Monthly Archives: April 2013

Prayer that Will Empower Us

When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.”  (Luke 9:1-2)

Jesus starts in Luke 9 by sending out the Twelve.  Previously, he had been the one going to town to town, healing and spreading the good news.  Now he is enlisting help.  This is our goal, that we will not only minister to others, but that we will send out others to minister.

Something else that struck me in Luke 9 is that three times in this chapter we see Jesus withdrawing from the public.  My thought is that Jesus is getting ready to change the direction of his ministry, and he is preparing himself mentally to do that.

Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida  (v. 10)

Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him… (v. 18)

About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray (v. 28)

Prayer is what helps Jesus to not just focus on preaching and healing, but on his mission to give his life.  Here is what Jesus said after he prayed:

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”  (v. 22  He said this after he had been praying in private.)

“Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.”  (v. 44  He said this after he came down off the mountain.)

My prayer must be the same way.  I can go down my list of all the things I want God to do, and all the ways I want Him to help me.  But prayer needs to help me to die to self, to see that my mission is a serious and costly thing.  As it did for Jesus, my prayer can empower me to go forth in a new direction.  Look at what Jesus did next in Luke 9:

“As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” (v. 51)

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Grace that Keeps Fertilizing

Fertilizer

“No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.” 

Then Jesus told this story: “A man planted a fig tree in his garden and came again and again to see if there was any fruit on it, but he was always disappointed. Finally, he said to his gardener, ‘I’ve waited three years, and there hasn’t been a single fig! Cut it down. It’s just taking up space in the garden.’  “The gardener answered, ‘Sir, give it one more chance. Leave it another year, and I’ll give it special attention and plenty of fertilizer.  If we get figs next year, fine. If not, then you can cut it down.’”  Luke 13:5-8

God gives us so many chances.  He does so many things to set us up to win.

We know we need to do better.  We know we need to repent of certain actions and attitudes.  Like the fig tree with no fruit, we disappoint God.

But Jesus is merciful.  In the parable he gives the fig tree more time to bear fruit. We don’t deserve more time, but we get it.  In the parable, he fertilizes the fig tree.  In our lives, Jesus puts people in our lives who can help us do what we are supposed to do.   He puts us in situations that will enrich us, inspire us, motivate us, and teach us.  He gives us special attention, even though we are failures.

Israel failed God.  He had designated them as His chosen people, but they broke their covenant and went after other gods, time and time again.

Yet God didn’t give up on his people.  He preserved a remnant, and established a new covenant with them.  He set it up in the future so that we can all flourish.

“‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.“ ‘I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.’”  Ezekiel 17:22-24

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What the Day Brings

They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man.  Luke 8:26-28

What is the day going to bring us?  When Jesus went sailing to the other side of the lake, he was probably thought he was going there to spread the gospel in other towns.  Instead, the first thing that happened when he got out of the boat was that a naked crazy man came up to him.

Jesus could see in an instant that this man has an unclean spirit in him, and that was his first concern, to get the unclean spirit out.  It wasn’t even a question of healing someone who is physically disabled.  It was perhaps even worse,  a vile spirit cohabiting with someone’s soul, hijacking him and causing him to hurt himself over and over again.

When I see people who are messed up, hurting, is that my first impulse, to pray for them, that the torments of Satan could be exorcized from their lives?  I think I would have been caught up in how uncomfortable the demon possessed man made me feel.  It’s easy to interact with nice civilized people who seem to have it all together.  But those who have a screw loose, those who have been damaged by the world and are dysfunctional — I can find reasons not to interact with them.

And do I remember that Jesus has power over evil?  It may control people, but Jesus can say the word, and it is gone!  The situations that seem so hopeless to me are not hopeless to him.  Now it is true that the hearts of people can be hard.  This is not something that God usually changes in an instant.  But He can vanquish the powers of Satan in a situation at any time.

What was the demon possessed man experiencing?  He didn’t want to live among the tombs, cutting himself, but he couldn’t help himself.  He was completely trapped.  Yet one morning, he found himself walking along the shore of the lake, and he saw a boat far away, coming his way.  Who was it?  The boat held a man who would be the solution to all of his problems.  God sent him a way out.

The power I have through Christ is unimaginable.  Through Him I can free people who are trapped.  I am Christ’s ambassador.  I am the person in the boat, the person sent by God that they need.

All of my life is a love story.  Everything that has happened to me has been God working his love in my life.  And the demon possessed man had a love story too.  This passage in Luke is the only part we know, but it is a tale that has impacted men through the ages, that a man would be trapped and hopeless, in pain, and God would care enough to send Jesus across the lake at just the right time.

What will today bring me?  I have my agenda, and God has his.  Will I see the people who meet me as those who God has put in my path for a reason, or will I see them as interruptions?  Will my first thought be to rid them of what is plaguing them?  Or will I just see the things about them that make me uncomfortable?  Will I realize the power I have to help them get rid of the evil that has a hold on them?

God is writing his love story with mankind every day.  Will I advance the story, help write more pages that include more people?  Will people look back and say, “THAT was the day my life began to change.”

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Being Centered

Ballerina

“But I want first of all …to be at peace with myself.  I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life… I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for… ‘May the outward and inward man be as one.’  I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.”  (Anne Morrow Lindbergh, “Gift From the Sea.”)

Lindbergh does an eloquent job of articulating how she wants her life to be centered, but I didn’t find as I read further that she offered an effective way to do this.  Being centered, being in sync with the Creator, is one of my deepest desires as well.  Here are some things I have found to be effective.

Prayer centers, almost more than anything else.  It centers us because our meditation reminds us of what is important.  And, if we know that God is responding to our prayer, that the solution to every trouble comes from him alone, we are not tossed about by life and worries, but waiting calmly, hoping in Him.

“Let all that is in my wait in silence before the Lord.  My hope is in Him.”  Ps 62:5

Dwelling on the Word centers us.  We can be distracted by competing priorities, pressures from the world about what is important.  Or we can read the Bible each morning, and remember it throughout the day, and let this define our life.

“The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”

Knowing that God is real, powerful and caring centers us.  When we believe He is sovereign and in control of our lives, actively involved in our lives, then we can live at peace.

“As they sailed, he fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.  The disciples went and woke him, saying, ‘Master, Master, we’re going to drown!’ He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. ‘Where is your faith?’ he asked his disciples.”

Humility centers us.  It is the orientation that we should have it all figured out that causes us stress.  Admitting that we need God to guide us makes all of the pieces of life fall into place.

Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life.  Ps 143:8

He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.  The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away  Is 50:4-5

Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven  Matt 5:3

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Cleanser of the Mess I Made

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Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me.  (Ezek 16)

This is a summation of the what God considers despicable.

Arrogance: Thinking more of ourselves than we ought.  Thinking we know better than God.  Thinking we are better than others.  Thinking we are right and everyone else is wrong.

Overfed:  Having an excess of food while others go hungry.

Unconcerned: Prosperous ease, laziness, abundance of idleness, comfortable security, carefree ease

A summary of this indictment: Only thinking of self and comfort, egocentric to the point of ignoring others needs.

Although Sodom did all of these things, Israel did them even more.  The Israelites, in following their own ways, made a complete sordid mess out of their lives.  We read on in Ezekiel 16.

“ ‘I am filled with fury against you, declares the Sovereign Lord, when you do all these things, acting like a brazen prostitute! …. I will deal with you as you deserve, because you have despised my oath by breaking the covenant. Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you…. Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation, declares the Sovereign Lord.’ ”  (Excerpts from Ezekiel 16)

Just as He did for the Israelites, God made atonement for all of the vile, destestable outrageously unfaithful things we did.  Because of this, we should be ashamed, humbled.  We did wrong, got ourselves in a mess that was entirely our fault, but God provided a way out even though we didn’t deserve it.  I need to be ashamed of the mess my life was at one time, and that God was the “cleanser of the mess I made.”  How embarrassing would it be if someone cleaned up my vomit after I got drunk?  This is so much more humiliating.

And more than that, because Jesus cleaned up the mess I made of my life, I need to “never again open my mouth.”  My goal needs to be that I will never sin again.

When Jesus was anointed by a sinful woman, he told this story:  Two men were in debt to a moneylender. One owed him 500 denarii, and the other 50. When they couldn’t pay it back, he generously canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?”  Simon answered, “I suppose the one who had the larger debt canceled.”  Jesus told him, “You have answered correctly.”  (Luke 7:41-43)

The sinful woman knew what a revolting mess she had made of her life, yet Jesus wanted to be involved in her life to help her get rid of the mess.  Because of his forgiveness, she anointed him, loved him, gave her very best.

“Under the old system, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, and the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood. So let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore”  (Hebrews 13:11-13)

Under the Old Law, the animals that were the sin offerings, once the blood was offered as atonement, were to be taken outside and burned up.  They were unclean because they bore the sin.  Thus, as a sin offering, Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem.    It was a horrible humiliating thing he endured to clean up our mess.

He went into the filthy pit in which we were stuck and rescued us by taking on our death as a lowly criminal, all the while surrounded by the sludge and pollution of our existence. 

And today we embrace what he did. It is unspeakably dear to us.  It defines our life.  We resolve to know nothing but the cross. We take communion every week and it is an intimacy of dying with Jesus, remembering the shame he suffered for us, denouncing the arrogance and self-centeredness that caused it.

But there is one more challenge for us.  We need to actually bear his disgrace.  We need to take up our cross.  This is the life we have chosen:  to die to self, to die for others.  It will not be about us, being overfed, seeking ease and comfort.  It will be about living his life here on earth.

The only way we can live this life is to recognize the gruesome dimensions of what Jesus did, and make an informed choice to follow him.

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Living the Reality — Part I

Sun shining through

But if they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people and would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds.” (Jer 23:22)

I have been thinking a lot about why it is so hard to live the life we should live.  One reason I think it is hard is that we don’t stand in God’s council.  We don’t see the world the way it really is.

1. We don’t see that every good thing we have is actually from God, or what our life would be apart from God, if he hadn’t blessed us.

“What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?”  (I Cor 4:7)

“Every good and perfect gift is from above.”  (James 1:17)

“he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else….For in him we live and move and have our being”  (Acts 17:25, 28)

“I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put sandals of fine leather on you…you became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. ‘But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute.”  Ez 16

2. We don’t see that what we do matters, that sin matters.  

Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.”   (James 1:14-15)

THE REALITY IS, SIN GROWS.

Every day, without even thinking about it, we are grumpy, bitter, ungrateful, selfish, envious, worldly, greedy, lazy, lustful. These are normal, human things to experience.  But do we take them seriously?  They are still sins, and if they are not dealt with, they will grow, and incite a progression that can lead to our spiritual death.  That is what the verse in James 1 says.

“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”  Heb 12:15

This verse is a great illustration of how bitterness can start out as a root, and grow up to cause much trouble.  Sin starts with small things.  If we don’t deal with these small things, they grow into bigger things that are much more difficult to control, and cause much more destruction.

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”  (Heb 12:14)

This is the verse that precedes the one about not allowing a bitter root to grow up.  Although we are covered by grace, we are to make every effort to be holy.  The reality is, it matters how we live our life.  If we live our lives the way we want to in worldliness, if we don’t strive to be holy, we will not see God.

“Do not give the devil a foothold.”  Eph 4:27

If we don’t deal with sin, we are giving the devil a foothold in our life.

“And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”  (Matt 5:30)

It is real.  Jesus said it.  If we don’t deal with our sin, we will go to hell.  And lest we think this only applies to big sins like murder or adultery, Jesus makes it clear that it is the little things too, “anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment,” and, “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  (Matt 5:22.28)

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life ”  (Gal 6:7-8)

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Noah, Daniel and Job

Noah, Job and Daniel

“Even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were there, their righteousness would save no one but themselves, says the Sovereign Lord.”  Ez 14:14

Who does God consider righteous?  Here in Ezekiel He names three men as those who are most righteous.  God essentially says, “Even if the most righteous men who ever lived, Noah, Daniel and Job, were  in this place, I would still destroy everyone except these men.”

What distinguished the righteousness of these three men?  It is interesting that they span the Bible.  Noah is in Genesis, and Daniel was from the time of the captivity.

Noah lived at a time when, “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.”  Yet Noah did not live that way.  He was not an Israelite, one of God’s chosen people.  No one had been chosen yet.  But he knew God.  “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God”  He wasn’t just a good person.  He chose to do good because he acknowledged God. 

Others of the time must have had the same opportunity to know God.  But only Noah walked with Him.  Only Noah chose good.  The others allowed their minds to run rampant.  They didn’t even attempt to follow their conscience.  Their thoughts and their desires became their god.

“Noah did everything just as God commanded him.”  How unusual this must have been at a time when everyone else was about self indulgence.  Noah obeyed God.  Noah believed God.  Noah chose to do right.  And Noah chose to thank and honor God.  As soon as they came out of the ark, Noah gave an offering to the Lord.

Job had a similar character.  “He was blameless—a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil.”  Job also chose to do what was right because he acknowledged God.  And he remembered God, and gave offerings to Him as well.  “Job would purify his children. He would get up early in the morning and offer a burnt offering for each of them.”  He lived a life where the first thing he did was remember God, and how important it was to be right with Him.  There was no room in his life for self indulgence.

Finally, I am running out of time, but I want to list a couple of verses that describe Daniel.   “But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king.”  “He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God. Then the officials went together to Daniel’s house and found him praying and asking for God’s help.”

So what did these three men have in common?  What was it about them that made God name them as the most righteous men?

1. They had an sober reverence for God.

2. They chose to do right because of their fear of God.

3. They were not self indulgent.

4. They were humble and knew they needed God’s blessing and help.

5. They remembered to thank God

6. They were not swayed by others around them.  They served God no matter what anyone else did.

7. They were not swayed by events.  They believed God and kept their integrity no matter how much things went wrong around them.

This is a challenge for all of us!  The words of the New Testament reinforce the importance of having these same character qualities.  Jesus was like this.  Noah, Job and Daniel call us higher, to be true to the highest standards of conduct and heart.

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