness, and equal to God in strength, but in the opposite direction. They see him as a fearsome enemy that, if he can be defeated at all, can only be beaten with great expenditure of power, and likely great loss.

But the reality is that satan is a created being, as far below God and His power as an ant is below human beings. Even though an ant is amazingly strong, and can lift many times its own body weight, it is so small that, when attacked by a human being, it has no adequate defenses, but ends up squashed on the pavement. Jesus never had any problems defeating satan and withstanding his temptations in the wilderness. Instead, He said no to every one of them, and when He commanded satan to leave Him alone, satan had no choice but to slink away without a word. And Jesus had the same authority and power over demons as over satan himself. Even when He approached the man possessed by a whole legion of demons (Luke 8:27ff), the demons didn’t fight against Him, but fell immediately to begging for their very existence before He cast them out into a nearby herd of pigs.

A corollary of this fact of Jesus’ superiority to satan is that anyone in whom Jesus lives is also more powerful than satan, and never has to run from him or his forces, no matter how many, no matter how fiercely they roar. Neither Peter nor Paul ever fought against demons; they simply commanded them to go, and they left without a word. And that same authority is available today to all of those who belong to Jesus.

Father, our thinking in this area really has been tainted by movies and television shows, making us fearful, and driving the truth of these verses out of our minds and hearts. Help us to think in kingdom ways about these things, too. Help me to be a strong warrior whenever I have to stand against temptations, against demons, against evil in any of its forms. Help me to trust not in my own strength, but in the truth that the one who is in me, Jesus, is far greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4). Amen.

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