Friday, December 21, 2007
The Pharisees missed Jesus. They were supposed to know the scriptures, and they should have seen how the scriptures pointed to Jesus. Yet, though there are exceptions like the Pharisee Nicodemus, the Pharisees as a whole let Jesus slip through their bloody hands. Paul wrote about taking hold of that for which Jesus took hold of us (Phil 3:12). The Pharisees could have taken hold of Jesus in faith; instead, the signs and scripture that should have convinced them of his identity went right over their heads.
Why? Why would a group of religious leaders be so clueless about Jesus? I think the answer lies in the first encounters that they had with matters regarding Jesus. I say “matters regarding Jesus” because Jesus’ cousin, and more importantly, his forerunner John the Baptist, confronted the Pharisees (he called them poisonous snakes; Matt 3:7) with the need to repent. It would seem they didn’t appreciate the rebuke. And then, John pointed to Jesus as the one to follow. They were not likely to follow anyone recommended by John.
A subsequent encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees was in the vicinity of Matthew’s house. Jesus was there associating with tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees stood on such high moral ground that they couldn’t believe that Jesus was associating with these people of low moral fiber. “Evil companions…,” they thought.
Maybe there are a lot of us who are a lot like the Pharisees. I don’t deal with rebuke very well. I’m not one who retaliates with cross-rebuke; but some of you do. I have a tendency instead to think that if someone sees something wrong in me, something must be wrong with their eyesight. Others walk out of a room or out of life when they are confronted with wrongdoing. Furthermore, there those of us who have grown up believing that something was right or that something was wrong; and we have seen in the life of Jesus or read in his teaching that he believed just the opposite. Our values actually keep us from the life of greatest value. Jesus really is the Truth.
Don’t miss Jesus due to some Pharisee DNA. If you’ve been rebuked by Jesus, repent and live. If you see something in the life of Jesus that challenges your perception of truth, investigate with an open mind and heart to see the world though his eyes – the eyes of the “one and only who came from the Father full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
As the Magi approached where Jesus was, they overflowed with joy. As they gazed on him, they bowed and worshipped. As they considered who he was, they opened their treasures and gave him gifts.
Much has happened since that night of rejoicing and gift giving. Jesus grew up and he submitted to God’s will that he should die on the cross. He resurrected through the Spirit of Holiness and was declared with power to be the Son of God. He received the glory that he had before his incarnation, and now he sits at the right hand of God waiting until he comes again in glory.
Our gifts are offered to Jesus in his glory. There are many gifts that we offer, but like the Magi, we have treasure that we call money. For the benefit of the kingdom and of people we open our treasures and offer gifts to Jesus knowing that when we’ve done if for people, we have done it for him. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, asking them to be motivated by the generous spirit of others to complete an intent to give that was yet uncompleted.
As we consider giving for the year 2008, some questions from Matthew 2 and 2 Corinthians 8 come to mind. Answer these questions for yourself:
1. Does It Reflect Belonging to the Lord or Fearing for Our Own Little Kingdom?
2. Does It Reflect the Gifts We’ve Received?
3. Does It Reflect the Love We Have?
4. If It Is Not As Much As We Would Like To Give, It Is It Growing Toward Our Desire?
That’s Life at Work!
Many of us don’t even take time to read something like this at a time when we can digest it. You may be reading this during a bible class or during the song service, communion, or sermon. Reading it that way, might cause us to miss something significant – after all great things happen in bible class and during our assemblies. Reading it while other in setting where concentration is low might cause you to miss something significant in this article.
“Nothing important is happening right now.” Oh, really? I wonder if the inn keeper ever had a break in the census rush, and thought “Nothing important is happening right now.” We don’t know about the important things, big and small; but we are entangled with the everyday, mundane events.
The Son of God was in the womb of Mary, and Mary’s husband Joseph was knocking on this inn keeper’s door. Nothing in the stories of the birth of Jesus give any indication that Mary and Joseph told anyone the Holy Spirit story to try to get some room in the inn. Yet, don’t you know, that if the inn keeper had just taken a moment to look up from his ledge, he would have seen what the shepherds saw; and he would have done what the shepherds did.
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen… (Luke 2:20).
The Son of God was born in his stable, and we don’t even know his name. I wonder if he ever knew the name of Jesus.
Don’t let the everyday things keep you from seeing or hearing or reading something that is out of the ordinary and out-of-this-world important! That’s Life at Work!
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
It’s been a group thing from the beginning (Acts 2:44-47). Since the church began, mutual encouragement at Sunday gatherings have been a staple. Relationships designed for accountability, reciprocal teaching, and shared ministry are all a part of God’s eternal plan for his group of saved people – the church. Surveys since the 1960s, including a recent one co-sponsored by Leadership Journal (Fall 2007), have revealed that only 19% of people who identify themselves as Christians believe that participation with a local church is important to their Christian walk.
The Hebrews were walking out on the assembly, so they were commanded, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). The reasons for rejecting the communal concept of Christianity are many, but none are good enough. The church in its time of mission, the era in which we now live, will not be perfect – after all, I’m in it. Yet, it is God’s plan – for you and me.
The assembly is not the entirety of your Christian walk, however. There are many who identify themselves as Christians whose Monday walk is quite different from their Sunday confession. Follow Jesus everyday! That’s Life at Work!
Monday, August 20, 2007
It begins with my community.
It begins with my church.
It begins with my family.
It begins with me…and you!
That’s Life at Work.
What would you add to my list?
Thursday, August 02, 2007
9. He embarrasses the self-righteous when they are wrong (15:1-12).
8. He’s small town and too familiar (13:53-58).
7. He’s on the demon’s team (12:22-37).
6. He heals people on Saturday (12:1-14).
5. He hangs around all those sick people (9:9-13).
4. He kills pigs and threatens our livelihood (8:28-34).
3. I’ve got other important things to do (8:21-22).
2. I like my comfort (8:18-20).
1. I think he wants my throne (2:1-12).
They followed him across the lake, but would they continue in discomfort and would they make following him their first priority. I don’t necessarily think about a choice regarding following Jesus in Matthew until the challenge to count the cost and prioritize the responsibilities of Matthew 8:18-22. Earlier in the Matthew account, Matthew himself and the magi seem really eager and Herod is completely resistant. No drama in their choices, at least as Matthew tells it. The teacher/disciple and the other disciple in this discipleship story of Matthew are willing to consider the plunge, but they only have one foot in the water. Now there is drama. Jesus sees the reservation in one; the other admits his reservation without recognizing that it is a problem.
We know his teachings. The source of happiness isn’t what we thought. Real followers have a real impact. Jesus interprets and lives the law perfectly. Murder, adultery, divorce, and promises have more to do with the heart than we thought. Turn the other cheek and love your enemies. Act in a way to gratify God, not impress people. Treasures in heaven are better. Worrying is for pagans. Don’t give pearls to pigs; save your best judgments for those who will appreciate you. God is a great giver and we should be great givers, too.
We know his miracles. He cleansed lepers, healed servants from a distance, and touched the feverish so that they could immediately serve.
We also face the same choice as these people in Matthew 8. The choice isn’t simply, “Will you follow Jesus?” The question is “Will you make following him your first priority and will you keep following regardless of the cost?”
Kenneth Grider said that many Christians follow close enough and long enough to make them decent, but not enough to make them dynamic. Will you follow Jesus first and forever? Will you let him impact you for the dynamic – the abundant – life? That’s Life at Work!
Thursday, July 26, 2007
David and Teresa Ferguson try to help us get the point about paying attention when they write in Devotions for Couples that a wife might say, “I’ve had a really rough day, especially when I went to the shopping mall;” to which too many husbands will respond with a compassionate, “You went to the mall? Did you get that shirt like I asked you?”
Husbands and wives who respond in thoughtless ways like these are not usually, in my experience, rude; they are, well, just thoughtless. The natural tendency of people is to think about themselves. Because it is the natural tendency to think about your own interests first, it takes thought to consider others first.
The sad thing, in this regard, about the state of the American family is that we use our homes as safehomes in which we let our guards down. What I mean is, we let our guards down to the point that we quit practicing the command of Jesus through the Apostle Paul to consider others better than ourselves and to look to the interests of others in addition to our own interests (Phil 2:3-4). We come home from school, work, or play where we have humbly been courteous and considerate; and become discourteous and inconsiderate to our spouses, our parents and our children. And it isn’t because we are choosing to be rude. It is because we quit choosing what to do and we let the natural tendency take over.
So we have to change our minds. I mean literally change our minds. In order for me to be considerate first in my home and then outside my home, I must have the mind of Christ. That’s right. I need a renewing of my mind, so that I begin to think like Jesus all the time, everywhere.
How can you develop the mind of Christ? First, expose yourself often to Jesus in the gospels? Second, be deliberate as you make every effort to add the ways of Jesus to the faith with which you began your Christian walk. Third, pray for the mind of Christ.
The more you develop the mind of Christ, the less thoughtless you will be to your family and to everyone else. That’s Life at Work!
Monday, July 23, 2007
When people face issues of life, often they become aware of their need for God. I’ve heard people say, “I’ve got a God-shaped hole in my heart.” The truth usually is that there is a hole in the heart, something is missing, but it is actually the shape of something God can help with; not actually shaped like God. As a church, which is the body of Christ – meaning that we do his work in this world – we face a dilemma when we want to present Christ as someone who cares about your hunger, your health, your security, and your tears. The dilemma is expressed by N. T. Wright in an interview with Tim Stafford for Christianity Today magazine (Jan 2007). “… If you simply address the God-shaped blank that people think they’ve got, the God you end up with is the God shaped by the blank.”
As a church, like Jesus, we are dying to help you! The greatest help we can be, though, is to show you all of who God is, not just what God can do. If you’ll let him in – and he is knocking – you’ll discover that he is much, much bigger than any hole in your heart can hold! That’s Life at Work!
Thursday, July 19, 2007
My life is a song that I sing to God. My song includes my words, but it is not the sum of my words. If my words are not a reflection of my life, my song of words is vain. If I sing “Take my life and let it be,” yet my day is all about me and not about God, my song of words is meaningless. If my song of words is “If I have wounded any soul today,” yet I am unapologetic and cold, I song is useless. If I sing with my mouth, “I love thy kingdom, Lord,” while I harshly judge my fellow disciples, my song does not bring a smile to God.
The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise-the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased (Heb 13:15-16).
We can bring a smile to the face of God! Does that interest you? We can please him. Is that the desire of your heart? Then sing songs and live a life that proves that what you sing is a true expression of your heart.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
To stress the origin and significance of a section, Paul would sometimes write, “I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you” (1 Cor 11:23; 15:3). The Corinthians failed to recognize a message of authority when they heard it; we do that too, sometimes. While what I say in commentary on a passage is just commentary, the scripture we read is “God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17).
I talk to people all the time about scripture and their approach to it. Many in our community and in our church understand the concept of inspiration and believe the Bible is from God; yet a great number of us don’t respond to the Bible as if it is the message to which we are accountable. Lots of people say the Bible is God’s word and then live like it’s not. Plenty of people will walk out of the auditorium, say something about the truth of the message I have preached, and leave without a bit of change. Including me. That’s why I have begun to engage God’s assembly in sermon time with the recitation of “This is God’s Word to Me.”
Recitations are nothing new to God’s people. Worship in the Old and New Testament era has encourage congregational engagement through antiphony (responsive alteration between two groups – often as part of song) and litany (recitations). Psalm 136 has been used for centuries as a leader among God’s people would read the first line of each verse, and the entire congregation would chant “for his love endures forever.” It is an engaging and powerful reminder of how God’s love is evident in creation and his daily care for his people. Do you think that our generation needs some reminders about how the food every creature receives is evidence of God’s enduring love? Seems to me, we take that for granted.
This kind of recitation is not a violation of passages about worship like 1 Corinthians 14:34 or 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Singing is a congregational activity in which everyone, male and female, participates – even when the song is a prayer put to music (i.e. “Father, Hear the Prayer we Offer”). Recitation of a Psalm or a common pledge is in the same category.
Reciting “This Is God’s Word to Me” is certainly not intended to make anyone uncomfortable, unless the discomfort is because of inattention to God’s authoritative word. Certainly, no one is required to participate in the recital. The intent is to raise awareness that the Bible we are studying reveals the authority of Jesus; and our approach to it must involve our love for the hope it makes known and our determination to be transformed! That’s Life at Work!
This Is God’s Word to Me
It Has the Power to Light My Path
To Judge My Heart
To Convict Me of My Sin
And the Power to Set Me Free
I Will Meditate On God’s Word to Me Day and Night
I Will Search for Its Meaning
I Will Desire the Knowledge It Provides
I Will Receive God’s Word to Me
And I Will Do What It Says
I Expect that My Life Will Be Changed
That Who I Was Before God’s Word, I Will Never Be Again
I Expect to Be Built Up by God’s Word Today
And by the Power of God’s Word I Will Receive the Inheritance of the Holy.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
“When Jesus came into Peter's house, he saw Peter's mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him” (Matt 8:14-15).
You’ve heard me say that our homes are to be evangelistic centers. Let’s call our homes Foundations for Kingdom Explosion! If you and I were to use our homes as the entry points for people to whom we want to give the gift of the gospel, we would have no trouble knowing where to start.
First, as I challenged you a few weeks ago, put your home back in its place as the primary location for discipling your children. Let the church help, certainly, but the church’s role is secondary. Teach your children the good news in your own home.
Next, whoever is in your home on any kind of consistent basis is a great person with whom to begin revealing the gift of Jesus. Teenagers, you’ve got friends who play video games in front of your TV, swim in your pool, jump on your trampoline, crash on your couch, and drink your Dr. Peppers from your refrigerator. Let them open your gift from your hand. You received the gift of eternal life – regift it! Your friends will receive it better in your home!
The people in your home may be your relatives who live close enough to come over regularly. They may be your friends who you invite over for dessert and Bible Study – just the few of you. They may be people you met at church for the first time on a Sunday morning that you invited to your home for a small group study on Sunday night. They may be your golfing buddies or fellow card fanatics. Whoever they are, open your home and open your mouth about Jesus. Make your home your Foundation for Kingdom Explosion.
Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law without anyone asking. She immediately got up and served him. People appreciate it when you care about them enough to help them – it can mean more if you’ll offer before they even ask!
“And freedom, oh freedom well, that’s just some people talkin.’ Your prison is walking through this world all alone…” (Eagles in “Desperado”).
“Some say that freedom's the power to do what one pleases; you can live like the devil or hold on to Jesus…” (Kenny Chesney in “Freedom”).
We can appreciate the sentiment behind each of the ideas of freedom expressed in songs like those. I hope we can appreciate the concept of freedom expressed in scripture. Peter wrote, “They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity-for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning” (2 Peter 2:19-21).
You are a slave to whatever overcomes you; and if what overcomes you doesn’t bring life in the end, then you aren’t free. You can live your life nearly any way that you want, but if you end up in everlasting destruction, you haven’t been free. As a country, we can do nearly anything we want, but if our way doesn’t bring us life in the end, we aren’t free. We are slaves to whatever overcomes us and many are moving toward slavery to sin. Move toward Jesus in whom there is life eternal life! That is freedom! That’s Life at Work!
Friday, March 16, 2007
Some of you continue in sexual immorality. You know that your actions are not pleasing to God, yet you won't repent. With your actions you are saying, "This relationship is better than a relationship with Jesus." Some of you are so enamored by money that you'll do nearly anything to have more. You're unethical, if not a thief; you're a gambler; or maybe just plain covetous or stingy. What you say by your actions is, "The blessings of my possessions are greater to me than the gift from God."
There is surely some "cross bearing" for the Christian in this life, but we consider it all joy to suffer here, to do without here, to resist pleasures of the sinful ways here, if it means heaven later. Every day Jesus asks, "Will you pick up your cross?" (Luke 9:23); and everyday we answer "yes" or "no" by the choices we make from the heart. That’s Life at Work!
Monday, March 12, 2007
“Hope In The Heart Of Darkness: 3.9 Million Dead. 40,000 Raped. Christian Survival In Congo’s Killing Fields.”
“Red Light Rescue: The Business Of Saving Girls From A Life Of Prostitution.”
Those are the front cover stories in some of the most recent Christianity Today magazines. Some readers may initially scoff at the stories because of political influence and abuse, but the problems are real – and so are the people. And they have souls. Our compassion must be equally real!
The dispersed, the persecuted, the hungry, and the enslaved were on the mind of Paul and other disciples as they evangelized the world of their generation. Paul wrote to masters and slaves instructing them about godly treatment, and when he could, strongly encouraged masters to set their servants free (Colossians 3:22-4:1; Philemon 12-16). Slave trading, often involving kidnapping, was specifically condemned by Paul, and Timothy was charged to call his church out of such practice (1 Tim 1:10). When Agabus prophesied about the upcoming famine in the days of Claudius, the disciples were quick to offer their gift of help to their brothers living in Judea.
God is just, and we are to be concerned for those facing injustices, and especially where they cannot help themselves, Christians must step in. We cannot walk by on the other side of road. We cannot stand aside. It looks too much like we are holding coats and giving our approval.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Gal 6:9-10).
What can we do? We can support mission efforts that involve helping the dispersed, the persecuted, the hungry, and the enslaved. We can be more involved with the missions we already support, paying special attention to these hurting human beings. We can read to become more aware of the plight of others, and have our eyes open to the doors God will open for us to help! That’s Life at Work!
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
“Religious readers, on the other hand, assume they have come into the presence of a text with inexhaustible depth. They read with reverence, humility, obedience and the presumption that difficulty in understanding reveals more about their limitations than the excellence or effectiveness of the text. Religious readers incorporate, internalize and memorize texts. They read slowly, hoping not to miss anything.” [“Forming Students Through the Bible,” The Christian Century, (April 18-25, 2001) pp. 16-20].
Since scripture is God’s communication with us, shouldn’t we read it hoping not to miss anything? Scripture has the power to light our paths, soften our hearts, convict our minds, and change our lives in the present and in the future. Don’t pass over it too quickly. Read slowly to incorporate, internalize and memorize. That’s Life at Work!
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
The documentary focuses on a group of boys who are relocated by the U.S. government into an apartment in Houston. After job training, several of the boys head into the workforce, trying to become self-supporting.
In one scene, Peter Kon Dut goes out to lunch with two coworkers from his factory job. Peter talks openly with them about his struggles in America. Over the lunch, Peter unveils deep and piercing insights into American culture—which are all the more fresh since he's only lived in America for one month. Over his first-ever hamburger, Peter says, "I see different things. Everybody is busy. You can't get friends. Time is money—but in Africa, there is no 'time is money.' Everybody is busy here. How am I going to find friends here? I feel like going back and saying, ‘There are no friends here.’” (Edited summary of Bill White, Paramont, CA for Preaching Today)
Notice the similarity of these passages early in Acts:
All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved (Acts 2:44-47).
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them. (Acts 4:32-34).
The church of Jerusalem made a concerted effort to live in unity and with a mutual concern. Though they would experience some problems later when the Hellenistic widows were being neglected, even then the problems were recognized and resolved in a wonderful fashion bringing about incredible results (Acts 6:1-7).
We should follow their example so that no one should ever come crushed by the world and say about their church experience, “I feel like going back and saying, ‘There are no friends here.”
The truth is, it happens. What will we do, what will you do, to ensure that no one will say that when they have been among us. That's Life at Work!
Sunday, February 04, 2007
(1 Tim 6:10). Those of us in “people helping” roles see those who have “pierced themselves with many griefs” way too often. I have seen husbands who spend more time playing cards online than they do with their wives and children, and their marriages are destroyed. Far too many men and women have secretly gambled all their money away and have wrecked their lives and their faith. The National Council on Problem Giving (www.ncpgambling.org) offers self-diagnostic tools to get you thinking about your gambling habit. Here are a few of the questions:
· Have you often gambled longer than you had originally planned?
· Have you often gambled until your last dollar was gone?
· Have thoughts of gambling caused you to lose sleep?
· Have you used your income or savings to gamble while letting bills go unpaid?
· Have you made unsuccessful attempts to stop gambling?
· Have you gambled to get money to meet your financial obligations?
Paul warned us by the Holy Spirit that loving money would bring disaster. Ask yourself these questions, consider what you do to gamble, and remember that you can’t serve God and money (Matt 6:24). That’s Life at Work!
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Is there something that you are working hard to keep covered up? Do you pray the prayer, “Deliver us from evil,” but trust more in your own trickery to deliver instead of trusting in God?
Isn’t it time to drop your defenses, admit the truth, and let the truth set you free? That’s Life at Work!
Saturday, January 27, 2007
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matt 5:6).
In Matthew the person pursuing righteousness wants to be right by doing right, as “right” has been revealed by Jesus. You can’t be right if you follow the Pharisees, they don’t know what’s right. You can be right if you hear Jesus and do what he says. That’s Matthew’s point, and that is Jesus’ point in the Sermon on the Mount.
Most of us know that following Jesus is the right thing. For different reasons perhaps, I believe we end up at other tables too often to eat what he has prepared for us, and the “filling” we get from those tables makes us think we are sufficiently nourished. When we believe we are nourished, our hunger pains are not as noticeable, and we pass by righteousness like we drive by Cracker Barrel because we just ate at IHOP.
Perhaps your time at the table of righteousness has not been satisfying for you. That could be, and you’ll need to evaluate it, because you’ve enjoyed the food from other tables so much, you never really gave the table of righteousness a chance. Tables of sin can deceitfully cover hunger pains for righteousness. That lack of satisfaction could also be that those of us who helped set up the table for Jesus, put something on your plate that we felt like was important; but wasn’t really all that Jesus has prepared for you. We do that sometimes. Sorry. Really.
Jesus said, “But I, when I am lifted up, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). In the context of the table of righteousness, Jesus means that if we sit at his table because we are hungry and thirst for what he has prepared, we will be satisfied.
Time for a hunger check. That’s Life at Work!
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
"Naked I came from my mother's womb,
and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised."
(Job 1:21; NIV)
Whether living in a time of abundance or a time of disaster, we have to remind ourselves that the name of the Lord is worthy of praise – always. God is not more or less deserving of praise because of the circumstances of my life. In abundance I will honor God, and when in loss, I will still honor him in my tears! After all, he is still God. That’s Life at Work!