The Red Words #11 Feb. 19, 2019

Jesus summoned His twelve apostles and imparted to them authority over every demon and the power to heal every disease. Then He commissioned them to preach God’s kingdom realm and to heal the sick to demonstrate that the kingdom had arrived. As He sent them out, He gave them these instructions: “Take nothing extra on your journey. Just go as you are. Don’t carry a staff, a backpack, food, money, not even a change of clothes. Whatever home welcomes you as a guest, remain there and make it your base of ministry. And wherever your ministry is rejected and not welcomed, you are to leave that town and shake the dust off your shoes as a testimony before them.”  Luke 9: 1-5

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Can you imagine the uproar if a young couple from your church announced that they were leaving for the mission field in the very same way that the apostles went out in the text above – no suitcase, no extra clothes, no money?  Can’t you hear the gasps of disbelief?  Why, they must be out of their minds!

Why in the world did Jesus tell His disciples to go on their first missions trip empty-handed?

Certainly He wanted them to walk in faith, trusting God for everything they would need.

But is there more here than meets the eye?

Without a purse you learn to rely on the Lord to fund what He desires. With a purse you check the extent of your own resources, not His.

With a backpack you depend upon the resources you’ve packed. Without a backpack, you have to depend upon the Lord.  Why? To teach endurance and ingenuity that the well-equipped may never learn.

But really – no extra clothes? No underwear? “Travel light,” is the code word for this mission. The disciples are to go from town to town with just the barest of essentials, nothing more.

No staff? For this mission they aren’t even to take a walking stick for protection or comfort. They are to utterly rely on the Lord. There will be plenty of time later to get a staff for future journeys.

Jesus’ instructions to the Twelve to take nothing special for the trip, but just go, was a crash training course.  Sometimes zealous but spiritually insensitive disciples move out before they are properly prepared. The result is usually not pretty.

However, let’s not use this Scripture passage as license to make no preparations for the Lord’s work. It is a training exercise before a live audience, not the last word from Jesus on mission preparedness.

The disciples are also told not to keep moving from one house to another in hopes of finding more comfortable lodgings and better food. They are to be content with the accommodations in the first home they come to, and then they are to get on with their mission of preaching and healing.

Being content with God’s provision is difficult sometimes.  The Lord doesn’t always seem to provide what we “think” we absolutely have to have!  Some of you may have faced a financial reversal or been faced with losing a job. Can you live in contentment rather than worry about food and shelter and clothing? Jesus calls us to do so. “The pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:32-33).

I am a disciple. You are a disciple. Sometimes disciples must endure hardness like good soldiers (2 Timothy 2:3). My prayer for myself is that I might get to the place that God brought Paul:  “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry,whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”  Phil. 4:11-13

Dear friends, has the discipleship training the Lord has brought you into been a place of hardship?

Learn the lesson Jesus would teach you, the secret of being content: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me! Jesus imposed these curious mission rules to bring the Twelve to that realization.

Here is the truth of God’s Word:  “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”  John 15:5

We like our imagined self-sufficiency; we like the illusion of being “self-made” or “self-reliant”.  However, there is no such thing for the disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We are dependent on Him for our very breath!

Teach us, Lord, to depend on You, to trust You, to find all our sufficiency in You.  Deliver us from the delusion that we can do things on our own.  We need you, Jesus. Come and take over; guide us, teach us, change us.

For even You said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. John 8:28

The Red Words #10 February 12, 2019

The apostles gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught.  And He said to them, ‘Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.’ For there were many people coming and going and they did not even have time to eat.  Mark 6:30-31

The disciples have just returned from their very first ‘outreach program’. He had sent them out on a mission (Mark 6:7 – 13). They were eminently successful (vs. 13). Upon their return to Jesus they told him of all they had done (vs. 30), and the Lord response was ‘Come away…and rest awhile.’

It’s noteworthy that he doesn’t welcome them back with effusive praise or pats on the back. Perhaps that seems strange to some of us, accustomed as we are to our “age of affirmation.”

Nor does he correct them or conduct an evaluation of their work, as one might expect from a teacher.

Rather, Jesus looks deeper and sees their need. His emissaries are tired; worn out by the constant coming and going of the crowds that follow them everywhere they go. The Lord understands that this is not the time for praise or critique.  Jesus invites them instead to come away, to find a place of solitude with Him, and to rest. Teaching and correction can come later. First, they needed rest.

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There is a lesson in wisdom here for all of us.  Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes that ‘there is a time for everything under the sun.’  We live in a culture that is overtaken by frenzied activity, so much so that according to one doctor I heard speak, excessive activity has become a national epidemic.  He was advocating exactly what Jesus did with the disciples; i.e., today’s overly busy people need to learn to rest. You cannot do well without times of not doing.

But what exactly did Jesus mean by ‘rest’?  Was He just saying, ‘Let’s get away from these crowds so we can sleep 12-14 hours’?  I don’t believe so, for rest is more than sleep.

We sort of know that, but we don’t really.  Our lifestyles testify to it as our nights get shorter and shorter.  ‘Just one more thing…’ or ‘Got to check my email – or Facebook – one more time before I go to bed…’  Information technology has become a thief of our much needed rest.

But beyond even that, this isn’t just about sleep;  it is about a change of pace, a space of time for quiet, for solitude and for prayer. When Jesus said, ‘Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, for I will give you rest,’ He was talking about much more than an eight hour sleep at night!  Our inner man desperately needs rest and physical sleep, as important as that is, is but one part of the whole picture.

Rest for our souls is accessed in the presence of the Lord.  Notice: Jesus didn’t send the twelve away to a hotel while He went elsewhere!  He called them to join Him in a period of spiritual as well as physical rest.

How many of you have gone away for five days and on day four, when it’s time to pack to go home, you say to your spouse or friend, ‘I’ve just finally relaxed enough to enjoy this and it’s time to go already?’

Let’s be honest: Trying to fit 36 hours of productivity into an 8-10 hour workday on a regular basis will burn you out! Such frenetic activity dulls our senses and we become deaf to the still small Voice of the Holy Spirit whispering to us, ‘Stop awhile and sit quietly in My presence. Your inner man needs to rest and re-group.’

And if we’re blessed enough to have someone in our lives who urges us to take a break,  our addiction to hyperactivity resists the good advice of a loved one.  Come on – ‘fess up! You know it’s true!

There is a spiritual truth that is also a psychological truth: More is accomplished in a shorter time by a person whose inner being is at peace. 

I love how Psalm 37:7 is rendered in the Passion Translation:

Quiet your heart in His presence and pray; keep hope alive as you long for God to come through for you; and don’t think for a moment that the wicked in their prosperity are better off than you.

Making time to rest not only your body, but also your soul is of paramount importance in this day and age. That is the beauty of the Sabbath.  God invites us to “unplug” from our daily life, get quiet, turn our attention to Him, and breathe in His peace.

The emails will still be there thirty minutes from now.  Mute the phone, close the laptop and take what I call a “Spirit-Break”.  It may be five minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes or more.  Let the presence of the Lord give rest to your body, renew your mind and put you back in touch with the Holy Spirit who dwells in your spirit.

If high-powered engineers can stop and take 15 minute “power naps” – and they do – then you and I can certainly take 15 minute “power breaks” with Jesus.

I hope you find a few moments today to “come away” and rest a while. You need it…more than you realize. You will be better for it afterward and so will everybody around you.

Jesus is waiting….

The Red Words #9 Feb. 4, 2019

And He was giving orders to them, saying, ‘Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.’  Mark 8:15

Every woman who’s ever baked bread from scratch knows that without yeast, the bread will come out flatter than a pancake. Yeast is the secret to making bread rise.  Interestingly, it takes only a little yeast to make dough rise and produce a delicious, fragrant loaf of bread.  There’s nothing quite like the aroma of fresh bread in my kitchen.

In the verse above, Jesus uses this natural image to teach a spiritual lesson. It’s not surprising since He had just fed 4000 people with just 7 loaves of bread!  When the disciples first hear this warning, they misunderstand and think He wanted them to bring onto the boat enough bread for all of them.  Instead, Jesus is taking advantage of what they just witnessed to teach them an important lesson.

Since it only takes a small amount of yeast or other leavening agent to transform an entire lump of dough, Jesus warns His disciples – and us – that it takes only a little bit of what the Pharisees and Herod have to offer to ruin a person.

Ruin a person?  Isn’t that a big strong?

Well, no. The leaven of the Pharisees was hypocrisy, a rigorous religious legalism which they imposed on others but which they would not keep themselves.  Their emphasis was on external correctness regarding rituals and the traditions of men.  This emphasis emphasized a ‘works’ mentality and taught that only by keeping every rule to the extreme would a person be righteous in God’s sight.

Jesus described the Pharisees and those who were their disciples as THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.  Matt. 15:8

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We could say it this way: religion, defined as external performance of one’s beliefs, had become more important to them than relationship with God.  That is not to denigrate the doing of good works but rather to underscore that what God is looking at is our heart, our motivation.

Jesus made the concept very clear in the Sermon on the Mount.  Here is just one of several examples:  You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  Matt. 5:27  Sin begins in the mind and it is possible to sit in church week after week and go through the motions, but have your heart far from God.  THAT is what the leaven of the Pharisees produces in a life.  It looks good on the outside but inside is what Jesus referred to as ‘dead men’s bones.’

What was the leaven of Herod?  Herod was meticulous in keeping the laws of Rome while he, himself, lived an immoral and debauched life. The leaven of Herod involves an exalting of civil law above God’s moral law – that is, putting man’s law above God’s law.  The deeper issue is fearing man more than fearing God.

The Bible says that the fear of man is a snare but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.  Prov. 29:25

Seen through that lens, the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod have the same root – fear of what other people think and allowing that fear to dictate our behavior.  The Pharisees intimidated the people into a suffocating, legalistic rule-keeping; Herod intimidated the people by threatening them with cruel Roman reprisals for breaking Rome’s laws.  In both cases, the people were held hostage by fear – the fear of how they appeared to others and fear of what men would do to them for transgressing.

The Gospel offers a different message: LOVE, not fear, is to be the motivation of all we do – love of God first and foremost, and love of others. Jesus said, But go and learn what this means, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.  Matthew 9:13

Simply stated, hypocrisy is pretending to be something you’re not.  Hypocrisy is closely related to fear of man because that fear of what people think is often at the root of a hypocrite’s decisions and behavior.

Paul wrote to the Galatians: It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.  Gal. 5:1

Allowing the opinion of others to dictate your behavior is a form of slavery.   Brothers and sisters, we have been set free from ALL slavery to love the Lord our God with a passionate and abandoned love.

Let us ask the Lord to turn His searchlight on our souls and if He finds any hypocrisy or fear of other people’s opinions, let us ask Him to forgive us and to cleanse us from every vestige of entrapment.