Today’s Scripture – October 16, 2017

Luke 9:37-43a (NIV) The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. A man in the crowd called out, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.”
“O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.” Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion.
But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. And they were all amazed at the greatness of God.

Jesus, Peter, James, and John all came down from an amazing mountain-top experience in God’s presence, and found themselves squarely in the kingdom of the world.

The issue that challenged Jesus most in the situation that greeted Him there was not that a demon needed to be cast out; Jesus dealt with demon possession frequently. What disappointed, even alarmed Him, was that He and His followers were preparing to start for Jerusalem, where Jesus would be arrested and executed. Even though He would rise again, He would be headed home to heaven very shortly afterwards, leaving the responsibility for leading the people of the kingdom in the hands of these followers, who apparently weren’t able to handle a simple exorcism!

The anxious father had sought out Jesus’ camp at the foot of the mountain, and was disappointed to find that Jesus was not there, and His disciples weren’t sure when He would return. But the disciples were confident that they would be able to cast this demon out. They had done it before, when Jesus had sent them out ahead of Him (Luke 9:1-2). But no matter what words they used or what prayers they prayed, the spirit refused to budge.

That was when Jesus suddenly walked into the camp. His frustrated cry, “O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” was aimed at the disciples, His inner circle, who seemingly had failed to learn this important lesson.

But Jesus quickly turned from the shame-faced disciples to the need at hand. As soon as He focused on the demon-possessed boy, the demon, in a show of power designed to intimidate Jesus just as it had the disciples, threw the boy into a spectacular and alarming convulsion. But Jesus wasn’t intimidated in the least. He simply rebuked the demon, told it to leave, and it had to go.

The small crowd there along with the disciples was stunned at how quickly and effortlessly Jesus had dealt with the demon, and immediately began to praise the Lord. Jesus simply gave the boy, free at last from the demon that had plagued him for years, back to his grateful father.

Father, we so complicate things, and try to impose our own ideas, techniques, and strategies on them. The disciples failed to learn that casting out demons was never a matter of technique, but of God-given spiritual authority over them. Jesus simply exercised His authority, and the demon fled. As a follower of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, I have that same authority. Help me to live in You, obey Your leading and, when appropriate, exert that authority to help set people free. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 13, 2017

Luke 9:32-36 (NIV) Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters–one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.

The three disciples with Jesus woke from a deep sleep to see the miraculous scene before them: Jesus shining like the sun, and the two great prophets, Moses and Elijah, talking with Him about His upcoming “Exodus” in Jerusalem. They watched and listened in silent awe as the three men talked.

When the conversation ended and Moses and Elijah were fading from view, Peter felt the need to say something. This was such an amazing moment, so charged with spiritual power, full of the aroma of the miraculous, that he didn’t want it to end. His basic premise was that Moses and Elijah didn’t have to go away; the disciples could easily build some shelters for them so that they could stick around and continue the visit.

But, as was frequently the case at this point, Peter’s heart was good, but his focus was off. Before Peter even finished his sentence, he and his companions saw a glowing cloud quickly approaching them. It came at them so fast that they were engulfed in the brightness before they had any chance to react.

Then a voice, loud, deep and majestic, the voice of God Himself, came from the cloud, terrifying all three disciples, and causing them to fall on their faces in terror (Matthew 17:6). “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” Their focus had been on the historical personages, great prophets of old, celebrities in their minds. They wanted them to stay so that they could rub shoulders with them for a while. But they were missing the fact that Jesus, the one that they were so familiar with, was now being revealed to them as God’s Son, in all of His eternal glory. Their focus was on the limited and temporal, when the eternal was mere inches away.

God’s voice completely overwhelmed these men, just as it had the Israelites 1500 years earlier (Exodus 20:19). Even after the cloud disappeared and Moses and Elijah had gone, they lay motionless on the ground, until Jesus touched them and warned them to keep what they had just witnessed to themselves (Matthew 17:7-9).

Father, it is humbling to realize that we, too, are prone to allow our focus to get off. We can so easily grow enamored of the words of the saints, both those of old and those of the current day, reading their books, meditating on their writings, and standing in awe of the depth of their insights, while the whole time ignoring, or setting at a lower priority the words of Jesus close at hand in our Bibles. Even in the Scriptures we can end up focusing more on the epistles than we do on the gospels, more on the words of Paul than on the words of Jesus. Help me to hear Your voice clearly today, terrifying though it may be, calling me back to a clearer focus on Jesus, Your Son, and His words. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 11, 2017

Luke 9:28-31 (NIV) About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.

Jesus frequently went away from the crowds to pray, and He frequently took His disciples along with Him. After all, they were His disciples, His apprentices, and they needed to learn how He communed with the Father. When He tapped Peter, John, and James to go with Him that day, they didn’t think anything of it. They had no clue that this would be one of the most significant moments of their lives.

Jesus prayed as usual, but after a short time, the disciples saw a change in His form, and light began to pour from His body. They were seeing a brief glimpse of Jesus as He really was, the divine, eternal Son, shining in unearthly glory. This was similar to the vision of the resurrected and glorified Jesus that John saw in the Revelation (Revelation 1:12-16). And when the disciples saw Him like that, it filled them with terror and awe.

But before they had a chance to run away, or to even cry out, they saw that Jesus was not alone. He was speaking to two men who also shone with an unearthly glow, though not nearly so bright as the glory that was shining through Jesus.. They heard Jesus address the one as Moses, and the other as Elijah, and realized that these were the two ancient prophets, back from the dead!

The disciples listened in awe as they talked openly about Jesus’ upcoming journey to Jerusalem, and the suffering and death that were waiting for Him there. (They called it His “Exodus” in the Greek.) But, contrary to normal human expectations, none of them seemed to be horrified about what would happen there, but simply talked about it as matter of fatly as if it were a family picnic that was being planned.

Father, I know that this was a watershed moment for these disciples that they went back to again and again. (See 12 Peter 1:16-18 and John 1:1-3.) To see Jesus in His glory confirmed Peter’s confession of Him as the Messiah (Luke 9:20), and it provided a strong foundation that helped them to quickly find their way back to Him, and to help the rest of the disciples find their way back, in the wake of being scattered at the time of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. Even though they didn’t understand exactly what it was that they were seeing that day, after Jesus rose again, they started to understand. Lord, You have given me my own watershed moments, where You have shown me Your glory, and to which I can go back when times are hard. Thank You for Your love and grace. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 10, 2017

Luke 9:27 (NIV) I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

Jesus had come to make the kingdom of God a living reality in the world, and to get the people ready to enter it. John the Baptist prepared the people for Jesus; Jesus prepared the people for the kingdom.

Jesus was Himself the embodiment of the kingdom of God on earth. As long as He was in the world, people could experience the reality of the kingdom at second-hand by watching how He lived, and experiencing all of the wonderful things that He could do. However, the kingdom was still only a second-hand reality to His followers, even His closest disciples.

But very soon, Jesus would turn His steps south to Jerusalem one last time. During this trip, Jesus would take the steps needed to make the kingdom a living reality for everyone. He would die on the cross, taking on Himself all of the suffering, torment, and separation from God that the people deserved for their sins, paying the penalty in full. Then, on the third day, He would rise again as the first fruits of those redeemed through faith in Him, defeating death, and opening the way for all into an eternity in heaven.

Finally, forty days later, He would ascend into heaven to the right hand of God the Father. From there, He would pour out the Holy Spirit on His followers on the day of Pentecost. On that day, the kingdom of God would arrive on earth in power, becoming a reality in the lives of His followers. No longer would the kingdom be embodied in Jesus. From that time forward, it would be embodied in the heart of every believer and, through their lives, manifested throughout the world.

Of course, only eleven of Jesus’ twelve closest disciples would live to see that day. Judas Iscariot would betray Jesus into the hands of the Jewish leaders, and then hang himself out of guilt and despair. He would not experience the kingdom becoming a reality. But the other eleven disciples would experience for themselves what it was like to live in the kingdom of God, and the complete fulfillment of this prophecy of Jesus.

Father, thank You for the reality of Your kingdom down to today. Your kingdom isn’t something that we look back upon as a great, but temporary, event. Nor is it something we have to anticipate in the far-off future. It is still a living reality for all who follow Jesus. Lord, help me to live in the reality of Your kingdom today. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 9, 2017

Luke 9:24-26 (NIV) “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”

The instinct for self-preservation in humans is very strong, as strong as it is in any creature that God created And it is there for a purpose. It enables people to survive during times of peril and times of trial. It causes them to fight back strongly against things that would destroy them, and not just give up or give in.

But people also have powerful ability to override their instinct for survival, that is more powerful than any other creature. That ability enables the selfless acts that we so admire in people. It enables the mother or father to run back into a fire or dive into the water to save a child. It enables people to share with those in need, even when they have precious little to begin with.

In a Christian, the ability to override the instinct for survival enables us to face trials and persecutions, and never turn our backs on God or Jesus in the process. The survival instinct will try to get us to give up, to give in, or to deny Jesus in order to save our own lives. But, as Jesus points out, to give in to that temptation will ultimately cost a person their soul. He or she could gain the whole world by denying Jesus (and the enemy will make it look that that is actually a possibility, if only we will capitulate). But in the end, anything that we gain will prove to be worth nothing in comparison to the depth of the loss of soul that we experience.

All of Jesus’ promises of deliverance are only for those who stand firm in the face of suffering, persecution, and even death. Even those promises made in the letters to the seven Churches in the Revelation are made to those who overcome, those who stand firm, those who ignore their survival instinct as they stand firm in their faith, their hope, their commitment to Jesus, even to the point of death.

Father, we are so good at rationalizing our capitulations, large and small.” Surely God will understand. Surely He knows how weak I am. Surely He will forgive me when all of this is over so that I can get back into His good graces.” You are loving and forgiving, but Jesus calls us to intentionally take up our own crosses, and to remain faithful regardless of the suffering we must undergo for Your sake and for the sake of the kingdom, just as the early disciples did. Help me to stand firm, bold in the faith, no matter what happens, so that at the end of all things, I can receive the great blessings You have promised. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 6, 2017

Luke 9:23 (NIV) Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

The disciples were horrified about the things Jesus said were going to happen to Him: that He would be betrayed, rejected, and killed! Peter even rebuked Jesus for saying such things, and received a rebuke in return (Matthew 16:22-23).

Then Jesus began to teach His followers the costs associated with being a part of the kingdom of God. Some teach that the kingdom is all grace, with nothing expected of those who belong to it. But Jesus never taught it that way. By definition, belonging to the kingdom of God means resigning one’s membership in the kingdom of this world. You can only serve one master (Matthew 6:24). It also means having to radically switch allegiances in every sphere of one’s life. That means that, like Jesus, the people of the kingdom will almost always find themselves at odds with, and often opposed by, the rulers of the world system, and those who wield authority in it. There is a huge cost involved in belonging to the kingdom of God.

The key to the kingdom lifestyle is contained in this single verse. Not only is Jesus going to willingly take up a cross Himself, all who want to follow Him must also take up their own cross. To the disciples this phrase meant something entirely different than it does to modern Christians. To many today, a cross is defined as a struggle, a trial, or an inconvenience. But to everyone in Jesus’ day, a cross meant only one thing: an agonizing and absolutely certain death!

Jesus was not saying that His followers would have to be willing to suffer inconveniences or indignities. He was telling them (and us!) that His followers had to be willing to go through the agony of intentionally putting to death their old lives, their old selves, so that they can receive in exchange a new life, a resurrected self, transformed and capable of walking in the power, love, and grace of God’s kingdom.

And this is not a one-time event in the life of a disciples. Every day presents new draws back into the world, new draws toward compromise and sin. Every day, the cross of death to the world must be consciously and deliberately taken  up anew. Every day the decision to be a follower of Christ must be consciously and deliberately made.

Father, much of the teaching in many churches ignores the deliberate death to the world and the daily commitment required of true disciples of Jesus. Instead, we assume that once we make a decision for Christ, everything is on autopilot. How different from what is written for us in Your word! How different from the lives of dynamic and effective Christians through the ages, who all took up their crosses each new day and purposefully followed in the footsteps of Jesus. Lord, I commit myself anew today to this way of the cross, this way of death to the world, this way of fully following Jesus. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 4, 2017

Luke 9:18-20 (NIV) Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered,
“The Christ of God.”

The time was drawing near for Jesus to finish His work on earth and return to heaven. He had healed thousands, had set hundreds free from demon possession, and had worked tirelessly to tell everyone He had contact with about the reality of the kingdom of God.

But He had not publicly claimed to be the Messiah, except to a very few, and those predominantly in private situations away from the crowds. The word “Messiah” had grown so many meanings in the minds and hearts of the Jewish people, many of them with strictly political overtones, that Jesus didn’t want His claim on that title to be tainted by those views. So He had not yet claimed that title for Himself, preferring the title “Son of Man,” which had messianic implications without the political overtones.

But with the approach of His suffering, death, and resurrection so near, He needed to know if His closest followers, at least, had connected the dots. So He asked the question, beginning with the less threatening, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”

The disciples had been among the people in the crowds as Jesus worked, so they had heard the speculation: John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the ancient prophets, the same list of opinions that had gotten back to Herod (Luke 9:7-8). Jesus smiled. All of those guesses were in the ballpark, but so far off from home plate.

Then Jesus asked the disciples, the Twelve, who they believed Him to be. At this stage of the game it really didn’t matter who the crowds thought Jesus was. But if His own followers hadn’t come to the right conclusion, that was serious.

Peter acted as the spokesperson for the group: “You are the Messiah of God.” (“Christ” is simply the Greek translation of the Hebrew “Messiah.” Both mean “anointed one.”) The rest of the disciples nodded in agreement. They had reached the same conclusion. Jesus was greatly relieved; they had figured it out!

Father, the early disciples figured out this truth after living with, traveling with, and serving alongside Jesus. But we, Your people of today, need to know this truth ourselves. There is no room in the Church for a purely human Jesus, a good man, a gifted teacher. Instead, we must know and clearly proclaim the scriptural truth that Jesus is the living Son of God, the Messiah who came to earth to die for us, to rise and defeat death, and to save us. Amen.

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