Christianity 201

November 10, 2017

Humility – Part One – As Jesus Demonstrated It

Today (Friday) and tomorrow (Saturday) we’re doing a rare “Best of C201” and looking at a topic which appeared several times in 2014 with each containing a key passage from Philippians 2…

John 13:3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him… 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.

I rather frequently return to the theme of the humility of Christ, and I honestly don’t know why I’m drawn by this so often — maybe there’s a reason I don’t see — but I hope readers here are up for another look at this.

In most of our Bibles the passage above has a subheading such as “Jesus washes His disciples’ feet.” This is true as far as it goes, but I think “Jesus demonstrates humility” would make a better focus. We often use this passage to talk about “servant leadership” and many have suggested that in addition to the cross, the towel and the basin should be the symbol that represents Christianity.

However, I feel that it’s so easy to miss the full impact of verse 3:

  • Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God (NIV)
  • Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God (NET)
  • The Father had put everything in Jesus’ control. Jesus knew that. He also knew that he had come from God and was going back to God. (God’s Word)

What a contrast between that set-up and the action that follows. It’s like a symphony that is building in a giant crescendo, and just as it reaches the penultimate note of the scale and you wait for that grand chord that resolves everything, the orchestra suddenly is silent, and you’re left with just the sound of a single violin or piccolo:

  • he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet

I say all that as a setup for some verses I’ve covered here many times:

Phil 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

The progression is rather simple in verses 7 and 8

  • took the nature of a servant
  • entered into the human condition
  • was obedient even to experiencing human death
  • and a death of the worst kind at that

If you look at the study we did on this in May of this year, you’ll notice I switched the order of the first two clauses in these verses. Surely, God enters humanity first — that’s the point of incarnation, the season we are about to celebrate — and then does so as someone whose birth lineage is controversial, whose occupation is that of a carpenter’s son, and whose short career as a rabbi is marked by things like foot washing. Right?

But then I started thinking about it, and recognized that the humility of Christ begins prior to the incarnation. Before the moment when “he left the splendor of Glory,” he has already taken on the role of a servant inasmuch as the incarnate Christ is submitted to the Father.

So although doctrinally the Father and Son are co-equal, and equally divine, in the incarnation we see passages such as:

John 5:19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.’

and

Matthew 24:36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

not to mention the passage where Jesus prays at Gethsemane Garden for the Father to introduce a Plan B that won’t involve the torment of crucifixion.

In other words, the humility of Jesus extends even so far as humbling himself before the Father, the One with whom he co-created the universe.

That’s submission. That’s humility.

…As I was preparing this, I was also listening to a sermon by Andy Stanley on pride, which is of course humility’s opposite. Nebuchadnezzar learns this the hard way and basically says that you either are humble or you get humbled.

Daniel 4:37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

In my personal life and ministry I do encounter people who are arrogant, and I also find myself having to guard against arrogance and pride. God help me and all of us to develop a spirit of humility without having to be humbled. God help us to learn from Christ’s humility that is not only symbolized by a towel and basin, but by submission to God the Father’s will.

September 11, 2017

Jesus: Opening Move

Jesus Commences His Ministry

Compare the four gospels and see how Jesus begins his public ministry. At the outset some of the narration involves activities that are somewhat passive on His part. He was visited by the Magi. He is presented to Simeon in the temple by His parents. He is baptized by John. He is tempted by Satan. But the change from passive to active ministry involves the following:

It takes Matthew four chapters to get to this:

Matthew 4:17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Then He calls The Twelve.

In Mark the story is similar:

Mark 1:14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Luke also takes four chapters to get to the commencement of Jesus’ ministry:

Luke 4:16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

John’s perspective, ever unique, involves Jesus at the wedding at Cana:

John 2:6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

John follows this with Jesus clearing the temple courts.
After the calling of the disciples, Matthew follows with the healing of the sick.
Mark also follows with the choosing of The Twelve, followed by the healing of a man possessed by an unclean spirit.
Luke follows with the same story of the man with the demonic spirit who is healed.

So why does all this matter?

First of all, in the synoptic gospels Jesus begins with a proclamation of His purpose and then moves to action; mostly ministry to individuals. Being a minister of the Good News involves both proclaiming (preaching, teaching, speaking) and also dealing one-on-one with people.

Is John an exception? Not at all. In John’s gospel, Jesus begins with a sign, and then ministers to the needs of those who are being disenfranchised by the profiteering that is going on in the temple courts and also taking up space in the one part of the temple that was open to everyone, the court of the Gentiles. (This explains, “My house shall be a house of prayer for the nations.)

Secondly, we can’t say we don’t know why Jesus came. But neither can we expect to be able to answer this question with a single answer. We might say,

  • Jesus came to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins, and then to triumph over death.

But Jesus doesn’t start His ministry that way. He doesn’t say, “I’ve come to die;” even though John the Baptist foreshadows this with “Behold, the Lamb of God…”

Rather, in the above scripture texts, Jesus says of His ministry:

  • To preach “repent”
  • To announce “the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (or, “at hand”)
  • To proclaim good news to the poor
  • To proclaim freedom for the prisoners
  • To give sight to the blind
  • To set the oppressed free
  • To declare “the year of the Lord” *

* – “the day when salvation and the free favors of God profusely abound” (Amplified Bible)
– “the year the Lord has chosen” (CEV)
– to announce “This is God’s year to act!” (Message)
– “the year when he will set his people free.” (NIrV)
– “the jubilee season of the Eternal One’s grace.” (The Voice)

As Jesus makes His opening moves, he sets out his initial purpose and plan plainly.

November 30, 2014

To Whom Jesus Submitted

John 13:3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him… 12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.

I realize that I rather frequently return to the theme of the humility of Christ, and I honestly don’t know why I’m drawn by this so often — maybe there’s a reason I don’t see — but I hope readers here are up for another look at this.

In most of our Bibles the passage above has a subheading such as “Jesus washes His disciples’ feet.”  This is true as far as it goes, but I think “Jesus demonstrates humility” would make a better focus. We often use this passage to talk about “servant leadership” and many have suggested that in addition to the cross, the towel and the basin should be the symbol that represents Christianity.

However, I feel that it’s so easy to miss the full impact of verse 3:

  • Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God  (NIV)
  • Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God (NET)
  • The Father had put everything in Jesus’ control. Jesus knew that. He also knew that he had come from God and was going back to God. (God’s Word)

What a contrast between that set-up and the action that follows. It’s like a symphony that is building in a giant crescendo, and just as it reaches the penultimate note of the scale and you wait for that grand chord that resolves everything, the orchestra suddenly is silent, and you’re left with just the sound of a single violin or piccolo:

  • he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet

I say all that as a setup for some verses I’ve covered here many times:

Phil 2:3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

The progression is rather simple in verses 7 and 8

  • took the nature of a servant
  • entered into the human condition
  • was obedient even to experiencing human death
  • and a death of the worst kind at that

If you look at the study we did on this in May of this year, you’ll notice I switched the order of the first two clauses in these verses. Surely, God enters humanity first — that’s the point of incarnation, the season we are about to celebrate — and then does so as someone whose birth lineage is controversial, whose occupation is that of a carpenter’s son, and whose short career as a rabbi is marked by things like foot washing. Right?

But then I started thinking about it, and recognized that the humility of Christ begins prior to the incarnation. Before the moment when “he left the splendor of Glory,” he has already taken on the role of a servant inasmuch as the incarnate Christ is submitted to the Father.

So although doctrinally the Father and Son are co-equal, and equally divine, in the incarnation we see passages such as:

John 5:19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.’

and

Matthew 24:36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

not to mention the passage where Jesus prays at Gethsemane Garden for the Father to introduce a Plan B that won’t involve the torment of crucifixion.

In other words, the humility of Jesus extends even so far as humbling himself before the Father, the One with whom he co-created the universe.

That’s submission. That’s humility.

…As I was preparing this, I was also listening to a sermon by Andy Stanley on pride, which is of course humility’s opposite. Nebuchadnezzar learns this the hard way and basically says that you either are humble or you get humbled.

 Daniel 4:37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

In my personal life and ministry I do encounter people who are arrogant, and I also find myself having to guard against arrogance and pride. God help me and all of us to develop a spirit of humility without having to be humbled. God help us to learn from Christ’s humility that is not only symbolized by a towel and basin, but by submission to God the Father’s will.

November 25, 2014

The Ten Lepers

Sarnia pastor Kevin Rogers’ material at The Orphan Age has been featured here since Christianity 201’s inception. Today, we’re ‘borrowing’ from three different blog posts on the story of Jesus healing the ten lepers.  To read the original posts, click here, here and here.

Luke 17:11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy[a] met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

 

Hansen’s disease (also known as leprosy) is a long-lasting infection caused by bacteria. The disease was once feared as a highly contagious and devastating disease. Now, however, the disease is very rare and easily treated. Early diagnosis and treatment usually prevent disability related to the disease. [i]

Today the world is dealing with the crisis of the Ebola disease. This is likely the largest outbreak in history for this particular disease. If an epidemic affects a whole country or spreads over the world, it is called a pandemic. Ebola is not yet a pandemic, but the potential does exist.

While it is necessary to take wise precautions in areas affected and those who deal with patients, we need to understand a historical perspective on diseases.

  • 541-542 AD – 100,000,000 died from Plague of Justinian
  • 1346-1350 AD – 50,000,000 died from Black Plague
  • 1969 to present – 39,000,000 died from AIDS/HIV
  • 1918-1920 – 20,000,000 died from Influenza
  • 1894-1903 – 10,000,000 Modern Plague
  • 1957-1958 – 2,000,000 Asian Flu
  • 1968-1969 – 1,000,000 Hong Kong Flu
  • 2009 – 284,000 Swine Flu
  • 2002-2003 – 774 SARS[ii]

While this is just a small list of killer diseases in history, we can see that human history has been unable to eradicate sicknesses that kill. Every generation has had its theories and science to try and prevent the spread. In many cases, we are able to protect and prevent. But, new ones appear in time.

The history of civilization is also a history of disease. Every generation lives with the fear of death from unseen biological enemies. We are able to eliminate some diseases, but we are not able to eliminate the fear of death.

There have always been diseases and conditions that become the defining feature of a person’s existence. No longer a man or woman, you have become something else—a leper.

What other ways have we taken symptoms and characteristics and used them to define people as something less than what we are?

Jesus often travels along borders of human division. If you want to see where Jesus is at work, look for human borders that separate people from one another. The separation between Samaria and Galilee was marked by a huge gulf in understanding and respect.

The ten men on the outskirts of town were all given the same name—Leper. Any other defining characteristic was lost or losing ground. It may be that 9 of them were Jewish and 1 was Samaritan. The religious distinctions were buried by the disease identity. Their names, family connections and occupations were quickly becoming memories.

In suffering, they become each others companions. Former distinctions were less important to them now that they were truly alone. There are some labels that supersede everything else that you are or were. Is it any wonder that they cry to Jesus for mercy? Who else was there to listen to them? The gatekeepers of society ensured that they were kept away in the name of public safety.

In the absence of a healthy community connection, the exiles formed community among the sick. Sometimes the sick take care of the sick, better than the healthy do. Other times, they lack the strength and resource to make any difference for their companions and misery is met with misery.


 

[i] http://www.cdc.gov/leprosy/
[ii] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/10/141025-ebola-epidemic-perspective-history-pandemic/

 

November 16, 2013

Prodigal Son Parable Changes the Paradigm

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The Lost Son Returns:

(NIV)Luke 15:20 So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

In the new book, Let Hope In, Pete Wilson writes:

Pete Wilson - Let Hope InJesus’ audience continued to listen to him tell the story of the prodigal son, and they had been surprised so far, but now they were thinking, Well, the dad let his son make his own choice.  He was so overwhelmed when his son came home that he actually ran to him, but we know how this story is going to end.

From the Jerusalem Talmud, it is known that the Jews during the time of Jesus had a method of punishing any Jewish boy who lost the family inheritance to Gentiles.  It was called the “qetsatsah ceremony”.  Such a violator of community expectations would face the qetsatsah ceremony if he dared return to his home village.

The ceremony was simple: The villagers would bring a large jar, fill it with burned corn, and break it in front of the guilty individual.  While doing this, the community would shout, “So-and-so is cut off from his people.”  From that point on, the village would have nothing to do with them.

This was a religious ceremony designed to publicly embarrass and humiliate the person guilty of wrongdoing.  And the people listening to this story are waiting for this ending.  Sure the dad forgave the son, but the village is going to give the boy what he deserves.  They’re not going to overlook his dark past.  They’re not going to allow him to just forget where he was or who he had been.  But an amazing thing happens: the father trumps the humiliating and convicting ceremony by establishing his own.  “The father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him.  Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the fattened calf and kill it.   Let’s have a feast and celebrate.  For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’  So they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:22-24  NIV).

He does something his audience is not familiar with doing: wiping his son’s slate clean.  He says, “I know my son blew it.  I know he made some horrible decisions.  But this is between me and him.  He’s not an embarrassment to me.  You can come over to the house tomorrow, but instead of a ceremony of rejection, we’re participating in the joy of a restoration.”

~ Pete Wilson, Let Hope In: 4 Choices That Will Change Your Life Forever pp. 117-118 emphasis added

September 30, 2013

Opening Moves

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Jesus Commences His Ministry

It’s interesting to compare the four gospels and see how Jesus began his public ministry.  At the outset some of the narration involves activities that are somewhat passive on His part. He was visited by the Magi. He is presented to Simeon in the temple by His parents. He is baptized by John. He is tempted by Satan. But the change from passive to active ministry involves the following:

It takes Matthew four chapters to get to this:

Matthew 4:17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Then He calls The Twelve.

In Mark the story is similar:

Mark 1:14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Luke also takes four chapters to get to the commencement of Jesus’ ministry:

Luke 4:16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

John’s perspective, ever unique, involves Jesus at the wedding at Cana:

John 2:6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

John follows this with Jesus clearing the temple courts.
After the calling of the disciples, Matthew follows with the healing of the sick.
Mark also follows with the choosing of The Twelve, followed by the healing of a man possessed by an unclean spirit.
Luke follows with the same story of the man with the demonic spirit who is healed.

So what does all this matter?

First of all, in the synoptic gospels Jesus begins with a proclamation of His purpose and then moves to ministry to individuals. Being a minister of the Good News involves both proclaiming (preaching, teaching, speaking) and also dealing one-on-one with people.

In John’s gospel, Jesus begins with a sign, and then ministers to the needs of those who are being disenfranchised by the profiteering that is going on in the temple courts.

Secondly, we can’t say we don’t know why Jesus came. But neither can we expect to be able to answer this question with a single answer. We might say,

  • Jesus came to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins, and then to triumph over death.

But Jesus doesn’t start His ministry that way. He doesn’t say, “I’ve come to die;” even though John the Baptist foreshadows this with “Behold, the Lamb of God…”

Rather, Jesus says of His ministry:

  • To preach “repent”
  • To announce “the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (or, “at hand”)
  • To proclaim good news to the poor
  • To proclaim freedom for the prisoners
  • To give sight to the blind
  • To set the oppressed free
  • To declare “the year of the Lord” *

* – “the day when salvation and the free favors of God profusely abound” (Amplified Bible)
– “the year the Lord has chosen” (CEV)
– to announce “This is God’s year to act!” (Message)
– “the year when he will set his people free.” (NIrV)
– “the jubilee season of the Eternal One’s grace.” (The Voice)

As Jesus makes His opening moves, he sets out his initial purpose and plan plainly.

August 1, 2013

Jesus Embraces Outsiders

mark_217i_have_not_come_to_call_the_righteous_but_sinners-384746

Our core text today is from Matthew 9 and also appears in Mark 2. 

First we go to Matt Stone at Glocal Christianity:

What does it mean to belong? What does it mean to be invited in? What does it mean to be cast out?

Jesus had a funny way of redefining community. He chose to associate with the “unclean” to the consternation of the “clean”, he welcomed the unwelcome, he befriended the friendless, he identified with the alienated.  In the gospels we read:

When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:11-13)

In other words, for Jesus in was out and out was in. You’re not an insider with God unless you’re for outsiders with God. Consider your own community or social network. How does it compare to this? Are you up for a challenge? I think Jesus still has some surprises for us.

On the same passage, Peter K. Greer writes:

One of the greatest obstacles to the Gospel is when we pretend we have it all together.

Hide our faults. Talk about our struggles in the past tense. Convince ourselves that if we can’t see our sins, they must not exist.

But this attitude is toxic – and sets us up for even greater failure.

Personally, I have found freedom in finally letting go of the lie that because I’m a follower of Jesus, I’m supposed to have it all together.

In The Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, I share just a few of the times pride caused me to make poor leadership decisions, how I masked workaholic behavior with ministry language, and how I’ve simply made a mess of things.

I’m not sure why sharing such stories was a good idea. But I have been touched by the responses from friends who’ve read it. It’s as if taking off the man makeup and opening up with some of my faults has allowed even deeper friendships and conversations.

Musician Thad Cockrell said, Strengths divide, but faults unite.

Brokenness brings people together and is a prerequisite to understanding the Good News.

At its core, the Gospel is for broken people. It isn’t a message for the people who believe they have it all together. Jesus said, It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Mark 2:17).

We can’t understand Grace unless we recognize we don’t have it all together.  So let’s stop pretending.  And then begin a journey of healing and restoration in complete dependence on our Savior.

Using different language and from another perspective, researcher Brene Brown comes to a similar conclusion in her powerful TED talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.”

If you want to join a community of beautifully broken people, check out People of the Second Chance: http://www.potsc.com/. Mike Foster founded this community to celebrate stories of those who don’t have it all together, who are broken, messed up, but come back with a renewed reliance on God’s grace.

When was the last time, in a trusted relationship, you found the freedom that comes when we stop pretending we have it all together?

Canada’s Gordon Rumford writes:

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. Mark 2:15-17 (NIV)

Our verses today show a group of people highly critical of our Lord. Jesus was hanging out with “sinners”. The tax collectors the Jews hated so much were Jews who collected taxes for the Roman authorities. The critical people believed themselves to be devout, holy, and well above the level of the individuals Jesus associated with.

Sadly the self-righteous Jews did not recognize that Jesus had not come to spend His time with people who had a high opinion of themselves. Rather He had come for those who knew themselves to be sinners in God’s sight and who desired to change and be different. Jesus had a heart for people in pain—people who were struggling with life and its temptations. He desired to deliver or “cure” those who were “sick” with sin.

Jesus was not afraid of scandal as long as He could connect with those others scorned. Never exclude yourself from the circle of Jesus’ disciples (the church) because of your previous bad behavior. Your life may have been sadly distorted because of sin but Jesus is in the reconstruction business.

Jesus loves to move into a situation where a person has really hit bottom as far as morality is concerned. He is often pictured in Scripture coming alongside the most miserable failures in life and bringing them to a place of useful service to the Father and His people.

Even the repentant thief has been used for centuries as an example of one coming to Jesus in death and having themselves delivered from the results of sin. So that poor man’s few moments of life as a believer prior to death has had a wonderful effect on countless thousands who felt they were too far gone to be redeemed. His conversion story has given hope to many.

Whatever way you have sinned against the Lord—however awful your record is—never doubt Jesus can take you and make a trophy of grace out of you. He can make your life into something beautiful and full of praise to Him Who is the Friend of sinners.

Do you know someone who needs to hear this devotional today? If your life has been transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit go and tell some other sinner that Jesus is the Friend of sinners and has a message of hope and transformation for them. Needy people are waiting to hear the Good News. Go and speak the redeeming word to them today.

At The Bare Soul Daily Devotional, Rick Roeber writes:

Matthew 9:13 – “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Has the Lord ever told us to “go and learn?” While this may sound harsh, it is God’s remedy for those with a stubborn heart. Religiosity can often make us legalistic and unbending. Yet, Jesus tells this sort to head back to spiritual kindergarten and learn the basics of His message – compassion and mercy that are powered by love.

Do we feel like we have given up much for God and that others should do the same? Possibly our sacrifice is not the same as the next fellow’s. Perhaps God has for them a different cross to bear that looks nothing like ours. Our position is to be positionless regarding their position and their walk with God. We should not judge a man unless we are also willing to grant them mercy in our judgment. Our appraisals should always be based in righteous, humble thinking (John 7:24). This is our safeguard against haughtiness, beloved.

Image: LiveLuvCreate

July 28, 2013

Biblical Foxes

Vulpes thaleb, or Syrian fox, the only species of this animal indigenous to Palestine. It burrows, is silent and solitary in its habits, is destructive to vineyards, being a plunderer of ripe grapes. The Vulpes Niloticus, or Egyptian dog-fox, and the Vulpes vulgaris, or common fox, are also found in Palestine.

Vulpes thaleb, or Syrian fox, the only species of this animal indigenous to Palestine. It burrows, is silent and solitary in its habits, is destructive to vineyards, being a plunderer of ripe grapes. The Vulpes Niloticus, or Egyptian dog-fox, and the Vulpes vulgaris, or common fox, are also found in Palestine.[Text: Easton’s Bible Dictionary; Image: http://www.canids.org]

As a general rule, there is a consistency in scripture where a particular word, idiom or phrase is used; but in other cases, a word may create an overall picture but the passage applications are quite different. This morning our pastor quoted a verse in Nehemiah that got me thinking about the way foxes are mentioned in scripture. Knowing I was a cat-lover, someone once told me, “The cat is the only domestic animal not mentioned in the Bible.” It took me awhile to have a comeback for that, but I finally came up with, “Yes, but the dog is never cast in a positive role.” Since the fox and dog are cousins (I think) it’s not surprising that Biblical foxes aren’t portrayed favorably.

It’s The Little Foxes That Spoil The Vines

While I often repeat this phrase, the exact rendering of Song of Solomon 2:15 is

Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom.” (ESV)

If you read nothing that follows, this principle is an important one to grab hold of if you haven’t heard it before.  Switching the analogy, sometimes in life it’s the obvious boulders that trip us up, but more often it’s the little pebbles. Small things work over time to erode our relationship with God, even the very core of our faith.

Of course, interpreting Song of Solomon isn’t easy. On a more contextual, literal level, the Reformation Study Bible notes:

The foxes are the one negative element in the otherwise ideal spring setting of vv. 10–15. The imperative with no specific subject is like a passive (“May the foxes be caught”), and the whole verse is a wish by the lovers that nothing should be allowed to interfere with their lovemaking.

Matthew Henry goes for the broader application:

…the little foxes, that creep in insensibly; for, though they are little, they do great mischief, they spoil the vines, which they must by no means be suffered to do at any time, especially now when our vines have tender grapes that must be preserved, or the vintage will fail. Believers are as vines, weak but useful plants; their fruits are as tender crops at first, which must have time to come to maturity. This charge to take the foxes is,

1. A charge to particular believers to mortify their own corruptions, their sinful appetites and passions, which are as foxes, little foxes, that destroy their graces and comforts, quash good motions, crush good beginnings, and prevent their coming to perfection. Seize the little foxes, the first risings of sin, the little ones of Babylon (Ps. 137:9), those sins that seem little, for they often prove very dangerous. Whatever we find a hindrance to us in that which is good we must put away.

2. A charge to all in their places to oppose and prevent the spreading of all such opinions and practices as tend to corrupt men’s judgments, debauch their consciences, perplex their minds, and discourage their inclinations to virtue and piety. Persecutors are foxes (Luke 13:32); false prophets are foxes, Ezek. 13:4. Those that sow the tares of heresy or schism, and, like Diotrephes, trouble the peace of the church and obstruct the progress of the gospel, they are the foxes, the little foxes, which must not be knocked on the head (Christ came not to destroy men’s lives), but taken, that they may be tamed, or else restrained from doing mischief.

Foxes Have Holes

This occurs in Luke 9:58 and Matthew 8:20

And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.  (KJV)

We live in an area surrounded by nearby woods and ravines where you often see foxes at twilight, and I’m sure that their activity increases dramatically after dark. But in the daytime you can walk through the woods and never see them. They are nocturnal and have a place to sleep that is safe, secure and invisible.

The nature of Jesus’ itinerant ministry didn’t necessarily assure him a place to sleep. We know that Jesus often stayed in the houses of his supporters, but there was no base, no ministry head office.  Your new word for today is peripatetic. Dictionary.com defines the word as “Traveling from place to place, esp. working or based in various places for relatively short periods.” So not exactly roaming like a nomad, but just a step up from that.

The Message translates the Matthew passage:

20 Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

The call to follow Jesus may mean not knowing where the road is leading. You might get what AAA called “a strip map” showing part of the journey, but you may not get an atlas showing the journey’s big picture destination.

Herod, The Sly Fox

Jesus engaging in name-calling? It would certainly give us a different snapshot of the way Jesus spoke with his disciples and it happens in Luke 13:

31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!  (NIV)

Again, the Reformation Study Bible:

The Jews used the metaphor of a “fox” to mean worthless and sly. Jesus is unmoved by Herod’s threats and says He will continue with His ministry.

A Fox Could Knock The Wall Over

This is the passage that kicked this off this morning. It’s from Chapter 4 of Nehemiah:

Sanballat was very angry when he learned that we were rebuilding the wall. He flew into a rage and mocked the Jews, saying in front of his friends and the Samarian army officers, “What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they’re doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a single day by just offering a few sacrifices?  Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?”

Tobiah the Ammonite, who was standing beside him, remarked, “That stone wall would collapse if even a fox walked along the top of it!”  (NLT)

Sanballat and Tobiah are trying their best to discourage Nehemiah from rebuilding the wall. They use a series of five questions to try to get them to quit the project:

  • “What are these feeble Jews doing?
  • Are they going to restore it for themselves?
  • Can they offer sacrifices?
  • Can they finish in a day?
  • Can they revive the stones from the dusty rubble even the burned ones?” ;  (NASB)

And then the final insult about a fox being able to cause the wall to crumble. But Nehemiah isn’t discouraged:

 Hear, O our God, how we are despised! Return their reproach on their own heads and give them up for plunder in a land of captivity. Do not forgive their iniquity and let not their sin be blotted out before You, for they have  demoralized the builders.So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a  mind to work.
Now when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the Ashdodites heard that the  repair of the walls of Jerusalem went on, and that the breaches began to be closed, they were very angry.

Basically, the people refused to allow the doubting questions and in the fox-insult to stick. They stick with the task and build the wall with tools in one hand and a swords in the other.

Don’t let the enemy stop you from whatever task God is giving you to do.

 

Update:  As you’ll see in the comments, Ben Nelson wrote on this topic just a few days ago.  Had I known, I might have “borrowed” his column!  Have a look at his study on the passage from Song of Songs aka Song of Solomon aka Canticles at this link.

July 15, 2013

The Best System of Government

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Bill is one of the five authors at The Thinklings blog. This appeared recently under the title On Politics.

And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” – Matthew 21:23-27

A month or two ago in my daily reading I happened upon this passage. It is a passage I have read many times before. I tend to underline and at times write in my Bible as I read, and so I wrote something in the margin that I’ve never written in the margin of my Bible before.

A single word: “Politics”

Political thinking is one of the most consistent traits of Jesus’ detractors, far more so than theological thinking, which is ironic, since they thought of themselves as such astute theologians. It’s illustrative to look at the passage above as a representation of all political thought.

Notice the fear: “But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”

Notice the complete disregard for, you know, the actual truth: And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say . . .”

Writing that single word in the margin was an epiphany for me. I began to think of the many instances of political calculus in the Bible, and particularly in the New Testament. The Jewish leaders in their dealings with Jesus. Pilate in his dealings with the Jewish leaders and the crowds. Herod in his dealings with John the Baptist and his guests at the banquet. Herod Agrippa and Festus before Paul. Nicodemus, coming to Jesus at night for fear of what his associates might think. This helped sharpen for me my understanding of one of the chief, if not the chief attributes of political thinking: fear.

I’ve been around awhile, and I remember well the heady days of the 1980s and early 1990s, when the church in America began flexing her political muscle. There was real hope then that we were going to change our country and our culture for the better through electing the right people. But we did not see the fatal flaw in our thinking: everyone we elected was, by definition and necessity, a politician.

Being a politician isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I am thankful for the people who put up with all the argle-bargle and jiggery-pokery of political life to fill necessary leadership positions. But shame on me for ever trusting in elected officials to actually change the culture. In reading about the chief priests and elders of the people above, do you sense any of the courage needed to drive a culture in a good direction?

Politicians, with only very rare exceptions, do not drive cultural change. They are followers of the culture. They, by definition, “fear the people”, because the people, not the truth, keep them in power.

What drives culture is changed hearts. And hearts are only changed by the good work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration through Christ, or through the gentle and deadly drift away from God as we experience and conform ourselves to a world system of power, pleasure, riches, entertainment, angst, and apathy that is ultimately driven by the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.

Yet I feel the pull of politics. The game is afoot and it’s easy to become immersed in all the tribalism and division our political culture engenders, wherein people who would otherwise be politely disagreeing over minor issues behave like mortal enemies.

Jesus offers the better way of the Kingdom. I’m gratified that more and more of my Christian brothers and sisters seem to be laying aside the false hope that we’ll be OK if we just get this next election right.

Now I’m not saying that we should check out. I believe Christians need to be involved in politics to the extent that they can do so within the boundaries of the fruit of the Spirit. We should vote. We should even engage in political opposition where appropriate. We may be called at times to lay down our freedom or even our lives to bring urgent change to our land. But we should not hope in our political masters to lead us to the promised land. Jesus has already made that way open.

In a nation with a disintegrating culture, the best we will get from our politicians is a sort of delaying action, and I’m not discounting the value of that. But ultimately, our politicians are going to follow the culture where it leads.

This is one reason why I don’t believe democracy is the best system of government. I think it may be the best system when it comes to organizing fallen humans, but ultimately the best system of government, in my view and more importantly the Bible’s view, is an absolute monarchy.

But only when the Monarch is absolutely perfect.

June 19, 2013

Dinner with Jesus

Luke 19:9 J.B. Phillips New Testament

Jesus said to him, “Salvation has come to this house today! Zacchaeus is a descendant of Abraham, and it was the lost the Son of Man came to seek—and to save.”

Today’s post by Margaret Manning, a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington, appeared yesterday on the website of RZIM, under the title A Feast of Faith.

Jesus loved to eat. At least that’s what the Gospel of Luke tells us. Throughout Luke’s narrative, Jesus is often coming and going from meals. Interestingly enough, Jesus is often eating meals with a very sundry cast of characters. Early on in Luke’s narrative, Jesus is thrown a banquet by tax gatherers—some of the most unsavory folks in Jesus’s day.

Meals with Jesus were not simply about the food. They were the conduits for spiritual and life transformation. One dramatic example of this transformation occurs with a chief tax gatherer, Zaccheus. And unlike other accounts of meals with Jesus in Luke’s Gospel where he is the invited guest, Jesus invites himself over to dine in Zaccheus’s home. As a result of this dining experience, Jesus gives Zaccheus a new identity as a “son of Abraham,” a title that inflamed the religious leaders of his day. How could Jesus count a scheming, conniving, tax-collecting outsider as a “son of Abraham”—which meant he was a son of the faithful patriarch and a true Israelite? And how did Zaccheus demonstrate faith that garnered Jesus’s commendation?

Understanding his place in society as a chief tax collector provides a necessary backdrop for Zaccheus’s feast of faith. Chief tax collectors contracted with the Romans to collect taxes in a particular town or region. It’s as if he purchased a franchise from the Roman government at a substantial price, and then subcontracted the actual collection of the taxes to a group of men who worked under him. His profit was the difference between the fee paid to the Roman government and the amount of taxes he collected. The system was prone to abuse and rewarded tax collectors for excessive collections.(1) Thus, the Jews saw tax collectors as mercenaries and thieves, and for one of their own to be in business with the Romans meant utter ostracism from the Jewish community.(2) Is it any wonder why all who heard Jesus invite himself over to Zaccheus’s house reacted with grumbling?

Yet, hearing the news of Jesus’s arrival, this much-maligned man pushed his way through the crowds, hoisting up his garments in a most undignified manner just to get a glimpse. Zaccheus had heard the stories about Jesus—his healings, his eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners, and his remarkable, authoritative teachings. Now his curious faith compelled him to see for himself if all that he heard was really true.

Even knowing all of this, how surprising it must have been when Jesus invites himself over for dinner! Jesus wants to dine with this one who is despised. In response, Zaccheus overflows with generous gratitude. “Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor” (Luke 19:8). Jesus has asked for nothing but hospitality from Zaccheus, and in response, Zaccheus willingly surrenders half of his wealth. The tax collector’s willingness to let go of half of his wealth demonstrates faith—a faith, just like Abraham. The hospitality of Jesus prompts his faith-fueled donation.

But his faithful response goes beyond gratitude as he seeks to restore justice to those whom he has defrauded. It wasn’t enough for Zaccheus to give away half of his wealth in response to Jesus; he insists on repaying those he has defrauded. The Old Testament requirement for restitution is for the amount defrauded plus one-fifth.(3) But Zaccheus doesn’t simply meet the letter of the law; he offers to repay four times as much as he has defrauded others! Four-fold restitution will impoverish Zaccheus, as he’s already committed to give away half of his wealth. Yet in response to Jesus’s gracious invitation, Zaccheus parts with his wealth as a sign of his saving faith. Jesus declares, “Today, salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9).

Like Abraham, Zaccheus responds with faith that prompts action. Voluntarily impoverishing himself, Zaccheus shows that he, too, will live by faith—faith that demonstrates its true character in action. Thus, Zaccheus’s faith also benefits the community around him. At some point after Jesus invites himself to the tax collector’s home, Zaccheus rises—uncoerced, unadmonished, and unprompted—and commits himself to doing justice. For Zaccheus, justice rolls down like waters from the hospitality of Jesus, and it flows into his own faithful demonstration of hospitality towards others: he shares his wealth and restores what was ill-gotten. “Salvation has come to this house”—all in response to a meal. Imagine that. Hospitality—giving both emotional and physical nurture—proves the vessel for transformation. Let’s eat!

 
(1) Research from the website http://www.lectionary.org/luke.
(2) The Tosefta Toharoth notes, “When [tax] collectors enter into a house, the house [is considered] unclean.”
(3) See Leviticus 6:5 and Numbers 5:7.

April 4, 2013

He Endured The Cross

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Hebrews 12:1a-3 New Living Translation (NLT)

…And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.

Brooksyne Weber noted at Daily Encouragement, “…the many things Jesus gave up or endured on His earthly journey that would conclude at the cross…” (This is paraphrased, click the link to read the original at the bottom of their page.)

  • He gave up His glory in heaven.
  • He gave up His royal privileges.
  • He was subjected to Satan’s temptuous ways.
  • His incorruptible body was subjected to physical death.
  • He was numbered with transgressors while the guilty was freed.
  • He was abandoned by those closest to Him.
  • He chose silence when false accusations were hurled at Him.
  • He was subjected to betrayal and physical cruelty by those He came to save.
  • He sought us out even when we were indifferent to all He has done for us.
  • He bore all our sin to satisfy what the law demanded.

This reminded me of the words of a popular Christmas (!) song Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne:

Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity.

Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang,
Proclaiming Thy royal degree;
But of lowly birth didst Thou come to earth,
And in great humility.

The foxes found rest, and the birds their nest
In the shade of the forest tree;
But Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God,
In the deserts of Galilee.

Thou camest, O Lord, with the living Word
That should set Thy people free;
But with mocking scorn and with crown of thorn,
They bore Thee to Calvary

Many Gospel Music artists — and Elvis Presley — recorded the song, If That Isn’t Love which echoes this idea:

He left the splendor of heaven
Knowing His destiny
Was the lonely hill of Golgotha
There to lay down His life for me

And if that isn’t love
Then the ocean is dry
There’s no stars in the sky
And the little sparrows can’t fly
Yeah if that isn’t love
Then heaven’s a myth
There’s no feeling like this
If that isn’t love

Even in death He remembered
The thief hanging by His side
Then he spoke of love and compassion
And He took him to paradise

And if that isn’t love…

More recently, we have the song The Servant King which is also sung at both Christmas and Easter.  We’ve covered that song and included a video here at C201.

Hopefully today’s devotional thoughts from Christian song lyrics has guided you to consider the breadth and width of the sacrifice we remembered at Easter.

March 27, 2013

The Apostles’ Short Term Missions Trip

This great study of a passage in Luke  — where the disciples’ story meets contemporary stories — first appeared last month at the blog of Bob Rogers, under the title Ten Secrets to Successful Missions.  (Click through to read at source.)

Luke 10:1-20 New International Version (NIV)

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. 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. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.

16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Luke 10:1-20 records that Jesus sent out 70 people to go on a mission trip, going in pairs to towns and villages where He was about to go. Apparently it was very successful, because we read in verse 17,“The Seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’” And Jesus replied in verse 18, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a lightning flash.”

What made their mission so successful? And how can our mission work and the missionaries we pray for discover the same power in their ministry?

This passages gives us ten secrets to successful missions. Here they are. Open your Bible to Luke 10, and notice these ten truths:

1. Multiplication. (v. 1) Use everybody, not just professional clergy. The Lord commissioned the 12 apostles in Luke 9:1-6, but here he sends out 70. Multiply your ministry. Use volunteers.

2. Teamwork (v. 1) He sent them in pairs, not alone. We can be so much more effective by working together, and it is a testimony to our unity in Christ to work in teams. Southern Baptists believe in the Cooperative Program as an excellent strategy, as thousands of churches pool their resources to support missionaries.

3. Prayer (v. 2) Before sending them out, He told them to pray for workers for the harvest. When Jerry Rankin was president of the International Mission Board, he spoke at Ridgecrest Baptist Assembly and mentioned that the IMB has recently appointed our first missionary to serve openly in Albania. After the service, a woman came up to Dr. Rankin, crying. When she gained her composure, she said that seven years before, she had read that Albania was the most atheistic country in the world, and she called the IMB to ask what we were doing there, only to learn that Albania was completely closed to missionaries. So she went back to her ladies’ group in her church, and asked them to pray for Albania. “For seven years we have been praying for Albania!” she wept, and Dr. Rankin wept tears of joy with her. (Jerry Rankin, To the Ends of the Earth, p. 57-58)

4. Expect opposition (“like lambs among wolves”). (v. 3) A Christian pastor took a group of school children whom he was teaching, for a walk. The Secret Police dogged them at first, but when they went into a zoo, they left them alone. He led them to a lion’s cage and gathered them around so he could speak quietly. He said, “Your forefathers in the Christian faith were thrown to wild beasts like these. They died gladly, because they believed in Jesus. The time may come when you also will be imprisoned, and suffer for being a Christian. Now you must decide whether you are ready to face that day. With tears in their eyes, each in turn said, ‘yes.’ It was the last class he taught before he had to leave his country. (Richard Wurmbrand, God’s Underground. Cited in “The Last Class,” The Voice of the Martyrs, February 2013.)

5. Commitment (v. 4, 7-8) If you care too much about your personal comfort (“money-bag, traveling bag,” “eating what they offer,”) you will become discouraged. If you care too much for sightseeing and socializing (“don’t greet anyone along the road”), you will lose your focus. When William Carey arrived in India, his wife was sick, he face financial hardship, and he was so lonely that he wrote in his journal, “O that I had … an earthly friend to whom I could unbosom my soul!” (Mary Drewery, William Carey, p. 74.) Andrew Baldwin, who ministers to an unreached people group in London, England, says, “This also emphasizes the need to move out in faith and in total dependence on God. Some people insist on having everything in place and being totally prepared – preparation is good, but as the leader who first recruited me to Turkey wisely said, if we waited till we felt completely ready, we’d never go!”

6. Look for a person of peace (v. 5-6). “Shalom” means more than just peace; it means wholeness and health. A person of peace was a person who fully receives the missionary. This is a person living in the culture you are reaching, who welcomes you, receives the message, and can be a bridge between you and your target culture. When Lottie Moon was serving in China, she learned of a village ten miles from where she was, that was open to the gospel. There lived a man named Dan Ho-bang. He had heard from another missionary that Jesus could remove sins from people. Then he learned that Lottie Moon was teaching about Jesus. Mr. Dan sent three people to invite Miss Moon to preach the way of Jesus in his home. She went, and great crowds of people came to the home to listen to the gospel. It became possible, because of Mr. Dan, a man of peace. (Catherine B. Allen, The New Lottie Moon Story, p. 171)

7. Show and tell the gospel (v. 9) In other words, meet their physical needs and also their spiritual needs– by sharing the gospel. While we always have the authority to share the gospel, often they are more receptive to hearing it when we show that we love them in a practical way. But beware: don’t use service or meeting physical needs as an excuse to not share the gospel. James Harvey, who ministers to an unreached people in Nashville, Tennessee, says, “I spent four years of our work among K-people ‘earning the right’ to share the gospel, and I was wrong to do that, because waiting to share the gospel can end up hurting or killing the relationship. It is so much better to begin a relationship with lost people by sharing the gospel with them and starting your friendship on an openness about spiritual conversations and pursuing divine TRUTH together. We are beginning to see fruit through miraculous healings, power encounters, and bold evangelism in the K-community. I have not seen a single Muslim convert become Christian through the servant evangelism movement.” Servant evangelism alone is not a substitute for preaching. Harvey goes on to say, “people use it as an excuse to be lazy and non-strategic in declaring the gospel message up front with people in their first meeting/encounter, whether it’s a waitress at a lunch meeting, a wordly relative at a family reunion, or a lost co-worker they pass by every day.”

8. Don’t take rejection personally (v. 10-12). If they reject you, they are actually rejecting Jesus, not you. You’re only accountable for sharing the gospel; you are not accountable for their response. When Lottie Moon first went to China, the Chinese called her a “devil woman” because she was a foreigner. She patiently responded, “Do not curse me. I am a human like you.” It took time for them to even accept her. (Catherine B. Allen, The New Lottie Moon Story, p. 158.)

9. Celebrate spiritual victories. (v. 17-19) When the 70 returned with joy that the demons submitted, Jesus rejoiced with them that Satan was being defeated. Whether you experience small victories, such as a person listening to the gospel, or great victories, such as a person coming to faith in Jesus, it is always reason to celebrate God’s work.

10. Find your greatest satisfaction in your own salvation (v. 20) Jesus reminded them that the greatest rejoicing was that their own names are written in the Book of Life. If you have been obedient to your call to be on mission, you will always be successful, no matter what numerical results you see in your lifetime.

A famous artist was asked to paint a picture of a dying church. One would expect that he would paint a small congregation in a dilapidated building. Instead, he painted a beautiful edifice with a rich pulpit and magnificent stained glass windows—and near the door, an offering box marked “Missions,” with the contribution slot covered with cobwebs. (Charles R. Swindoll, Swindoll’s Ultimate Book of Illustrations & Quotes, p. 378.)

It’s very true. If the church of Jesus neglects mission, the church will die, for the heart of Christ is a heart for missions. But if a church will follow the words of Christ for missions listed here in Luke 10, that church will be alive.

Which kind of church will we be? What kind of missionary will you be?

March 22, 2013

Ministry in Out-of-the-Way Places

Imagine you’re in the middle of a great series of revival meetings where you play a major role and are one of a dozen key leaders, when suddenly God unmistakably directs you to take a day off and go a great distance to speak to one individual. You’d possibly question the wisdom of that, right? Today’s article is from Georgia pastor Brad Whitt. You’re encouraged to read these articles at source and get to know the authors better. This post was original titled A Most Unlikely Environment.

“However, he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the matter, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter the city, but was outside in deserted places; and they came to Him from every direction.” Mark 1:45

Do we even dare enter into the personal experience of the Son of Man? Yes, for the fact that He is the Son of Man means we can, without irreverence, see something of our human experience in His. That’s why I believe that this is surely one of the saddest experiences in the earthly life of Jesus. The saddest hours in any human life are those which are spent, “in deserted places” for those hours spent in the deserted places are always spent “outside.”

The outside, deserted places always put a man in an unusual, uncomfortable and most uneasy place. They naturally divert, deter and discourage. There’s no pain quite like the pain of being put in such a position of desolation and isolation. To feel that you are not walking with the rest of world, that you’ve been left behind, that you are no longer in communication with those around you or pushing forward to accomplish what had been set before you is, for an active personality, a terribly fearful thing indeed.

I believe that for the man, Jesus, this time in the deserted places must have been a very trying time indeed. To seemingly be held back from officially beginning His earthly ministry by being baptized by John in the Jordan and then being forced to be alone by the sheer force of such an unlikely environment must have been discouraging.

Yet, in the middle of what would have seemed to be a discouraging time spent alone in a desert Jesus was thronged by people. Mark makes it clear, “They came to Him from every direction.” He was supposed to be alone, but he couldn’t get away from the people. His quiet, lonely desert all of a sudden turned into a hustling and bustling metropolis.

Can you look back and see similar times in your life? I certainly can. There were days when I didn’t feel that I had accomplished much at all. Nothing was conquered or completed, and yet in the rear-view mirror I now see that those were some of my most profitable and productive days for it was in those cool, calm, quiet hours I was most closely walking with Jesus.

Don’t you think that Philip must have argued with the Lord when he was transported to the desert to minister to one Ethiopian? After all, he was in the middle of a large revival and many were coming to know Christ. Why would such a great evangelist be plucked from the place where God was moving so mightily to go share with just one person? That’s not the most effective and efficient use of missionary muscle, is it? Yes, because that one man in that one chariot on that one lonely road was an entire people group in himself. Philip cast his net and caught in one pull more fish that had to that point been caught by all the other disciples working all day long – together.

In my walk with the Lord I have seen Him working in the city as well as in the desert. I have seen Him moving among the clamoring people with their praises and palm leaves and I have seen Him treading the wine press alone once the praises and palm leaves had withered and fallen away. It would seem that the most profitable place of ministry would be the crowded places, not the deserted places. Yet Jesus has shown me that it is in the desert that singing erupts and the blossoms burst forth. The city has become the country and the country has been turned into the city. That’s why I can no longer trust my judgment of earthly things. He has exalted the valley and made the mountain low. I can no longer look with distrust at my desert hour. Every manger has the possibility of a star. Every dark night has the potential for a song. Every hunger pain experienced in the desert can bring a ministering angel. Every bitter cup can become a gift from above. Every cross seen today can be tomorrow’s crown. The Son of man has shown us a new path for personal promotion because He entered into life by the straight and narrow gate.

Brad Whitt appeared here at C201 previously in November, 2012; check out Did God Reveal it To You or In You?

I couldn’t help but think of the line in a popular worship song,

When I’m found in the desert place
When I walk through the wilderness

and thought I would include it here.

March 15, 2013

When Jesus’ Miracles Stopped

Welcome! No, today isn’t about dispensationalism. I believe God is still in the miracle business. This is a teaching from Felipe at the blog AboutJesusChrist.net titled When Jesus Couldn’t Perform Any Miracles.

Jesus performed many miracles during his ministry.  He gave sight to the blind, fed thousands with only two loaves and five fish and he even walked on water.  So how can it be that there was a time when he couldn’t perform any miracles?  The gospel of Matthew tells us that when he was in his home town of Nazareth teaching in the synagogue they doubted him.

“When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, ‘Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?’ So they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.’ Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.” – Matthew 13:54-58

He Didn’t Perform Miracles There

Yes, it is true, there was a time when Jesus didn’t perform miracles but it wasn’t because he couldn’t; it was because the people didn’t believe in him. It was because of their lack of faith. They knew he was wise in what he taught but they were blinded by their belief of whom he was. They saw him as, “the carpenter’s son”, and not as the Son of God. They saw him as only one member of a local family. They didn’t see him as the disciples saw him. They didn’t see him as a teacher or as someone they should follow and learn from.

Faith

Jesus was looking for faith. Time and time again we see Jesus heal someone because of the faith they have.

  • “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go your way; your faith had made you well.’” – Mark 10:52.
  • “Then He said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.’” – Luke 7:50.

Jesus looks at the heart and sees what we cannot see. He knows if someone has true faith on the inside and not just a false veil of faith as the Pharisees did. He knows faith is not something we can just throw on to show others but it is something that grows deep within us where no man can see but only God can see.

Today

The same can be said today about us. If we lack faith in Jesus then how can he perform miracles in our lives? He has always said to trust in him to provide for all our needs and we need to accept that he can do all things. He can and will do miracles for us if we truly believe. Faith is what he asks of us. Faith can move mountains if we only believe.

March 13, 2013

Did Jesus Need to be Baptized?

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<NLT) Matthew 11: 1 In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was,   “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”…

11 “I baptize with water those who repent of their sins and turn to God. But someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not worthy even to be his slave and carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.”

13 Then Jesus went from Galilee to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. 14 But John tried to talk him out of it. “I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,” he said, “so why are you coming to me?”

15 But Jesus said, “It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.” So John agreed to baptize him.

(AMP) 14 But John protested strenuously, having in mind to prevent Him, saying, It is I who have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?

15 But Jesus replied to him, Permit it just now; for this is the fitting way for [both of] us to fulfill all righteousness [that is, to perform completely whatever is right]. Then he permitted Him.

This is from David Capes at HearTheVoice.com:

When you read the Gospels, it is clear that John’s baptism is about repentance and the forgiveness of sins.  So the question arises: Why did Jesus need to repent?  Or what sin was Jesus guilty of that he needed to be forgiven?  In Matthew ‘s account of Jesus’ baptism we are told that John finds Jesus’ request to be baptized puzzling for he demurs and says “I need to be cleansed by You.  Why do You come to me?” (Matthew 3:13-14).   But Jesus convinces John to superintend his baptism.

So why was Jesus’ baptized?  The rest of the New Testament and Christian tradition claim that Jesus was without sin so he had no need to repent—in the traditional sense of the word—and be forgiven.

Let me suggest several reasons why Jesus went to John and insisted that the prophet dip him in the Jordan River.

First, Jesus wanted to identify with John.   When Jesus heard what John was doing in the desert—calling  people to change their ways and announcing the arrival of the kingdom of God—the Nazarene wanted to be there, to drink it all in,  for he sensed in his spirit that it may be his time.

Second, Jesus wanted to identify with the women and men who were coming to John in repentance and faith.  These were the “poor in spirit” Jesus would declared “blessed” in his Sermon on the Mount.  Put another way, Jesus wanted to identify with sinners.  Later, as controversies increase around him, he will be criticized for being a friend of sinners.

Third, Jesus’ baptism marks a turning point in his life.  The word translated “repentance” in most Bible translations means “a change of mind” (metanoia).  Now a true change of mind is always accompanied by a corresponding change of behavior.  After his baptism everything changes for Jesus.  He will leave behind the carpenter shop to become an itinerant preacher and healer.  He will leave behind his home in Nazareth to set up his headquarters in Capernaum.  He will leave behind a private life and become a most public person.  Jesus’ baptism is the turning point of his life.

Fourth, Jesus’ baptism foreshadows his coming death, burial, and resurrection.  Now I must admit that this last reason is more speculative, but it is certainly consistent with the story as it unfolds in the Gospel.  When Jesus submits to John’s baptism, because of who he is—God’s Son, the Anointed One–he gives baptism an entirely new focus.  Those who follow Jesus in baptism will do so as an act of initiation into the Christian faith; through baptism they participate in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (Roman 6).  For Christ-believers baptism is the start of their new life; it is the turning point of their lives just as it was for Jesus.

Read the same account with additional notes in the Bible translation David helped create, The Voice Bible.

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