Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Unpredictable Way God Works

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Tuesday, February 25, 2014:  Mark 7:24-8:10

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.   Mark 7:31-33 (ESV)

An Unusual Path

God always does things in unusual ways.  Figure out the way you would do it.  Then turn it over to God. He ALWAYS does it in His own unique and unpredictable way!

This is vividly illustrated throughout Mark's Gospel.  Mark 7:31 says Jesus left Tyre and traveled to the Sea of Galilee by way of Sidon and the Decapolis.  That doesn't make sense.  In fact, some Bible scholars have questioned this passage because of it.  One writer even said, "That's like wanting to go from St. Louis to New York City via Montreal then New Orleans."  Sounds like some of the flight schedules you will get today -- go east to travel west.

It took a long time to walk this circuitous route -- perhaps several months.  It was during these days that Jesus taught His disciples as they trudged along.  Even though the path didn't make sense, God was using that time for valuable preparation.  This was discipleship.  He does that with us, too.

A Unique Healing 

Once at the Sea of Galilee, we find another befuddling example of how Jesus works.  A deaf-mute was brought to Him.  No doubt these two maladies went together.  Because the man couldn't hear, he was unable to formulate speech.  The beauty of Jesus shines in the way He ministered to this man.  He offered no stock prayers.  No quick running through the prayer line.  Here's what He did.  Mark 7:31 tells us...

1.  He took the man aside.  

This speaks of INDIVIDUAL CARE.  This poor man may have been embarrassed and crowd-conscious. Jesus, in essence, said to him, "Let's get alone for a minute."  Jesus wanted the man to know that He cared for him as a person; not just because everyone expected Him to.

2.  He put His fingers in his ears.

Hearing was the basic problem.  Jesus touched the man at the deepest point of his need.  This represents INCARNATION.  Jesus does not heal from a distance.  He comes to the very place of defeat, disease, and distress.  "The Word became flesh" (John 1:14).

3.  He spit and touched the man's tongue.

This is certainly an unusual way of ministering.  Most interpreters agree that Jesus spat on his own hands and then with his finger touched the tongue of the man with some of His spit.  What in the world does this mean? Of course, this should not be a formula we use in our altar ministry.  "I went to church, asked for prayer, and they spat on me!"    No.

Jesus took that which was in His own mouth and put into the mouth of this mute man.  Jesus gave of Himself. This is IMPARTATION.  I am reminded of another stutterer in the Bible -- Moses.  He told God, "I can't talk.  I get tongue-tied.  I'm slow of speech." (Ex. 4:10)  God sternly replied, "I made your mouth, and I can mute people speak and blind people see."  He did that with this man.

Like He did with Jeremiah, God put His words into this poor man's mouth.

An Astonishing Result

It is downright amazing the way Jesus works.  It seems each circumstance brings a different pattern.  In Mark 8, we find Jesus spitting in a man's eyes!  Another time, just speaks a word.

Walking with Jesus is not following a rule book.  There is no Manual of Practices and Procedure.  He may lead you through your own Sidon and Decapolis, but He always gets you to the destination on time.  He may minister to you in unusual ways, like using spit or poking you in the ear.  But the end result is described in Mark 7:31.

The people were "astonished beyond measure, saying, 'He has done all things well.  He makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.'"

Monday, February 24, 2014

Clean and Unclean

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Monday, February 24, 2014:  Mark 7:1-23

Then the Pharisees and some of the scribes came together to Him, having come from Jerusalem. Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault.For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders.  Mark 7:1-3 (NKJV)

The Most Revolutionary Passage

William Barclay, the great Bible commentator of 50 years ago, says of Mark 7, "Although it may not seem so now, this passage, when it was spoken, was well-nigh the most revolutionary passage in the New Testament."  At issue is CLEAN AND UNCLEAN.  Holy and un-holy.  Acceptable to God or rejected by God.  It starts with the strange topic of "hand-washing" but ends with EVERYTHING.

Mark 7 addresses the underlying theme of the entire Bible!  How can a man be clean before God?  The Pharisees answered this question one way, while Jesus answered totally differently.

The Old Testament is full of rules and regulations concerning what is clean and unclean.  It is a huge part of Jewish faith.  At issue is something called "the traditions of the elders".  What are we talking about here?  For the Jew, the Law means basically two things: 1) the Ten Commandments and 2) the first five books of the Old Testament (the Pentateuch -- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).  This is also called the Torah.

Myriad instructions flow out of the Torah detailing matters of morals and ceremonial purity.  Particularly, Leviticus 11-15 and Numbers 19 talk about dietary issues, touching a leper, women after child-birth, household hygiene, and much more.  One thing you can say about the Pharisees and their legal experts called Scribes: they were serious about the Law.  They were not satisfied with general application or varied interpretation.  They wanted clear definition between right and wrong.  No gray.

Washing and Eating

Two aspects of scribal rules and regulations are addressed in Mark 7: 1) washing of hands, and 2) dietary law -- what you eat.  Jesus ties these two together.  At first glance, we might today think this deals with personal hygiene and healthy eating. But that is not the point at all.  This is not good advice about better living.  The thrust is CEREMONIAL. This involves RITUAL CLEANNESS.  The Scribes and Pharisees believed that adherence to proper hand-washing and kosher diet made you either CLEAN or UNCLEAN before God.  That's serious.

Dr. Barclay gives us the details of the Pharisaical requirements.

1.  Before every meal, and between each of the courses, the hands had to be washed a certain way.

2.  The water for this washing had to be pure -- stored in sealed jars that had been cleansed.

3.  Hands first had to be held finger tips pointed up while a log* of water was poured over them running down to the wrist.

4.  While the hands were still wet, each hand had to be cleansed with the fist of the other.  (Your Bible may have a marginal reading on Mark 7:3 that says "wash their hands with the fist.")  The fist would rub the palm and back of the opposite hand.

5.  Now the hands had to be held with finger tips pointed down.  They were still wet but the pure water on them was now unclean because of the scrubbing.

6.  New pure water was poured over the hands washing off the dirty water.

The result was hands that were ceremonially clean.

Attacked by Demons?

Now here's why this was so important.  When a Jew failed to do this, he was not just guilty of bad manners, he was considered unclean before God.  In fact, a man who ate with unclean hands was subject to attack by a demon named Shibta.  They believed that a demon named Shibta (look it up) rested on a man's hands. Rabbi Aruch had taught: "Shibta is an evil spirit which sits upon men's hands in the night: and if any touch his food with unwashen hands, that spirit sits upon that food, and there is danger from it."

When Jesus and his disciples ignored these traditions, the scribes and Pharisees were astounded and incensed.  In their minds, Jesus was attacking the Torah.  Jesus responded by laying down the New Testament principle for CLEANSING and CLEANNESS.  He addressed their precious dietary laws. He says it's not a matter of what is OUTSIDE, but rather what is INSIDE.

"There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things the defile a man."  (Mark 7:15)

"Do you not perceive that whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated, thus purifying all foods?" (Mark 7:18-19)

Eating a Ham Sandwich to the Glory of God

Righteousness is no longer a matter of THINGS -- "touch not, taste not" (Col. 2:21).  Our righteousness is stronger than that.  It is based on the PERSON of Jesus and heart-relationship with Him.  It is no longer built on my PERFORMANCE but rather His PERFECTION.

This is revolutionary!  It is opposite to human reasoning.  Defilement is no longer a matter of ritual ceremonial compliance.  I am not sinning when I eat a ham sandwich.  This is what Paul meant when he said, "30 But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks?  31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (I Co. 10:30-31)

I am sinning when I hate my brother.  No longer is it what goes in my mouth, but what comes out of my heart.  That's the words of our Liberator!

* A log was equal to one and a half egg-shells full of water.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Walking in the Impossible

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Sunday, February 23, 2014:  Mark 6:30-56

35 When the day was now far spent, His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a deserted place, and already the hour is late. 36 Send them away, that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy themselves bread; for they have nothing to eat.”  37 But He answered and said to them, “You give them something to eat.”  Mark 6:35-37 (NKJV)

A Massive Miracle

God always calls us to do the impossible.  He orchestrates a situation totally beyond our capabilities, then expects us to rise to the occasion.  On face value, that sounds cruel -- something like telling a lame person to run a 4 minute mile.  You might think He's setting you up for embarrassment and failure.  But, He's not!!

One of the greatest miracles Jesus performed was the feeding of the 5,000.  This is the only miracle, other than the resurrection, recorded in all four Gospels.  There in no event in the life of Jesus that had more immediate public effect.  Mark tells us he fed 5,000 men (Mark 6:44) -- not include women and children.  We can only guess at how large the total crowd was that day.  Surely, it was in excess of 15,000 people.  We know children were there because John tells us that the loaves and fishes came from a small boy (John 6:9). 

There is no miracle that Jesus performed that had more mass impact.  He usually touched a leper or a blind person.  He raised Lazarus, but the crowd was limited to the folks who tagged along as He arrived at the tomb 4 days late.  Fifteen to twenty thousand people is a small town!  No wonder the Zealots wanted Him to become the new king replacing Rome.

Facing Impossible Circumstances

But, the miracle is not about political power or social impact.  It's about how God works.  Here's the way the story unfolds: 

1. Jesus and his disciples are exhausted.  They head out to the boonies to get away. 

2. It didn't work.  The crowd followed them out there. 

3. Jesus had compassion.  The disciples seemed to be distressed.

4. There are no sources of food in this desolate place, so the disciples want Jesus to expressly send the crowd home.

5. Jesus commands the disciples to feed this mass of people right there on the spot.

This is an impossible situation. Have you ever felt like this?  You are exhausted to the point of breaking.  You try to get away.  But, the work follows you.  Then, God calls you to do something you are utterly incapable of doing.  It seems as if God is playing "pile on" with you.

Walking with Jesus is a SUPERNATURAL LIFE.  It will press you beyond your own strength -- but that is so you can trust in His strength.  Repeatedly, Jesus commands His disciples to do the impossible.  And He calls you to do that which is beyond your ability.

You are the Loaves and Fishes

We, then, become like the five loaves and two fishes.  Mark 6:41 tells us He did four things with this meager offering.

1. He TOOK it.
2. He BLESSED it.
3. He BROKE it.
4. He GAVE it.

That's what He does with you and me.  First, He takes you.  He calls your name.  He lays His claim on you and you become His. 

Second, He blesses you.  You learn of His goodness and grace.  You enjoy His benefits, His forgiveness, and His favor.

Third, and very importantly, He breaks you.  He takes you to the limit of your ability.  He teaches you that you must die and allow Him to live in you.  He breaks your self-will and replaces it with His divine will.  He leads you to the crucified life, so that you can say with Paul, "I am crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me.  And, the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). 

Lastly, He gives you.  What does this mean?  He sets you out as a picture of what He can do.  You find out that you are NOTHING (that's the breaking).  Then He shows the world what He can do with NOTHING. 

More Than Enough

This story starts with "not having enough."  It ends with "more than enough."  At the beginning, the disciples are worn out and without resources to meet the needs.  At the end, the excess from the feast amounts to 12 baskets full (Mark 6:43).  There were 12 disciples.  One basket full of food was left over as a "carry out" for each of the 12.  It is an impossible development.  It is a display of God's power.  It is a lesson to us about walking with Jesus.

Monday, February 17, 2014

WHAT DO YOU WANT?: "Desperate for God"

Here are the notes from the message yesterday at New Life Community Church.  This was the last in the series WHAT DO YOU WANT? and is entitled "Desperate for God".  If you desire to listen to this message, you may do so by going to our website at  God bless.

What Do You Want, Part 5                                                               Sunday, February 16, 2013
 “Desperate for God”

51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Mark 10:51 (ESV)

Three Words for the New Year

46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.  Mark 10:46-52 (ESV)

“he cried out all the more” – DETERMINATION –

48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more,
Mark 10:48 (ESV)

1.    he was DETERMINED to get answers

he “threw off his cloak” – TRANSFORMATION  (He changed “clothes”) –

49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.
Mark 10:49-50 (ESV)

Consider for a moment the condition of this man Bartimaeus.  He virtually had no name. 
Why was he blind?
We don’t know.
But we do know that blindness was not uncommon in the days of Jesus.
There was a particularly harsh kind of blindness.       Othelmianianatorum     Neonatal conjunctivitis
It was the result of venereal disease.  Gonorrhea was rampant in those days and if the mother had the disease it could actually infect her child and he would be born blind.  It was called venereal disease of the eyes. 
As a result, the child was ostracized and considered to be unclean from birth.  This was a common occurrence and question.  John 9

His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  John 9:1 (N IV)

Threw off his beggar’s coat.
It was pretty ragged.
It was actually a sign and symbol of who he was.
But it was even more.
In all likelihood, it was all  he had.
It was his only possession.
With abandon, he threw everything at the feet of Jesus.
Reckless abandon.
Full faith.

2.    he CHANGED the way he saw himself

Not a play on words.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus …  Hebrews 12:1-2a (NIV)

Remember, this was BEFORE Jesus healed him.

he knew what he wanted –

And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.”  Mark 10:51 (ESV)

Jesus asks him.
This is more than a taunt by Jesus.  Yes, He desired to know what Bartimaeus really wanted.  But let’s go further.  The God of the universe got down on one knee, looked this poor man in the eye and said, “What can I do to serve you.”  This is the servant nature of Jesus. 
He, who created the universe becomes the servant to the beggar.

And He speaks to the deepest need of our heart.  What do you want?

3.    he was CLEAR in his request

he was learning about Jesus –

47 … he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48  … But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Mark 10:47-48 (ESV)

4.    he was GROWING in His knowledge of Jesus

he “followed Jesus on the road” – DISCIPLESHIP –

And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.  Mark 10:52 (ESV)

5.    he took a new DIRECTION for his life.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

WHAT DO YOU WANT?: "Restoration of Families"

Here are the notes from the message this past Sunday at New Life Community Church.  5th in the series WHAT DO YOU WANT?  Title:  "Restoration of Families".  If you desire to listen to this message you may do so by going to our website at  God bless!

What Do You Want?, Part 4                                                             Sunday, February 9, 2014
 “Restoration of Families”

46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.

51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.  Mark 10:51-52 (ESV)

Three Words for the New Year

“At the same time,” says the Lord, “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people.”  Jeremiah 31:1 (NKJV)

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, Ephesians 3:14-15 (ESV)

And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”  Malachi 4:6 (NKJV)

1.     Family relationships are a BATTLEFIELD.

After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” Nehemiah 4:14 (NIV)

The story of a dysfunctional family

All through Scripture:
Adam and Eve – Cain and Abel

I am looking particularly at Isaac and Rebecca

We have to battle…


27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.  Genesis 25:27-28 (ESV)


They struggled from birth.

21 And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren. And the Lord granted his prayer, and Rebekah his wife conceived. 22 The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.  Genesis 25:21-22 (ESV)


Genesis 27:13-14

Jacob:  But Mom, Dad’s going to be really mad if he finds out what we’re doing.
Rebekah:  Don’t worry about your Dad.  I’ll take care of him.  You just do what I tell you.

Stand for your family.

2.     We tend to RUN from CONFLICT.

Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”  Genesis 27:41 (ESV)

3.     BLESS your family.

All these are the twelve tribes of Israel. This is what their father said to them as he blessed them, blessing each with the blessing suitable to him.  Genesis 49:28

Elements of Blessing

1.     Meaningful Touch

2.     Spoken Words

3.     Expression of High Value

4.     Picturing a Special Future

5.     An Active Commitment

By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.  Hebrews 11:21 (NKJV)

The Most Tragic Figure of History

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Monday, February 10, 2014:  Matthew 26:47-68

47 While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” 49 And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.  Matthew 26:47-50 (ESV)

Who is the most tragic figure of history?  We might think of Julius Caesar, assassinated by his own senate.  Or Hannibal, who miraculously crossed the Alps on elephants taking Rome, only to ultimately fail and commit suicide.  History is filled with figures of great stature or potential whose lives fell to shame rather than rising to glory.  

In recent history, we think of Richard Nixon, of John DeLorean, and of O.J. Simpson.  The list multiplies. All of these were at the pinnacle of their world, but because of character flaws or bad choices find their legacies tarnished.

The most tragic figure of history is Judas Iscariot.  He was chosen as one of the 12 apostles.  He sat at the feet of the Master -- the Son of God.  Jesus had told him along with the others that he was destined to rule in the Kingdom of God (Matt. 19:28).  Yet, for some reason, he threw it all away.  He treacherously betrayed Jesus, then regretted it and killed himself (Matt. 27:3-5).  Today, his name is synonymous with betrayal.  No one names their little boy Judas.

He is a picture of man at his worst.  In fact, Judas may have been a man of great ability.  He kept the money bag of the disciples (John 13:29).  Consider that Matthew had been a tax collector and certainly had accounting ability.  Yet Judas was chosen over Matthew for the job.

Despite favored position and fabulous future, Jesus said of Judas, "It would have been better for that man if he had never been born" (Matt. 26:24).  Judas is a picture of huge promise but disappointing pay-off. There was another man in Scripture who did similarly.  His name was Adam.  

The way of man always turns bad.  No matter how good it looks, "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). But, here's the good news: the way of God always turns good.  "The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus."

Particularly poignant is the WAY Judas betrayed Jesus.  A kiss speaks of love, endearment, and affection.  Betrayal speaks of hatred, anger, and rejection.  Our overly sexualized culture today does not pick up on the significance of the New Testament kiss of friendship.  We cannot know what was going through Judas' mind as he gave the kiss of betrayal to Jesus.  We do know that it is the height of treachery.

Few hurts are as bad as the rejection of a true friend -- one who once was close but now does you harm.  Judas represents all those who SAY they love Jesus, but who in fact have their own stubborn plans that are unyielded.  

There is a small bit of Judas in each of us.  It was of this that the hymnist wrote:  

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;

Because of this I close with this prayer -- the rest of that verse:

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why Leaders Are Dropping -- "Strike the Shepherd"

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Sunday, February 9, 2014:  Matthew 26:14-46

31 Then Jesus said to them, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:  ‘I will strike the Shepherd,  and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’  32 But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee.”  Matthew 26:31-32 (NKJV)

There is an all-out satanic attack today against leadership.  We are witnessing an
unprecedented failure rate at the leadership level of the Church.  Whether it be the child-abuse scandal plaguing the Roman Catholic Church or the divorce rate within Protestant Christianity, pastors, priests, and leaders are dropping at an alarming rate.

Jesus quoted the prophet Zachariah citing one of Satan's major strategies against the Church.  "Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered."  (Matt. 26:31; Zech. 13:7)  Current statistics point to serious problems.  It is reported that 1,700 pastors are leaving their posts each MONTH!  Some because of depression.  Some because of moral lapse.  Some because of burnout.

There are numerous practical reasons pastors and leaders are picked off.  Thom Rainer, president of Lifeway Resources, lists 7:

1.  24/7 mentality.  Inability to "turn off" the work mind.  Unable to relax.

2.  Conflict.  One crisis situation after another can finally take its toll.  Combine that with enduring criticism and the results are lethal.

3.  Expectations.  This can be 2-fold: 1) unrealistic expectation of superior spirituality and 2) the expectation of success and church growth.  Combined they set a standard no one can meet.

4.  Unwilling to let go.  Failure to delegate minor tasks.  Work degrades into thankless management of minutiae.

5.  No Friends.  Leaders can isolate themselves.  Pastor's find themselves being caught in church politics and can't show favoritism.  Therefore, never are able to "let their hair down" and really love people.

6.  Not suited for some tasks.  Pride or sensing the need to perform can lead some pastors to take on roles for which they are ill-fitted.  This is a formula for frustration.

7.  No life outside the church.  Lack of hobbies or recreational activities.

I believe Dr. Rainer is right.  These are issues that "strike the shepherd".  I will add one more.  A divided and ineffective church is at the top of Satan's game plan.  If the devil can nullify and eliminate the ministry of the church, he will have free access to the souls of millions.

This is why there is an attack of temptation and harassment against God's leaders in our day.  "Strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered."  This ranges from pastors and priests to elders and deacons -- the entirety of Christian leadership.  I have witnessed in my own congregation the heightened spiritual attack that accompanies men and their families being promoted to higher levels of authority and effectiveness.

Ephesians 6:12 tells us that our struggle is not purely practical.  It is spiritual at its root dealing with a cunning enemy who seeks to steal, to kill, and to destroy (John 10:10).  This is, therefore, a call to prayer and vigilance on behalf of shepherds.  Leadership is under fire.  God has granted weapons with which to win this war (II Co. 10:4).

If Satan tries to strike your shepherd, resolve to make him sorry he ever messed with you, your shepherd, or your church.  Let's go on the offensive.  The gates of Hell will not prevail against a strong, united, obedient Church! (Matt. 16:18)

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sheep and Goats

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Saturday, February 8, 2014:  Matthew 25:31-26:13

31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.  Matthew 25:31-32 (NKJV)

Heaven and Hell

Eternal destiny is a reality -- Heaven and Hell.  We have witnessed a succession of books and movies during the past several years about "after-life experiences".  All deal with going to Heaven.  We've yet to hear a "Hell-and-back" story.  Wonder why.

Jesus talked about Heaven and Hell more than any other individual in Scripture.  One of the most vivid and disputed parables about this subject is found in Matthew 25:31-46.  It's the story of the sheep and goats.  There are several important truths that jump out to me as we read through this passage.

1. The Judgment of Nations

This "sheep and goat" story is also called "The Judgment of Nations".  Matthew 25:32 says that when the Son of Man returns at the end of time and is seated in His glory "all nations will be gathered before Him." 

I do not think this refers to some kind of United Nations determination of which nation is good and which is bad.  I think the interpretation is not political but rather representative.  When Jesus speaks of nations He is referring to "all mankind" -- every tribe and tongue and people group -- every human being -- not just Israel.

2.  Sheep and Goats

It was a common practice in biblical times to have a flock mixed with both sheep and goats.  We should not press this illustration beyond Jesus' meaning.  He is not saying that sheep are intrinsically good and goats bad.  He is simply using a common occurrence to describe a spiritual reality. 

These mixed flocks were separated every evening by their shepherd.  The sheep liked open air and were allowed to spend the night in the open field.  Goats disliked exposure and required a barn or shelter.  Jesus is saying that, just like a shepherd separates his flock in the evening, all mankind will be separated at the end of time. 

3. The Basis of the Separation

This is where the conflict comes.  A casual reading seems to suggest that salvation (Heaven vs. Hell) is the result of good works -- feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc.  The sheep did the good works; the goats did not.  However, Scripture never contradicts itself and the Bible elsewhere tells us that salvation is by faith through the grace of God and not by our good works (John 1:12; Acts 15:11, Romans 3:22-24; Romans 4:4-8; Romans 7:24-25; Romans 8:12; Galatians 3:6-9; Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 3:5).

So, were the sheep and goats separated on the basis of how they treated the poor?  Can we claim Heaven over Hell if we do the right kind of works?  This is NOT what Jesus is saying!  The good works (feeding the poor, clothing the naked, visiting the sick) are not the CAUSE of salvation.  They are the EVIDENCE of salvation. 

Cause and Effect

"Sheep and goats" are nothing more than an outward symbol of an inward reality.  The sheep are the righteous.  How did they get that way?  By faith in the finished work of Christ!  The goats are the cursed.  Why are they cursed?  Not because they didn't feed the poor.  "Goats" can indeed do many great and commendable works and yet their hearts may be still not right toward God.  Eternal destiny is not determined by what you do, but by Who you believe.

Jesus is telling us that faith in Him will show up in your life.  He is saying that righteousness is more than a doctrine; it is a force that propels us into a life of service.  That righteous is the CAUSE that produces a glorious EFFECT. 

This is true Christianity.  It is a relationship with Jesus.  It is also a relationship with a fallen world.  After all, "God so loved THE WORLD..."

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

When Jesus Walks Out the Door

One Year Bible
New Testament passage for Wednesday, February 5, 2014:  Matthew 24:1-28

Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”  Matthew 24:1-2 (NKJV)

One of the Greatest Structures

Throughout history, extravagant building projects have taken place.  Think for instance of the Pyramids of Egypt built around 2500 B.C. -- probably with Hebrew slaves.  Consider the construction of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome during the 16th Century.

It may surprise you that one of the largest and most extravagant building projects of Jesus' day was undertaking by Herod the Great in Jerusalem.  Herod loved building temples for those he ruled, and he did so for the pagan gods of the Gentiles in his territory.  But, his masterpiece was the Temple of Jerusalem.

Previously, the Temple had been rebuilt 500 years by Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zerubbabel.  But, limited resources and manpower cause this initial re-building to be small and austere.  Herod went all out to build one of the most opulent structures in the world -- white marble plaited with gold!  It shone in the sun so brightly a man could barely look at it.

Model of Herod's Temple (a renovation 
of the Second Temple) in the Israel Museum

The entire Jewish religious community was delighted and proud.  This new and improved Temple was better than even Solomon's.  It was the best of times.

The Unbelievable Words of Jesus

Then Jesus showed up.  It is hard for us to imagine how His words in Matthew 24 hit home to the Jewish religious pride of His day.  "I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down" (Matt. 24:2).

Jesus predicted complete dismantling of this fantastic structure.  The Jewish leaders couldn't take such blasphemy.  This hot-headed rabble rouser had to be silenced.  So they had Him crucified.

Here are some observations:

1.  Jesus always rearranges things.  

Even though Herod's rebuilt Temple looked fabulous, it was not God's idea.  We too often mistake good ideas for God ideas.  He always has the best plans.  Sometimes He tears our plans down so He can built up His own plans for us.  We need to hold things lightly and be ready for Him to change them.

2.  Be ready for the next thing God has for you.

Too often we spend our lives looking back.  I can do that.  I remember when my girls were small and how wonderful it was.  Then they grew up.  Now I've got grandchildren.  Guess what?  They're growing up too. You can't hold on to yesterday.  Life can be a succession of saying, "Goodbye."  But, it is also saying, "Hello!"

God was through with the Temple in Jerusalem.  I know there are Bible verses about the Temple yet being rebuilt someday, but God never goes backwards.  He always leads forward and upward.  The Jews could not imagine God being finished with their beautiful Temple.  But He was.  He had something better -- a Temple not built with hands, eternal in the heavens (Mark 14:58; II Co. 5:1).

3.  Judgment comes.

This is a sobering note.  God walked out of the Temple (see Matt. 24:1 ... "then Jesus went out...") because the Jews rejected His Son.

Does God ever walk out on a situation?  Does God ever say, "That's enough?"  Does He ever bring judgment?  The answer is YES.  Two millennia of misery and pain lay ahead of the Jewish people.  By 70 A.D., the Roman general Titus had encircled Jerusalem.  He burned the entire city and destroyed the Temple.  Using grappling hooks, he tore every stone down and leveled that high mountain mesa.

Just a few verses before, Jesus had wept over the fate of Jerusalem.  37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 38 See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’  Matthew 23:37-38 (NKJV)

He does not delight in bringing harsh judgment, but HE DOES.  In a grace-oriented world, we need to hear also about the righteousness of God and His call to live according to His Word.  In His true grace, He calls us to welcome His will.

Predictions You Can Count On

God has a wonderful future in store of all those who follow Him.  He has the ways and means for blessing and fulfillment.  It is a comfort to me to know that Jesus already knows my future and all the details. It is under His control.  

Throughout the rest of Matthew 24, Jesus predicts harrowing circumstances that will come upon the earth.  The tells about tribulation and terror -- about moral decay and misleading prophets.  History heads toward a climax in which He will return in glory.  

But He also predicts His care for us.  The singular lesson in all this is STAY CLOSE TO JESUS.  Keep watching (24:42).  Keep praying.  Keep believing.  

The same Jesus who predicted the end of the Temple is also the Jesus who offers you His comfort and care.  He gives us power for the present, and hope for the future.