Today’s Scripture – July 20, 2017

Luke 5:6-11 (NIV) When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Jesus had no experience as a fisherman; Simon had spent years learning the trade. But when Jesus, Simon’s master, commanded him to put out into deeper water and let down the nets for a catch in the middle of the day, Simon’s protests lasted only a moment, and then he complied. After all, he had committed himself to following Jesus, and a student didn’t say no to his master.

It was only a few minutes after the nets were let down that Jesus signaled for them to be brought back up. Simon started to pull, and then felt and unexpected resistance. As the leading edge of the nets cleared the water, he could see that they were crammed full of large fish, and that the nets themselves were in danger of tearing.

Quickly Simon signaled James and John in the other boats to come alongside, and between them they got the huge haul of fish into the two boats. In fact, there were so many fish that both boats sank down under the weight until the gunwales were barely above the water.

In that moment when he saw the impossible take place, Simon had a brilliant flash of insight. This man seated calmly in the boat next to him was no mere man. John the Baptist had called Him “The Lamb of God (John 1:29),” and had urged Andrew, Simon’s brother, and John to follow Him. Andrew had breathlessly brought Simon to meet Him (John 1:40-42), and Simon had gladly followed Jesus back up to Galilee. But looking at the two boats full of fish convinced Simon that Jesus was more than a mere man, more than a rabbi or guru; He had to be the Messiah Himself.

And in that same instant, the contrast between Jesus’ purity and holiness and his own sinfulness washed over Simon like a wave, dropping him to his knees among the fish that filled the boat and opening his lips in a humble confession: he wasn’t worthy to follow Jesus, to be one of His disciples. It would be better if Jesus just left him alone to continue to be a fisherman.

But Jesus had always known precisely who and what Simon was (John 2:25). And, what’s more, He knew who and what Simon could become as His follower. And it was that knowledge that caused Him to tell Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”

That was the moment when Simon, Andrew, James and John all went all-in for Jesus. They left their old lives behind and determined that they would follow Him no matter where their journey took them.

Father, I know that some people follow You because of promises made to them regarding forgiveness of sin and eternal life, and even a more successful here and now. But You have more than that for each one who follows You. You actually have a calling that You want us to fulfill as Your people. And I know that in my case, that clear calling has made all the difference. It has helped me to stand strong when life has thrown me curve balls, temptations, and even tragedies. Help us all, Lord, to listen carefully until we hear Your calling on our lives, and then to move forward to fulfill that calling in Your power. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 19, 2017

Luke 5:1-5 (NIV) One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

The crowds along the shore were huge, and they continued to press forward on Jesus, shoving Him toward the edge of the water, wanting to touch Him in order to receive a miracle for themselves. But miracles were not to be taken from Jesus; they were to be given and received, so that Jesus was honored, and God glorified through them.

Jesus saw the boats belonging to Simon, and to his partners James and John (Luke 5:10) At this point, Simon had been a follower of Jesus for a few months, and Jesus was using his home as a base in Capernaum (Luke 4:38-39). So when Jesus asked him to leave his net maintenance to row Jesus out away from the shore, Simon instantly responded.

From a few yards offshore, Jesus could teach the people without the constant pressure of the surging crowd, and without the people having divided attention from jockeying for position. So He taught until He was done, and then dismissed the crowd.

Jesus turned to Simon, and instructed him to put out into deeper water and to let down the fishing nets. Simon pushed back against this suggestion, because that’s just not how it was done. The best time for fishing was at night. The nets were spread into the water, and torches were lit on the boat. The fish were attracted to the light (and the promise of insects that would also be attracted to the light) and were snared in the net.

It was full daylight now, so the normal procedure wouldn’t work. Add to that the fact that Peter had already been up fishing all night, and hadn’t caught anything, and you can see the reason for his disgruntled response. But one look at the expression on Jesus’ face made him veer in a new direction: “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.

Father, You often give directions to those who listen to Your voice, and sometimes those directions defy conventional wisdom as to how things should be one. Help me, Lord, to never fall into the trap of trying to tell You how to do things. Instead, help me to simply obey and see what happens, so that You are glorified in everything I do. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 18, 2017

Luke 4:42-44 (NIV) At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.

It was a really good thing having Jesus in town. He was far better than any doctor; He could heal any disease you could think of, and do it for free! Plus, He could cast out demons to boot!

In the morning when people came to Simon’s house for more healings, Jesus wasn’t there. They searched for Him, and found Him at the edge of town, praying in a quiet place.

By any measure, Jesus’ ministry would be considered a huge success by most people. He had people seeking Him out, and He had brought healing, wholeness, and freedom to dozens of people in a single day. But Jesus wasn’t feeling that successful. He had not come to be a great faith healer or exorcist. Those things were incidentals, the side effects of His real ministry, which was to preach the good news of the advent of the kingdom of God to God’s people.

Jesus could have just set up shop in Capernaum and been comfortable for some time, but He knew that that was just another temptation. He had been given a specific job to do by the Father for this stage of His ministry, and to not do it would be disobedience, no matter how successful He might seem to be.

Despite the protestations of the folks from Capernaum, He left that very day, and continued to spread the good news of the kingdom of God everywhere He went, all through Galilee and Judea.

Father, sometimes we see a way ahead that looks easy and “natural.” But often that way is the way of disobedience. The only way we can know Your way is not by how it looks to us, but by the clear leading of the Holy Spirit, pointing the way, and prodding us when we slow down or turn aside. Help me to always seek Your way, even if it looks treacherous, even if it means turning away from ease and public acclaim. Help me to be ever faithful to Your calling on my like, just like Jesus was. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 16, 2017

Luke 4:38-41 (NIV) Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.
When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew he was the Christ.

First Jesus taught in the synagogue on the Sabbath, and while there, a demon showed itself in a man, and was cast out. Then Jesus went to Simon’s house, His home base in Capernaum, only to find that Simon’s mother-in-law had a high fever, which was potentially life-threatening. True to His normal methodology, Jesus didn’t pray for the woman, or anoint her with oil, or do any kind of ceremonies. He simply spoke a word of rebuke to the fever, and it went away, leaving the mother-in-law not only healthy and strong, but energetic enough to get up and serve them.

At sunset the Sabbath was over, and the devout of Capernaum felt free to bring their sick family members and friends to Jesus to be healed. There were lots of sicknesses and disabilities that Jesus healed with a simple touch, bringing the powerful wholeness of the kingdom of God into contact with the unwholeness in those bodies. And when that contact happened, it was no contest; the wholeness completely replaced the unwholeness in every body and mind, making the people well.

When those controlled by demons were brought to Jesus, there was no need for ceremonies or rituals, and no power struggle. Jesus simply commanded the demons to leave as He did the demon in the man at the synagogue, and they left. Some of the demons tried to blow Jesus’ cover by identifying Him as the Son of God and the Messiah as they were leaving, but Jesus rebuked them and forbade them to speak.

The work that Jesus was doing was incredible. Nothing was too complicated for Him to resolve; nothing was too difficult for Him to heal; no demon was strong enough to defy Him or resist His commands. People came to Him sick, disabled, broken,, and oppressed, and all of them left whole.

Father, we are so easily intimidated by dreaded diseases or by hard cases that seem to be beyond even Your ability to heal. So we end up praying with doubt in our hearts and fear in our minds, and just hope that You will be able to do something. How unlike Jesus we are! He was always so connected to You that there was a constant flow of Your power, Your wholeness flowing through Him, so that nothing was too hard or challenging. Lord, we need that kind of powerful connection to You in our own lives today. Our world is so broken, and the people all around us so in need of the wholeness that only You can bring into their lives. Flow through us, Lord, so that we, like Jesus our model, can bring Your touch of wholeness to those broken people, and thus glorify Your name and expand Your kingdom. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 15, 2017

Mark 10:41-45 (NIV) When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The concept of “downward mobility” that Jesus taught and lived out is very difficult for the people of the world to grasp, let alone implement in their lives. That’s because it militates so strongly against everything that the world system tells us about how to be successful.

According to the ways of the world, the race goes to the swift and clever, and the victory to the strong and smart. So if you want to be successful, you have to ruthlessly seize every opportunity to get into the higher-up slots when they come into view. To be honest, the other ten disciples were indignant with James and John, not because they had done something morally wrong, but because they had beaten them to the punch. James and John had seen an opening and had taken it while the other ten were still waiting for the perfect opportunity.

But Jesus needed to show them that the whole paradigm that they were thinking in was in complete contrast to the ways of the kingdom. Jesus’ kingdom was not a kingdom of the world, to be run by the rules of the world. It was the kingdom of God, which operates on God’s priorities and principles, and is based on His character.

Instead of the leaders of God’s kingdom lording it over those beneath them in the hierarchy,, they live to serve others and help build those others up. Instead of exercising authority over those below them, they intentionally lower themselves to the position of slave, serving the needs of those others. Instead of building a fortune and a comfortable lifestyle for themselves, and looking to make their own lot more pleasant and secure, the leaders in God’s kingdom willing lay down their lives for those beneath them.

The model for this new paradigm was and is Jesus Himself. Jesus never laid aside any earthly treasure for Himself, but relied on God the Father to provide what was needed each day. He did not try to build an empire that would give Him power and authority over others, but lived each day to exalt the name of God by showing forth His glory in His every thought, word, and deed. In fact, Jesus’ focus was never for a moment on the things of this world and the things that people tend to rely on for security. His eyes were continually on eternity, and His every thought on how to draw as many people into that eternity as possible.

The reason that this paradigm shift was such a hard sell for His disciples was that they were still at this point creatures of the world. Their priorities, their worldview, and the way that they thought were all worldly, and kept them, at this stage of the game, from living out the ways of the kingdom. But Jesus patiently taught them, over and over again, realizing that in just a few weeks, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit would transform their minds and change their hearts, and then they would be able to start living out the ways of the kingdom in their lives.

Father, it is still often difficult for us to think in the ways of the kingdom, to instinctively react in self-sacrificing kingdom ways. But every time we catch ourselves thinking like the world, or strategizing like the world, or jockeying for position like the world, we need to recognize that that is a symptom of a place in our heart that has not been fully transformed and recast into the image of Jesus. Help me, Lord, to see myself clearly, to evaluate myself honestly, and any time I find a worldly place in my heart or mind, help me to bring that part of myself to You to be transformed and filled to overflowing with Your Spirit. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 14, 2017

Luke 4:31-37 (NIV) Then he went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and on the Sabbath began to teach the people. They were amazed at his teaching, because his message had authority.
In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an evil spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”
“Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.
All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What is this teaching? With authority and power he gives orders to evil spirits and they come out!” And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area.

Jesus never got a chance to do any miracles in Nazareth, His hometown. But He had faithfully brought the good news to them before they ran Him out of town. Now He was back in Capernaum, His home base.

The people of Capernaum were much more open to Jesus’ teachings, and impressed by the authority with which He spoke. He didn’t merely quote the rabbis of old; He spoke on His own authority, as if He had first-hand experience with the things that He was talking about.

The fact that there was a demon-possessed man sitting quietly in the synagogue service might amaze some people. But the synagogue was just a building, a place where people gathered to worship, pray, and listen to Scripture, none of which are an intrinsic threat to a demon.

But then Jesus, God in the flesh, walked in. And instantly the demon in the man was on the defensive. The demon sat silently until the tension became too great, and then burst out with, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!”

By identifying Jesus openly, the demon hoped to put Jesus on the defensive, or at least make the crowd overwhelming curious about who Jesus really was, so that His attention would turn away from the demon and focus on the crowd instead. But the demon did not intimidate Jesus the slightest bit. He had known that the demon was in the man the whole time, and was just waiting for it to stick its head up so that it could be taken out.

With a word, “Be quiet!” the mouth of the demon was sealed so that it couldn’t distract anyone with what it was saying. With another command, “Come out of him!” the demon was instantly and unceremoniously sent packing, leaving the possessed man free, healthy, and in his right mind.

If the people in the synagogue were blown away by Jesus authoritative teaching, they were doubly blown away by His authority over this demon. They had seen attempted exorcisms before, with lots of ritual and ceremony involved. But Jesus simply gave a command to the demon, and the demon obeyed, just like that. This was something new and wondrous!

Father, we tend to really complicate things these days. Jesus’ ministry was simple and uncomplicated because He simply relied on Your direction to know what He needed to do, and on Your power to do it. That included His teaching, His healings, and even His casting out of demons. Help me to live that same kind of simple, uncomplicated life of power and purpose today. Help me to listen carefully at all times for Your direction. And when I hear what You want me to do, help me to move forward in Your power to accomplish all that You have called me to do. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 13, 2017

Luke 4:22-30 (NIV) All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.'”
“I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed–only Naaman the Syrian.”
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

The people in the synagogue couldn’t believe how well Jesus preached. (His sermon went on much longer than the simple declaration, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” That was just the opening line of His full sermon.) They had known Jesus since He was a baby. He was a good kid, polite, and smart, too. But what He was displaying now, this wisdom, this depth of understanding of the Scriptures, this ability to communicate, seemed like something entirely different; something that they had never seen in Him before.

Jesus knew that they had heard about the miracles that He had been doing, especially those He had done in Capernaum, His new home base. And He knew that they were eager to see Him do something amazing here in His own hometown. But He also knew that these people who knew Him best would be least willing to truly accept Him as the Messiah. Familiarity really does breed contempt.

In fact, at least some of these people were more than a little irritated at Jesus for making Capernaum His home base and doing all of those miracles there instead of doing them in Nazareth, His home town. After all, they had a prior claim on Him.

But Jesus pointed out from history that even the prophets of old were not received by their own people, and so did their wonders elsewhere, and for other people. Elijah, during the time of the great famine, was a persona non grata in Israel. In fact, he had a price on his head! So the miracle that he performed helped a gentile woman. A few years later, Elisha and his words were rejected by the kings of Israel, but he cleansed Naaman the Syrian, another gentile, of leprosy.

Jesus’ point was not that God only helps gentiles instead of His own people, but that it is difficult for a prophet of God to find acceptance among those who knew them before they began to fulfill God’s calling on their lives. It is just easier to perform that calling among strangers, so Jesus had set up His base in Capernaum, and had been preaching to people who didn’t have a history with Him.

As if to prove His point, the people of Nazareth grew so angry with Jesus that they rushed Him and tried to throw Him off a cliff! It was really ironic, but they couldn’t see the irony: “How dare He say that we won’t accept Him. We should kill Him for saying that!” But none of this took Jesus by surprise. He let them take Him as far as the edge of the cliff, then calmly walked right through the crowd and out of town, leaving everyone wondering what had just happened.

Father, You can call anyone at any time for any purpose. And sometimes who You call may surprise us. But it is not up to us to approve or disapprove of Your choices. I know that many were surprised when You called me into Your service. Thankfully my clearly transformed life was testimony enough to show the validity of that calling. Help us to extend the same acceptance to those who show a genuine divine calling on their lives as we would want extended to us when You put a call on our lives. Amen.

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