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

hypocrisy

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.

 

The Red Words #8 Jan. 28, 2019

Yes, I know – there was no post last Tuesday :-((  I’m sorry.  I spent last Tuesday in four different airports and on four different airplanes on my way back to Israel from the USA.  So….not terribly conducive to writing something inspirational!

This week, let’s go to Mark 5: 1-20 and talk about the Tombstone Terrorist and see how Jesus dealt with him.

Having reached the area of the Gerasenes (or Gadarenes) on the east side of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus and the disciples stepped out of the boat near a cemetery.  No sooner had they landed, a man who looked and acted more like a wild animal than a man, came running towards Him.

Now this poor fellow was a mess.  Nobody could control him, even when they tried to bind him with chains.  He broken them off as if they were paper.

He was possessed not by one single devil, but a ‘legion’ – several thousand, if you can imagine.  He lived in a cemetery at a time when corpses were buried in caves.  He screamed and yelled all the time, day and night and his body was covered with scars and blood for he cut himself with stones.  Did he do so to try to escape his desperate condition? Who knows?  But for sure, he was a pitiful but also terrifying sight to all around him.  People from the nearest village kept their children away from him.  They avoided him at all costs and hated to hear his shrill, blood-curdling screams.

Nobody wanted to be anywhere near him….no one except Jesus.  Jesus made a special trip across the sea and calmed a storm on the way in order to deliver this one man who wasn’t even a Jew.

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Running toward the Lord, this man who terrorized the entire region, cried out, ‘Leave me along, Jesus, Son of the most High God! Swear in God’s name that you won’t torture me!’ And the text adds: [For Jesus had already said to him, ‘Come out of that man, you demon spirit!’]

Jesus said to him: ‘What is your name?’

‘Mob’ he answered.‘They call me Mob because there are thousands of us in his body!’

Jesus sent the demons into the herd of pigs nearby.  The horde of demons drove some two thousand pigs down the hillside into the sea where they drowned.  Afterwards the townspeople – incredibly – asked Jesus to leave their region.

As Jesus prepared to leave, the former demonic ‘terrorist’, now fully clothed and in his right mind, said to Jesus, ‘Could I go with you?’  But Jesus answered, ‘Go back to your home and to your family and tell them what the Lord has done for you.  Tell them how he had mercy on you.

So the man left and went throughout the area, even into Syria and Jordan to tell everyone he met about what Jesus had done for him and all the people were amazed.

There are four things about what Jesus did and said here that I want us to look at for a moment.

First, the Compassion of Jesus: Though everyone else feared and fled from this demonized man, Jesus went toward him.  The Lord cared about his condition and went out of His way to do something about it.  What Jesus did for this man assures you and me that NO ONE is too far gone for the Lord.  NO ONE is beyond the mercy and compassion of Jesus – NO ONE.  If there’s anybody you know that looks like a hopeless case, they’re not. Jesus is not only able, but willing, to deliver ANYBODY.  He’ll even go out of His way to where they are!

You know why? Because when we see a drunkard, Jesus sees a future disciple.  When we see a drug addict, Jesus sees a future preacher.  When we see a prostitute, Jesus sees a future Lydia or Priscilla or Mary Magdalene.  Jesus sees people with a different set of eyes than we do – we need to learn to see with His eyes!

Secondly, the Confrontation of Jesus: notice that the man everyone ran away from, ran toward Jesus!  The demons that drove him away from all other relationships on that day drove Him towards the only relationship that could save him from his desperate situation.  My friends, there is NO demon – NONE – that can stand against our Savior.  Every spirit is subject to the Lord Jesus Christ and they recognize His authority, sometimes more than humans do!  If you’re ever tempted to think that the devil is ‘winning’ in a situation in your life or in the world at large, think again!  Jesus alone is King of all Kings and Lord of all Lords.

Thirdly, the Command of Jesus: No religious ritual delivered this man from his misery. No psychologist, no psychiatrist, no priest and no program.   There is only one solution to the problem of evil: His name is Jesus.  One word from Jesus and the man was set free!

Fourthly, the Miracle of Jesus: Jesus changed him, clothed him and calmed him.  The cemetery terrorist was seated, clothed and in his right mind when the villagers came out to see what had happened.  What a magnificent picture of what the Lord can do for every lost soul.  Salvation changes us, clothes us with His righteousness and gives us His peace.

How did the Lord do that? By starting from the inside out.  He delivered the man’s soul from a legion – thousands – of devils that tormented him inwardly day and night. The result was that he was then able to clean up, get dressed and sit calmly, listening to Jesus.

And…not only was he healed and delivered, Jesus actually commissioned him to ‘go and tell everyone what the Lord has done for you.’  And he did.

We don’t know this man’s name; we don’t know his family background, how long he lived after his deliverance or how many people he brought to the Lord.  We’ll only  learn those details when we get to heaven.

But his testimony speaks to every generation, right down to ours, that Jesus, and He alone, is Savior, Deliverer, Healer and Redeemer.  No one – NO ONE – is too hard for the Lord.

If you’re trusting God for the salvation of a loved one, a neighbor, a co-worker, etc., let this man’s miraculous transformation encourage and inspire your faith to new heights.

Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and forever!

The Red Words #7 January 15, 2019

“He [Jesus] said to them, ‘Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed? Instead, don’t you put it on its stand? For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear. Consider carefully what you hear,’ he continued. ‘With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.’  Mark 4:21-25 NASB

Now let’s look at the same passage in the Passion Translation:

He also gave them this parable: ‘No one lights a lamp only to place it under a basket or under the bed. It is meant to be placed on a lampstand. For there is nothing hidden that won’t be disclosed, and there is no secret that won’t be brought out into the light. If you understand what I’m saying, then you need to respond!’ Then He said to them, ‘Be diligent to understand the meaning behind everything you hear, for as you do, more understanding will be given to you. And according to the depth of your longing to understand, much more will be added to you.  For those who listen with open hearts will receive more revelation. But those who don’t listen with open hearts will lose what little they think they have.’

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In the Bible, light and truth are two sides of the same coin. They always go together. Our daily prayer should be Psalm 43:3 which says, ‘Pour into me the brightness of your daybreak! Pour into me your rays of revelation-truth! Let them comfort and gently lead me onto the shining path, showing the way into your burning presence, into your many sanctuaries of holiness.’ TPT

I’ve talked with venerable saints in their 80’s and 90’s and they all testify that the more of God’s Word they learn, the more they are convinced that they will continue learning for all eternity.  God’s Word is like an onion. As you peel back layer after layer, there is always more to uncover of His revelation truth.  We will always be students of the Word of God. He keeps giving us more light and more truth.

We all know it’s vital that we learn God’s Word, but why?

Proverbs 20:27 answers that question: ‘The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD,
searching all the innermost parts of his being.’

The Spirit of God indwells your spirit and from within you, therefore, the Word of God searches or impacts your soul – your mind, your will, your emotions.   This is how the process of maturing in Christ takes place.  As the Word of God changes your attitudes, your perceptions and your way of living, you are being transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus.

The result is that, as a disciple of Jesus, you are His lamp – a vessel of His light that’s meant to shine His truth to everyone around you by the way you speak and behave.

For a lamp to be of any use, it has to be connected to an electrical source and turned on.  Otherwise it is just a pretty ornament in the corner of the room!

The Lord is not looking for pretty ornaments, but  for ‘lamps’ that light up the atmosphere.  You were ‘plugged in’ and ‘turned on’ when you gave your life to Jesus.  He, who IS Light, dwells in you and the more of His Word that you learn and apply in your life, the brighter you shine!

In keeping with His exhortation, we are to ‘Be diligent to understand the meaning behind everything you hear, for as you do, more understanding will be given to you. And according to the depth of your longing to understand, much more will be added to you.’

Listening to wonderful men and women of God teach His Word, I have often marveled at their insight and understanding into portions of the Word that were not clear to me.  When that happens, it testifies to me that they have invested an abundance of time in the Word, meditating and studying to receive from the Holy Spirit treasures hidden away in the verses at hand.  For those who listen with open hearts will receive more revelation. But those who don’t listen with open hearts will lose what little they think they have.’

Studying the Word of God is much more than an intellectual exercise.  It is first and foremost a conversation with the Spirit of God Who inspired the Book. To study the Word is much more than reading the words on the page; it is more a matter of listening while you read – listening not to an audible voice but to the still, small Voice within.  For those who listen with open hearts will receive more revelation…

In these words to His disciples, the Lord Jesus taught them – and us – that studying and learning the Word of God is like no other realm of study.  We invest time in His Word in order to be transformed into His image and likeness; we invest time in His Word in order to be challenged, pruned, corrected and re-directed.  That is how we are able to retain what we learn – by studying His Word for the right reason and with the right purpose.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians: ‘Knowledge puffs up but love edifies.’  I Cor. 8:1b   It is the spirit of the Pharisee that flaunts knowledge above virtue.

May we never be found in that company but rather, may we ‘study to show ourselves approved’ and diligently apply to our daily lives every truth we learn from God’s precious Word so that we may be part of the company who continually receive increasing revelation and insight and thereby live in a manner that delights the heart of Our Heavenly Father.

 

The Red Words #6. Jan. 8, 2019

Mark 3: 23-28

And He came home, and the crowd gathered again, to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. When His own people heard of this, they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, “He has lost His senses.” The scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.” And He called them to Himself and began speaking to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but he is finished! But no one can enter the strong man’s house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house.

 Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” 

We don’t often hear sermons about this passage yet how important it is to the Lord’s disciples.

Crowds were gathering wherever Jesus went, and most notably when He came home to Capernaum.  And of course, the Pharisees were there – they always were – and they were accusing Jesus of casting out demons by the power of satan.

In His answer Jesus begins with a pointed question: How can Satan cast out Satan? You would think that the Pharisees would have said ‘DUH’! But they didn’t.

Jesus continued by explaining that if demons were cast out by the power of the devil, then satan was fighting against himself! And if that were true, satan’s kingdom would quickly disintegrate.

As a house divided against itself cannot stand, so neither could the kingdom of satan continue to exist if one evil spirit was fighting another evil spirit in their quest to possess the minds and bodies of men and women.

We recognize the wisdom of that principle in the life of a nation or a community.  Division wreaks havoc.

But have you thought of it this way?

Do you not know that your body is a temple [house] of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?  I Cor. 6:19

The worst division of all in the life of a disciple of Jesus is the division within oneself.  To say it another way, the worst division of all is when your soul is in a state of war with your spirit.

The soul is comprised of your mind, will and emotions. The spirit is the eternal part of you, where the Spirit of God dwells in you.  Therefore the body and the soul are the ‘house’ in which your spirit is host to the Spirit of God.  If your ‘house’ is at war with your ‘spirit’, chaos disrupts your relationship with the Lord, as well as your inner peace, joy and fruitfulness.  To make it simple: when your selfishness overrules what the Word of God calls you to be, you are at war with yourself whether you acknowledge it or not.

Paul expounded on this truth: For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. Romans 8:5-9

So how do we keep from living in a state of ‘war’ within ourselves?  Look at what Jesus said next.

No one can enter the strong man’s house and plunder his property unless he first binds the strong man, and then he will plunder his house.  Mark 3:27

overcomers

Jesus acknowledges that satan is ‘strong’ but there is One Who is stronger – Jesus Himself.  After His death on Calvary, Jesus invaded satan’s dwelling (hell) and by the power of His shed blood, Jesus bound ‘the strong man’ and ‘plundered his house.’  Then He preached to the Old Testament saints waiting in Sheol, was raised from the dead and they after Him (Matt. 25) and shortly thereafter ascended into heaven and was enthroned as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

It is because Jesus ALREADY entered the strong man’s house and ALREADY bound the enemy and plundered his property, that you and I are empowered to live this life in the peace and victory of Jesus Himself who did only what He saw the Father do and spoke only what He heard the Father speak.  Jesus lived from His Spirit, not from His flesh, so that we might be empowered to do the same.

News flash! The war has been won!

Our thoughts, our emotions and our choices (our will) CAN and MUST operate in submission to the Word of God and the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit within our spirits.  The Spirit of God will never tell you to do something that is not in keeping with the Word of God.

Sadly, the Pharisees just didn’t get it!  But we must.

For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.  I John 3:8

He did it for us. ‘It is finished’.  There is grace for each of us to live a ‘united’ life and to be free of the chaos of division within our own beings.

Praise the name of the Lord!

 

 

The Red Words #5 Jan. 1, 2019

Blessings abundant to all of you, my friends, as this new year begins.  May this year find us getting deeper into the Word of God and closer than ever to the Lord Jesus.

Jesus hardly went anywhere without being watched by the Pharisees!  Mark records that one day Jesus was walking through the grain fields with His disciples and as they walked, the disciples picked some of the grain for they were hungry.  On seeing this, the Pharisees immediately seized upon the opportunity to level an accusation against Jesus, albeit cloaked in a ‘loaded’ question.

The Pharisees were saying to Him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath? And He [Jesus] said to them: ‘Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he gave it to those who were with him? 

Jesus said to them, The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.  So the Son of Man is Lord, even of the Sabbath.  Mark 2:24-28

grain

There was nothing wrong with what the disciples did, because their gleaning was not considered stealing according to the Torah (Deut. 23:25) The issue with the Pharisees was only about the day on which they did it.  They had created an extensive list of “dos” and “don’ts” related to the Sabbath, and this action violated one of the items on their list.

Jesus never violated God’s command to observe the Sabbath or approved of His disciples violating God’s command to observe the Sabbath.  However, He often broke man’s legalistic additions to the Torah for the same Torah that the Pharisees claimed they followed, commanded that nothing be added or taken away from God’s law:

You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.  Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32

By developing a long list of requirements and prohibitions and imposing them strictly on the people, the Pharisees themselves violated the commandment of Deuteronomy by raising their traditions to the level of inspired Scripture!   It is THIS which Jesus refuted and refused to tolerate.

And in referring to David’s use of the “holy bread” in I Samuel 21:1-6, Jesus showed an important principle – human need is more important than religious ritual.

This is exactly what many people, steeped in tradition, simply cannot accept: that what God really wants is mercy before sacrifice (Hosea 6:6); that love toward others is more important than religious rituals (Isaiah 58:1-9); that the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart; these, O God, You will not despise (Psalm 51:17

Jesus addressed this problem at another time: He was also saying to them, You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. Mark 7:9

The Lord then went on to declare that He was the Lord of the Sabbath. If He, the very Lord of the Sabbath, was not offended by His disciple’s actions, then these legalistic traditionalists should not have been offended either.

Jesus had already confronted this same issue in Jerusalem as recorded in John, chapter 5.  There was a pool by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem where the sick, the blind and the crippled gathered for there was a tradition that an angel of God periodically came down and stirred the waters and the first person in the pool after the stirring would be healed.  Jesus, in obedience to His Father, walked into the pool area one day, stopped in front of one individual who had been ill for 38 years and healed him.  Then Jesus turned around and left.

John adds: The man became well, picked up his pallet, began to walk. Now, it was the Sabbath on that day.

And of course, guess who’s watching?  The Pharisees said to the man who was healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet.” 

Talk about insensitivity! The man had been ill for THIRTY-EIGHT YEARS! Longer than Jesus had been on the earth!!!  After such a lengthy illness, should not everyone, including the Pharisees, been rejoicing at the blessing of healing this man received?

Thirty-eight years and this man finally could get up and walk and carry his bed and you, Pharisees, make an issue out of the fact that it’s the Sabbath and you’re not supposed to be carrying something?  Seriously! Really!

But he answered them, “He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk.”  The point he’s making is “Look, if this man has power over disease, then he has an authority clearly greater than yours. And when he said walk, I walked.”

Now look at vs. 16: For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus because He was doing these things on the Sabbath.  Wow! So it’s horrible to heal somebody on the Sabbath?

Sabbath tradition was their domain and they were fanatical, way beyond Scripture. Scripture gives no restrictions for the Sabbath other than refraining from work. But the rabbinical system had  invented endless, impossible rules and restraints for Sabbath conduct, and enforced every one of those rules as strictly as possible.

Throughout His ministry, Jesus constantly challenged always people to choose between His gospel of humility, repentance, grace and faith and the legalistic system of self-righteous works and performance that led to pride. The choice is still the same.

The Sabbath was made for rest and blessing and joy and mercy and compassion and the meeting of needs. There wouldn’t be a better day in the week to heal somebody. There wouldn’t be a better day in the week to provide food than the Sabbath.

“The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

He is Lord of the Sabbath because He is God made manifest in flesh.  He designed this day. He is the Creator. Doesn’t John say that at the beginning of his gospel? “Everything made was made by Him, and without Him was not anything made.” So it was He, Jesus, who ceased to work, it was He, Jesus, who rested. It was He, Jesus, who ordained this day to be blessed and separated from work.  He is LORD of the Sabbath….and of every minute of every hour of every day He gives us to live.

When all is said and done, the fundamental, unchangeable issue is this:  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your resources and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. 

Jesus declared that on these two commandments the entire Torah rested.  Therefore, it is love for God and love for your fellow man that overrules every tradition created in the minds of men.

The Red Words #4 12/18/2018

No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the mew piece pulls away from the old and the tear is made worse.  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine is spilled and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.  Mark 2:21-22

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Any time we are seeking to understand a scripture passage, we must first examine what was going on with the people directly involved.  Just before speaking the words above, Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s home – the account we considered last week. The fact that Jesus was associating with notorious sinners was in and of itself a scandal to the religious crowd. But apparently this gathering was on a day that the Pharisees and John’s disciples normally fasted. These disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees were therefore questioning Jesus about why His disciples didn’t keep the traditional fast days imposed by rabbinic decree.

As you read the Gospels, you quickly see that conflict surrounded Jesus much of the time.

In chapter 1 Jesus is confronted with the temptation of Satan and the dangers of the wilderness and wild animals; in Capernaum he attends synagogue and is confronted with a demon possessed synagogue member.

In ch. 2 Jesus heals a paralyzed man but forgives his sin publicly first, thus causing the  Pharisees to accuse him of blaspheming God. Now he has the audacity to choose a tax collector as a disciple and to actually eat with all those nasty sinners, and on a fast day no less!  Jesus is just plain irritating to the Pharisees.

Now Jesus explains why his disciples do not fast by saying there is no fasting at a wedding banquet and follows that declaration with a parable about patches and old garments.  The Pharisees readily understood about the wineskins; new wine expands and if the skins it is put into for fermentation are old, they’ll burst as the wine expands. Remember, there were no synthetic fabrics in the ancient world.  When you washed anything made of cloth, it shrank.

But what is the wedding stuff?  What in the world is He saying?

In parable language, Jesus announces that He is bringing something entirely new onto the scene –  the Kingdom of God –  which, by the way, will not fit in with the man made religious traditions of the elite.  His coming to earth can be likened to a wedding.  It is the beginning of an entirely new life for all who heed the call of the Gospel.

Jesus then made crystal clear that what He’s preaching is completely opposite of what the Pharisees are preaching. What the Pharisees preached was that you work your own way to heaven by doing enough good works to convince God that He should let you into heaven when you die.  (As a friend of mine said once, ‘Good luck with that!‘)

The message of Jesus is so different, so opposite: He not only offers forgiveness to the worst of sinners but He actually is comfortable enough to sit down to a meal with them! This is an outrage to the Pharisees. And so on the heels of that act in regard to Matthew, Jesus now spells out just exactly how incompatible His message is with the establishment’s religious views.  In this confrontation with the Pharisees, Jesus makes abundantly clear that there is no mixing of the old ways of legalism with the coming of the Kingdom, for salvation by grace through faith is a brand new garment.

The Pharisees should have quickly related what He was saying to something they knew from the prophet, Ezekiel:

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Ezekiel 36:26-27

But they didn’t.  They had it backwards.  Their teaching was comprised of a legalistic and harsh keeping of rules and with His parable, Jesus declares the absolute incompatibility of the gospel with any words-based religious system.

Man’s sinfulness could not be ‘patched up’ with a few good works; mankind was in dire need of a brand new start – the gospel of repentance and forgiveness by grace made available through the precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But lest anyone misunderstand, let’s be clear. The old garment is not God’s Torah, it’s not the Old Testament.  The old garment is the religious system of rituals and traditions devised by man.  It is the religion of human self-righteousness and pieces of the gospel can never be stitched into it.

Make no mistake about it – the Pharisee-spirit is alive and well today.  Human nature likes independence, self-sufficiency, pride of achievement.  We are all the proverbial two year old who says, “I can do it myself!!!”

However, that doesn’t work when it comes to salvation or holiness.  No, my dear friend, you can’t do it yourself!  Jesus said, “Without Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

I cannot save myself; and I cannot sanctify myself.  For it is God who is at work in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.  Philippians 2:13  Yes, He does the work in us; all He asks is that we acknowledge our complete dependence on Him and live grateful for His grace.

This Christmas season, may we all be renewed in the wonderment of His amazing grace!

 

The Red Words #3 12/11/2018

In Mark 2:14, Jesus passed by the tax booth and called Levi to follow Him.  Levi (later known as Matthew) got up immediately and went after Jesus.  Later that day, Jesus entered Levi’s house for a meal.  Many of the tax collectors – Levi’s friends, no doubt, and others identified simply as ‘sinners’ – had gathered and joined in the meal.

Never far away from where Jesus was, the Pharisees and the scribes looked on with disdain and sneered, ‘Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?’

Hearing them, Jesus replied, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”  Mark 2:17

Have you ever thought to yourself, ‘Why would God ever use me? I’ve messed up so much.’  But what if God’s interest in using you in His kingdom is not based on your performance but on His sovereign choice?  What if, despite your mistakes in life, God still believes in you and calls you to a close relationship with Him?  What if you didn’t have to be “good enough” for God? What if God took care of that for you? What if God called ordinary sinners to Himself rather than perfect people?

That is precisely what this passage in Mark 2 is all about. Jesus called into His inner circle an ‘outcast’ in the eyes of the religious folks. And that is good news!

In those days, tax collectors were deeply despised by the Israelites. Even today, most of us are not fond of bill collectors or the IRS.  Back then, it was worse. Tax collectors had power to extract money from the people for the Roman government, and they were allowed to keep a percentage for themselves.  Corruption was rampant.

Furthermore, Levi was a Jew which made it even worse! His fellow Israelites looked upon any Jew who worked for the Romans as a traitor, especially the tax collectors. They were excommunicated from the synagogues along with their entire families.

So for Jesus to call a tax collector was not only unexpected by unthinkable in the minds of the religious crowd.

Jesus addressed their attitude directly and without apology.  “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Levi was a sinner.  Jesus called him, and Levi got up and followed him.  Understand that this was no small thing.  If things didn’t go well for Peter and Andrew or for James and John they could always go back to fishing.

Not so for Levi.  A tax collector’s job was hard to come by and if you lost that job, you’d never get it back. Besides that, just having ‘tax collector’ in your resume would disqualify you for almost any job thereafter!

When Levi got up from his tax booth, it was a one way ticket.  He knew what he was doing. That’s why Luke reports this event by saying, ‘Levi left everything to follow Christ. (Luke 5:28)

LeviTax

It was the Pharisees who weren’t too happy with this. They pulled the disciples aside and asked them, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” This was not an innocent question but an outright accusation.  They went nuts. This was a scandal worthy of the gossip columns! This broke all their rules.  You didn’t eat with Gentiles. You didn’t associate with sinners. This was as big a scandal to them as your pastor hanging out at the local bar.

The opening chapters of Mark expose a growing escalation of hostility towards Jesus on the part of the Jewish religious leaders.  In verse 6 of this chapter the teachers of the law simply thought accusing thoughts about Jesus in their minds. (Mark 2:6) Now here in verse 16 they speak out, but just to Jesus’ disciples. (Mark 2:16) In verse 24 they address Jesus directly (Mark 2:24), and by the time you get to chapter 3 they begin plotting to kill him (Mark 3:6). That’s quite a progression in a very short time!

Jesus welcomed sinners, and the Pharisees were disgusted by them.  Jesus accepted those whom the Pharisees deemed unacceptable. In fact, He declared those were the ones He came for!

Don’t you love the way sinners flocked to Jesus in the gospels? They obviously felt comfortable with Him;. they felt loved and accepted. They were attracted to His teachings and Jesus was obviously glad to be with them.

What about us? Do we have the attitude of Jesus?  Are we as concerned as He was about  ‘sinners’? About those who don’t know about Him, about the good news of His salvation?

Most people’s lives revolve around three places. Work, home, and what I call ‘third places’ – places we go outside of work and home. For many Christians, the church and church activities become their only ‘third’ place.

But our non-believing friends in the community have different third places. And if we never intersect with them in their third places, how will we ever communicate Christ to them?

We need to meet the people of our community where they are – at work and in our homes and in their ‘third’ places and share Christ’s love with them through friendship. Jesus is a friend of sinners.  A doctor who avoids the sick isn’t much of a doctor.

In no way am I advocating that you go to the local bar.  But there are plenty of acceptable places to interact with our neighbors, our co-workers and the general public.  As we go about our daily life, let’s not be so busy that we don’t even notice the people around us.

Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to make us sensitive and aware of others; to make us sensitive to His inner prompting to smile at this one, or speak to that one. Sometimes all it takes to open a door for the Gospel is to have a cup of coffee with a neighbor.

“It is not those who are healthy who need a physician but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Jesus called sinners to follow him. He called sinners to fellowship with him. Jesus called sinners to repentance.

Freely have you received His gift of salvation; freely give it away.

And what better time than right now.

 

 

 

 

 

The Red Words #2 12/04/18

Welcome back to our study of the “RED WORDS” in the Gospel of Mark.  We are still in chapter 1 so let’s proceed.

1:16-18 And as He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ They immediately left their nets and followed Him.

firstdisciples

Simon and Andrew woke up that morning – like they did every other morning – expecting an ordinary day of fishing.  It was how they made their living.  They were skilled, most likely having begun to fish as young teenagers, probably trained by their father.  That was how young boys in that day were prepared for adulthood.  It would seem from the context of the Gospel at large that Simon and Andrew were well into adulthood so they’d probably been fishing for some years.  Peter had a mother-in-law, you will remember; which means he had a wife and historical records indicate he had at least one daughter.

Jesus was relatively unknown at the time.  He had very recently left Nazareth and moved to Capernaum.  There is no indication in the text that He had preached yet or worked any miracles along the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

Had Simon and Andrew met the newcomer to the area?  Had they heard about Him in any way?

If all we had was the Gospel of Mark, we might think that they hadn’t, but John’s Gospel fills in some details for us by recording an event from several months earlier.

Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked upon Jesus as He walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.   And Jesus turned, and beheld them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” And they said to Him, “Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are You staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” They came therefore and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.  He found first his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). John 1:35-42 (NASB)

So in fact, they had met Jesus earlier.  Andrew had been a follower of John the Baptist and after John testified about Jesus, Andrew and another unnamed disciple of John’s had spend a day with Jesus.  Andrew was clearly moved and on returning home to the Galilee went to his brother and told him about Jesus.  Not only that, but he ‘brought him to Jesus’.

Was that in Capernaum? Or elsewhere?  We don’t know, but from John’s Gospel we learn that clearly Simon and Andrew had met Jesus previously and had been sufficiently moved, touched, attracted that when He passed by them on the shores of the Galilee and called them, their response was immediate.

Mark adds in the next verses that the same day, shortly after calling Simon and Andrew, Jesus passed by another boat where three more fishermen, Jacob (James) and John, along with their father, Zebedee, were mending nets.  Jesus called the two sons and again ‘immediately…they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and went after Him.’  vs. 20

So Peter and Andrew had already come to believe in Jesus as the promised Messiah for they had accepted John’s declaration that the Messiah had come. But after their early encounters with Him, they had apparently returned to their work in Galilee.

We have here an illustration of the difference between being a believer and a disciple.

Peter and Andrew believed John’s testimony – they were ‘believers’ but it had not changed their lives.  Some months had gone by since that early encounter and now instead of Simon and Peter going to where Jesus was, He came to where they were and called them to follow Him – to become ‘disciples’.

Many Christian teachers use the term “disciple” as synonymous with the word ‘Christian’. There is a difference.  How does a person become a Christian? The answer is simple – A person becomes a Christian by faith in the redemptive and atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ – His life, death and resurrection.

The Scriptures make it quite clear that salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, but the Scriptures also teach that discipleship is costly.  Let’s say it this way: salvation is our birth in the Christian life, and discipleship is our education and spiritual maturity in the Christian life.

Follow me – this is a command. Discipleship was a common feature in Palestine. The Rabbis had their disciples who came and learned from them and followed them. But they did so by choice, and they were not specifically called on to leave all.  Jesus’ call to follow Him was, however, all embracing and sacrificial. It was the call of One with sovereign authority.

Jesus did not issue an easy invitation.  There was no ‘sign-up’ bonus; no advance promises of provision.  (By the way, have you ever wondered what Peter’s wife said? Or his mother-in-law?)

Peter and Andrew  could not say, “I’ll catch men, but I don’t want it to upset my comfort zone.” They left their boats, their nets, their fish, and their families to follow Jesus. They were not deserting their father in such a way as to leave him helpless. The fishing business was apparently doing well. It was doing so well that they were able to hire extra help.

But notice something: These men were totally unqualified for the job to which they were called. They were fishermen by trade. They were just ordinary people. They were not trained as the Scribes or Levites or Priests. They were not Rabbis. As a matter of fact, they were not even Pharisees or Sadducees. They were just common country folk, ordinary fishermen, people like you and me.

But apart from all others whom Jesus could have called, He called these. It is as if Jesus wanted to make a statement that anyone could be used by Him for His purpose. Jesus wasn’t looking for the “cream of the crop” but for He ordinary people – four fishermen -and He called them.

Those first four disciples – Simon Peter, Andrew, Jacob (James) and John – had no idea where that calling would lead them. They did not know that they would face persecution, prison, and even death for the sake of the gospel of Christ. They did not realize that they would be the leaders of an infant church that would eventually span the globe. They did not realize that they would have a part in the revelation of Holy Scripture.

They just knew that Jesus called, so they obeyed.

He still calls….to you and to me.  Is our response as ‘immediate’ as theirs?

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