Monthly Archives: January 2018

Today’s Scripture – January 31, 2018

Luke 15:3-7 (NIV) Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

The context of this parable is Jesus’ willingness to associate with sinners, even eating with them, something no Pharisee or teacher of the law would ever do. Jesus’ parable takes the stand right at the beginning that these sinners and tax collectors belong to God by right of creation. When one of those who belong to God falls into sin, symbolized by the one sheep wandering off into the wilderness, that is cause for immediate action.

While leaving 99 sheep to fend for themselves in the open field might seem reckless, in context Jesus is talking about people who remain true to God, so the won’t actually be left “alone.” The emphasis of this parable is on the necessity, the urgency, of focusing on the lost sheep, the one whose life is in imminent danger because they have wandered out from the shepherd’s protective presence.

This whole worldview explains why Jesus did not typically hang out with those who were spiritually fine. He tended to spend His time among the sinners who had wandered far from God’s law and thus needed intensive search and rescue efforts in order to be found and rescued. Interestingly, the second-most-common group of people that the gospel writers document Jesus hanging out with is the Pharisees teachers of the law. These were just as lost as the sinners and tax collectors, but were far less open to acknowledging that, thus far less open to being found by Jesus. When they noticed that they were by themselves in the wilderness, they refused to admit that they had wandered off, but were insistent that they were fine – everyone else had wandered off!

In addition to showing God’s concern that the lost sheep be found, Jesus pointed out the celebration that echoes through the courts of heaven whenever one of these lost sheep is found, repents, and is brought back to the flock of God’s people. At that point, Jesus is successful in His mission to seek and to save what was lost, and God’s plan to reclaim the people of the world from sin, darkness, and death takes a step forward. That is cause for great celebration!

Of course, now that Jesus had returned to heaven, it is up to His Spirit-filled disciples to continue the search and rescue mission. That is the heart of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), and the source of the urgency demonstrated by the first-century Church that pushed those initial disciples to take the gospel to the far corners of the known world.

Father, I don’t know that too many modern Christians see ourselves as tasked with a search and rescue mission to those lost in sin and darkness. I know that many of us want our lost friends and relatives and coworkers to be found, to be saved. But too many of us do not see ourselves as part of the team called to actually search for them wherever they have wandered, leaving the security of the flock behind to rescue them, and carrying them back to the safety of the sheepfold. It is a great privilege to have been commissioned by Jesus Himself with this work, simply as a Christian, one of His disciples. But it is a great responsibility as well. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 29, 2018

Luke 15:1-2 (NIV) Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

As Luke previously noted (14:25),large crowds followed Jesus everywhere He went. And those crowds were not composed of only “good church folks.” They largely consisted of what the Pharisees called “‘Am ha-‘aretz,” or “people of the earth.” These were just normal people, including laborers, shopkeepers, fishermen, and, yes, sinners and tax collectors. They were people who didn’t have time to intensely study all 613 laws in the five books of Moses, let alone the volumes of commentary and interpretations that had been written on them over the centuries. So they frequently ran afoul of at least the Pharisees’ version of the law, and so were written off as hopeless by those in the religious elite.

Of course, all of them were legitimate sinners, having broken many of God’s commandments. (So were the Pharisees and teachers of the law, if they were honest!) And so the religious leaders were scandalized when Jesus didn’t upbraid them for their sins, or even drive them away. Conventional wisdom was that if you associated with sinners, you yourself could become corrupted. But Jesus chose to associate with those people, even eating with them.

Of course this was not the first or last time that this accusation had been leveled against Jesus – it was, in fact, a regular occurrence. One of the more notable was recorded by Luke in 5:29-32. Levi/Matthew had just been called by Jesus to leave his business as a tax collector in Capernaum, and had simply walked away to become one of Jesus’ followers. In the next scene, Matthew is throwing a great feast in Jesus’ honor, and has invited his fellow tax-collectors and many others to come and meet his new boss.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were blown away that a supposed holy man like Jesus would choose to hang out with that kind of motley crew. But Jesus silenced their judgmentalism and complaints at once. He did not choose to hang out with that kind of people because they were more fun, or somehow more genuine than “church folks.” He hung out with them because they were spiritually sick and damaged, and needed the kind of healing and spiritual wholeness that He had come equipped to give. He would not condemn them or write them off for their sins. Instead, He would call them to repentance, and they would indeed repent and find forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus.

Father, I can see that it is very important that we ourselves don’t fall into the teachings and mindset of the Pharisees, sitting in judgment on sinful humanity, even writing off those who seem too bad. Instead, we need to have the mindset of Jesus, and realize that our commission is to intentionally go to those who are lost and sinful, and living in the darkness, urging them to repent, and bringing to them the kind of healing and spiritual wholeness that we ourselves have received from Jesus. Help us to keep that calling first and foremost in our minds and hearts as we live each day in Your kingdom. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 28, 2018

Luke 14:34-35 (NIV) “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Salt was among the most valuable things in the world in Jesus’ day. Salt was rarely used to season food. Instead, it was valued for its use in preserving food, especially meat. The salt would be rubbed directly into the meat, or the meat would be soaked in brine, and then dried, helping it to last for weeks.

But salt was often found in an adulterated state, mixed with other chemicals and compounds right from its source. And those other chemicals were not as effective at preserving meat from decay as pure salt was. The adulterants were often white, beige, or gray, just like the salt itself, so it was often very difficult to tell how pure the salt was. Of course, if the salt added to meat failed to preserve it, if the meat rotted, the salt was proved to be bad, to have “lost its saltiness. ”Since there was no way to purify badly adulterated salt at that time, it was thrown out as irretrievably bad.

This is an effective illustration for the church, God’s people. One of our key functions is to act as a preservative for the societies in which we live, preventing them from sliding into decay, anarchy, and dysfunction. However, we can only do that in our pure state. If we allow ourselves to become adulterated, diluted, worldly, then our effectiveness can be limited, or lost altogether.

One way God’s people can become adulterated is on an individual level. Where sin is allowed into a Christian’s life, it has a terrible effect on the power that is available in that person’s life. And before long, if those sinful Christians have any effect on the society around them, on their friends, family, or fellow Christians, it is a detrimental one.

But the other method of adulterations that happens in the Church, and the one that Jesus was referring to in context, is corporate: bringing people into the Church who have not counted the cost of becoming a disciple and determined to pay it. Such people tend to have worldly viewpoints, and worldly goals. And if there are enough of them, they dilute the Church’s witness in the world, and limit its power to be an effective preservative for society.

This is not to say that churches need to isolate themselves from society. Salt cannot preserve meat unless it gets intimately involved with it. And the Church cannot preserve society unless it is willing to meaningfully interface with it. But in the midst of desire to grow in numbers, Churches must ensure that they don’t covert people to a no-cost, benefits only version of Christianity that has no power, and no ability to preserve. Instead, each person must be clearly shown not just the benefits of a relationship with Jesus, and they are many, but just as clearly be shown the cost of discipleship BEFORE they are asked to make that commitment. And they must be willing to say yes to that cost BEFORE they are given authority and responsibility in a congregation.

To fail to take these essential steps will, at best, water down and adulterate the Church’s ability to preserve. At worst, it could leave many devastated when the cost of following Jesus does become apparent (and it will), leaving them to try to rationalize something that they weren’t expecting, or to decide that the cost is too high and turn away from following Jesus at all.

Father, we often think about this illustration on an individual level. Rarely do we clearly see the possible implications at the corporate level. Jesus Himself was conscientious about this, and for very good reason. Help us to be open and up-front about the cost of following Jesus, like He Himself was, so that we can move Your kingdom agenda forward in Your power, and so that we can be salt to preserve our society from decaying. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 27, 2018

Luke 14:28-33 (NIV) “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’
“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”

These days, at least in western countries, when someone is evangelized, the emphasis is on the benefits of salvation: heaven, forgiveness, a fresh start. Little or no emphasis is placed on the cost of following Jesus. In fact, salvation is frequently touted as a “free gift.”

How differently Jesus describes things! He repeatedly pointed out that following Him comes at a great cost to those who choose to do so. It is likely to cost one his or her family and friends; it will definitely cost one’s own agenda, which must be surrendered so that one is free to take up the agenda of Jesus; and, in some sense, it will cost each follower his or her whole life (14:25-27).

Jesus then gives two parables or illustrations, urging those who want to follow Him to carefully count the cost of doing so before they sign on. To do otherwise will end up causing them to turn back when the cost becomes apparent – which it will sooner or later – bringing disgrace on them and on the cause of the kingdom.

The first illustration is of someone who starts to build a tower without first ensuring that he has all of the funding necessary to complete the job. When the money runs out, the project has to shut down, leaving the half-finished tower standing here, useless, and a testimony to the man’s foolishness in not making sure of what he was getting into before he began.

The second illustration is of a king planning to go to war. Before starting, the wise king will size up both his own troop strength, and that of the enemy who is marching in. Inferior numbers do not automatically mean surrender, because the smaller army may have other strategic advantages. But, generally, if a king is seriously outnumbered, it would be foolish to even begin the fight – it would lead only to defeat and disaster.

The key is in verse 33. The call to follow Jesus is not merely a call to heaven someday. It is a call to leave behind one’s whole life, and to take up life as a member of the kingdom of God. It is a call to lay down one’s agendas and plans, and to take up the agenda of Jesus, making all one’s plans subservient to that agenda. It is a call to, if necessary, choose Jesus and His life and agenda over family, friends, jobs, even life itself. Therefore, those who want to follow Jesus to eternal life must count the cost before they make the decision. Some may, like the rich young ruler, count the cost and turn away (Luke 18:18-23, Matthew 19:16-22). But for those who fully count the cost, and who decide to follow Jesus anyway, the benefits, both in this life and in the life to come, will turn out to be vastly beyond any cost involved.

Father, Jesus never pulled back from fully disclosing the cost of being His disciple. And I know that in many parts of the world today, the cost of following Jesus can be alarmingly high, just as Jesus describes it in this discourse: loss of family, loss of friends, loss of jobs and property, even loss of life. Help me, Lord, to be faithful to You, and faithful to those I am telling about Your kingdom, so that they can count the cost in advance, instead of being surprised by it when it arises, and become disillusioned, turning back after putting their hand to the plow (Luke 9:62). Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 20, 2018

Luke 14:25-27 (NIV) Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Being a disciple of Jesus is a costly affair, and Jesus never glossed over that fact. He desperately wanted everyone to follow Him, but He wanted them to know what they were getting into before they signed on. There was absolutely no bait and switch with Him.

Jesus started out with the defining relationships in a person’s life: father, mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters. If a person is unwilling to turn away from even these precious people and follow Jesus, they cannot be His disciple. This sounds as harsh to modern ears as it did to those to whom Jesus was speaking. But there is a vital truth here. As a follower of Jesus, especially if those in our family are not, there will inevitably come a time when a decision will have to be made to choose one side or the other, to follow Jesus, or turn away to satisfy our family. Before that day arrives, followers of Jesus must decide that they will follow Him, even if that means alienation from those closest to us.

Jesus next points out that to be a disciple of Jesus, a person must put his or her allegiance to Jesus ahead of their own life. This is much easier said than done, as Peter found out the night he denied knowing Jesus three times out of fear that the mere acknowledgement of knowing Him might bring him to harm. Ultimately Peter would lay down his life for the cause of Christ, but it would take the resurrection and being filled with the Holy Spirit before he got there.

Then, just when we thought that Jesus had taken it to the ultimate degree of commitment, being willing to suffer and die for the sake of Jesus, He upped the ante one more time. Each of those who become His disciple must willingly carry our own cross and follow Him. These days, carrying a cross has come to mean trials and troubles. But for those listening to Jesus it meant only one thing: a slow, agonizing death. To follow Jesus actually entails willingly leading the way to one’s own death to the world, and sometimes to physical death.

Few people these days tell people about these costs involved in becoming a Christian as part of their gospel presentation. Some believe that it is unnecessary, because so few people, especially in Europe and America, have to choose between following Jesus and dying, or denying Him and living. But the fact is, there are many who choose to follow Jesus that will have to choose between following Jesus and their families at some point There are many that, if they are serious about following Jesus, will have to choose between their personal hopes and dreams, and the calling of the kingdom. And they need to be told about that day at the outset, as Jesus did, or that day will catch them unaware.

Father, following Jesus really is a calling that takes up our whole life, and that lays exclusive claim to our entire future. Every day calls for dozens of small deaths to self, to self-determination, to autonomy. And some days call for large deaths! Paul knew that when he urged the Roman Christians to offer themselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). Help me to willingly follow You, wherever Your path for me may lead. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 19, 2018

Luke 14:15-24 (NIV) When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.'”

The great feast in heaven was a theme in Jewish teaching. All of God’s people, those who live in His kingdom and who serve Him wholeheartedly are on the invitation list.

The Pharisees, like the one at whose house Jesus was eating that Sabbath afternoon, were considered by all to be shoo-ins for the feast, as they were known for their conspicuous works of righteousness. But Jesus told this parable to show a different side of the coin. The details are not the critical elements of this parable. Instead, the overarching themes, the junctures of the story are where the meaning is hidden.

The first juncture is where the Master has completed preparation for His banquet and sends out invitations. His planned guest list was quite impressive. And, of course, it is assumed that the Pharisees would all be on the list. The messenger is sent with the urgent invitation: the feast you have been waiting for so long is now ready. Drop everything and come to the feast!

But then the plot takes an ironic twist. The guests won’t come! In the interim, while waiting for the banquet, the had filled their lives with their own agendas, with their own stuff, which had now become more important to them than the feast that the Master had been preparing. They won’t be there. These “too busy” invitees are obviously representative of the Pharisees. Jesus, the messenger of God Himself, had come bearing the invitation for them to follow Him into the kingdom, to the feast prepared for them, but they refused to follow Him. Instead, they were all too busy with their own stuff, the righteousness that they had built with their own hands. They wanted to come to the banquet, but they would only come on their own terms.

The Master is not even mildly understanding about this affront to His invitation; He is angry. So He cancels the invitations of those ungrateful people, and in their places He fills the hall with the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. These symbolize those whom the Pharisees had written off as cursed by God and unworthy of a seat at the table. When that doesn’t not fill the hall, the Master finishes by inviting those from the roads and country lanes, those far outside the city, representing the gentiles. If those whom God had owned as His own people refused to come, He would build for Himself a new people out of those who were not His people.

Father, it is tragic to see how those people, people who were ostensibly waiting for You with bated breath, refused to come to You when You finally arrived in the person of Jesus. And in doing so, they ended up excluding themselves from all of the blessings You had come to give, including eternal life, a place at Your banquet. Lord, keep my heart soft and obedient, so that I never refuse Your invitation, no matter where it is to, and so that I don’t miss out on Your great blessings. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 18, 2018

Luke 14:12-14 (NIV) Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Jesus said these words at a banquet in the house of a Pharisee, and a wealthy one at that. It was common practice then, as it is in many circles today, to invite people of status to your banquets and parties, not because they were friends, but because social norms dictated that, if they deigned to come to your banquet, they were obligated to invite you to their next banquet. So people tended to load their guest lists with those that they wanted to be invited by in the future. So every party that a person threw tended to be loaded with the ulterior motive of climbing the social ladder, no matter how altruistic their stated reason for inviting their guests might be.

Jesus, on the other hand, saw through the surface reasoning, straight into the heart. Inviting people over is nice, sure. But if the people we invite, invite us back, our goodness and niceness will have been repaid, and God will not bless us for it.

If we want God to notice what a nice person we are to others, then we need to show that we have no ulterior, social-climbing motive hiding in the background by inviting those who have no potential to invite us back, no potential to improve our social standing. Such people, in those days and in ours, are the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. If we invite these, God knows that we are doing it from a pure motive, to simply bless those who are less fortunate, since there is no way that they could ever pay us back. And He promises to bless us in their place.

This is not to say that Christians can’t invite people to dinner who are well-to-do, or who could help our career. It simply means that if our motives are social gain or advancement, we can’t dress it up as a compassionate event and expect God to pour out His blessing on us.

Father, You always cut right to the heart of the matter, inspecting not just our actions, but our motives as well. Lord, help me to always act with motives that are firmly fixed on glorifying You and advancing Your kingdom, so that I can always receive Your great blessings. Amen.

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