Monthly Archives: May 2014

Today’s Scripture – May 31, 2014

Mark 4:35-38 (NIV):  That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”  Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.  A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

Jesus never did anything that God the Father did not specifically tell Him to do.  He never went anywhere that God the Father did not specifically tell Him to go.  He never even said anything that God the Father did not specifically tell Him to say.  It was not that He was a robot or lacked a mind or will of His own.  Instead, He was completely surrendered to the will of His Father (cf. John 5:19).  Therefore all of God’s power was able to flow through Jesus’ humanity constantly.  It would never have occurred to Jesus to decide on a course of action and then ask God to bless it.  He would never have come up with an idea, and then tried to tell the Father what He needed to do to make it happen.

So when Jesus said, “Let’s go over to the other side,” it was because God had told Him that that was what He wanted Him to do.  And because it was God’s idea, and because Jesus was confident about when and where God had planned for His journey to end (on a cross in Jerusalem), He had absolutely no fear for His life (or the lives of His disciples) when the storm clouds arose.  He just lay down in the back of the boat and took a nap.

But His disciples had not yet figured all of this out.  When the storm roared out over the sea, to the point that even those with years of experience in boats on the Sea of Galilee feared for their lives, they couldn’t understand how anyone could just sleep, as if nothing important was going on.  Didn’t He know that people often died on the Sea in storms like this?  Wasn’t He aware that their boats were filling up with water faster than they could bail it out?  Didn’t He care that they were all going to drown?

But they had not yet learned how Jesus operated.  (Remember that this was early on in their relationship with Him.)  They had not yet understood that Jesus always walked in God’s ways, fully in accordance with His will, so that nothing outside of God’s will could touch Him.  They didn’t realize that as long as they stuck with Jesus, going where God sent Him, doing what God told Him to do, that they were kept by the same power that kept Him.  If it wasn’t Jesus’ time, it wasn’t their time either.

Father, how easy it is to still miss those points.  How easy it is to not live our lives like Jesus did.  All too often, I’m afraid, WE set our agenda, and then ask Your blessing.  WE come up with a plan, and then inform You how You need to work in order to bring it about.  Help us instead, Lord, to yield ourselves, our agendas, and our whole lives completely into Your hands.  Then, no matter what storms arise, we can rest secure, knowing that we are right in the center of Your will.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – May 29, 2014

Mark 4:33-34 (NIV):  With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand.  He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.

To many of those who heard Jesus’ parables, they were a closed book, foolish tales with no point.  These were the ones who had already rejected Jesus, who by doing so had also rejected the Father who had sent Him, and whose minds and hearts were thus darkened, incapable of seeing the light.

Many others, however, hungered for the truth, and found it in Jesus.  To these, the stories Jesus told were like rays of light that showed them God’s love, and revealed the glories of His here-and-now kingdom in vivid colors.  Jesus continued to teach these, as much as they could understand.  They were the good soil people, who were even willing to wrestle a bit with the difficult concepts until the light turned on.

But it was important that Jesus’ core group of disciples, those whom He had selected to lead the Church after His ascension, had far more than a basic understanding of those kingdom principles.  After all, they would be responsible for teaching the next generations not only what He said, but what He meant.  So Jesus spent lots of time with them, talking these things over, showing them the deeper meanings behind the parables.

In a sense, Jesus was like a spiritual father to them, and taught them as God commanded fathers to do:  “Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deuteronomy 11:19 NIV)  Without this clear teaching, passed on conscientiously from one generation to the next, much would get lost.

It’s exactly the same today.  Even if the next generation of people are believers, if they aren’t consistently taught the “truth behind the stories” that Jesus told, the truths of the kingdom that are essential to effective Christian living, their foundation will be less stable and strong than the preceding generation of believers.  And the generation that follows them will be even less stable and strong than they are, because they will have even less to pass on.  Sunday School and sermons, an hour or two each week, can never take the place of parents, siblings, friends, and mentors who, like Jesus, pass on the truths of the kingdom as they live their lives together with those whom they are teaching.

Father, in this as in everything, Your ways are always the best.  Forgive us, Lord, for leaving it to the Sunday School teachers and preachers to tell our kids, our friends, our loved ones the truth.  We can be so much more effective at that, because we live with these people, so that we can talk over these truths daily, and we also love them.  Help us, whether it is our own children or grandchildren, or those we mentor and disciple, to faithfully and consistently pass on all that we know of You, and to keep on learning, so that we will have even more to teach.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – May 28, 2014

Mark 4:30-32 (NIV):  Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it?  It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground.  Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”

This parable actually speaks about the kingdom on two levels.  At the time of Jesus’ ascension, He had about 120 committed followers, some of whom only became committed after His resurrection.  After more than three years of teaching and doing miracles, many would consider that a very small and insignificant number.  But it was only a mustard-seed beginning.  On the day of Pentecost, the minute that seed broke through the ground it sprang quickly into a majestic tree when 3000 were added to the kingdom in a single day.  That clearly demonstrates the powerful growth that is inherent in the seed of the kingdom.

But this parable also applies on an individual level.  When the gospel seed is planted in the receptive soil of a person’s heart and grows to the harvest, it completely changes that person’s life from the inside out, making them into a genuinely new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).  That alone is spectacular.  But that by itself is also only a small beginning, much like those 120 believers gathered in the upper room.  Changing a single life is never all that God has planned for that seed!  Remember the seed planted in the good soil that produced 30, 60, or even 100 times what was originally planted (Mark 4:8, 20).

When the seed of the gospel takes root in a believer’s heart and is empowered by the Holy Spirit, the number of people that can be transformed by that new life is virtually unlimited.  The small seed that has begun to grow begins to naturally stretch out and produce branches and twigs that grow and divide, continuing to impact and transform the lives of those around them.

It is impressive to see the Billy Grahams and Luis Palaus of the world and believe that we could never lead so many people to the Lord.  But it is the same mustard-seed small beginning that is planted in every believer’s life.  The difference in the fruitfulness of that seed is simply how committed to God’s kingdom agenda each person is.  Those who give themselves completely to be used by God, who become clear channels through whom the Holy Spirit can work unhindered, will produce the huge kingdom growth that His seed within them is designed to produce.  Those who hold part of themselves back from God’s transforming power, who won’t leave behind their old habits and patterns of thought, or who won’t get involved in bringing more people to Jesus, will find the growth in themselves stymied.  They won’t produce the astonishing kingdom growth of which they are capable in Jesus, and they will ultimately see even the small beginning that He has made in them shrivel up and die.

Father, how easy it is for us to look at ourselves and say, “I could never tell people about Jesus.  I could never be used by God to grow His kingdom in spectacular ways.”  It sounds humble and self-effacing, but in reality it shows a deep lack of faith in what Your power and Holy Spirit can accomplish, even in someone like me.  Lord, help me today to grow Your kingdom – to produce even a small branch or two that will grow and multiply, until Your kingdom fills the earth.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – May 27, 2014

Mark 4:26-29 (NIV):  (Jesus) also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.  Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.  All by itself the soil produces grain–first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.  As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

Many people work at growing their congregation through the same means that one uses to grow a business or an organization.  They use advertising techniques, new and improved programs, phone marketing, and “customer” follow-up.  You can indeed grow a congregation that way, but growing the kingdom of God takes different techniques.

First of all, the seed, God’s word, must be intentionally sown into the lives of the people (the soil).  It must then be provided good conditions to grow.  For a farmer, the soil must be keep moist.  Appropriate fertilizers must be applied.  For the seed of the gospel, the water and fertilizer are prayer and the love of God working through the lives of His people, liberally applied to the lives and hearts of those being targeted.

But the mystery is that, even though the farmer provides the best possible circumstances and surroundings, he is powerless to actually make the seed germinate and grow.  That potential is in the seed itself.  Each seed, having been planted, watered, and warmed by the sun, will automatically germinate, put out roots, and reach upward toward the source of life-giving energy until it breaks the ground.  And then it will continue to grow, developing the leaf, stalk, and stem.  Finally it will produce the head, which ripens into the wheat, the desired end.  At that point, the farmer puts the sickle to it and brings in the harvest.

In the same way, when we are working to grow the harvest for the kingdom of God, there are certain steps that we need to take.  We need to be conscientious about planting the right seed for the crop that we want to harvest.  Our goal must always be soul’s for God’s kingdom.  Souls that will ultimately grow into strong, Christlike, reproducing disciples of Jesus.  We need to make sure that we don’t sow the seed of programs, or light shows, or carnivals, which are the seeds of consumerism, and will only grow a crop of consumers.  The seed that we have been given is the good seed of the gospel, the truth of Jesus Himself.  We also need to make sure that we don’t use the genetically modified seed of Jesus according to this person or that person, or Jesus plus this program or that activity.  Just the pure, unadulterated seed of Jesus Himself, as clearly presented in the gospels.  Next, we need to keep the soil watered through prayer and love.  But we always need to remember that the growth into a harvestable soul is not something that we can program or speed up.  God has put into the good gospel seed all that is needed to produce salvation.  As He said through Isaiah, His word “will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11 NIV)

Some might think that this exonerates them from the need to tell people about Jesus, or help them to find Him.  “After all,” they think, “I can’t save anyone; only God can.”  But seed that is never sown into receptive soil will never produce a crop.  Each of God’s people must constantly be telling others the good news of the gospel.  Sown seed that is not watered will never grow.  God’s people must bathe the souls of those we have told in constant prayer and loving interaction.  And if the farmer doesn’t keep a sharp eye on the crop, he won’t see that it is ripe, the harvest will never happen, and all of the previous work will be lost.  God’s people must stay engaged with those we are “farming,” always looking for the softness of heart that shows that the harvest is near.  And then we must put in the sickle.  Right at that moment, we need to pray with that person to bring the harvest into God’s kingdom.

Only God can make the seed of the gospel grow.  But without steadfast commitment on the part of us, His people, to do the work of sowing, tending, and, ultimately, harvesting, He will have nothing to work with.

Father, it is so easy to excuse ourselves, or to exempt ourselves from the real work of the kingdom.  But, Lord, that’s what we are here for!  That’s the job You left for us to do!  For us to hope and pray that You will just drop someone on our path who wants to be led to You is like a farmer who wants to just happen upon a field of wheat, already grown and ripe, that he did no work on.  It would be nice if it happened, but he will never feed his family or make a living praying that kind of prayer and hoping it will happen.  Lord, the work is too important to hope that others will do the hard work of telling others so that we can just happen to show up to do the harvest, or maybe just to cheer when someone else does the reaping.  Help us, Lord, to be diligent in sowing, tending, and harvesting, the real work of the kingdom that You have given to us.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – May 23, 2014

Mark 4:24-25 (NIV):  “Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you–and even more.  Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”

This saying of Jesus continues to tie in to the parable of the soils.  There were many in the crowds that surrounded Jesus who just let His words bounce off their hardened, packed-down hearts.  They would not ponder or consider carefully what they had heard.  If His words did not make immediate sense to them, they rejected them out of hand.  That was the reason that Jesus’ words so often divided the people.  A good example of this is when Jesus told the crowd:  “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me–just as the Father knows me and I know the Father–and I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.  The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life–only to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10:14-18 NIV)  At this, the crowd responded in two diametrically opposed ways.  Those who were hard-hearted and refused to carefully consider Jesus’ words responded negatively:  “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?” (John 10:20 NIV)  But those who pondered Jesus’ words, those for whom the light was starting to show, responded differently:  “These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” (John 10:21 NIV)

This is the way it is today, not only with Jesus’ words, but with all Scripture.  To the hard-hearted, the words of the Bible seem senseless, even contradictory, and they won’t seek God and His wisdom to help them understand.  Instead, they use themselves as the measure of truth and wisdom, and so reject God’s word out of hand.  These not only miss out on the treasure that lies beneath the surface of what they read and hear, they also lose the truth that they may have already possessed, because they are cutting the foundation out from under it by not seeking God in His word.  Those who read or hear God’s words with soft, pliable, open hearts, who consider carefully what is before them, pondering and meditating things that may be hard to understand at first, who consider God to be the measure of all truth and wisdom, will receive a great treasure.  All of His mysteries will lay open before them.  They will receive the wisdom and knowledge that they are seeking, and even more besides.  More than they ever imagined!

Father, help me to read and listen to Your words with a soft, pliable, open heart.  Help me to know that You are the only source of true wisdom, and so seek Your face so that I can truly hear Your voice and know Your will.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – May 22, 2014

Mark 4:21-23 (NIV):  He said to them, “Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand?  For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.  If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”

The key to understanding this somewhat obscure saying is to realize that Mark tended to group Jesus’ teachings by topic rather than chronologically.  This saying re-emphasizes the teaching about the good soil in the preceding parable.  The good soil multiplied the seed that was sown into it 30, 60, or even 100 times.

Jesus’ next point is that disciples cannot reproduce themselves by staying quite, keeping the eternal life in them a secret.  A secret disciple is as incongruous as a lamp that was lit and then hidden under a bowl, or under a bed.  Everyone knows that for a lamp to do its job, it must stay out in the open, visible, pushing its light out into the surrounding darkness and dispelling it.

It is the same way with the “secret” of eternal life.  It is meant to be shared.  Jesus was presenting this “secret” openly to everyone in the crowds that surrounded Him.  He knew that only those with “ears to hear,” whose hearts were prepared, would receive His words, but He spoke them openly anyway, because His words not only planted the seeds, it tested the soil of the heart, showing clearly who was really hungering to know God.

This was the pattern that Jesus put forward:  share the gospel always, and don’t worry about the response of the people.  Some will turn away, others may even be hostile, but if you keep the gospel to yourself, the seed will never get planted in the good soil, either, and your own plants will remain sterile and unproductive.  Paul emphasized the same thing to Timothy in his charge:  Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season. (2 Timothy 4:2a)  And it is the same charge that all of God’s people have been given today:  We must never be secret Christians.  We must never hide our testimony or the good news under a bowl or under a bed because we fear the reaction of some people to our message.  How will the good soil people ever hear and respond to our message if we don’t speak it, clearly, loudly, and often?

Father, You are absolutely right.  Forgive us for keeping such good news to ourselves far too often.  Open our lips as well as our lives to those around us who need to hear, so that all of the good soil in our area can be planted.

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Today’s Scripture – May 20, 2014

Mark 4:9-12 (NIV):  Then Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables.  He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”

As Jesus preached the parable of the soils, as it was with every parable that He told, He knew that representatives of each of the four kinds of soil were right there in the crowd.  Not just the good soil that would receive His word and begin to grow into the kingdom, but those whose hearts were so hardened that His words bounced right off; those whose hearts were shallow, whose lives were emotionally drive, and who would fall away at the first trial; and those whose lives were so crowded that, even though they would receive His word, would not produce fruit for the kingdom.  His call, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” reflected that many people in the crowd would not be able to hear what He was saying.  He was doing more than referring to the truth that spiritual truths are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).  He was pointing to the outworking of the fact that the His coming was for two purposes, depending on the hearts of each person, and how they received Him.

Every time Jesus appeared in public, every time He spoke, He divided people into two, and only two, groups.  One group was composed of those who received Him and His words, and so were being saved.  The other group was made up of those who rejected Him and His words, and so were being condemned.  When Jesus spoke in parables those with open hearts (“ears to hear”) received His word:  their eyes lit up, and the concepts took root in their minds and hearts.  But those who had closed their hearts to Jesus showed no insight or understanding, writing off His teachings as ridiculous stories that made no sense.  They weren’t condemned because they didn’t’ get the story; their hardened hearts were displayed by their lack of understanding.

The truth of this is shown by Jesus’ quote from Isaiah 6:9-10.  Those were words that God spoke to Isaiah when He first made him a prophet and sent him to speak God’s words to the people.  Through this warning, God told him that his words would be rejected by many of those to whom he was being sent.  Understand that God’s greatest desire was that all would hear, listen, turn, and be saved.  He knew that the captivities in Assyria and Babylon were looming just over the horizon, and He longed for His people to repent and turn back to Him before He had to bring that strong judgment on them.  But God also knew His people:  that many of them had already hardened their hearts against His word, had closed their eyes so that they could no longer find His path, and had plugged their ears against His voice.  This had made them liable to His judgment.  But still God sent His messenger, because He also knew that there was a remnant, a chunk of the people whose hearts were seeking Him, who would see, who would have “ears to hear.”

Some reject the idea that Jesus first visit had anything to do with judgment or condemnation, and quote John 3:17 in support of their position:  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  And that is true.  But it was not Jesus who condemned the hard hearted; it was they who condemned themselves by their refusal to receive Him, as the very next verse clearly states:  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.  (John 3:18 NIV)

Father, there are many today as well who do not receive Jesus, who do not believe in His name, and who are therefore living the life of the condemned.  But there are also more than we think whose hearts are searching for the truth, and who are waiting for us to sow the seed of the gospel into the prepared soil of their hearts.  Help us, all of Your people, to be faithful to Your Great Commission, to be trustworthy witnesses who keep the work of Your kingdom first in our agendas.  And, Lord, I also pray for the hard-hearted among us.  I have seen You work in those hard hearts to soften and break them up in response to the passionate prayers of Your people.  (I’m one of them!)  Help us to keep praying for our family members, our friends, our neighbors and coworkers, even those with hard hearts, so that, with Your help, we can help them to be reconciled to You.  Amen.

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