Monthly Archives: August 2017

Today’s Scripture – August 31, 2017

Luke 7:18-20 (NIV) John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?'”

Some try to protect John’s reputation by saying that he really wasn’t doubting Jesus, but that he was simply prompting Him to declare Himself publicly as the Messiah to move the process along.

But the fact is, as John sat in prison, as he heard the things that Jesus was doing, the doubts did start to creep in. John knew what he had heard and seen at Jesus’ baptism (John 1:32-34), and that he himself had proclaimed Jesus to be the Lamb of God. But he, like a lot of others, had expected things to move quickly to their completion once the Messiah had actually appeared.

Yes, Jesus was doing all kinds of wonderful miracles, but what about taking away the sins of the world? Yes, He was delivering people from demons, but what about the deliverance of God’s people from the tyranny of the Romans? Yes, He was a great teacher, but why were so many still walking in error?

It’s important to note that Jesus’ performance was not lacking in any way. The problem was with John’s expectations. His understanding of what Jesus had come to do, coupled with his own frustration at being locked up, produced in him an impatience that things were moving forward so slowly.

Over the centuries, many people have become frustrated by their circumstances, and because their expectations of how Jesus and God would act to rescue them, and when that would happen, weren’t met. Then their faith would wane, and they would sometimes even turn away. But God’s actions, and the timing of those actions, are never dictated by the desires and expectations of people. God sees all things, even things that are hidden from any human eye, and He acts when the time is exactly right, not a moment before.

The correct response from God’s people when things don’t seem to be happening on time is for us to hold on to what we know, to stay faithful, and to wait patiently, knowing that every promise God has ever made to us will be fulfilled.

Father, I do sometimes get impatient while waiting for Your promises. Forgive me. I do sometimes lose faith and give up when my expectations are not fully met. Forgive me. Help me instead to do all that You suggest here. Help me to hold on to what I know, regardless of the circumstances. Help me to stay faithful, doing all that You have called me to do while I wait. And help me to wait patiently, knowing in my heart that every single promise You have made will be fulfilled. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 30, 2017

Luke 7:11-17 (NIV) Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out–the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her.
When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Then he went up and touched the coffin, and those carrying it stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

 

People died every day in Judea, but Jesus only rarely performed resurrections. That’s because, due to the original sin of Adam and Eve, death is the lot of all people. Any reprieve that Jesus did give was only temporary – those resurrected people died again after a space of time.

What moved Jesus to act in this case was compassion. In addition to the grief over losing a beloved son, this man’s death had thrown the mother’s whole future into uncertainty. The woman was a widow, and the man being carried out was her only son, her only remaining means of support. If she was young enough, she might remarry and have a husband to provide for her needs, but that was iffy. If she was older, her prospects were significantly more gloomy.

As soon as He realized this, Jesus’ plan became obvious. He walked up to the woman and urged her to stop crying. Then He walked right up to the coffin and laid His hand on it, causing those carrying it to stop in their tracks. His words were simple: “Young man, I say to you, get up!” This was very similar to His later words to Jairus’ daughter: “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” (Mark 5:41)

No more needed to be done. The man in the coffin opened his eyes, sat up, and began to talk! The whole complexion of the scene was transformed. Sorrow was swallowed up in amazed joy; weeping and wailing faded into gasps of amazement and astonished laughter.

The people immediately decided that Jesus must be a great prophet. Both Elijah and Elisha had raised the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24, 2 Kings 4:18-37), so they figured that He must be someone like them. And, of course, they spread the word all throughout the land.

Father, Jesus made it all look so easy. But this amazing power was not limited to Him and His ministry. After Pentecost, even Peter and Paul were able to restore life at Your direction (Acts 9:36-42; 20:9-12). Lord, Your kingdom is no place for free spirits or mavericks who decide on their own what needs doing and then demand that You honor their decision. But when You clearly call us to do something, whether speaking words of healing, sharing the good news of the kingdom, or even raising the dead, we, as Your people, are required to obey, no matter how improbable the situation. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 29, 2017

Luke 7:6-10 (NIV) He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

The centurion was definitely a man of profound faith. He had faith in God and worshipped Him as a God-fearer, which moved him to connect to the Jewish community, even to the point of building a synagogue in his town.

He had faith that Jesus would be able to heal his deathly-ill servant, prompting him to send the Jewish elders to Him to ask for His help. But now that he got the word that Jesus was on His way to the house, the true depth of his faith was revealed.

The centurion knew that it was against custom for Jewish people to enter the home of a gentile; that such an act would make them ceremonially unclean. So he sent some friends to Jesus letting Him know that, in the centurion’s opinion, He didn’t have to break this tradition. The centurion believed that all of the forces of nature were available to Jesus, and that all He had to do was to speak the appropriate word, and his servant would be healed. His model was his own authority over soldiers, who jumped at his every command. He believed that Jesus had a similar authority over whatever sickness had control over his servant. So, rather than have Jesus come all the way to the house, the centurion respectfully requested that Jesus simply speak that appropriate word.

Jesus’ stunned reaction was caused by the fact that this man, a gentile, actually got it! This man understood who Jesus was and what He was capable of accomplishing better than any of the Jewish people He had met, including His own disciples!

Of course, the faith of the centurion was immediately rewarded. The friends were sent back to the centurion’s house, and found the servant completely well, and the centurion joyful.

Father, sometimes we make things far more difficult than they need to be. The centurion believed Jesus could do a miracle, he asked for the miracle, and the miracle happened. It brings to mind Mark 11:24 (NIV): “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” There are some conditions in the context, but this is the exact kind of faith expressed by the centurion. Help me to exercise that same faith in You at all times. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 28, 2017

Luke 7:1-6a (NIV) When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them.

Centurions were men of great trust in Roman society. Each one was the commander of a hundred Roman soldiers, and were generally considered men of great character.

This particular centurion was an amazing man. He was a God-fearer, one who worshipped the true God but had not yet undergone circumcision, so was not yet considered a convert to Judaism. That one step of faith could easily have cost him his position, and couldn’t be denied, as it was a mark that would be clearly visible every time he used the public bathes.

But the man was devoted to the Jewish people, and had even built a synagogue in his neighborhood – not a small or inexpensive undertaking. That step and his good relationship with the Jewish community had earned him the willingness of these Jewish elders to go to Jesus and to plead with Him on his behalf. Their message was that if any gentile deserved to have a healing done for him, this was the man.

It is also significant that the healing requested was not for the centurion himself, or even for a family member. It was for a servant who was highly valued by the centurion, and who was sick to the point of death. Medical help had been sought, but the doctors were unable to help the man. But then someone, likely one of these Jewish elders, told him about Jesus, and the wonders that He was able to perform, healing all manner of diseases with a touch, or even a word.

That was all that it took. The testimony of these men about Jesus bloomed in his heart into faith. So he sent the elders to Jesus to petition Him to come and heal his servant.

Father, it’s amazing to me how quickly a word of testimony can grow into full-fledged faith in the soil of a prepared heart. We sometimes think that, in order to persuade someone to believe in Jesus, we have to know a lot of theology, or have a bunch of Bible verses memorized. But all it really takes is a clear testimony of what Jesus has done in my own life to show someone Your love and Your power to change hearts. Open my lips, Lord, to speak Your word clearly and boldly everywhere I go. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 24, 2017

Luke 6:46-49 (NIV) “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

The only sure foundation for life is found in the Scriptures, especially in the words of Jesus. However hearing, or even knowing His words by heart, is not enough. Only obedience to those words will equip a person for life in the kingdom. At the last judgment, there will be no test on memory verses to determent a person’s beliefs, but a thorough inspection of their life and actions, which are the surest indicators of what they believe (Revelation 20:12-130.

Jesus, as usual, gave a powerful illustration to cement this fact in peoples’ minds. The person who not only hears what Jesus says, but who puts those words into practice, enabling them to become foundational in their lives, will find that, like a house with a deep and solid foundation, they will be enabled to stand firm, no matter what storms shake his or her life.

On the other hand, those who simply hear Jesus‘ words but don’t make them foundational to their lives have a whole different outcome. They will end up building their lives, not on God’s eternal truths, but on the shifting sands of public opinion, situational ethics, and popular theology. When the storms of life hit these people, and they will, the results will be catastrophic: a complete collapse and, ultimately, destruction.

Many have heard Jesus words. Some of those even have those words emblazoned on tee shirts, or bumper stickers, or Bible covers. But only those who allow the words of Jesus to become internalized, to not only penetrate their hearts, but to work a transformation there, will find the words able to act as a strong foundation, one that will stand through all the storms of life.

Father, thank You that these precious teachings of Jesus have been so faithfully preserved for us in the words of Scripture. Help me to always read these words, not for information, but to allow them to sink deep into my heart, to transform my whole life and worldview, and to move me to act in ways that reflect Your character and Your glory. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 23, 2017

Luke 6:43-45 (HCSB) “A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit; on the other hand, a bad tree doesn’t produce good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs aren’t gathered from thornbushes, or grapes picked from a bramble bush. A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart. An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.”

Jesus’ test of the heart is very simple: look at the fruit. By the fruit of a person’s life, Jesus means a person’s words, especially their unguarded words, their actions, especially their actions when they believe that they are unwatched, and the results that they have on the lives of the people around them, either causing blessing and betterment, or causing damage and destruction.

If a person’s fruit is good, if their words are pure, bringing light and wisdom when they speak; if their actions are just and right, reflecting God’s character; and if the result of their lives is building others up, drawing them closer to God, and causing change for the better, those are clear signs that their hearts are good. The fruit tells the story of a good tree.

If, on the other hand, a person’s fruit is bad, if their words are coarse and crude, or cruel and cutting, stirring up discontent and strife, and causing pain in those at whom they are directed; if their actions are wrong, sinful or harsh, inconsistent with God’s character; and if the result of their lives is tearing others down, driving them farther from God, and causing damage and despair, those are clear signs that their hearts are bad. Again, the fruit tells the story of a bad tree.

According to Jesus, there is no such thing as a person with a good heart who speaks crude, hateful words, whose actions and attitudes are sinful and harsh, and whose lives cause harm to the bodies and souls of others. That was why He so strongly condemned the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Their words, their actions, and the discouragement that they caused in the hearts of God’s people told the story of rotten hearts, despite the fact that they held themselves up as paragons of virtue.

It is interesting to some that Jesus spoke these words immediately after He seemed to condemn passing judgment on others. Isn’t evaluating a person’s fruit a sort of judgment? But the parable of the sawdust and the plank is not primarily about judging others; it is primarily about hypocrisy in judgment, judging others harshly for sins that we are also engaging in, like many of the Pharisees were doing. In contrast, Jesus here is admonishing His followers to be wise in who they follow, to inspect the fruit of the teacher’s life before they sign on as their disciples.

Father, it is easy to see that the fruit of Jesus’ life was 100% good all the time, bringing light and life and Your presence and grace everywhere He went. How different than so many of the teachers today, whose fruit is of a different kind, a bad kind, and whose lives are periodically shaken by scandals. Help me to only follow Jesus and those whose fruit shows a similar good heart, and help my own heart to be good and right, so that every fruit of my life brings glory to Your name. Amen,.

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Today’s Scripture – August 22, 2017

Luke 6:41-42 (NIV) “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

In this section, Jesus is returning to the theme of judgment. Jesus was a master of rhetoric, using hyperbole to paint ridiculous but stunningly clear pictures of the points He is making. This particular picture is aimed straight at the Pharisees, whose judging of others was legendary.

In this particular picture, one person is standing in judgment over someone who has a speck of sawdust in their eye, offering to help remove it for them, while at the same time, they have a board sticking out of their own eye. One vital element in this hyperbole is that both the board and the speck of sawdust are made of the same thing: wood.

The Pharisees were quick to point out the sins that they saw in other people, while carefully hiding the fact that they were engaging in the same sinful behaviors in private, often to a greater degree than those at whom they were pointing. This, of course, disqualified them from being able to help anyone with that particular sin.

Of course, this did not and does not apply only to Pharisees, but to anyone who has sin in their lives. Their sin completely disqualifies them from helping a brother or sister who is also sinning, especially when it comes to dealing with the sin that they both have in common.

But that’s not the end of this picture. We are supposed to graciously help a brother or sister caught in sin to repent and to be restored. But to do that, we must first make sure that our own hands are clean. We must ruthlessly examine ourselves to ensure that there is no sin, overt or hidden, large or small, in our own lives. Only then can we have hands clean enough and vision clear enough to help our brother or sister with their sin, overt or hidden, large or small.

Father, how easy it is for us to see sinful behavior in others, the whole time turning a blind eye to the sin that is present in our own lives. Give me eyes that can see clearly any trace of sin in my own life and heart, and a will to deal ruthlessly with that sin, and cast it out of my life. That way, when I see sin in someone else, I won’t condemn them for it, but can humbly help them to get rid of it. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 21, 2017

Luke 6:39-40 (NIV) He also told them this parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.

Everyone who wants to grow spiritually must choose their teacher carefully. In every age there have been men and women who put themselves forward as teachers and gurus, some offering their services for free, others offering their services for a fee, or sometimes for publicity, for increased reputation because of how many students they are able to attract.

Some of these teacher were and are blind guides, false teachers who cannot see the ways of the kingdom, and who teach a dead faith of rules and regulations. In Jesus’ day, most of the Pharisees and teachers of the law fell into this category. They had no spiritual life in themselves, no power to push back spiritual darkness, to heal bodies, or to raise the dead. But still they pushed themselves forward as great spiritual teachers because of their intellectual knowledge.

As Jesus pointed out, the norm is for students to approach the knowledge and skill of their teacher. But it is the extremely rare student who will surpass their master. The goal is to become like the master. And if your master has a lot of head knowledge, but no spiritual power, that is what you will become if you apprentice yourself to them – that is as high as you can go.

The secret is in choosing the right teacher. Those who apprentice themselves to Jesus as His disicples are learning from the most spiritually alive and powerful teacher who ever lived. Therefore, they can look forward to being like Him, to having that same kind of spiritual life and power in their own lives when they are fully trained and sent forth into the harvest. No one will ever surpass Jesus in spiritual life and power, but becoming like Him is not only a reasonable goal of those who genuinely follow Him, it is actually promised in this passage.

Father, this is a mind blowing promise that You are making to us. To become like our teacher is a worthy goal to strive intentionally for. And with Your help, with the power of Your Holy Spirit working in us, it is achievable. Help me, Lord, to be intentional in all of my learning, in all of my imitating of Jesus, in all of my openness to Your transforming power, so that I can realize this goal in my own life. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture

Luke 6:37-38 (NIV)

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

The last phrase :“For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you,” applies not just to the giving part of this teaching, but to every part.

  • The measure that we use to judge others is the same measure that God will use to judge us. If we judge others harshly, then God will judge us just as harshly. If we judge others with our judgment tempered with mercy, then God will judge us mercifully. But overall, it would be best for each person if we simply withheld our judgment of others entirely, leaving that to God, and showed mercy instead. Then we will not end up being judged harshly by God for judging others harshly.
  • If we condemn others, then we ourselves will be subject to the same condemnation. No one is without sin; no one is eligible to “cast the first stone” (John 8:7-8); no one can point a condemning finger at others without finding ourselves on the other end of God’s condemning finger.
  • If we forgive others when they do us wrong, we will be forgiven when we do wrong; the same measure will be used. But if we withhold forgiveness, refusing to be merciful, we will find that forgiveness is withheld from us in turn (Matthew 6:14-15).
  • And in the area of giving, the same measure will be used by God that we use toward others as well. If we are generous toward others we will receive generously from God’s hand. But if we are stingy toward others and grasping toward what God has blessed us with, we will find that we have cut ourselves off from God’s blessings, too.

This is not karma, or tit for tat. It is simply that way that God has set things up to work in His kingdom. The more that we, as God’s people, align ourselves with His loving, generous nature, the more blessings we will receive. But the more that we exhibit the attitudes of the world, harshly judging and condemning others, refusing to forgive, and being greedy toward our possessions, the more we will find ourselves cut off from God’s blessings, and subject to His judgment.

Father, no one who reads these words of Jesus can claim ignorance: the words are crystal clear and completely unambiguous. Help us, Lord, to really reflect Your character in the ways that we treat others, so that we can keep ourselves in the path of Your blessings. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 10, 2017

Luke 6:32-36 (NIV) “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

The key to all of these kingdom expectations is that the character of those who belong to the kingdom will no longer be the character of the world, but that it will be transformed into the character of God Himself.

The people of the world show love to others when there is an expectation that they will be loved in return. And if their love is not returned, they are quick to turn away, to cut their losses and move on. But God shows love all day long to people who not only don’t return it, but who often throw it back in His face. And He keeps on showing that love for years, sometimes generations. God’s people, the people of His kingdom, are expected to show that same kind of self-sacrificial, other-focused, long-lasting love to others.

The people of the world do good to others as long as there is an adequate return. That return may be material, or just feeling good about trying to make a difference. But God does good to others who never acknowledge it, and when there is no “payback.” He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45), even though the evil and the unrighteous never thank Him for this provision that makes food grow and makes life pleasant. God’s people, the people of the kingdom, are expected to continue to pour blessings into the lives of the people around them, even if that good is never acknowledged.

The people of the world lend to others expecting to make a profit on their investment. But God never “lends” to people at all. Everything that we receive from God is a gift of love. Some people do multiply what God gives them out of love and devotion to Him, but that is not a condition of His giving, and He freely gives a multitude of blessings to those who will not even acknowledge that those blessings come from Him, preferring to believe that they are the result of hard work, or “luck.” God’s people, the people of the kingdom, are not to lend to others with the expectation of gain, but are to lend freely, and even to give to those in need with no expectation of return.

Of course it takes more than a mere profession of faith to change the mindset and character of a person from the mindset of the world to a kingdom mindset. It takes transformation, a complete remaking of the mind that only comes to those who are willing to give themselves wholly to God, to make themselves a living sacrifice, holding nothing back (Romans 12:1-2). But to those willing to give themselves fully to God, He will give a new heart of flesh to take the place of their stony, worldly heart, and will move them with His Holy Spirit to be just like Him, and to do what He would do (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

Father, to have such a kingdom mind and heart seems so far a stretch for many of us that it is hard for us to believe that we could ever think and behave in those ways. A big part of that is that we try to figure out how we can change our own minds and behaviors to be more like You, instead of simply devoting ourselves entirely to You and allowing You to do the more significant work of true inner transformation, remaking us into Your own image. Help me, Lord, to give up the “self-help” paradigm so common among Your people, and simply give myself to You to be completely transformed. Amen.

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