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Our DAILY GOSPEL DEVOTIONAL is the story of Jesus from Incarnation to Ascension. This is a chronology and harmony of the gospel accounts in which the ongoing narrative and doctrinal context are carefully considered. In one year we reflect on every passage of every gospel.
May God bless you as we follow the disciples on the journey through the earthly life of Jesus Christ.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Straightening up


Luke 13:10-17…

Here was a woman who had a disability, she couldn’t stand up straight, but it didn’t stop her from coming to the synagogue to worship. Even after 18 years of being bound up by Satan her love for God and His Word trumped the physical and emotional pain. Yet it seems so easy for us to find one sorry excuse to stay home from church, rather than find one of the many reasons to go. This woman wouldn’t be held back, but we say we just don’t feel like it. If our prayers go unanswered for a week, we punish God by missing the next.

Jesus could have just gone home after teaching, but He calls out to her, a woman, which would be a scandal in itself. He is breaking the rules of etiquette.

After He heals her, the religious leaders were indignant. He is breaking the rules of ministry. But Jesus exposes their hypocrisy. In their supposed zeal, they show their hearts. They do what needs to be done on the Sabbath day; they are not so strict as to restrict common duties. They don’t call that sinful work. Accordingly, they should care more about a hurting person than a thirsty animal. Ironically, the whole idea of the Sabbath was rest, release, and so the Lord’s words, “Woman, you are freed from your disability” are perfectly in line with God’s will.

Also, this was not just about being hypocritical in their application of Sabbath Law; it was an indication of their disregard for women. They weren’t just rejecting Jesus and His work, they were rejecting her. But men and women are both heirs of God's promises (Galatians 3:27-29). We are to treat each other with dignity and respect, as Jesus demonstrates here.

It is the influence of Satan that tries to keep people from “straightening up”, but it is the nature of Jesus to bend our wills and break the rules when it comes to redemption over religion.  

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Warning label


Luke 13:6-9…

God is looking for the fruit of repentance (Matthew 3:8). Jesus’ warning that the Jews must repent or perish had a nearly immediate, terrible fulfillment. Within a generation, many perished in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. This serves as a warning to everyone (Romans 11:22). The problem isn’t man-made disaster or natural disasters; the problem is sin.

God hates sin, and will punish both individual sinners and nations. The fact that God doesn’t seem to punish sins and sinners immediately doesn’t mean that He approves of the sin, or that He will always allow it to go on without consequence, it is that He is merciful and allowing time to repent. We are now in the “grace period”, but Jesus is reminding us that we are on borrowed time. We need to repent now. I am talking to you, Christian.

Every individual and every nation will be found guilty when measured by the standard of God’s perfect righteousness. But Jesus came to put away the eternal consequences of sin (Hebrews 9:26-28). We’ve been extended a season of grace to become fruitful, so we’ve got to be fruitful. Repentance means we turn from sin, faith means we follow Jesus, spiritual fruit is the result. And don’t be fooled; no fruit, no root.

Jesus was explaining that disasters remind us that no one escapes death, and that we all may die at any time (Luke 13:1-5). Therefore repentance must be our priority, because no one will escape His judgment. The goodness of God has kept the wrath of God from you for now, not forever (Romans 2:4-5). People presume on God’s goodness and think they can just play the game of their lives any old way they want to. Jesus is telling us all: no way.

The fig tree couldn’t know it only had a year left, and neither can you. You can’t afford to wait another minute because you don’t know when your time will be up. The greater the space left for repentance, the greater the wrath of God that is stored up if we don’t.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The call of calamity


Luke 13:1-5…

We don’t like to admit it, but disasters are always around us. Sometimes they become more prominent because of their proportion or proximity.  How should we process these things?

Jesus speaks clearly to the matter, citing two well-known instances. One was caused by man, the other by nature. Jesus was warning the disciples against presuming to directly trace the effects of a specific sin to a specific disaster. He wasn’t saying that these people were innocent, but that all are guilty before God. He turns the question from “why did this happen?” into “what does this mean to me?” and from “what about God?” to “what about me?” The tragedies of today and tomorrow speak 4 things to us.

It speaks of reality. We live in a fallen world where these things will happen. We are supposed to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15 / 2 Corinthians 1:4). But we don’t have to grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Amidst all the calamity, catastrophe, chaos, and confusion, that is the larger point. Are you anchored in eternal reality?

It speaks of revelation. Disasters reveal His reign. He is the Creator and Sustainer (Colossians 1:15-17 / Hebrews 1:2-3). Judgment is coming (2 Peter 3:10-13). We don’t need to judge others, we need to pray for them and to show mercy, and part of that mercy is bringing the gospel message. Are you revealing the eternal truth to others?

It speaks of repentance. This is both our ongoing state of repentance (vs.3), as well as our initial repentance (vs.5). Disasters are most often sudden, and unexpected. Jesus tells us to repent otherwise we might die suddenly and in a state of unbelief. Those who died didn’t think they would die soon; we can suppose that most of them were not ready. Are you remaining ready?

It speaks of redemption. If we do repent we will not suffer eternal death, but receive eternal life. In the midst of destruction, we can hear God’s merciful plea to be reconciled to Him. Don’t turn on Him in anger, and don’t turn away from Him in fear, but turn to Him in faith. Then no matter what happens, you will avoid the ultimate disaster (John 6:37).

Calamities are bound to happen. The question is do you hear what they are saying?  

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Time to pay up


Luke 12:57-59…

Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? If someone owes a sum of money, but they can’t pay it, eventually their creditor takes them to court. The case is clear; they will lose in court and then be sentenced to prison until the debt is fully paid. This is why people try to settle out of court. They try and come to an agreement with the creditor. They will appeal for mercy, since if the case goes before the judge it is sure to go against them.

The longer you wait the harder it gets. How can you pay the bill, if you don’t have the currency? Think about this in terms of sin, and with God as creditor. If you know that you are subject to judgment, then you need to plead for mercy now while there is still time to receive mercy.

Thankfully, we have a gracious friend who will pay the bill. Jesus is God’s offer of mercy. He can foot the bill with His own blood. We can come to Him, humbly acknowledging our debt (Romans 3:23 / 1 John 1:5-10). We can reach out in repentance (Psalm 51:17 / Isaiah 57:15, 66:2) and receive mercy and forgiveness through Him. We are fools if we don’t.

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Monday, June 26, 2017

The forecast of faith


Luke 12:54-56…

We pay attention to a weather forecast; it is an educated perspective based on certain patterns. The same goes for an economic forecast, and so on and so forth. People are interested in patterns, and they pay attention to forecasts so that they can make proper plans. However, most people fail to discern spiritual patterns. They don’t plan based on the most important forecast.

Jesus is encouraging us to pay attention. Just as it is reasonable to draw conclusions about the weather from making simple observations, He is saying that we should also be able to draw certain conclusions about the times we are living in from observing what is going on around us. He was talking to the religious crowd about His appearance as Messiah, and He would later talk to His disciples about His reappearance at the end of the age.

This applies to our current spiritual life. If we believe certain things are going to happen we act in certain ways, make certain preparations, take certain steps, and we think and watch for certain things. Are we paying attention to the way we are trending (Psalm 1:1-6)? Whatever seeds you are planting, watering, and fertilizing in the soil of your life should tell you what you can expect as a harvest (Galatians 6:7-8). It doesn’t take a prophet to watch the grass grow.

Are you maturing? Do you realize in your heart that God is the one who is bringing you through the seasons of life (Psalm 23:1-6)? Can you help other people see the patterns in their own lives and give a forecast in certain situations (1 Chronicles 12:32)? Can people come to you for advice and get real wisdom?

If we say we are Christians, we ought to be paying close attention to our ways, our witness, our worship, and the Word. Jesus is coming again. The signs of the times are here. It is time to get right with God (Hebrews 12:25-29). 

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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Fire starter


Luke 12:49-53…

I came to cast fire… The ministry of Jesus ignites division. It calls for a radical decision to be made, and making this decision will divide families and households. It will be politically incorrect because it doesn’t allow for alternatives. If we decide for Jesus, our decision will not make everyone happy and won’t lead to everyone liking us. It is most often quite the opposite (2 Timothy 3:12), and your decision will depend on who is lighting the fires of your passion (James 4:4 / John 15:23 / 1 John 2:15-16).

They will be divided… Jesus ignites fire for God and fire against God. God’s Word does not come back void (Isaiah 55:11), but that doesn’t mean it works according to our imaginations; not everyone who hears it obeys it (Romans 10:16). It works in the sense that it separates the true from the false, it causes repentance or rebellion. This is the division.

The Word of God reveals the heart (Hebrews 4:12-13). When sinners are confronted and condemned by the Word of God and urged to repent, it acts as a fire and a hammer which seeks to shatter their hard hearts (Jeremiah 23:29). The mission of the Messiah is the process of refining and separating the godly from the ungodly (Malachi 3:2).

The fire is a revelation, but in the end its effect is different for Christians (1 Corinthians 3:15) than it is for unbelievers (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10). The truth about us, rebellion or repentance, comes not when we see the light, but when we feel the heat.

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

The seed of greed


Luke 12:13-21…

Covetousness is the seed of greed and the dew of discontent. When we are trying to be satisfied with stuff, we are going against the will of God. The man recognizes Jesus’ authority, but He rebukes him because his request actually reveals the man’s covetous heart.

Covetousness comes in many forms but basically it is craving something that is not rightfully yours, or wanting something you don’t really need so much that it turns your heart to it rather than God. The Bible does not condemn riches, but it does sharply rebuke trusting in them and the pursuit of materialism. Covetousness is idolatry (Colossians 3:5 / Ephesians 5:5). We put something ahead of God and we act out of that impulse towards impurity. Whatever you consume has a way of consuming you. Covetousness will eat you up inside: you feed, and feed, and feed it, but it is never satisfied (James 4:1-3).

It is generally impossible for you to become satisfied until you learn to become content. To covet or to be greedy means that you are not satisfied with what God has provided for you and you constantly want more, even at someone else’s expense. It was the sin of Satan (Isaiah 14:12-14). It was the sin of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:6). It was the sin of David (2 Samuel 12:1-8). It was the sin of the Pharisees (Luke 16:10-14). Covetousness is not about money only (1 John 2:16). We want what God has or think we deserve what God gives to others.  Paul says it was “Thou shall not covet” which made him aware of his own sinfulness (Romans 7:7-8). Surely what was true of Paul is true of us all.

We want to feel secure, so we try and find it in stuff. We fail to notice the bigger issue of being held accountable before God. If you seek to know and to please God in all things, whatever the outcome, it will be the best outcome possible (Psalm 37:4 / Matthew 6:33 / Romans 8:28). If you seek yourself and your own goals, whatever the outcome, it will be pointless and empty, fading, and pregnant with spiritual poverty.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Hypocrisy hurts you


Luke 12:1-12…

In the midst of a very large and somewhat hostile crowd, Jesus teaches His disciples, and us, about the problems associated with hypocrisy. This is what the Pharisees were an example of. They were inconsistent, deceived, and they practiced deliberate deception.

We can be hypocritical to achieve praise. The problem is that covering up one’s heart by outward appearance is sheer folly. It is futile to think that you can get away with it. The truth cannot be hidden for long. You will be exposed (1 Timothy 5:24-25).

We can be hypocritical to avoid persecution. We are afraid of what people might think or do. They might indeed do terrible things, but Jesus tells us that in the long run they cannot harm us like God could if He wanted to. He has the greater power (Hebrews 2:14-15). Therefore we ought to fear God rather than men. Now this is not a call for an unhealthy fear; this is about who our allegiance is with. God loves His children, and He knows them and their situations perfectly. We should thankfully and graciously accept that. God has us on His mind.

Our lives are to be lived as a testimony to God’s grace. We must speak out in behalf of our Lord, not shrink back. We must not deny the power of the gospel and its exclusive claims. Jesus is not speaking of a believer losing his salvation, but about people who will or will not believe. He is calling on bold witnessing which calls on men to publically identify with Christ (Acts 2:38-39 / Romans 10:9-10), even in times of persecution. But how can we call upon people to publicly profess their faith in Christ if we are trying to conceal our own faith?

Jesus knows that many people will be rejected, and some even martyred. But we are to be more intent upon proclaiming the gospel than defending ourselves. The right words will come if the time ever happens upon us. Then we won’t have time to be hypocritical. 

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Truth for dinner


Luke 11:37-54…

Jesus knew right what He was doing when He went in and did not do according to the religious custom. He was setting up a “teachable moment”. We would all do well to heed the lessons.

He calls the religious leaders out as a group who is hypocritical, reminds them that God is more concerned about the heart than the hands, and calls on them to repent. They needed to learn to live from the inside out.  Purity on the inside is what causes true piety on the outside, because out of the heart flow the issues of life (Proverbs 4:23).  Otherwise, it is all for show.

He then goes even further to say that their disciplined giving does not give them a license to neglect the most important things (Micah 6:6-8). Their desire to appear important does not mean that they meet the marks of what is truly holy. Their appearance may conceal their corruption to some, but people were still defiled by having been with them. This, of course, really made the leaders’ blood boil. 

He then says that all they are is talk; they don’t do what they teach. They don’t even do anything to help people’s burdens; they just place more burdens upon them. They aren’t concerned with ministry to people, just mastery over them (1 Peter 5:2-3).   

Jesus now links them in the biblical line of persecutors, even though they deny it (Jeremiah 2:30 / Matthew 23:29-30). They are just like the people who pretended piety before them. They are responsible for their rebellion against God. By their legalism, they had kept people from learning God’s love, and they had not learned themselves. If you can’t learn, your own knowledge will destroy you. They were a hindrance to holiness not a help.   

They did not receive the correction (Proverbs 17:10, 28:26, 29:1 / Ecclesiastes 7:5); they did not want the truth.

The question is, do you (Galatians 4:16)?  

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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The request of the reprobate


Matthew 12:38-42 / Luke 11:29-32…

The religious leaders were not sincerely looking to be convinced of the truth. They had already witnessed many miracles, and they had already made up their minds. They were determined not to believe in Jesus. They wanted their own personal miracle, but even then it was only pretense.

Jesus knows this and tells them that lesser signs had led to repentance. Lesser men had inspired faith. Even His greatest sign would not lead them to believe. If they can assign His previous works to the power of Satan, then they will not believe a new one. If hearts are hardened to Him, then it is not an issue of facts, truth, or reason; it is a matter of rebellion, defiance, unbelief.

Jesus reveals the heart of those who are supposedly seeking, but in truth are only playing the proud game. They want their own evidence; they place themselves as ultimate arbiter. They are in effect saying, “I’ll believe if He meets my terms”. But who is God in this equation? It is an insult and the height of hypocrisy to ask God to prove Himself in a way that suits us. This is the great problem of all humanity, they are their own god. They set up their idols according to their own desires.   

The problem is not a love for truth and a lack of proof; it is a love of sin and a lack of submission. We have a tendency to believe that we can always evaluate everything that happens to us correctly. We trust our power to process situations. We are wise in our own eyes, which is a great delusion (Proverbs 3:7, 26:12 / Isaiah 5:21 / Romans 11:25, 12:16).

Jesus isn’t against giving signs; what He is against is demanding them as a ransom for our allegiance. We cannot dictate terms to God. 

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Think higher thoughts


Luke 11:27-28…

We are often tempted to get excited about the periphery and miss the real point. It isn’t about how wonderful and exciting our encounters and experiences are. Rather, the real point is about feeding on the Word of God and walking it out in faith. When we venerate what is less valuable, we miss the real blessing (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

Jesus used both the criticism and praise of others as an opportunity to lead people to greater truth. This woman was not a scoffer or resentful like the religious leaders. She was definitely in the amazed category. But we must move higher from there, instead of venerating Mary or the Apostles, making idols of lesser things. The real blessing was not about being in the physical line of Jesus, but in the spiritual line, and that means putting the Word of God into practice.

Jesus was not trying to put the lady down; He was trying to bring her up. To bring us to the higher plane, He has to knock us off the current platform. We have a way of thinking that makes God out to be a projection of our best feelings, instead of really understanding the revelation He has given us. Many times, when we do that, God has to give us a cold correction and it knocks the warm fuzzies right out of us. However, we should receive the correction of Jesus rather than feel condemned by it. He is knocking us off our pious platform in order to bring us higher.

In Christ we are no longer condemned (Romans 8:1), but we are corrected (Hebrews 12:5-11). Correction leads us to repentance; in other words, inspired improvement. Higher thoughts about God lead to deeper worship. Think about it.

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Monday, June 19, 2017

Temporarily empty


Matthew 12:43-45 / Luke 11:24-26…

Using the example of demon possession, Jesus warned it is not enough to go through an initial period of repentance and removal of sin. Breakthrough is wonderful but follow through is necessary. Unless reformation continues and something positive is put in place the end might prove worse than the beginning. You can’t just let things be. 

Sin is like water, it has a way of finding the hole and filling up any space left. We think we drive out the deadly desire, but we are not as mature as we suppose, and our troubles are multiplied. We can exhibit power over the enemy and still fall right into his trap of pride (1 Timothy 3:6). You must stay moving forward on the road, if you go back it is harder to get back, and the going will be worse than before (John 5:14 / 2 Peter 2:20-22).

The Pharisees were well known for being scrupulous in religious devotion. But in the process of building their reputation, they lost the heart of what God wanted. They traded truth for legalism, and while this made them feel superior to others, it replaced true devotion with an evil of their own making that allowed them to reject God’s Messiah. We might be very passionate to rid ourselves of certain sins, to be done with certain problems, but this only makes us more vulnerable if we do not replace the void with new, spiritual habits (Ephesians 5:18-21).

An empty heart will not stay empty for long; it will be filled up with something. The question is with what?  

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

More than words


Matthew 12:33-37…

The Pharisees were supposedly the most righteous of all the people, but here, when contrasted with Jesus, their hearts are shown to be as dark as they really were. Even though they were accusing Jesus of being evil, it was they who were.

Jesus teaches us that our words and our actions manifest our thoughts and our attitudes. They point to what is in our heart, what we are really like. He is teaching us to examine ourselves, and to examine our teachers. He is teaching us how to discern the hidden evil of the heart.

The way we evaluate a heart is by what it produces.  The fruit reveals the root. It was not right to say that Jesus was evil even though He did good things. His life revealed His character. So does ours. The Pharisees, despite all of their pious pretense, could not hide who they really were when they were seen by discerning eyes. Neither can we.

We are what we think, say, and do. You can’t bring a good treasure out of an evil treasure chest. What we say and do is a result of what we think, what is in our hearts.

Most people really don’t pay much attention to their words.  And yet, the Lord Jesus says that our hearts will be made manifest in the judgment by our words. We must live in the light of the fact that our talk will be judged. Our speech is evidence (James 1:26).

There’s nothing like the tongue to remind you that it is impossible for a man to walk perfectly before God (James 3:2-13).  Your tongue shows you that you need the grace of the gospel in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Thankfully, the words of a repentant heart, “Father, forgive my sins by the blood of Christ” are words that will acquit us in the eternal court. 

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

The unforgivable sin


Matthew 12:31-32 / Mark 3:28-30…

Many people have grieved over the idea that they may be guilty of this sin. What is the unforgiveable sin? It is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. The immediate context was that they kept saying that what Jesus did was done by an evil spirit or a demon rather than by the Spirit of God. It was not some one-time event; it was an ongoing, willful rejection of Christ, the continual hardening of their hearts. The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is called the “unforgivable sin” because it is rejecting Jesus and His offer of forgiveness. So Jesus here warns the religious leaders about the consequences of rejecting Him; it would be an unforgivable sin.

The question then becomes whether or not it is possible to commit the unforgiveable sin today, or could this particular sin only have occurred in Jesus’ day? The truth is that the final, full, willful rejection of Jesus still happens. However, the fact that the believer worries about this sin is evidence that the true believer could not commit this sin. The one who commits the sin is the very one who doesn’t even care if he has. That is the point; they don’t feel the need to be forgiven, and so they won’t be.

To blaspheme the Spirit means to give up on Jesus, to say that He isn’t God, that He isn’t the only way to the Father. It means to believe that what He did and is doing is not right and just. In other words, it is to finally reject the very things the Holy Spirit brings, the conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:7-11). To reject that is to reject forgiveness, and that is unforgivable. But if you want to be forgiven, then it is the Holy Spirit who is moving you to that, and that is not blasphemy. No sin is unforgiveable if you want to be forgiven. 

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Friday, June 16, 2017

One or the other


Matthew 12:22-30 / Mark 3:20-27 / Luke 11:14-23…
  
People were amazed at the power of Jesus, they couldn’t deny it.  The exorcisms drew so much attention from people that it was impossible for anyone to even eat because it was so crowded around Him. Many wondered if Jesus could actually be the long awaited Messiah.

The religious leaders would have none of it. By accusing Jesus of being possessed by demons, the scribes were committing a very heinous sin. Jesus knew their thoughts, and responds by saying their accusations are illogical (Luke 11:17-18), that they are hypocritical (Luke 11:19), and He tells those who want to test Him that His power is demonstrable (Luke 11:20). It proves that He is from God.   

Jesus uses this small parable about plundering a house to show His enemies that His power was superior to Satan’s power. He could plunder Satan’s kingdom of its goods, like those human beings tormented by demonic possession.

However, we should not assume that our demonstration of the kingdom and Jesus’ demonstration of the kingdom will be the same. He was drawing a picture to disprove the religious leaders and discredit their accusations. He wasn’t giving the disciples or us a pattern for ministry. He gave His disciples the power to cast out demons, but nowhere did He tell them to “bind the strong man,” and we have no record of their attempting such. If Jesus had intended this “binding the strong man” to be a pattern for our ministry, He would have made it clear. The thing that is clear is that Jesus is greater than Satan, He is not his counterpart.

Jesus leaves us no middle ground. He says that you either believe He is of God or of the Devil. Are you with Him?

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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Bold beggars


Luke 11:5-8…

Jesus is telling the disciples a story about the value of pleading. This illustration would have been very well understood by the audience of the day, as visitors were well treated (Genesis 18:1-8 / Hebrews 13:2). To tell a visitor that you have nothing to give was like having a wedding where the wine ran out (cf. John 2:1-11).

The man was stirred in the middle of the night, and he went and stirred his neighbor, and we get stirred to pray. But that is training for life because life hits us hard when we least expect it and we have to go to God, many times on the behalf of others.

God isn’t like the man who is asleep, that is the point Jesus is making. If the man who slept would act, how much more so will God be stirred by our prayers?  In order to really get to know God we have to keep seeking Him in prayer. Jesus doesn’t want us to give up (Luke 18:1-8).

Most of us haven’t actually reached the end of our rope yet. It’s not that we give up; it’s that we don’t even get up. We fail to realize that our need is greater than this man who doesn’t have what he needs to help. We don’t actually realize how vulnerable our situation really is. The truth is that we don’t get down to praying with passion until we have to have it. He becomes all we need when He’s all we’ve got. Jesus is telling us to develop this thing right now in our lives. It starts when we start listening to God tug our heart strings for someone else.

God is not like a friend who doesn’t want to get up, He is wide awake and Jesus is trying to wake us all up. You are like that friend that has nothing to give the visitor unless your friend gives you something to give. We won’t have any daily bread unless He gives it to us. Pleading prayer is the means to the manna of mercy. Are you a bold beggar or a proud prayer? 

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

More prayer please


Luke 11:1-4…

Jesus had already taught the disciples how to pray (Matthew 6:5-15). But as they began to really understand how important prayer was to Jesus’ own life, and how it kept Him in contact with God (Luke 9:28-31), they were stirred up to ask Him about it once again.

Jesus basically repeated what He had said to them before, providing a framework for prayer with an understanding of Providence. Yet this wasn’t a clinical lesson on technique. We must avoid taking this pattern and using it in a hypocritical or superstitious way. The phrases point to the frame, the concepts, which are more than mere words. It is not about simply repeating the phrases, or just believing that if we cover the concepts God will make our lives just right.  

The proof of that is that they already knew these phrases, but when they asked Him again, He repeats the same basic phraseology. Then Jesus goes on to tell them a story about persistence (Luke 11:5-8). You see, it is not the words themselves, but the concepts. Even then, it is more than that; the heart relationship behind them is what God is after. Repeating phrases can be helpful, but only if they are heartfelt. The concepts must be met with conviction.

The subject of prayer is vast and vital, and it can yield a rich dimension to our spirituality and daily lives in a way nothing else can. Don’t be overwhelmed by the subject of prayer; instead, consider it an inexhaustible treasure. Keep doing it; God likes it, and so will you. 

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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Anxiety and necessity


Luke 10:38-42…

Sometimes it can be too easy to work too hard in doing too much. We can turn a wonderful opportunity for joy, celebration, learning, and love, into an obstacle to those very things, and we may even put the wall up for others as well. Our guests always have to be guarded around us. Instead of the event being the focus, we become the not so star attraction by our need for attention to detail. 

This is not only about “special events”. This mentality manifests itself in our daily existence. It is a formula for misery. We try and seize the day and it seizes us up with stress. Like Martha, our cares become too cumbersome (distracted with much serving), and we become complainers (Lord, do you not care), critical (my sister has left me), and commanding (Tell her then to help me).  We create deadlines that aren’t there, fail to meet them, and then feel like we’re dead.

Yes, certain things must be done. Our Lord is not teaching us to be lazy. He is teaching us about values.  The truth is that we are not to let everyday concern, even labor and time intensive work and duty, keep us from paying attention to what is truly important, our daily relationship with Christ. This is the one thing that is necessary.

We have to watch out for this, even as, and especially as, committed believers. To try and control every situation is to be controlled by every situation. Sometimes you have to sit down, calm down, and slow down, so you can pay attention to Jesus. If you don’t do that, the Lord has to do it providentially.

We want to serve Jesus well, but we must remember that we are to be served by Him in order to be able to serve for Him. Our main problem is not that we don’t try hard enough to be good, but that we haven’t believed the gospel and received its finished reality into all parts of our life. No fresh gospel gas in the tank means a life run on empty energy.  

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Monday, June 12, 2017

The spirit of ministry


Luke 10:29-37…

The lawyer was trusting in his ability to perform. The problem is that he knows that he cannot fulfill this requirement if it means all it could mean. In trying to justify himself, he sought an exact meaning of “neighbor”, so as to have a formula for righteousness. He wanted to know the letter of the Law. In other words, what he was really trying to do was get a license to be able to love only those he must in order to inherit eternal life, and to necessarily exclude all others, at his personal discretion.

To the letter, this is how mischievous children try to get around the restrictions of their parents.  Think about the child whose mother tells her that she cannot ride her bike to the park; she goes anyway, and when her mother scolds her, she cries, “I didn’t ride my bike, I walked”. Can you see how childish and utterly ridiculous this lawyer is being in this passage now?

Still, we see that today many have not taken this lesson from Jesus. He is interested in the spirit, not simply our actions but our attitudes, the truth in our hearts (2 Corinthians 3:3-6). Christians have been deceived into jumping through spiritual hoops, thinking that they have earned the favor of God (Luke 17:10). That is trusting in our performance, not trusting in Jesus.

By showing us the priest and the Levite specifically, Christ was definitely trying to convey something even more than the fact that being a neighbor means more than your own kind. Christ is putting his second commandment above prior duty. Be looking for God to send someone by at the “wrong time”. Your agenda is never as important as God’s. Remember, being faithful in a little thing is a big thing. Think of those that walked on by. They thought they had bigger and more important things to do, but they missed the ministry just lying there waiting to happen. 

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

The wise guy


Luke 10:25-28…

It is instructive to see that Luke places this incident directly following Jesus giving thanks to His Father, “that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children”. The “little children” are Jesus’ disciples, His followers, who have just learned about spiritual power in His name. Now we meet the lawyer, one of the “wise and understanding”, a scholar schooled in all the intricacies and interpretations of the Old Testament Law. The children and wise are placed in sharp contrast.

The lawyer asks an important question, which is really the ultimate question, “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” but he has an underlying motive. He was testing Jesus to see if He could trip Him up, make Him contradict Himself, or contradict the Law, perhaps ultimately trying to prove that His claims to be the Son of God were demonstrably false. Instead of answering the man, Jesus turns the question back on him, appealing to his self-perception of being an authority. The one who came to test is now being tested.

The lawyer was trying to set Jesus up so as to take Him down. But Jesus was setting him up so as to take down his self-righteousness. Jesus agrees that his answer describes the essence of the Law (Leviticus 19:18 / Deuteronomy 6:4-5 / Matthew 7:12, 22:35-40 / Mark 12:28-34 / Romans 13:8-10 / Galatians 5:14 / James 2:8-10). Jesus says that if the man does this he will indeed inherit eternal life.  

The problem is that no one can fulfill this requirement. The lawyer was rich in knowledge, and thought this meant he could achieve, accomplish, attain whatever it took to gain favor with God. In contrast, the disciples knew they were nothing without Jesus. They were learning true knowledge, not to be proud in their own selves, but to give glory to God.

You may grow and learn and be about all those good things you ought to do, but you mustn’t let those things make you think you are now somehow less needing of mercy and grace. You may be rich in your relationship with God, but that means you realize your poverty without Him.

Don’t be some smug wise guy, thinking you have it all figured out. Realize what Jesus meant when He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”.  

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Saturday, June 10, 2017

The beginning of the future


Luke 10:23-24…

Jesus was turning from the larger group that was sent out and looking back to the twelve, saying that they were blessed to see the beginnings, the visible spread of the kingdom of God.

Our role is not the same as theirs. But our eyes and ears are also blessed if we have been given a spiritual birth; if we are born again we too can see the kingdom of God in manifestation. It may not seem as spectacular to the natural eye or sound as wonderful to the natural ear. Yet every time someone is delivered from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, we are witnessing the spread of the King’s reign.

Elijah labored in prayer until he saw one tiny little cloud, and then he knew the downpour was coming (1 Kings 18:41-45). If you are moving with the Spirit of God, you can see the things others miss. But it is for the benefit of others; your reward is to be able to see it at all.

Future grace is what motivated the prophets (1 Peter 1:10-12). The future was revealed to them, but these revelations were given not for themselves mainly, but for our good in these Gospel times. This didn’t make them discouraged and inactive; it empowered them to unselfishly testify in the Spirit for the partial good of their own generation, and for the full benefit of posterity.

We must encourage life and work in the church that is motivated by selfless love. Engaging in ministry out of a need to feel self-worth will bear little eternal fruit. It is not only about serving ourselves, or even serving others, but serving others in service to God. We are working for the future, and we are blessed to be seeing and hearing about some of the fruit of it right now. 

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Friday, June 09, 2017

The only true rest


Matthew 11:28-30…

This promise doesn’t seem very real to many. The whole idea of getting ahead in life is working hard so that we can rest for a while. Yet it never seems to happen, even if and when our hopes and dreams become realities. This is the way of the world. It is all just one big dead end. Maybe that’s why they put “rest in peace” on gravestones. But Jesus has another way. His kind of work gives us rest. What a remarkable thing.

This merciful invitation is to all people. Many are working as hard as they can to prove themselves to the world, to justify themselves before their idea of God. Many are loaded down with care, concerned about all the things they know they cannot handle, yet working too hard to get a handle on them. The day to day experience is wearing them out, let alone any thoughts of their eternal situation. Jesus invites anyone who is like this to come to Him, and promises that He will give them the rest they so desperately need. We work so hard to be able to rest, but Jesus says to come to Him and He will simply give it to us, we won’t have to work for it.

Coming to Jesus means leaving one thing and following another. This is what is meant by the word repentance. What we leave is our own labor and drop our own burden and instead of doing our own thing we do His thing. The work of the unsaved soul never leads to true rest. But the work of the redeemed soul is about yoking up to the very rest and refreshing the soul can eternally feed on.  It is learning to rest in that rest He has given us. He gives us rest from all our striving to save ourselves, and then in His school we learn that His way can help us take it easy, and in finding that path we find a rest for this life as well.

We don’t work for it; we find it and work in it. 

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Thursday, June 08, 2017

The revelation of power


Matthew 11:25-27 / Luke 10:21-22…

Many worry because they just don’t seem to have a grip on things as much as others seem to. Yet Jesus gives us a cause for resting in Him right here in these verses. God reveals His will to the humble in heart. God values the vulnerable, those who trust and treasure what they have been born again to see, the kingdom of God. When we focus on whose we are and what we have been given in Christ (Ephesians 1:1-9), we realize that in the end, if we know God, we know all we truly need to know.

Things may be bad for us right now, but the end of the game is determined (Ephesians 1:10-14), and the goal for now is the same (1 Corinthians 10:31 / Philippians 1:21). To get back that vision of victory, what we need to do is regain our focus with a single eye (Matthew 5:8). Unlike those who do not know the ultimate revelation, we have no need to stockpile strength (Zechariah 4:6). This is not cause for pride, but for humility. When we regain our focus back to where it should be, with Jesus at the center (Psalm 37:4), all our triumphs and all our failures, all our gains and all our losses, all our knowledge, strength, health, wealth, anything and everything else is nothing compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (Philippians  3:8).

This is why we can thank God at all times (1 Thessalonians 5:18), for no matter what happens, we have been given the revelation of ultimate power in the knowledge of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). We know the will of God to give us grace.  

If you have been given this revelation, it is your seed of peace. Keep planting it in your mind, your ministry, your family, your friends, your whole life and world, and watch the Prince of Peace reveal Himself.  

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Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Guaranteed success


Luke 10:17-20…

It can be quite thrilling to see God’s power manifest in our lives and ministry. We all long to see the Devil defeated in personal battle, and to see souls saved into the kingdom of God. Yet it is always less about what He has given us to do and more about who He has given us to be. No matter the scope of our personal victory, or the magnitude of our calling, the primary call is to Christ Himself.

Certainly we should be thankful and rejoice in the good seasons. But mark this fact: there will not always be uninterrupted success. We feel as if we have been lifted up into the heavenly realms when we see such awesome displays. Yet we must be on guard, because the higher the climb rises, the greater the potential for a prideful fall. We need to continuously cultivate humility, because our hearts have the tendency to be over excited when the street is smooth and therefore overly depressed when the road is rough.  

This is especially true for unseasoned believers, as they can let the success go to their head. It is not enough to have success; we must learn to handle it properly. We can exhibit power over the enemy and still fall right into his trap (1 Timothy 3:6). Satan was as lofty as you can get yet he fell like lightning (Isaiah 14:12-15). Our ministry victories and spiritual successes are only markers along the way, but they are not the guarantee.

It is the sinless life and atoning death, the resurrection, ascension and return of King Jesus that is the supreme focus for our joy. The guarantee of success is the promise that Jesus Christ will deliver us all the way to heaven, whether we’re winning the war today or not (1 Corinthians 15:58 / 2 Timothy 4:8).  

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Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Reception or rejection


Luke 10:16…

As ambassadors for Christ, if we honor God He will honor us (1 Samuel 2:30 / John 12:26). But that certainly doesn’t mean others will honor you in this life. The Apostle Paul said, “For me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21). Someone who approaches this sanctified place doesn’t care what the opinion of this world is. This is the place to be, as the holy herald of God.

When you are received, what is happening is that God’s Spirit is drawing a soul to Jesus. It is not the messenger who is the draw, but the message of the King. When you are despised, what is happening is that they are attacking the soldier because of the King. They can’t touch Him, but they can take their wrath out on you. However, one day the King will repay them their evil deeds done, not so much to you, but what they did to Him when they did that to you. You are only the instrument. At the core, it is the Great Physician they adore or despise (Matthew 10:40).

We must not take the rejection, or the acceptance, of the message of Christ too personally. We should be passionate about sharing the message, understanding the eternal implications of accepting or rejecting it. But people aren’t choosing or rejecting us; they are choosing or rejecting Jesus. In this, they are choosing or rejecting God. Let’s remember that this is not about us, but about God, His message, His Son, His Kingdom, and His means.

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Monday, June 05, 2017

To tell the truth


Matthew 11:20-24 / Luke 10:13-15…

So what does it do for your picture of the gentle Jesus to see Him here denouncing whole cities? He is saying to them, “shame on you for not repenting”. The reason they should have been repenting is because they had seen Him perform many mighty works in their presence.  Jesus is pointing out the ingratitude of people who could know Him but who refuse to change.

It can be hard for us to know when we should just “tell it like it is” in the sternest and clearest terms possible, but sometimes we must indeed do it. It is the loving thing to do when people choose destruction over deliverance. This is evident when someone refuses to repent even after being shown so much mercy and grace. There are many who seemed to be among the faithful at one time, even fervently so, but they have now seemed to turn their backs on God and His people (Hebrews 6:4-6 / 1 John 2:19). They may say the right things at times, but it is only from a previous knowledge, it is not from the heart.

True love allows as much space as possible for repentance, but true love is concerned with carelessness, casualness, and warns of the coming calamity for those who are in danger by their direction (Proverbs 28:13-14). Jesus is the embodiment of God’s love, but that means He must stand up for what is right (1 Corinthians 13:6), and warn those who presume upon God’s grace (Romans 2:4), those who forget it (2 Peter 1:9), or those who ignore it in their ingratitude altogether (Hebrews 2:3).

If we want to be like Him, we should tell the truth. 

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Sunday, June 04, 2017

Advance team


Luke 10:1-12…

The Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him… where he himself was about to go. Jesus told them to pray about sending laborers into the harvest, and just as it was with the twelve that were sent out, they were going to be part of the answer to their own prayers. The best prayers have legs. We put our hands together to pray for the harvest, and stretch our hands out to gather it.

I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. When God sends His servants, it is with vulnerability. They were going with power, but they were not supposed to be storing up provisions, or making advance preparations.  They were to be sending, spreading, and looking for peace, the resonance of God’s Spirit among the places and people they would encounter. They were lambs among wolves looking for other lambs. We are not to be slipshod evangelists, planning is fine, but even the best laid plans are in God’s hands. The point is that we are always to be ready, and current accommodation and accoutrement are not our necessary tools (1 Peter 3:15 / 2 Timothy 2:15 / Colossians 4:5-6 / Philemon 1:6).

As God’s child, as a witness to the saving grace of Jesus Christ, you are an ambassador, a royal messenger of the King. But be sure that people will have divided reactions when you bring the message of Jesus to them. Some will receive Him, and embrace His messengers. Others will revile Him, and be enraged against His messengers (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2). Those who do receive you will rejoice with you and refresh you. But the word of peace will not settle in those whose hearts are at war with God.

You are the advance team, welcoming the sons of peace, and warning the sons of perdition.  Your message: The King is coming! Make way in your heart, or lose your soul. 

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Saturday, June 03, 2017

The test


Matthew 18:23-35…

Jesus describes for us what a forgiving spirit looks like.  We are always supposed to forgive those who ask for it because God forgives us everything when we ask. There is no excuse. Forgiven people become forgiving people. We have received mercy and we are called to be merciful. We are to be forgiving to others because God has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32). 

The King of the Universe is going to settle accounts. Some may not subject themselves to His rule right now, but they will be finally subjugated nonetheless, and the King rules nonetheless. Those who place themselves willingly before the King’s mercy will indeed have it. Those who do not, will not and they will pay on the Day of Reckoning.  

God’s children will have had their accounts settled at the cross of Christ. They will have repented of their sin again God, against men, against the King and His subjects. Those who have not will have their accounts settled with the most severe of sentences. They will be led away to the Ultimate Prison, and unable to ever pay the increasing debt they will forever owe. There will be no escape, no parole, no way out.

Now there is a test, something Jesus tells us that we will be and do if we truly know Him now as King. To know Him is to know forgiveness, and if we are not forgiving, we do not know Him. This is the Great Surprise that awaits many (Matthew 7:21-27). The words of Jesus are about receiving and giving forgiveness.

We have to receive forgiveness, and the test of that, the test of if we are a forgiven person is if we are a forgiving person. How can we think we are in the fellowship of forgiveness if we are not forgiving people ourselves? Unfortunately many are in for the Great Surprise; they are deceived, so says Jesus Christ. Many are not looking to forgive; they are looking for ways out of it. It is as if they are looking for ways out of heavenly fellowship, and indeed, sadly, tragically, they are doing EXACTLY that.  

Ask King Jesus for forgiveness, receive it, and spread around the fragrance of forgiveness to your world as a child of God. This is what pleases the King. 

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Friday, June 02, 2017

The fellowship of forgiveness


Matthew 18:21-22 / Luke 17:3-4…

Matthew 18:15-20 gives us an outline for the steps of church discipline. It starts out one on one, and if the other person repents, that’s the end of it. Peter’s question takes us back to vs.15. What about the person who seems to just be going through the motions? Are we supposed to just keep on going through the motions if someone keeps fouling up, even if it seems like it’s on purpose? How often are we supposed to forgive? Jesus tells us the answer is always.

But don’t miss something here. We are not to condemn the person, but we are to confront them with the offense. We must forgive those who are repentant, but we must give an opportunity to repent. This doesn’t mean that we only have to forgive them before God but that we can hold onto our unforgiveness until we see them come to us to repent, and if they never do we never forgive. No, if we are able we must go to them, rebuke them, and give them a chance to repent. If they do we give them the cleansing benefit of our forgiveness.

We should typically forgive some sins without necessarily even mentioning it (Proverbs 10:12, 19:11 / Matthew 7:1-5 / Colossians 3:13 / 1 Peter 4:8). We must be promoting an atmosphere of forbearing and forgiveness; it isn’t always required that I rebuke a brother who sins. Still there are times we should go to a person, and it takes courage to practice biblical forgiveness.

What about those who cannot be approached this way, like a dead relative, or you were taken advantage of in some anonymous way, or the incident was 20 years ago and you don’t know where the offender is? If you don’t have access to a person, you forgive them before God in your heart (Mark 11:25). You are always to do that in all situations anyway. We must be willing to forgive, because a biblically forgiving spirit is a faithful one. 

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Thursday, June 01, 2017

I don’t agree


Matthew 18:19-20…

We should be wholeheartedly committed to prayer. However, this passage is not teaching us about a “prayer of agreement”. It is intended as a further statement regarding the authority of the church and its leaders in discipline situations. The agreement part is in relation to the process employed in verses 15 through 17 that results in the decision to expel the unrepentant person from the fellowship.

Yet some say this text teaches that if two or more Christians agree in prayer about any specific issue, God will accomplish the prayer. If that is so, then why doesn’t God answer all our corporate prayers in accordance with our desires? Obviously, this passage clearly teaches more than what it simply says. 

This was Christ telling the disciples that the Heavenly Father would ratify the decision of the church leaders. This wasn’t about giving church leaders or “prayer partners” unlimited authority. It was Jesus telling us, in principle, that when proper disciplinary procedures are followed in the church, the leaders have the right to deny fellowship to the defiant rebel who won’t repent of their major doctrinal, moral, or schismatic failure.

The binding and loosing has to do with the disciplinary decisions being made; God vests a certain authority to the church (cf.1 Corinthians 6:1-8). The gospel truth is that submitting to God means that we also have to submit to one another. This text is no proof that people don’t have to go to church, but rather, this passage is one that speaks directly and clearly to the reality of some kind of formal church organization.  

What Jesus intended, some churches and individuals twist as they neglect the process of church discipline and shun church membership. Thus, certain portions of Jesus’ word (Matthew 18:19-20) are used to justify a lack of obedience to other portions of His word (Matthew 18:15-18). This may seem unimportant to you, but I don’t agree. Martin Luther’s instruction rings true here: it is better to be divided by truth than united by error.  

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