Monthly Archives: February 2018

Today’s Scripture – February 28, 2018

Luke 17:5-6 (NIV) The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”

When Jesus told His followers that He required them to forgive the brother who sins against them, even if they sin and repent seven times in a single day, their response was that they would need a lot more faith than they currently had to pull that off. Such a standard seemed to them to require superhuman faith. But Jesus stunned them with His next words: they didn’t need more faith; they simply needed to use the faith that they already had.

People, then and now, grossly underestimate the power of even a small amount of faith. In a sense, faith is like uranium. Even as inefficient as our current methods of enrichment and exploitation are, even a small amount of uranium can be coaxed into yielding a massive amount of power. In the same way, even a mustard seed’s worth of faith is enough to perform mighty miracles.

At one point a couple of decades ago, mustard seed necklaces, with a single, small mustard seed embedded in a glob of plastic, were all the rage among Christians. But even though the symbol was appropriated by many people, the reality was not. The power of kingdom faith was no more evident in those who wore the mustard seed than in those who didn’t.

The disciples didn’t get Jesus’ message at this point. It was not until after Pentecost that they were able to see God’s power unleashed through their lives; world-changing power that knocked down satanic strongholds, performed mighty miracles, and rescued the lost left and right. And, as they watched those miracles happen through their own lives, their faith grew far beyond mustard seed proportions.

Of course, in all of this, “faith” must be properly defined. Real miracle-working faith is not something a person has to “work up.” It is not a trick to make someone believe something that they know to be false. Real faith is simply trusting that God will do what He has promised, and that He will enable what He commands. When God told Peter and John to speak healing into the life of a lame man outside the temple (Acts 3:1-8), they exercised faith when they spoke and pulled the man to his feet. When Peter prayed for direction in the room where Tabitha lay dead (Acts9:40-41), and God instructed him to tell her to get up, he exercised faith by doing just that. In none of these cases did it take a mountain of faith to move a mustard seed; just a mustard seed of faith to move a mountain.

A powerless Christianity betrays a serious lack of faith, or, at best, a serious lack of understanding of what huge things even a small amount of faith can accomplish. Hence Jesus’ teaching to His disciples that is just as relevant to 21st century Christians.

Father, I recognize that so many Christians today really do live completely powerless lives that are virtually indistinguishable from the lives of the non-Christians around us. Forgive us for this, and help us to really understand the need to exercise biblical faith, even if our faith seems small, so that You can do amazing, life changing things through each one of us. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 27, 2018

Luke 17:3b-4 (NIV) “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

Jesus is just a few days away from Jerusalem and His ultimate suffering and death. So He takes every opportunity to teach His followers how the kingdom of God works, and how they are to live as residents of it.

In this short teaching, He again addresses the issue of forgiving those who have sinned against us. Most people are good with this teaching in theory, but weak in practice. When someone actually does something terrible to us or to someone we love, it suddenly becomes very difficult to forgive.

This teaching goes right along with Jesus’ answer to Peter in Matthew 18:21-22 when he asked if forgiving his brother up to seven times is adequate. Jesus’ shocking answer was no; he had to forgives seventy-seven time (or, in some versions, seventy times seven times). Here Jesus teaches that even if a brother sins against us seven times in a single day and repents seven times, he must be forgiven completely.

The reason for this requirement is not simply to be nice. Instead, Jesus consistently (and frequently) taught that each person’s forgiveness from God is contingent on us forgiving others when they sin against us. He taught in the Sermon on the Mount that if we will not forgive others, God won’t forgive us (Matthew 6:12, 14-15).

In Matthew 18:23-35, expanding on His answer to Peter, Jesus told the hair-raising parable of the unmerciful servant. In that parable, the servant’s forgiveness was revoked when he refused to forgive a fellow servant a relatively small debt, and he ended up being thrown into prison, “to be tortured until he should pay back all that he owed,” the ten thousand talents (millions of dollars) that had initially been forgiven. And in case His followers missed the point, Jesus finished that parable by saying, “This is how My heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from the heart.” (Verse 35)

That seems unfair to some, but the parable clearly explains God’s reasoning. He has graciously extended forgiveness to those who repent of the dozens, hundreds, even thousands of sins against Himself, the infinite, holy God. But if, after we have had that massive sin debt forgiven, we harden our hearts and will not extend the same gracious forgiveness to those who commit comparatively fewer and comparatively less heinous sins against us, we prove that we are not worthy of His forgiveness, not open-hearted enough to receive it, and unloving enough to step outside of God’s grace. Thus our forgiveness will be revoked, and the penalty for our sins will again be on our record.

Father, of all of the teachings of Jesus, this one seems to carry the strongest import, and have the most devastating consequences if we disobey it. But it is one that far too many of us disregard, minimize, or try to explain away. That’s probably why Jesus taught it so directly, so often, and with such clear explanations. Help us to take this serious and oft repeated and reemphasized teaching to heart, so it changes our perspective and our worldview to be more in line with Your kingdom worldview. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 26, 2018

Luke 17:1-3 (NIV) Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves.”

Sin is a terrible thing. In the beginning, it was a destroyer that wreaked havoc with God’s good creation, ushering death and disease into the world, and separating mankind from His presence. It warped and twisted God’s image in man, and made sin and rebellion the most natural thing to do.

It’s not that sin became inevitable. At every juncture where temptation arises, people have a choice as to whether or not to give in to it. And, when a person receives Jesus into their lives, they receive at the same time additional power to do what is right and holy instead.

Notice that Jesus did not say that sin itself is bound to come, or that it is inevitable, but that things that cause people to sin are inevitable in this world. That is, no one will be able to avoid temptation as long as they live in the world. Even Jesus Himself was not immune to temptation (Luke 4:1-13), but He chose not to give in to it, and thus remained holy.

But Jesus did caution His followers to never become an agent of satan, a source of temptation to others. Here He is not only referring to temptations to break the Ten Commandments, for example by tempting people to covet or commit adultery, although that would definitely be included. He was also echoing things like the Old Covenant prohibition against encouraging idolatry, the worship of any god other than the true God as He has revealed Himself. (Compare to Deuteronomy 13:1-5.) He is referring the teachers of the law who, through the legalistic self-righteousness that they taught, put a wall of separation between their followers and God (Matthew 23:15). And, of course, He was referring to those like the Pharisees who were continually trying to get Jesus’ followers to doubt Him and turn away from Him to their ultimate ruin.

Life in the world will present more than sufficient opportunities for temptation. That is a fact of existence. But if I lead a person into temptation, especially a follower of Jesus, He clearly indicates that a terrible judgment awaits me.

Father, Paul echoed this same understanding when he wrote that he never wanted his freedom in Christ to lead someone else astray, so he always watched his step (1Corinthians 8:9-13). We don’t always think through the impact that our little compromises can have on those around us who look to us to see how to live in Your kingdom. But clearly we must. Help me, Lord, to never be a source of temptation, but only of encouragement, and clear and accurate teaching of Your word. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 23, 2018

Luke 16:27-31 (NIV) “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
“’No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

The reality of his situation is finally starting to dawn on the rich man. He can receive no comfort or help from Abraham or Lazarus. His punishment is eternal, all because he was consumed by enjoyment of his possessions while he was alive, to the exclusion of being generous and loving to those around him who were in need.

So his mind turned from is own sad fate to his brothers, who were just as consumed by their stuff as he had been by his. If only there was some way to warn them so that they could repent and turn away from this dead-end track before it was too late.

In an instant the solution struck him: if Abraham would send Lazarus to his brothers, surely they would repent. After all, who wouldn’t listen to someone risen from the dead with an eye-witness account of the afterlife!?

But Abraham wouldn’t consider his request for three very good reasons. First, he had no authority to send someone back from the dead. That is God’s sole purview. Second, Lazarus is not the rich man’s servant, that he should run to do his bidding. But third, and most significantly, the rich man’s brothers, like he himself, had free access to the teachings of the law of Moses and the prophets that clearly showed them how they must live in order to avoid an eternity of suffering.

But the rich man was un-swayed. He knew that he himself had not paid attention to what the law taught about how to live as one of God’s people; he was too busy planning his investments and his feasts. And his brothers were cut from the same cloth. Even if the knew the law inside out, they were not likely to allow it to change their hearts. But if someone like Lazarus rose from the dead, that would catch their attention and open their hearts to change!

But Abraham saw clearly that if the brothers were willfully deaf and wouldn’t listen to the law and the prophets, even someone rising from the dead would not open up their hardened hearts to see how they were supposed to live, genuinely loving God, and loving others as well. In this, Jesus was taking a clear shot directly at the hearts of the Pharisees to whom He was speaking. They knew the law and the prophets inside out. In fact, most of them could quote large portions of the Scriptures. But many of them studied the law as a mechanism to win God’s favor so that He would increase their wealth. Their hard hearts had nothing of mercy about them. They despised those of their own people who were not as legalistically “righteous” as themselves, refusing to touch them, eat with them, or be near them for fear of contamination. And Jesus knew that even the reality of someone rising from the dead would have no impact on their hard hearts. Unfortunately, in just a short time, He would be proved right when these same leaders refused to have faith in Him after He Himself rose from the dead. Indeed, they tried to cover up His resurrection instead, and persecuted His followers who insisted on talking about it.

Father, Jesus was spot on about the hearts of the Pharisees. But we, even today, can fall into the same trap: following Your word because of the blessings we believe will come our way if we do, but not allowing our hearts to be filled with love, love for You, love for the lost, and love for those of the faith who are struggling. Change our hearts where You need to, Lord, so that we serve You out of unconditional love for You, and so that we love all of those around us with that same unconditional love. Amen,.

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Today’s Scripture – February 22, 2018

Luke 16:24-26 (NIV) “So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’”
“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’”

The poor beggar, Lazarus, has died, and is now in Paradise at the side of Abraham. The rich man, who feasted every day and completely ignored Lazarus suffering at his gate, has also died, and is now in an eternal, fiery torment. Immediately, the rich man spotted Lazarus with Abraham far across a great chasm, and cried out for mercy.

The cry is indeed pitiful, but for different reasons than the rich man thinks. Even in the fires of hell he still sees himself as worthy of being waited on by those beneath him on the social scale. It turns out that he wasn’t completely unaware of who Lazarus was after all; he recognized him at once. But he calls out to Father Abraham to send Lazarus to him to serve him some water to quench his burning thirst.

Abraham simply points out the obvious. The rich man’s sufferings are the result of his focus on his own pleasure while he lived. His suffering is not just happenstance, but a penalty. That penalty includes no relief from his suffering for all eternity. And, even if someone was soft-hearted enough to want to help him, God Himself has fixed a great chasm between the two groups of people, the blessed and the punished, to keep either from crossing to the other side, the condemned to escape, and the blessed to help.

This parable does not teach that all of the rich will end up in hell, and all of the poor end up in heaven. Lazarus ended up in Paradise with Abraham the same way that Abraham ended up there: through devoutly following God’s word, despite his own trials and sufferings. And the rich man ended up in torment not because he was rich, but because he, like the Pharisees listening to the parable, loved money, relished the things it could buy, and were not genuinely generous to those near them who were in need. This mind-set was demonstrated by the showy way in which they gave to the poor (Matthew 6:2), and did other works of righteousness. Their hearts were not in it.

In the end, this was a warning to the Pharisees, unfortunately unheeded, to change their hearts and their attitudes toward both people and wealth. If they would not, suffering was waiting.

Father, it’s amazing to me that, even though they were His sworn enemies, Jesus genuinely cared about these Pharisees, and about their eternal destinies, enough to try to warn them away from the suffering that was waiting for them. That’s agape love in action! Thank You for this great illustration. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 21, 2018

Luke 16:19-23 (NIV) “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.”

This well-known parable is also directed against the Pharisees, lovers of money (verse 14 above), who were critical of Jesus for hanging out with the riffraff instead of with the “good church people.” Jesus now turns His attention to eternal destinies.

In this section, Jesus sets the scene. On the one side, you have the rich man, who is unnamed. He stands for everyone who is self-consumed, and who luxuriates in their possessions instead of being generous with them. He feasts every day, and does not share anything with the poor man lying right at his gate. He is so ensconced in his opulence, that he is blind to the needs around him. Thus, he does not exhibit the love of God in any way.

On the other side, you have the poor man, who, oddly for a parable, is given a name: Lazarus. Lazarus was about as far on the opposite end of the spectrum as anyone could imagine. He is poor and helpless, and is left sitting at the rich man’s gate every day in the hopes of receiving even the leftovers from the rich man’s table. Lazarus is about as repulsive as you can imagine. He is covered with sores, and even has to fight off the dogs who constantly came to lick at him. He is, indeed, a pitiful sight.

Eventually both men die. Death is the great equalizer. It doesn’t’ play favorites, and is not swayed by either pity or bribery. But in the afterlife, we find that the tables have turned. Lazarus, who was absolutely miserable for much of his life, is now in pleasant surroundings, right next to Abraham himself.

At the same time, a long way off from Lazarus, separated from the pleasant place by a great chasm (verse 26 below), and tormented by flames, is the rich man. This is no karmic consequence for carelessness, but is a positive punishment of the man for his lack of love, and for his positive disobedience to God’s command to love his neighbor as himself. By the way, loving one’s neighbor is not merely a New Testament principle, but is firmly established as a command in Leviticus 19:18. Thus the end state of these two men was as starkly different as their starting states, but at completely opposite ends of the spectrum.

Father, this is a good reminder to watch ourselves and not grow self-absorbed or complacent about the needs around us. After all, the instruction to love our neighbors as ourselves is not a suggestion, but a direct command. Help us to follow and serve You in this way as well. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 20, 2018

Luke 16:18 (NIV) “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

To many these days, these words of Jesus seems unnecessarily strict and harsh. After all, there is so much divorce and remarriage these days that many figure that God simply needs to get with the times. But, like everything else Jesus said and taught, His words and guidance are timeless, based solidly on the character of the godhead.

Divorce was nearly as common in Jesus’ day as it is today. Since the law contained procedures for divorcing a wife, some of the leading rabbis taught that divorce was fine with God, as long as you made sure to dot all of the i’s and cross all of the t’s.

But divorce, then as now, had far-reaching social consequences, especially for the woman involved. In those days, there were few legitimate jobs for women, so a divorced woman could frequently find herself without any means of support (alimony and child support did not exist back then), and would be forced into illicit work to support herself. God knew that, because the hearts of His people were hard (Matthew 19:8), they would have a hard time being faithful in marriage, and so divorce would happen. So He set in place safeguards and procedures designed to slow the process down and allow for sober reconsideration.

But still, these leaders and their disciples would divorce their wives for any and every reason, including burning a meal, and quickly marry someone that they found more desirable. In doing this, as Jesus pointed out on several occasions, they were missing the point of what marriage was designed by God to be, and what it did. As Jesus pointed out in Mark 10:5-9, drawing on the history contained in Genesis 2:21-24, God created marriage right along with the creation of the first man, and the first woman, who was actually created out of the first man. What was one, God recreated to be two distinct persons, and in marriage He joins those two back into one flesh.

That is the basis of marriage, and the basis of the heinousness of divorce. Divorce results in the tearing apart of the one-flesh union created in the marriage covenant, causing powerful damage to both parties, as well as to any children brought into being through that union. So to divorce someone in order to marry another breaks a union that God has blessed, and illegitimately tries to make that same kind of union with someone else.

Today, as then, divorce has been normalized, regulated, and is widely accepted as tragic, but as something that inevitably happens. But God does not accept divorce as readily as people do. Jesus laid out the standard for divorce in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:31-32), with marital unfaithfulness, not requiring divorce, but being the only legitimate grounds for divorce, since the adulterer has already broken the marriage covenant by being unfaithful. This standard seems unreasonable to some, but it is the only standard that takes into account what God actually designed marriage to do and to be. That is also a key reason why marriage should be entered into solemnly, and with clear eyes toward the intended spouse. Many, if they knew that they would absolutely have to stay married to that persons for life, would look at any prospective spouse very differently, and would perhaps end up choosing differently.

Father, You are right on the money when You point out that we, like the society of Jesus’ day, have lost track of what You designed marriage to do and to be. And from that faulty worldview, we have constructed our own standards for divorce, often far removed from what Your word says. Help us, Lord, to see all of this clearly, so that we can live by Your word, instead of by the norms of our secularized society. Amen.

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