Monthly Archives: July 2017

Today’s Scripture – July 31, 2017

Luke 5:36-39 (NIV) He told them this parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.'”

The Pharisees and teachers of the law had no idea of the scale of transformation in man’s relationship with God that Jesus’ arrival was causing. They believed that, at least as far as they were concerned, man’s relationship with God had never been better. They were meticulous about observing all aspects of God’s law, and believed that, in return, God was perfectly satisfied with them.

Of course, their relationship with God was all one-way. They obeyed what God had written in the law, and they simply assumed that He was pleased. They hoped that God would bless them as a result of their obedience, but they had no thought of a direct relationship with God where He could directly communicate with them, and directly express His satisfaction or displeasure.

But Jesus had come to inaugurate a whole new paradigm of God’s kingdom. In Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, these leader actually had direct access to the God that they served. And after He would leave in just a couple of years, He would send the Holy Spirit to live in the hearts of God’s people, communicating His presence directly to their minds and hearts 24/7.

The tendency people have when a new paradigm is introduced is to either resist, or to simply add the new to the old, and try to run both simultaneously. But in His illustrations of the patch and the wineskins, Jesus is clearly pointing out that that will not work. The old way of doing things, including all of the ritual observances and the scheduled fasting so loved by the Pharisees, cannot coexist with the new paradigm of the kingdom. The one will simply wreck the other, and both will ultimately become ineffective.

What is needed is to enter wholeheartedly into the new way of relationship with God, and to let go entirely of the old way of ritual. This is hard for a lot of people to do, because the new way initially seems so foreign and different. It makes people uncomfortable, leaving them saying, “No, the old way is better.” But with the advent of the New Covenant, which Jesus was even then bringing in, the Old Covenant was being inactivated, no longer effective in reaching or pleasing God.

Father, we can still retreat into ritualistic forms of trying to reach You by our own efforts, and trying to please You with our own good works. Relationship is so much more difficult to maintain, so much more time- and labor-intensive. But it is also so much richer in its results. Help me, Lord, to be willing to let go of the useless and ineffective old forms, and to hold tightly to my relationship with You that Jesus makes possible. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 30, 2017

Luke 5:33-35 (NIV) They said to him, “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.”
Jesus answered, “Can you make the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; in those days they will fast.”

The most devout people of Jesus’ day fasted twice a week. Some of this was pro forma, done simply because it was a traditional fast day. Some of the fasting was done in remembrance of the destruction of Jerusalem, and the subsequent exile to Babylon. And some was done in legitimate repentance before God.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law had watched Jesus and His followers closely for a while, and they had noticed that He did not instruct them to fast regularly like they did, or even like John had instructed his followers to. It seemed impious to them, especially in light of Jesus’ conspicuous eating and drinking with tax collectors and “sinners.”

But Jesus had taught His followers something that these religious leaders had not yet realized: in Jesus, God’s kingdom was becoming real! At long last, the Messiah had arrived, and was even then in the process of making all things new! That wasn’t cause for sorrow or fasting. It was cause for celebration and rejoicing!

But Jesus also knew that in just a couple of short years His follower would fast, when He was taken away from them, killed, and buried. Those three days would fill the hearts and minds of the disciples with such deep darkness as they could not now imagine, and in that time, they would indeed fast – there would be something worth fasting about.

But even then Jesus knew that that would be only a short season of sadness, replaced stunningly with a time of such joy as no one could imagine. That time of joy would usher in the expanding reality of the kingdom, of Jesus followers living constantly in God’s presence, and experiencing first-hand all of His glory and power. The time of fasting out of remembrance of past tragedy and God’s past judgment was drawing quickly to a close!

Father, thank You for this encouragement. Sometimes we see so clearly the problems around us that we forget that we are living in the days of the reality of your kingdom. The Savior has come, and has defeated death and sin, and we get to live in that reality, in Your presence and in Your power! Help that to be my theme today, and every day from now on. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 29, 2017

Luke 5:29-32 (HCSB) Then Levi hosted a grand banquet for Him at his house. Now there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others who were guests with them. But the Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to His disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus replied to them, “The healthy don’t need a doctor, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Despite common portrayals, Levi’s house that day was not loaded down with prostitutes, and drug dealers, and cutthroats and thieves. Instead, the crowd there was composed of some other tax collectors that Matthew knew and wanted to introduce to Jesus, as well as other pretty normal people that Mark tells us were followers of Jesus (Mark 2:15). These normal people were what the Pharisees called “Am ha aretz,” or “people of the earth,” because they were normal working people who didn’t have a lot of time to spend studying all of the fine points of the law. Thus they frequently broke many of the rules that the Pharisees lived by, and often broke many of God’s commands, either through ignorance, or through compromise. Normal people.

Both groups of people, the tax collectors and the “people of the earth,” were studiously avoided by the Pharisees. In fact, they believed that contact with these “sinners” would smudge their own righteousness. Thus they were horrified that Jesus would choose to “socialize” with them. Their basic line of thought was, if Jesus was really a holy man, He would naturally choose to hang out with other holy people (like themselves)l. If He was choosing to hang out with these “sinners,” that showed that He was either ignorant of the consequences of that choice, or He wasn’t actually that holy.

But Jesus had an entirely different view on the subject. He knew who these people were. He knew that they were sinners. In fact, He even knew the commandments that they had broken. But He also knew their hunger and thirst for genuine righteousness, and their soft, seeking hearts. Just as a sick person is drawn to a doctor, so these soul-sick sinners were drawn to Jesus. And just as a doctor is drawn to help those who need their healing skills, so Jesus would not turn away from those who needed Him in order to be made spiritually whole. In fact, they were the reason that He had come.

Jesus knew that the Pharisees, by and large, had no sense of their own sinfulness, hence no sense of their need of a savior. They believed that they were doing just fine being holy on their own. And Jesus was content to let them go on in their self-righteousness. But, as soon as one of them suddenly realized their own deep-seated sinfulness, as soon as they began to look for a savior, a physician for their souls, He would be found by them.

Father, thank You that You received me when I was left devastated by my own sinfulness and left hopeless by my inability to heal myself. You touched me and made me whole. You gave me hope, and a whole new life, a whole new future. Help me, in turn, never turn away from those who need You, no matter how dirty their souls may be. Help me instead to wholeheartedly point them to You. Amen.

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Today’s Scriptures – July 28, 2017

Luke 5:27-28 (NIV) After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.

Living in Capernaum it wasn’t really possible for Levi to NOT know who Jesus was. He saw Him all the time, walking through town, always at the center of a crowd. He had even heard Him teach a few times, and had seen Him do some miracles. Jesus fascinated Him.

But that fascination was as far as Levi could ever see things going. The two of them lived in different worlds – they definitely didn’t hang out with the same crowds! Jesus was a rabbi, a prophet, a holy man who was always surrounded by pious Pharisees and self-satisfied teachers of the law. Levi, on the other hand, was a tax collector. He was looked down on by the average Jew for working for their Roman overlords, and for taking their hard-earned money and putting it in the Emperor’s pocket. And, of course, there was the stereotype of the greedy tax collector who bled the poor to fatten himself. There were definitely some tax collectors who were like that – Levi knew some of them – but Levi himself was a devout man, and observant Jew who, truth be told, had a slight tendency toward legalism, and who just happened to work as a tax collector.

That day was like most others, with Levi tending his booth, waiting for the next round of fishermen to come by to have their catches assessed, when he saw a crowd approaching. Of course the only person who traveled in a crowd like that was Jesus. As frequently happened, the trajectory of the entourage would bring them right by Levi’s booth. And as they approached, he could hear Jesus’ clear voice talking about the kingdom of God.

As they approached, those in the crowd caught sight of Levi at his booth, and their expression changed to one of distaste. Levi didn’t mind; he had grown used to it over the years, and kept his own expression neutral and professional. Then Jesus Himself suddenly stopped right in front of Levi, bringing the whole group to a halt along with Him. Jesus eyes fastened on Levi, and he braced himself for the chastisement that the was sure awaited him. But instead, Jesus’ eyes crinkled in a smile, and He said quietly, “Follow me.” Then He and the crowd started to move on.

The decision was made in only a moment’s time. Jesus had asked him, Levi, to follow Him. Or was it really asking? It had felt more like a command than an invitation. But how could he follow Him? How could he not?! Taking one deep breath and one last look at the life he was leaving behind, Levi walked out of the tax booth, and joined the back of the crowd that surrounded Jesus.

Father, it is refreshing to see Levi/Matthew in this new light. And it is refreshing to see that, just like You, Jesus didn’t look on the outward appearance, but on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). In this despised tax collector, He saw a heart that longed for Your kingdom, and that hungered and thirsted for true righteousness. Lord, give me eyes that see past the outward appearance to the inward reality of those around me, so that I can see who is longing for You now. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 27, 2017

Luke 5:21-26 (NIV) The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”

The place where Jesus was teaching was filled with people, quite a few of them Pharisees and scribes, or teachers of the law. This was quite early in Jesus’ ministry, and these religious leaders were still trying to figure out what to make of Him. So they came to where He was, listened to His teachings, and asked penetrating questions.

These men were stunned when Jesus told the paralyzed man, “Your sins are forgiven.” This was not a simple platitude that anyone could say, like, “God loves you.” This, to them, was a clear pronouncement of forgiveness, something that only God Himself was authorized to do. For Jesus, whom they considered a mere man, to take that divine prerogative on Himself was a clear example of blasphemy, an offense that carried the penalty of death by stoning.

None of them said any of this out loud, but all of them were thinking it. Before that conversation could start, however, Jesus called them on what was going on in their minds. (The fact that He could tell them what they were thinking freaked them out a lot, too!) The question on the table was one of authority: did Jesus have God-given authority to pronounce sins forgiven? If not, then to do so was clearly blasphemy, and had to be confronted as such. If so, then that would be tantamount to Jesus claiming to be God.

Jesus presented His argument as a test of sorts. It was very easy to tell someone that their sins were forgiven. On the surface it was simply a matter of words; there was no outward sign that would prove that the forgiveness had indeed taken place.

On the other hand, it was a much more difficult thing to pronounce someone healed of paralysis. If they couldn’t then get up and walk home, the healing didn’t happen, and the healer’s authority over the infirmity was conclusively disproved.

So Jesus’ solution was simple. He would do the hard thing, the thing that was visible, as proof that He also had authority to do the easier thing, the invisible thing, of pronouncing sins forgiven. And before any debate could begin, He did exactly that. He commanded the paralytic to get up, pick up his mat, and walk home.

All eyes turned to the paralytic. After only a moment, the man sat up with wonder in his eyes at his own ability to do so. Then he stood to his feet for the first time in ages, bent over and picked up his mat, and walked out in full view of everyone, praising God the whole way.

The crowd, including the Pharisees and teachers of the law, had no idea what to do with this. It was not only an outstanding miracle, it also threw the whole question of who this man really was open to unthinkable possibilities. It tore open theological compartments that these religious leaders had long believed to be hermetically sealed and settled.

Father, we can be equally rigid in our theology, unwilling to accept any new light or fresh insights that You want to show us, because they might throw out of kilter what we already believe. So we miss out on knowing You better and more completely as we grow. Help me, Lord, to always stick completely to Your word, but to always be open to new insights into Your word that You want to share. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 26, 2017

Luke 5:17-20 (NIV) One day as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law, who had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem, were sitting there. And the power of the Lord was present for him to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralytic on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”

All of the people who came to Jesus for healing had faith that Jesus could heal them, or they would not have come in the first place. But these men who were bringing their friend to Jesus had grit as well.

As they approached the house in Capernaum (Mark 2:1) where Jesus was teaching, they found the narrow street clogged with people. The crowd was milling around more than moving forward, because people weren’t simply getting healed and leaving. Instead, those who had received healing from Jesus then wanted to stay and hear Him teach. So the crowd in and around the house was becoming more dense with the passing of time, not less.

But these men were determined to get their paralyzed friend to Jesus. They developed a plan, and pushed through the crowd to put it into action. Roofs in that part of the world were flat with a low wall or parapet around them, composed of mud and clay packed between rafters, then covered with tile. There was often an outside stairway that went up to the roof as well, and these friend carried their friend up it on his sleeping mat. Then they removed the tiles near where Jesus was sitting ,and dug through the clay until an opening had been made.

Everyone inside was stunned when a shower of dirt fell to the floor, and hands were seen rapidly digging through the ceiling above them. Then they broke into laughter when the man on the mat was lowered down through the hole that had been made. Several men nearby rose to their feet and reached up, helping to lower the paralytic to the floor in front of Jesus.

Jesus looked down at the man lying on the mat, looking hopefully back up at him, then up to the hopeful faces peering down at Him through the hole in the ceiling, and was genuinely impressed. It was easy to see that all of them had a lot of faith in Him.

But as He looked back down at the man, and listened for what it was that the Father wanted Him to do in this situation, He suddenly understood the deepest need that this man had, and that was to have his sins pronounced forgiven. Many had told this man that his disability was punishment from God for some sin he had committed, and so he had been carrying an enormous load of guilt.

So, since that was what was most necessary, that’s where Jesus focused first. The man’s body would be healed, too, but the first thing needed was to rid the man’s mind and soul from its burden of guilt and shame by pronouncing forgiveness.

Father, it’s really easy to see what doctors call “presenting symptoms” and then make the assumption that that is the primary need that must be addressed when we interact with broken people. But Jesus always listened first, observing with His heart more than with His eyes, and so was able to address the real issue, even if it wasn’t immediately evident to human eyes. Help me to listen, too, Lord, so that I can help people where they really need help , and so that their whole body, soul, and spirit can be made whole in You. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 25, 2017

Luke 5:12-16 (NIV) While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.
Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”
Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.

This man was about as unclean as a person could possibly get. He didn’t have just a spot of leprosy, say on his forehead like Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:19-21). He was literally covered with the dead and dying tissue that characterized this dreaded disease. The man was already considered dead by his family and friends; there was no way there could be any contact with him without all of them becoming unclean themselves, something that no one was willing to risk.

The man had heard of Jesus and how He could heal diseases with just a word. So when he saw Jesus walking toward him that day, he fell down with his face to the ground a good distance away, and yelled out, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” He had no idea if Jesus would be willing. After all, he was a complete outcast, assumed by many to be suffering punishment from God Himself for some heinous sin or other. Jesus could easily have walked right by the man, giving him a wide berth, of course, and no one would blame him.

But Jesus was not about to let faith like this man had go unanswered. He kept on walking right up to him without varying His pace in the least. Then, to the wonder (and horror) of those with Him, He bent down and laid His hand on the man’s sore-covered body, saying gently, “I am willing. Be clean.”

Before the gasps of horror and disgust had even died away, the man felt power surge through his whole body, and he knew that he had been healed. He dared to look up from the ground, and found himself looking squarely into the smiling face of Jesus. Jesus held out His hand again, and this time the man took it with his own now clean hand, and climbed to his feet.

Jesus’ warning was not to imply that He had done anything wrong, or that He needed to be ashamed of touching and healing the leper. He simply wanted the focus of the healing to be God and His kingdom. So He instructed the man to simply go to a priest, and to walk through the law’s process for those who had been healed of leprosy (Leviticus 14:1-32) without telling everyone how he had been healed.

But, of course, the man couldn’t help but tell everyone he met about Jesus and about how He had reached through the disease to touch him and heal him. The end result was exponentially more people coming to Jesus to learn and to be healed. That was good for the kingdom, but it made it more difficult for Jesus to be able to spend the kind of time in communion with the Father that He needed in order to hear His voice clearly. But He adapted to the new circumstances, purposefully and frequently withdrawing from the crowds so that He could be alone with the God who not only had sent Him, but who directed His every step.

Father, the lessons here are clear: with You in our hearts, we don’t need to fear engaging with the unclean things in our society that need the light and shalom of You kingdom to bring them wholeness and make them clean. But, at the same time, I can’t do that and maintain my own purity and shalom unless I intentionally keep my connection with You strong and vital by spending lots of time in one-on-one communion with You. If Jesus Himself needed that to be able to effectively do the work of Your kingdom, I most surely do!

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