Today’s Scripture – December 1, 2017

Luke 11:17-20 (NIV) Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub. Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.

The Pharisees had accused Jesus of being able to cast out demons because He was possessed by Beelzebul, the king of the demons. It was a combination of ignorance and jealousy that cause them to make this accusation. Ignorance because they were spiritually blind, and could not see at all what was happening right before their eyes. And jealousy because, even though they had theological degrees and the admiration of the people for their wisdom and righteousness, they were powerless against demons. If they ever were successful at casting them out, which was rare, it was a difficult process instead of the effortlessness of Jesus’ example.

It was because of their spiritual blindness and their powerlessness that Jesus took pity on them and patiently explained to them why their reasoning made absolutely no sense at all. First of all, there were only two possible sources for Jesus’ authority over demons: God or satan. But if Jesus’ authority came from satan, and if satan was therefore casting out his own soldiers in the name of the kingdom of God, he would have been cutting his own feet out from under himself, devastating his own forces to build up the reputation of his enemy. A very little thought shows that that idea made no sense at all. Besides, if only the king of the demons could cast out demons, that meant that every time the Pharisees were successful at casting out a demon, it proved that they themselves were in league with the devil!

That left the only other possibility. Jesus’ authority came from God, and his every defeat of a demon was a defeat for the kingdom of darkness by the kingdom of light, and proof that the kingdom of God had come into the world. That also meant that Jesus had a relationship with God that those Pharisees did not have, despite their reputations. It meant that the appropriate thing for them to do was to humble themselves and enroll as Jesus’ apprentices, so that they could learn about God and His kingdom through His teaching and His example. And, if that were true, it meant that the Pharisees had to admit that they were wrong. And they weren’t about to do that!

Father, it is sad when I see someone who is willfully blind like those Pharisees, who cannot see Your works for what they truly are, and who will not see You for who You truly are. Save us, Lord, from all such blindness. Instead, help all of us, Your people, to see You and Your kingdom every day, and to share in Your power every moment, just like Jesus. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 29, 2017

Luke 11:14-16 (NIV) Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. But some of them said, “By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons.” Others tested him by asking for a sign from heaven.

The occasion for this conflict was the simple casting out of a demon that had made a man unable to speak. And, as was always the case, Jesus successfully drove out the demon, restoring the power of speech to the man.

The majority of the people who witnessed this exorcism were powerfully impressed with Jesus’ easy command over the demon. He employed none of the usual accoutrements of exorcists – anointing oil, candles, bells, and such. He simply spoke a word of command, and the demon left. There was never any struggle, never any sign of resistance.

This caused some Pharisees in the crowd (Matthew 9:34) to accuse Jesus of being possessed by Beelzebul, the king of demons. How else could they explain Jesus’ easy command of the demons, His inexplicable authority over them that none of the exorcists in their own crowd had? How else could they explain the fact that the demons never fought back, unless Jesus was using the authority of their own king, against whom they did not dare to rebel?

Others in the crowd, again, predominantly Pharisees, were demanding of Jesus a sign from heaven (of their own choosing, of course) to prove to them Jesus’ authority. Maybe if He could do the impossible task that they set for Him (such as moving the sun back in the sky, like Isaiah did) they would set aside their doubts and listen to Him.

But all of those accusations and demands did not come from an honest pursuit of the truth. Instead, they were motivated by jealousy of Jesus’ power and authority. The Pharisees had no spiritual power – they only had rules and regulations that they were champions at obeying. And they had no spiritual authority. They themselves could not cast out any demons or do any of the miracles that Jesus pulled off without any apparent effort. So the only way that they could maintain their own illusion of authority was to attack Jesus’ credibility, which they did with increasing vigor.

But Jesus was not a trained dog that would jump at the commands of those who were challenging Him to prove Himself. He did not need to be accepted by these “authorities” to validate His own identity. He was the eternal Son of God, and they should have been seeking HIS approval instead!

Father, Jesus’ authority was always questioned by those who saw themselves as having authority. And His miracles were doubted by those who could do no miracles themselves. His identity was challenged by those who had proved themselves to be spiritually blind. And He never took the bait! He was always 100% confident of who He was and what He had been called to do. Help me, along with all of Your people, to have that same confidence, that same assurance of our identity in Christ, so that the doubters and nay-sayers can never shake our confidence and faith. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 28, 2017

Luke 11:9-13 (NIV) “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

This paragraph is the explanation of the parable of the persistent neighbor. (Note the word “So” at the start of the section.) the key to this section is the progressive tense of the verbs. A good translation would be “keep asking…keep seeking…keep knocking.” The emphasis is on persistence in these activities, like the neighbor in the parable, as opposed to a single prayer request.

The verbs also progress in intensity, from simple asking, to active seeking, and finally to aggressive knocking at the doors of heaven until the request is granted. The focus is on the definiteness of the need in the mind of the one who asks, seeks, and knocks, and the strength of their desire to have that need met. If the need is small and indefinite and the desire small, so that a single prayer is rattled off and then forgotten, the odds of receiving a response from God is correspondingly low. But if the need is desperate, driving the petitioner to his or her knees in progressively deeper desperation, the odds of God taking up their need is high.

And we, as God’s people, can pray without fear that He will give us something nasty in response to our prayers instead of what we need. Like the popular adage among Christians that a person should never pray for patience, because God is likely to send more trials in order to help that person to build patience. But Jesus’ teaching show the inaccuracy of that theology, as well as how insulting it is to God. No halfway decent father would give his child something nasty (a snake or a scorpion) instead of a requested need (a fish or an egg needed for food). Love compels them to give what is asked for that is genuinely needed. And God is much more loving than any earthly father.

The bottom line is simply this: when God’s children cry out to Him persistently for what they genuinely need, they can count on Him to provide it for them. If they need sustenance, He will provide sustenance, as He did for His people in the wilderness.  If they need power, He will provide power, just as He did for the people in the first century Church. If they need wisdom, He will provide wisdom. And if they need patience, the power to continue in trying circumstances and not give up, He will provide that, too.

Father, I have tested You in this and have never found You wanting. Thank You for Your faithfulness, Your love, and Your consistent demonstration of care for me. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 27, 2017

Luke 11:5-8 (NIV) Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’
“Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs.”

Since Jesus is teaching His followers about prayer, He goes on to teach them about persistence in prayer as well. Many people believe that only one petition is necessary to see an answer to prayer. Still others teach that to pray more than once for something shows a lack of faith. But that is not what Jesus taught.

In Jesus’ illustration, a man goes to a neighbor’s house to ask for bread to feed some unexpected guests. The need is real and, according to hospitality norms in the Middle East, urgent. It would be a strong insult to a visitor to not offer travelers something to eat after their journey. But the poor host has nothing to set before them; not a single loaf of bread.

So the desperate man goes to his neighbor, despite the lateness of the hour. The need is that urgent. He knocks at the door and calls out for help. But the answer that he receives is not encouraging: “Don’t bother me!” The hour is late, the house is dark, and everyone is packed together in the small sleeping area of the house. If the home owner was to get up, he would jostle everyone, possibly waking the children. If he were to light an oil lamp to try to locate the bread left over from the day before, that would rouse the whole household. It’s too much trouble; he is not willing to waken his whole family to get bread for this inconsiderate neighbor.

But the desperate man will not give up. He would rather be shamed before his friend, this sleepy irritable neighbor, by asking for what he desperately needs than to be shamed before his visitors by returning empty handed. So he knocks and calls out louder and more desperately, until his friend stirs himself and gives him what he needs.

The short lesson is not that God is irritated when His people ask for what they need each day, or that we must rouse Him from His slumber before He is willing to grudgingly accede to our requests. It is simply that if the friend is willing to get up and disturb his whole family in response to the persistence and shameless boldness of his friend in need, how much more will God respond to the persistent and shamelessly bold request of His own people when we are in need.

Father, I really appreciate this word, and the encouragement to not only ask persistently, but boldly for what I truly need each day, my “daily bread.” I don’t have to come to You ashamedly, because You Yourself have instructed me to come before You daily and ask. Thank You for the promise, and the encouragement. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 26, 2017

Luke 11:4 (NIV) “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.”

The last two petitions of the form-prayer that Jesus taught His disciples deal with the spiritual dimension.

The first spiritual issue is forgiveness. Everyone in the world needs forgiveness, a forgiveness that became available with the coming of Jesus in a way that was never available before.. Before Jesus, forgiveness required the sacrifice of a spotless animal for every sin committed. But after Jesus’ death and resurrection forgiveness simply required confession (1 John 1:9), genuine repentance (Acts 2:28), and asking (Luke 11:4). The sacrifice has already been made.

I say simply, but for some this is genuinely complicated. Repentance is more than simply saying “I’m sorry.” True repentance requires a change of mind with regard to the sinful actions and attitudes, and a change of direction away from the sins. And that can be very difficult, impossible even, unless the will is there to make those changes.

And notice that Jesus included a condition in this petition. He instructed His disciples to pray for forgiveness of their sins on the basis of their having already forgiven everyone who had sinned against them. Matthew’s version, especially the explanation that He gave following the prayer (Matthew 6:14-15) provides additional clarification. Jesus taught there that without our actually forgiving others, we cannot be granted forgiveness for our own sins.

The final petition is for God’s help in avoiding temptation. The enemy is continually looking for opportunities to lead God’s people astray. But God can help us to overcome the enemy if only we will ask. Just as Jesus did not ever get ensnared by the enemy’s  temptations, so we, His followers, can have victory over every test as we walk in God’s grace.

Father, we do need Your forgiveness for sins committed, and Your grace and power to resist sins in the future. Thank You for making them both so freely available to us, just for the asking. Help me to never block my own forgiveness by withholding my forgiveness from anyone else. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 24, 2017

Luke 11:2b-3 (NIV) “your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread.”

The first part of this form prayer that Jesus taught His disciples, sometimes with more detail (Matthew 6:9-15), and sometimes with less, as here,, focuses on worship and adoration of God. It then moves on to practical kingdom living.

The next petition is “your kingdom come.” This is not a petition for Jesus’ return, but for God’s kingdom to become a living reality in the lives of all of God’s people. Matthew’s version includes a brief addendum to this petition that explains it more fully: “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The kingdom of heaven existed on earth then, and still exists and operates today, in the hearts of all who are committed to doing God’s will on earth in the same way that it is done in heaven: instantly, joyfully, and completely.

Included in this petition is an implied commitment on the part of those praying it to their own obedience to God’s will, instantly, joyfully, and completely. In that way, the kingdom is not only present, but grows into the lives of those around who see the good works of Jesus’ followers, and give glory to God (Matthew 5:16).

The next petition is for daily provision. The imagery used is of the Israelites in the wilderness who had to depend on God to provide manna, daily bread. They relied on God, and every day when they went out to receive their daily bread, the sustenance that they needed for that day, it was there. On the day before the Sabbath God provided twice as much and miraculously preserved it from decay so that they didn’t have to go out to get their bread on the Sabbath (Exodus 16:23-26). For forty years, God provided the daily bread for the Israelites, and never let them go hungry a single day. In the same way, God’s people today can ask for and receive their own provision, the sustenance that they need to live, day by day.

Father, I can’t help but see the intimate connection between these two petitions. As we commit ourselves to living consciously in Your kingdom, manifesting Your glory and obeying Your will, we are given the great privilege of asking for what we need each day, and receiving it (Matthew 6:35). Thank You for this amazing promise contained in the petitions given to us by Jesus Himself. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – November 19, 2017

Luke 11:1-2 (NIV) One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”
He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name…”

Jesus’ disciples knew that He prayed constantly often going off by Himself to do so in private. The constancy and focus of His prayers reminded those in His group who had been John’s disciples of John’s prayer, which he taught to those following him. So they asked Jesus to teach them to pray, like John had taught his own followers.

Jesus had no problem teaching them a form-prayer as was commonly shared between masters and their disciples at the time. The prayer that He taught them was very simple and easy to remember, but included every major theme about life in the kingdom of God. It is the basic prayer of which the version in Matthew 6:9-15 is an expansion.

The address used in this prayer is Father. This was a drastic departure from the prayers used and taught by the religious leaders of the day. The terms that they used for God in their prayers were exalted terms, and theologically correct terms, like “Almighty God,” and “Lord of Heaven’s Armies.” But Jesus brought His followers into an intimate relationship with God from the first word of their prayer. When one comes before an Almighty God, one comes with fear and trembling, afraid to bother such a great God with their own trivial needs. But to come before a Father, even a Father in heaven, opens up a whole different dimension. There can be honest and open dialog with a Father. There can be honesty both about the things that are going well, as well as about the struggles that are being experienced and legitimate needs that the child has. And the needs can be expressed without fear that God will give something unpleasant in response (Luke 11:11-13).

But, at the same time, the pray-er is never to forget who they are praying to, slipping into an unwarranted familiarity. The first petition is actually a commitment: may Your name be holy. In the Scriptures, a name is more than a title given to someone; at its root it represents the character of the person named. These few words are a commitment that the pray-er will not only acknowledge God’s character as holy in their own lives; they will represent God’s character as holy before the world by living according to His commandments, so that their lives as the people of God will enhance His reputation.

Father, the words are so simple that we can rattle them off quickly and carelessly, missing entirely the import of what we are praying. Imagine! We get to call You, the God of the universe ,Father! And we get the great privilege of allowing our relationship with You, and the transformation that You have brought to our lives, to shine Your character out into the world through us, so that our every word, our every action becomes a testimony to Your holy and gracious character. Lord, make it so in me today. Amen.

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