Friday, October 21, 2016

Excuses, Excuses!

Luke 14

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 “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.’34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?

In Luke 14, Jesus is having dinner at the home of a prominent Pharisee. Again he heals a man and sends him home. He reasons, "Which of you would if your son fell into a well would not pull him out?" At this, they were silent and didn't know what to say. Then, he uses a parable to show the heart of God to reach all people, not just the Jews.

When a man threw a great banquet and sent out invites to many guests, they all had excuses for why they could not attend. They ranged from trying out some new oxen, checking a newly bought piece of property, and probably the most humorous one, being married. I guess his wife was cooking his favorite meal that night. After going out and inviting the original guests, he realizes there is still room. And he says,

23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

So what did he mean? In the context, he was referring to the Jews who would reject him, and then the gospel would be taken to the Gentiles. But he also relates this to everyone when he points out how they all had different excuses for not coming. The point is God still wants his banquet hall filled. Another verse says, "God doesn't want anyone to perish but all people to come to a knowledge of the truth."

So how can we apply this? First, when we invite people to come to know God through Jesus, we can expect plenty of excuses. But the passage says, "Don't quit, compel them to come in!" Do we provide a compelling case for unbelievers to come to our places of worship? Or, are we content to have dinner with those who are already there? Second, when God calls us to a deeper level of discipleship, do we make excuses? I am too busy at work? We've got sports on Sunday, so we can't go to church? Or whatever other excuse one might use. E.g. Sunday football.

God wants to have his banquet hall full! Do we share his passion?

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Can You Rest From Electronics?

Luke 13

14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” 15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

The Pharisees are a great example of leaders who claim to follow the Law, but have ended up making laws of their own for their own benefit. They are furious with Jesus for healing a woman on the Sabbath, who had suffered for 18 years. But in the meantime, they untie their own animals to take them for a drink, and similarly break the Sabbath laws. Jesus is pointing out the absurdity of how we as humans twist the law and the scriptures for own benefit. That is why the Law can never save us. The Law only points out of our sin and leads us to Christ, the only one who fulfills the Law.

In the case of the Sabbath, God had created a day to rest from our labor to worship him. The underlying reason for the Sabbath is to keep us from worshipping work and what we can create with our own hands. On the Sabbath we take a break from creating and worship the One who created us. Therefore, when the Pharisees tweaked the Laws to profit themselves, they revealed their true heart condition. This is especially true when you see them judging Jesus for healing a woman who had suffered for 18 years. Jesus "re-created" this woman and restored her. In the same way the Sabbath restores us through true rest. Jesus in another gospel says, "the Sabbath is made for man, not man made for the Sabbath."

Do you take a weekly Sabbath? It doesn't necessarily have to be Sunday, but if you normally worship on Sundays it might make sense. I struggle with taking a day of rest, which shows I have on overestimation of myself in terms of work. You can also take a Sabbath from certain activities to give you rest. The obvious one is to unplug our electronics. It is hard to rest when you have your electronics on, because people have 24/7 access to you. And if you are like me when you think you have an important email or voice message, I can't rest until I return it.

We need to be wary of the Pharisee in all of us. It is easy to either get around the rules or twist them to benefit us and not others. Try "unplugging" it may help.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Unforgiveable Sin???

Luke 12

8 “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. 9 But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. 10 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.

This verse presents an interpretive challenge when Jesus says, "Whoever speaks a word against me will be forgiven, but whoever blasphemes the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven." This passage also appears in a slightly different form in Mark 3 and Matthew 12, but essentially says the same thing.

One might ask, "I thought Jesus forgave all of our sins on the cross, why is this one different". Or, "Why is it worse to speak a word against the Holy Spirit than Jesus? Aren't they both God?"

First, we need to again go first to the context. In Matthew 12, the Pharisees were attributing the works and miracles of Jesus to the devil. They had an unrepentant and unbelieving heart. They were resistant to the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing them to repentance and belief. But in blaspheming the Holy Spirit, they were disowning the very power of God that would lead them to faith in Christ.

Martin Luther teaches about the work of the Holy Spirit as he explains the Third Article of the Apostle's Creed which starts with, "I believe in the Holy Spirit". He says this, "I cannot by my own effort or understanding come to know Jesus as Lord, but the Holy Spirit has called me and enlightened me with His gifts and keeps me in the one, true faith." So you can see without the Holy Spirit, the Word of God is just foolishness to those who don't believe. But to those who through the power of the Holy Spirit come to faith, they are the words of eternal life.

As we pray for people who don't believe, one of the ways we can pray is for the Holy Spirit to soften their hearts. Pray for receptivity to the Gospel. Without the power of Holy Spirit we can do nothing. In fact our whole Christian life is predicated upon us living in the power of the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Christ. That is why our own efforts fail because we are relying on the flesh, and there is no power in the flesh.

Come Holy Spirit fill us with Your power, the power of Jesus living in and through us. May the work we do on earth be led by the Holy Spirit and give glory to you. We pray for those who are far from you that we know, that they might be drawn to Your love through this same Holy Spirit. Amen

Monday, October 17, 2016

Do I Have To Pray To Get the Holy Spirit?

Luke 11
11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 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!”

In Luke 11, Jesus is teaching on prayer and he gives them a model of what to pray in the Lord's Prayer. And then he moves to the famous passage where he summarizes how we should pray, "Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you shall be find, and knock and the door shall be opened to you." His point seems to be that we should persevere in prayer. It is active more than passive. He seems to suggest that prayer could mean more than a yes or no. It could be a process of knocking on doors to see if they open. Or, seeking godly advice from other Christians to clsrify how God might be answering our prayers.

Then, the text above says something very interesting. Luke is teaching us how God responds to us in prayer. He gives the example of a father who does not give their son a snake when they ask for food. Meaning a parent will give their child what they need not try and trick them. And if they are like that as earthly parents, how much more is the Father in heaven going to give his children what they need.

But then Luke says something that seems to not connect with the passage. Luke says, "how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him." One might ask, "Why does Luke bring in the Holy Spirit as a way of the Father answering prayer."

First of all, we know that the Holy Spirit is intimately connected in and with our prayers. Paul says in Romans 8 that the Holy Spirit intercedes with groanings that we don't even understand when we pray. So in this sense, we could say the Holy Spirit helps us to pray in a way that is alignment with God's will but we may not even understand. Also it shows that the Holy Spirit is not something we have to earn but given to us. It is a gift from the Father, much like an answer to prayer.

The Father denying one of his children the Holy Spirit is like an earthly father giving his child a scorpion when they ask for an egg. Luke is also reminding us that although we need many things in this life in a material sense, our deepest needs are spiritual. Although our material needs are important for all of us, our ultimate need is a relationship with God that leads to eternal life. The Holy Spirit is simply the best gift we could ever have and God gives it to us even when we didn't know we needed it.

The Holy Spirit is what every Christian relies on to live out the Christian faith. God knows we need it and has given it to us liberally even if we haven't asked for it yet.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

How Can You Change the World?

Luke 10 Jesus Sends Out the Seventy-Two
10 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

You will notice the first three verses of Luke 10 are remarkably similar to Luke 9. The only real difference is Jesus sent 72 instead of 12 disciples. And in this case, he sends them into towns and places he was about to go. It's as if he said, "Okay the 12 of you who went out the first time, take 5 more with you." And the strategy was much the same. Find a person of peace and stay with them as long as they will have you. And if you go somewhere where you are not welcomed, shake the dust off your feet as a sign that even the dust is a warning of the coming judgement.

As we seek to carry out the Great Commission Jesus gave to us, we would do well to observe and reflect on Jesus' strategy to reach lost people. First of all, we see that Jesus took the disciples with him as he preached God's words and demonstrated God's works. After each occasion, Jesus took time to explain to his disciples what he was doing and how he was doing it. Then, in chapter 9, he gives them the right and power to do the things he was doing. Preach, heal, and cast out demons. But importantly, Jesus realizes he cannot do it all by himself. There is no way Jesus could have gotten this message out to as many towns and people without sending the 12, and then the 72.

In essence, Jesus was saying, the harvest is so plentiful, I just need more people to send out in my name and my power. I am sure these disciples were pretty "green". After all, they didn't have much experience preaching and casting out demons. Jesus didn't send them to 3 years of seminary school. They were taught in the "school of life" with Jesus their master teacher. Jesus' missionary training program consisted of four courses. 101 - I do it you watch. 201 - We do it together. 301 - You do it, I watch. 401 - Find someone to do what I just did with you.

Why was Jesus' missional strategy so effective? It was simple. It was intentional, and focused on trial and error, experiential learning. It was an "apprenticeship" model. I follow you around and learn from you until I can do what you do. Then, I train someone else to do what I can now do. Why was this strategy so important? Jesus had 3 years to reach all the people he could before he was taken back to be with the Father. He knew he couldn't do it all. He knew that this movement would last only as long as people were trained to carry on what he had started. Finally, he gave them the same power and authority He had been given to carry on what he started.

So the $64,000 question is ... if this is Jesus'strategy to build the church, why would we do it any differently! And yet, it is easy for churches to get caught up in so many other things than "making disciples who make disciples". So then there are really only two questions for a Christian to ask? One, who is teaching me to be a more committed follower of Jesus Second, who is God calling me to invest my life with. This is called "life on life" ministry, and you can't get it off the internet. It was and is the best training program ever used to reach all people for Christ.

The only question is are we going to use the only model Jesus gave, or are we going to try and re-create the wheel?"

Saturday, October 15, 2016

"You Give Them Something to Eat!"

12 Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” 13 He replied, “You give them something to eat.”

You can imagine how the disciples felt. They had just finished their first day in ministry preaching the good news and healing all who came to them. When they came back to Jesus they reported to him everything they had done. They had that satisfying feeling after a productive day at work. But there was only one problem, the rumor got out and the crowds found them. They wanted more.

But instead of sending them away, Jesus shared the good news about the kingdom, and healed all who came to him. The disciples realizing it as getting late and they would be hungry and need a place to stay. You can imagine them thinking, "Jesus we've had a great today but we think it is time to knock it off and take it easy. Send these people away so we can relax. To this Jesus replies, "You give them something to eat!" The disciples must have been thinking, "Really Jesus, there were 5,000 people there!"

We've all been there haven't we? We tired, ready to go home, and someone wants something from us. If we were honest we might be thinking, "Why can't they get something to eat for themselves." This is when Jesus might say to you, "You give them something to eat!" And we want to say, "Really Jesus!" But then we remember that thing Jesus mentioned about picking up your cross if you really want to follow him. And, if you want to save your life, then lose it.

It has been my experience that in that moment if you listen to that voice that says, "you give them something to eat", and help the person in need, it is always worth it. God gives you that little extra in your tank just like he multiplied the fish and the loaves. You realize it is not you that fed the person but God working through you. So while there is certainly nothing wrong with relaxing and resting after a hard day's work, sometimes Jesus brings someone to us and says, "you give them something to eat!"

Friday, October 14, 2016

Does God Keep Secrets?

Luke 8:9-10 His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that,

“‘though seeing, they may not see;
though hearing, they may not understand."

When Luke talks about the secrets of the "kingdom of God" today, it is in the context of the parable of the sower. Parables use earthly analogies to give a spiritual lesson. In this case Jesus used an illustration from farming to show when the Word of God is planted in the right soil it will produce an exponential yield. Jesus realizes that some people will want to find the ultimate meaning and truth from this story, and some will never dig any deeper than the surface.

Though the story of the parable of the sower is true in farming, it is also true in God's kingdom. God's kingdom is where he is ruling or reigning. Jesus says the secrets to it have been given to the disciples, but others may see about it or hear about it, but do not understand. So this brings up the question of why some see these secrets and some don't? Why do two people hear the same story and one completely misses the point and one gets it?

The first question might be does God want to hide these secrets from some, and yet reveal it to others? Secondly does the secrets of the kingdom get realized by those who want to seek and find the kingdom? This is spoken of in the Bible when it says, "those who seek will find". In another parable in Matthew's gospel, we see the person who gave up all they had to find the pearl of great price. So we see a tension here.

Later as the disciples began their ministry, the only way they could see if the secrets worked was to apply its principles. In this story they had to realize that if they sowed the seed liberally that some of the seed would fall on good soil and others on soil not receptive to it. Although they did not know which soil would be receptive or non-receptive, they had to trust this secret of kingdom that if they sowed liberally God would make some of it grow.

So are they secrets, or an invitation to be part of God's kingdom coming here on earth as it is in heaven? Just like one might say the "secrets of being a good salesman". The only way to find out if a secret like this is true you have to apply its principle and see the results. God invites you and I to be a part of His kingdom growing and He has given us His Word to spread to as many people as we can. Some will fall on bad soil and some on good soil, but today's secret is that if we are faithful God will make it grow some 30,60 or 100 times. Let's go find out if the secret is true.