Monthly Archives: December 2017

Today’s Scripture – December 31, 2017

Luke 12:27-31 (NIV) “Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.”

Jesus gives another example of the worry-free kingdom life: wildflowers. Wildflowers are incredibly ephemeral things, here today and gone tomorrow, their dried remains used as fuel for fires. It would be perfectly understandable if God did not waste much time on making such temporary things beautiful. But they are!

Jesus’ point is that such beauty in the flowers doesn’t result from them fretting and stewing over what they will wear or where they will buy it. It comes from God’s gracious provision. In the same way, God promises to care for His people who simply obey His commands and trust in Him to provide what they need.

Jesus never fretted about what to eat or drink or wear, not even once. And, as a prime illustration of God’s kingdom provision and care, He was never without anything that He truly needed. And He never had to tow trailers full of weeks-worth of belongings and supplies, just in case God forgot about Him. God provided everything that He needed, as He had need of it, on time, and in exactly the right amount.

This is yet another way in which the people of God are to be different from those who are not God’s people. Our lives are to be characterized by trust, provision, and peace of mind. Those of the world have lives that are usually characterized by striving, grasping, and angst, even those with great worldly wealth worrying about how to hang onto it, or how to get still more.

God’s people are to have a single focus in their lives: His kingdom. And, as we live out that focus, God has promised to provide all that we truly need, always on time, and in exactly the right amount.

Father, I have lived on both sides of this issue, striving and worrying in my BC life, and trusting and being provided for in my AD life. And there really is no comparison between the two. Thank You for Your love, Your grace, and Your provision, and for always keeping Your promises. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 26, 2017

Luke 12:22-26 (NIV) Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”

In contrast to the materialism and greed that typifies so many cultures, Jesus proposed an alternative: the way of the kingdom.

The typical defense of materialism, even among God’s people, is that we have to provide for ourselves food, clothing, and shelter, the necessities of life. And the more resources that we can gather, the easier it is to attain those things, and thus the more secure we will be. On the surface, this seems logical and reasonable. And so we excuse our chasing after worldly wealth under the auspices of simple security.

But Jesus wanted to refocus the discussion; to reframe it in kingdom terms. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. In fact, it is entirely possible to live a privileged, wealthy life, clothed in the finest clothes and eating an abundance of fine foods, and then end up in hell for all eternity. (Witness the rich man in Jesus’ parable in Luke 16:19-31!)

As an illustration, Jesus pointed to the ravens. They never pursue food and clothing, and they never fret about what will happen if they go out one day and not find any bugs to eat, or if they were to molt and new feathers didn’t grow back. They simply live, doing precisely what God designed them to do and to be, and going out every day expecting to find all that they need to eat provided for them. If they don’t find adequate bugs in location A, they simply head over to location B. The look diligently, knowing that God has already provided.

Jesus points out that God has promised to provide for His people. They don’t have to eat bugs or look under rocks. But God has ways of providing the food that is necessary each day for those who are diligently working in His kingdom. Worrying won’t add to the food supply, and amassing wealth won’t actually guarantee the future. So Jesus recommends not focusing on either one of those, but simply being about God’s business, and trusting Him to provide what is necessary each day, just as Jesus did.

Father, this is a good reminder. So many of us try to amass resources as a hedge against future problems, and then rely on those resources for our security. But that is relying on ourselves, on our own cleverness and resourcefulness, instead of simply relying on You and Your promises. Thank You, Lord, for all of those good promises, and for the fact that You have never broken a single one of them. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 23, 2017

Luke 12:16-21 (NIV) And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”‘
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

 

This parable was told to illustrate Jesus’ commandment to guard against greed of all kinds (verse 15). The main character in the story is a man whom God had blessed with an abundance of crops, so abundant, in fact, that his barns were not large enough to hold it all.

The man’s focus should have been on God, the one who had poured out the blessing on him, and on asking God what HE wanted him to do with this abundance. God might have been able to point him to hundreds of poor families that could have really used a gift of this food. And, when he obeyed, God could have poured out still more blessings on him.

But his mind was not even bent in that direction. Instead, the sheer abundance of the harvest moved him to think about how he could preserve it for himself. That way, he could take life easy for a few years, instead of having to work. It was such an attractive scenario that it pushed every other though from his head.

But God’s final pronouncement in the parable shows how futile that kind of thinking really is. The man had big plans, but God knew that he wouldn’t live to see them. He would die that very night.

The point of the parable is not that God was condemning the man to death for his self-centered thinking or his lack of generosity. Nor was it that the man might have saved his life if he had been more generous. Parables are usually much simpler than that. It simply shows that, in this world where death could come at any moment, a focus on worldly riches, which cannot pass into the next life, is supremely foolish. Instead, one’s focus should always be on eternal things.

Father, we really can get trapped in a world-centered mindset that not only blinds us to our own mortality (none of us is guaranteed tomorrow, no matter how young or healthy), but that takes our focus off of You and Your will for us. Help me, Lord, to always keep eternity in view, and to keep a soft, movable heart before You all the day of my life, no matter how many or how few they may be. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 22, 2017

Luke 12:13-15 (NIV) Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Jesus spoke so powerfully, and with such authority, that this man was hoping to enlist His help in his own conflict with his brother. There was a disagreement about the allotted shares of an inheritance, a very serious matter.

But Jesus, as much as He was passionate about what some today term social justice, would not allow Himself to be drawn into this conflict, even insofar as giving a single opinion as to the merits of the man’s case.

Part of the reason for His reticence was that He was focused on His mission, and any pull toward other things would only end up being a distraction (compare with Acts 6:2-4). Even good things can get in the way of the best thing, stealing time, energy, and resources away from what someone is actually called to do.

But the other reason for Jesus’ unwillingness to play arbiter in this situation was that the man’s plea did not originate from a desire to follow God more closely, but was motivated by greed, which militates against everything that God’s kingdom stands for.

People can persuade themselves that their motives are selfless, but often, despite our rationalizations, the motive for pursuing financial gain is not altruistic at all, but is greed. And, for the people of God’s kingdom, greed must never be allowed to take root in our hearts. God can make a person a great, powerful, and effective witness without giving them more materially than simple “daily bread,” just what is essential. But, often, the pursuit of “just a little more” in the way of resources or funding can become a distraction from the real work of the kingdom at best, and an outright idol at worst, taking the person clear out of action, leaving them worthless to God.

Father, we really can delude ourselves in our pursuit of the money or “stuff” that we swear will help us to be more effective in ministry, and in reaching out to those who don’t know You. But we have thousands of times the resources and technology that those in the first century had, or those during the reformation, or even those during Wesley’s day or the days of the great revivals. We should thus be thousands of times more effective at growing Your kingdom than they were. But the truth is, we are a small fraction as effective, showing that the “stuff,” the resources, isn’t the answer. The only way to be effective witnesses for You is to leave all of that behind, to stop pursuing resources, and simply pursue You, rely on You, on Your provision, and on the power of the Holy Spirit. And all of that You give without cost, and throw in “all these things” that we legitimately do need (Matthew 6:33) for free. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 21, 2017

Luke 12:8-12 (NIV) “I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

Jesus had no delusions about the world into which He would soon send His disciples. It would be a dangerous place for them, with threats all around. He knew that they would be arrested, beaten, and the vast majority of them killed for the gospel. And it was into that reality that He spoke two powerful truths.

The first truth was that, even in the midst of persecution, torture, and the threat of death, it was not okay for Jesus ‘followers to deny Him. If His followers stood firm and affirmed their relationship with Him regardless of the consequences, Jesus promised that they would be acknowledged in return before God’s throne in heaven. But if someone denied Jesus, then they would be denied by Him in heaven.

Some wonder how this played out in terms of Peter’s denial of Jesus on the night of His arrest and trial. The game changer there was that Peter repented and turned back to Jesus. Repentance changes everything. This was in stark contrast to Judas who , after betraying Jesus, did not repent, but committed suicide, thus dooming himself to be denied by Jesus in the end, and sentenced to an eternity in hell. And it is well worth noting that, at the end of his earthly life, even when threatened with crucifixion, Peter did not deny Jesus a second time, but stood firm all the way to the end.

The second truth is that, when Jesus’ disciples have to stand firm, that they won’t be standing alone. The Holy Spirit will be present in them, empowering them, even to the point of providing them with the very words that they are to say. This will not guarantee their release or their victory in court. But it will guarantee that truth is clearly spoken to power, that a clear opportunity to repent and receive Jesus is given, and that God’s agenda will be moved forward, even if they are convicted and/or killed.

Father, thank You for this reminder that our health or safety is not our key goal as Your people; the advancement of Your kingdom is. Help me, Lord, to keep that goal firmly in mind, to always stand firm, and to allow You to steer me through all of the hard places. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 20, 2017

Luke 12:4-7 (NIV) “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Even though the Pharisees and teachers of the law had set themselves so fully against Jesus that they were now plotting how to murder Him, that didn’t change Jesus’ plan one bit. He knew that His path led to the cross, and that until that time came the leaders were powerless to cause Him harm.

Jesus wanted His disciples to have the same way of thinking and believing, not just in the short-term while He was with them, but for the rest of their lives. As they continued to spread the gospel, they would always find those who were opposed to them, even violently opposed to them. But they couldn’t allow that to stop them, or to turn them away from the path that God had chosen for them.

At the core of Jesus’s teaching is both sides of a single coin. The first side is appropriate fear. To fear people who can only kill the body instead of fearing and obeying God, who can cast the soul into hell for all eternity, makes no sense if you think about it. If you fear God, on the other hand, your body may be tortured for a time, and even killed, but your soul will ultimately be given rest in God’s presence forever.

The flip side of that coin is God’s care. Jesus knew that God loved Him, and was guiding His steps and protecting Him until His race was completed. Nothing could harm Jesus unless God allowed it, and he knew that God would not allow it unless it materially moved His agenda forward.

In the same way, God has committed Himself to protecting Jesus ‘ followers until their own races were finished, providing for all of their needs, and helping them over all of the hard places until His plan for them was accomplished. During that whole time, nothing will harm them unless God allows it, and they can rest secure in the knowledge that He will not allow it unless it materially moves His agenda forward.

Father, thank You for the encouragement on both sides of this coin. Help me to live secure in the knowledge that You have me firmly in Your hands, just as You did Jesus, just as You did those first followers, and that You will see me through all the way to the finish line, if I will simply stay there. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – December 19, 2017

Luke 12:1-3 (NIV) Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.

The more the Jewish leaders pushed back against Jesus, the more His following grew, although the conflict was not the reason for the growth. But as Jesus drew nearer the cross, He ramped up His level of activity, and God drew more and more people to hear Him. This, of course, frustrated the leaders terribly. They were fighting Him with everything they had, and He continued to grow in popularity. (Their frustrations were plainly expressed in John 11:47-48.)

But Jesus was not done with the Pharisees yet. As He warned His followers away from not only their teachings but their influence as well (using yeast as an illustration), He identified their primary sin: hypocrisy. Hypocrisy, at its root, is pretending to be something you are not. The term originated in the theater as a term for actors who wore masks, taking on an external persona far different from what they were underneath.

As Jesus saw it (and how He saw it was the truth), the Pharisees were hypocrites not because they were trying to keep God’s commandments and sometimes failing, but because they were depicting themselves as people who were obeying every jot and tittle of God’s commands, when they knew that they were in direct disobedience to some of His requirements. They projected an outward appearance of holiness, while inwardly having hearts full of hatred, pride, and greed, completely out of character for those who identified themselves as God’s people. They were actors wearing masks of righteousness to cover over their evil souls.

Jesus’ next words have been used out of context to support evangelistic efforts. But these words were not an encouragement; they were a warning. To the Pharisees, and to any who aimed to follow them in their ways, Jesus warned that the secrets of the heart that were kept hidden under the masks would come out and be known, and the plots formed against Jesus, and against His true people would be exposed.

Father, Jesus’ words here proved absolutely true, as the plotting and machinations of those leaders were exposed by You, ultimately foiled, and are now published globally in Your Scriptures. Lord, preserve me and all of Your people from hypocrisy. And my request is not just about being honest about who we are, warts and all. Instead, I ask you to help us to be as good in our hearts as we would like to portray ourselves being on the outside. Amen.

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