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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What have you done with your pound?

Luke 19:11-27

Okay, I’ll admit, this was one of the tough passages for me. I had to use some bible references to discover Jesus’ meaning. I’m still praying about it, but this is what I believe I understand. Jesus’ ministry and mission were almost complete. He was still headed to Jerusalem and others around him still didn’t grasp the sacrifice Jesus was offering. I’m sure some of the questions were, “when will you reign?”, “what will you do with the Romans and tax collectors?”, “What will my position be?”. In other words, His followers were looking for a huge event, the arrival of the Kingdom of God.

Jesus had given them hope and they waited expectantly. They held to the false hope that Jesus would usher in a mighty age of a strong Jewish nation with a triumphant king riding on a steed, striking down all those who oppose the nation. They were hungry for power, had a strong national pride and were ready to rule.

Very few had understood that the Kingdom of God was not what they were expecting. True, God would establish a New Jerusalem upon Jesus’ return, but that’s still his secret and is to come. However, Christ had already established God’s Kingdom in the hearts and souls of his followers. His mission was mighty and huge and would eventually take over the world but it would not be with the fanfare that most had expected. The Kingdom would soon be marked with Jesus arrival on a colt or donkey, not the image of a warrior, but of an agent of peace. Jesus worked on winning hearts and directing men, women and children to His father, the one who loved them enough to send Jesus. Through Jesus, God demonstrated his unconditional love for a disobedient world that had killed his prophets and would very soon reject his Son.

Jesus answered their question about the kingdom with the parable of the nobleman who left to seek his kingdom. Upon his return, he asked for accountability of the pound he gave his servants. He also ordered the deaths of those who would not yield to his authority. Jesus is now establishing his Kingdom and preparing his return. As soon as God is ready, he will send Jesus back to earth. Jesus’ mission will be different upon his return as he will be asking for an account of what we have done with his pound. Did we accept him as ruler or reject him? Those who accepted will reign with him in the new heaven and earth.

Where will you spend eternity? What account will you give Jesus when he asks? If you are not sure, please see the margin for “How to become a Christian.” For those of you who are going to heaven, join me in helping others get there. We only have this time that God gave us. Let’s do what we can.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Calling you out

Luke 19:1-10

The story of Zacchaeus is one of an amazing transformation, no pretenses, no false fronts, just an event between a shameful man and his savior. Have you ever given your testimony or tried to share who Christ is with a non-believer? Maybe you’ve experience some who have said, “I want what you have, how do I get it?” They’ve watched you over time, or have witnessed something in your life that has brought them to the point of believing in Him. Most likely others may have reacted with, “well, I would like to believe, but then I’ll have to give up _________” (Fill in the blank with a vice or habit).
Zachaeus was a tax collector who had done unfair things to his fellow citizens. He collected for the Romans and collected a little for himself. He had heard the wonderful news as the story of Jesus’ mission spread rapidly. The man wanted to meet Jesus but the crow was too large and he was not tall so he climbed up a tree to get a better view. Unexpectedly, he saw the man whom he wanted to see turn his attention, pointed him out and call him down.
Jesus knows. Do you remember the centurion’s dying daughter, the woman who touched Jesus robe, the men with leprosy and the blind man on the road? Jesus singled all of them from the crowds. He knew the conditions of their hearts and that they were willing to believe. In previous cases he healed something physically and their belief provided salvation. In Zacchaeus’ situation, he just believed. All of these support the Son of God’s mission. In 19:10, he says, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which is lost.”
Zacchaeus found relief for his guilty heart. The messiah had seen into his soul, but had accepted him nonetheless. Zacchaeus didn’t have to justify, make promises, or mend his way for Jesus to save him; he just had to believe. No conversation took place until later, after his belief. Once saved, he generously offered to make restitution, but that was a decision he made with help from Jesus.
Maybe Jesus has pointed you out and wants you to come down from the tree. Maybe you feel like you aren’t good enough or you are just too bad for Jesus to save you. That’s a lie. Jesus isn’t looking for deals, you don’t have to be perfect to be accepted, you just have to believe in him and confess him as the Son of God. You don’t have to give up anything to be saved; you just accept God’s free gift. However, just like Zacchaeus and all the others who have believed in Christ, there is a life changing experience. What is the change? That’s between you Jesus.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Looking for God

Chapter 18: 31-43

After explaining the sacrifice believers may endure as they follow him, Jesus then begins to explain what he himself will soon go through. His perfect sacrifice will soon unfold and he spends a few moments explaining to his disciples the prophesy that he will soon fulfill.
In the disciple’s hearing he probably talks about what was written in the past as it relates to what will soon unfold. Jesus probably relayed the writing of Psalms, Isaiah and the other prophets foretelling of how he will be mocked, spit upon whipped and put to death. The disciples didn’t quite understand. They didn’t understand the words of the prophets and how they were coming true with Jesus in their midst.
Christians today have the benefit of knowing how this all turns out. We can flip a few chapters in the bible and witness the fulfillment of those prophets words, but he disciples were living one day at a time. Believers today can see that Jesus was speaking of his crucifixion and what his death and resurrection will accomplish.
What the disciples experience with prophesy is nothing knew and we can hardly chastise them for their disbelief or lack of understanding. The bible is full of prophesy that is revealed and we refuse to see or understand what is happening from a biblical point of view. The Holy Spirit is revealing what God is doing and we may not acknowledge it.
How often have you heard someone ask, “does anyone have any prayer requests or praises to share?” They may ask another way, “What are you thankful for today?” What is the response in the room? Is it dead silence or is everyone clamoring to share something good that the Lord has done for them.
I had that experience last night at church. The pastor asked the question and a few people answered very excited about what God had done for them. Though I didn’t share and though I thought I had nothing to share, their praises were almost exactly what God had done for me. Why hadn’t I noticed?
This must have been on my mind as I fell asleep. A few hours later I sat up in bed after a bad dream. The dream was unrelated to what happened next, but it served to wake me up. As I settled back in bed to get back to sleep a thought occurred to me. Two people had mentioned in a prayer requests that two men had lost their jobs and how it their age and the economy may work against them in finding a new job.
What got to me was the truth that these men were only 15 – 20 years older than me. I began to ponder what it would be like if I lost my job, how would I feed my three young ones (see my other blog: I mean, God had been so good to help me with job security and promotions during a difficult economic time. And there it was, God’s blessings that I had been blind to. In my panic, he revealed his work in my life.
More often than not, I might find myself silent searching for something, anything that I can be thankful for. This experience just demonstrates that my lack of response does not reflect God’s inactivity, but my failure to keep in tune with how He is working in and around me.
I often pray that God will help me see what he is doing. When I do so, I become more aware. Others keep a journal to write down prayers, some pray, others get together and talk about it. What methods do you use to keep God’s blessings in mind?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Forsaking All

Luke 18: 15-30
Have you noticed how willingly children accept things of God. From a very young age, my son was always doing things to please God. At four years old, we overheard him tell his friend, “Aren’t you happy that God loves us?” Children are accepting of information without having to ask questions; it’s in their nature to trust.. Jesus wants our hearts to be just as willing to accept His gift of eternal life.
In contrast, the rich ruler asked questions and tried to rationalize his lifestyle. How can one be save? What else must I do? Isn’t there any other way? Instead of being accepting, he had been focusing on his ability to obey God’s commandments and not of the life changing power that happens when God is in control. He had asked what he could do to inherit eternal life.
We all know that God has already performed what needs to be done. All sin has to be covered with a sacrifice and Jesus was that sacrifice. Jesus took the opportunity to reminded his disciples that the only way to be saved is a supernatural way prepared by God and that salvation was by no means anything that a human could do. Man’s role is to accept God’s unconditional love and gift just as a child would.
Perhaps you are concerned that you will have to make a sacrifice. You are worried that following Christ may cause you to lose your friends, family, lifestyle, career. But it’s exactly what Jesus means by forsaking all to follow him. The choice to follow Christ is not for the faint of heart. It is full of the adventure of personal courage, faith, and sacrifice. Jesus addresses the difficulty of sacrifice to his disciples by encouraging them; “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.”
Children are accepting, trusting, and vulnerable. This open trust is what helps people believe in a God that loves them and has a plan for their lives. Accept God’s gift to you, trust that believing in Jesus Christ will cover yours sins, and be vulnerable to the healing and forgiveness repentance brings. The sacrifice is something that God has already done, there’s nothing else to do. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Spiritual Pride

You can’t make up the situations Jesus speaks about in his parables. I love this one about the Pharisee praying to God and lifting himself about all others. Not only were they a burden to their flock over public and religious matters, but they also used their power and authority in their prayers to God.
In the case of Luke 18:9-14, this Pharisee has so much spiritual pride that he is actually thanking God because he is not as sinful as the other man praying a distance from him. He is caught up in his own privilege and power that he cannot have a realistic communion with his creator. This is the ultimate case of self-absorption that leaves the Pharisee unable to move forward in any type of relationship with God. His spiritual pride won’t allow him to repent of his sins or acknowledge his own need for God.
The tax collector is so convicted of his sin that he pours his heart out to God. His own heart is broken and he desperately wants to establish a relationship with a loving God. He is humbled to the point of desperation and recognizes that he has to come clean as a way to move on.
Christians, especially leaders can easily fall into the Pharisee’s situation. Those in positions as Reverends, Pastors or other professional staff have tremendous responsibilities to set a good example and live blameless lives. Lay leaders such as elders, deacons, teachers and small group can also put up walls and pretenses of being sinless. However the Bible tells us we are all sinners and those who claim to have no sin are lying.
Another point to be considered is that we as leaders are afraid to be vulnerable because we may let someone down. Take a good look at what is happening in Sunday school classes and other bible studies. Many students have an opportunity to build relationships with each other through sharing of experiences where they have failed God. However, the leader may not feel comfortable joining in. They may facilitate the lesson, but not engage in the same manner as those they are teaching for fear of losing credibility or causing others to stumble.
If you are a leader, are you putting people in your life with whom you can share your failures and who will encourage and not judge?
Are you living a life of prayer where you can speak to God honestly and not as the Pharisee out of position or authority?
Are you making yourself available to others who have the same spiritual need to talk about their experiences in a non-threatening and encouraging manner?
Our spiritual success depends on developing honest relationships with God and other Christians. To do so, we have to be vulnerable and able to admit our sins and hopelessness. God can do the rest when we have the right attitude.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Pray constantly

Chapter 18 1-8

We should pray often and not grow weary. What great direction. Prayer, as difficult as it is sometimes, gives us the line to God’s ear. God asks us to give him our burdens and the best way to do that is bring the issue to God, he will listen.
Jesus demonstrates this with the story of a ruler who did not fear God, but nonetheless performed righteous judgment because someone requested it without ceasing. In contrast, God is way more powerful and able than any earthly ruler. He is quick to listen to his people and avenge unrighteousness. That’s why prayer is so important.
On April 29, 2007 I had underlined verse seven and wrote a quick promise to pray for God’s servants everywhere. Around the world God’s elect are suffering persecution, planning for evangelical outreach, and facing monumental challenges that will only be accomplished through prayer. These Christians are focused on important things and need our prayers to help them accomplish God sized tasks. But my burden is mainly for those imprisoned with no hope of relief or release. Sometimes I am awakened in the early hours only to feel a need to pray for those suffering. I pray for God to deliver, encourage, soothe, and allow for them to witness to their captives.
But there is a greater hope that outlasts any burdens, hardships, pains and tortures of this world; the power of resurrection. As God’s children, we can know eternal life with him as we spend forever in his embrace. Our lives on earth with end, and the forever after that is unimaginable glory.
Do you pray for the salvation of the world? Do you have concerns for justice that only God can answer? Jesus promises that God will hear your prayers.
For those who are not saved, don’t you think it’s time to consider where you want to spend eternity? The pleasures you seek in this earth will die with it, then what is left? Put your hope in something eternal. This life on earth is short, then we spend the rest of eternity either in judgment or with a loving God. It’s your call. If you haven’t done so, won’t you ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins and be your savior?.
In verse 8 Jesus asks the simple question. “Upon my return will I find the kind of faith that lead people to pray?”