The Red Words #14 March 19, 2019

Jesus gathered them all together and said to them, ‘Those recognized as rulers of the people and those who are in top leadership positions rule oppressively over their subjects, but this is not the example you are to follow.  You are to lead by a different model. If you want to be the greatest one, then live as one called to serve others. The path to promotion and prominence comes by having the heart of a bond-slave who serves everyone.  For even the Son of Man did not come expecting to be served by everyone but to serve everyone, and to give His life as the ransom price in exchange for the salvation of many.’  Mark 10:42-25

Your local bookstore presents you with all kinds of self-help books that promise to make you ‘great’, ‘successful’ and ‘outstanding.’  But in these three verses, Jesus succinctly lets us know precisely what greatness is all about: serving others.

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In the previous verses, James and John request privileged places of authority in seats at Jesus’ right and left. They recognize that glorification awaits Jesus. The authority He has exhibited in His ministry will lead to something big, perhaps to a royal rule, and they conspire to capitalize on that.  However, they’ve missed key principles that He has been teaching His disciples along the way.

But they are not the only disciples enticed by visions of a triumphant reign, for the rest of the disciples are fuming over the request of James and John to be chosen for prominence.  With His typical patience,  Jesus corrects their attitude by referring to abusive rulers as negative examples, rulers who depend on coercion and control to maintain their power.

In absolute contrast, the Lord explains that greatness is measured by the ability to live as servants.  Jesus’ final line — “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” — connects to his preceding words about service, indicating that His death will be exemplary for such a way of living.  His death will exemplify the resistance that His teaching and ministry elicited from those who held power over society, and it will exemplify a radical renunciation of ‘privileged’ authority.  And what makes this last statement so utterly radical is that the very Son of God is the One declaring it!

The word for ‘ransom’ indicates that his death does something; it secures a release.  But that release is not simply to set free, but to set free for a purpose!  We are set free from the grip of sin and selfishness in order to become like Him, the One who came to serve.

Serving others is a magnificent expression of several virtues, including humility, patience, gentleness and self-control.  In fact, all of the fruits of the Spirit outlined in Galatians chapter 5 in one way or another are related to our interactions with others, how we treat them, how we ‘serve’ each other.

In the book, SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP, by J. Oswald Sanders, we read, “True greatness, true leadership, is achieved not by reducing men to one’s service, but in giving oneself in selfless service to them.

Key word – selfless.  The great leader leads by becoming a servant of all.

A servant leader is not looking for status, position or prominence.  A servant leader just looks for opportunities to serve.  And we are ALL ‘leaders’ in some way or fashion – in your home, in your workplace, in your neighborhood, in your church, etc. because leadership is not measured by title or position, but by INFLUENCE.

Leadership is about directing or motivating others in the right direction.  Leadership is not about dominating, but about ministering to the needs of others.

A leader for God is different than the crowd. Why? Because his heart is different.

What are the characteristics of a godly leader’s heart?

● Christ rules it.

● God’s Word transforms it.

● Integrity guides it.

● Trials reveal it.

In this serious hour of history, the Lord is looking for disciples with a different heart; a heart to INFLUENCE those around us by our example.

There is a saying attributed to Francis of Assisi that I have always liked: ‘Go into all the world and preach the Gospel; use words if necessary.”

In keeping with today’s RED words, let me re-phrase it this way: ‘Go into all the world and demonstrate Jesus; use words only when necessary.’

 

 

The Red Words #13 March 12, 2019

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery and having set her in the midst of the courtyard, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act.  Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such a woman; what then do You say?’ They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again, He stooped down and wrote on the ground.  When they heard this, they began to go out, one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone and the woman, where she was, in the center of the courtyard. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord’. And Jesus said, ‘I do not condemn you either. Go. From now on, sin no more.’  John 8: 3-11

In this account in John 8, Jesus confronts a band of cold, self-righteous religious leaders and a woman who was guilty of sexual sin, and He handles both with such wisdom and grace that we marvel at Him.

While some scholars argue over this passage, how much more important it is to meditate on ‘the Red Words’.

He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.

Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?

I do not condemn you either. Go. From now on, sin no more.

It is clear the Pharisees and Judges of the Law felt that they have Jesus trapped by this; they have an airtight case, this “let’s get-Jesus” committee!

You cannot read this, however, without asking yourself, “Where is the man in this adulterous union?” They had been caught “in the very act,” and yet only the woman is brought before Jesus. Some of the commentators suggest that perhaps they knew the man and let him go. We do not know. But this indicates that a double standard was very much in effect in those times just as it is today.

These scribes and Pharisees referred to the law in the book of Leviticus in which God, speaking through Moses, had said that adultery was to be punished by stoning. They knew that Jesus was “The Friend of Sinners,” that He was always on the side of the unfortunate and that He spent His time, not with the righteous, the wealthy or the respected, but with publicans and sinners. They obviously expected Him to forgive her and the minute He did, they would accuse Him of contradicting the law of Moses. They were sure they had Him trapped.

What he did was to stoop down and begin to write with his finger on the ground. Wouldn’t you love to know what He wrote?

Some have suggested that perhaps Jesus wrote a verse from Jeremiah: ‘O Lord, the Hope of Israel, all who forsake You will be put to shame. Those who turn away on earth will be written down because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the Lord.’   Jeremiah 17:13 .  This could be but we don’t know for sure.

Whatever he wrote, the scribes and Pharisees apparently misunderstood him. They thought he was stalling for time, and they kept pressing him, asking him again and again to answer them. So, standing up, Jesus looked them right in the eye and stunned them when He uttered these famous words, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Actually the word he uses is “sinless,” “let him who is sinless…” This is the only time Jesus ever used this word.

Jesus does not minimize the seriousness of the sin, but He refuses to align Himself with the harsh and arrogant attitude of the Pharisees toward the sin. What He says, in effect, is, “You are no better than she is. Your hearts are filled with murder and hatred.”

adulterouswoman

The haughtiness and hatred for Jesus that was evident in their eyes and demeanor clearly revealed that they were willing to use this woman in order to ‘get’ Jesus.  They really cared nothing about her sin; she was a convenient means to their evil agenda.

Jesus saw right through them and addressed the corruption of their hearts.  When He stooped down to write, could it be that He quoted from the book of Daniel? “You are weighed in the balance and found wanting,” (Daniel 5:25-29).

Whatever it was that He wrote, it utterly derailed their carefully laid out plot.  One by one, they started walking away.

And you know the rest of the story.  With no one left to condemn the adulterous woman, Jesus uttered these remarkable words: ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.’

Notice how Jesus calls her attention to the fact that she has no human accusers. He has dismissed the jury; their own malice disqualified them to judge her.

As the only Sinless One, Jesus alone fulfilled the qualifications to stone her. But He did not do so because He clearly forgave her.

Without forgiveness, justice must be satisfied. God never dismisses sin as trivial. His own truth, his law, his holy character, demand that any deviation from righteousness be punished. Justice must be satisfied — unless sin is forgiven. So it is clear that the basis on which our Lord said these words is that he had found a way to forgive this woman her sin.

A legalist will protest, “How could he do this? There was no basis for it. In fact, she doesn’t even confess her sin, or repent of it, or even say she’s sorry. Didn’t Jesus himself go about preaching, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”? What do you say to that?

The answer is, “Yes, there must be repentance.” God is not a grandfatherly type who says, “That’s all right. Forget it. I won’t hold it against you.”  There must be repentance. Even God cannot forgive sin which is not acknowledged.

But when you say, “Yes, I did it. It’s wrong. I agree with you,” that is repentance. Then forgiveness can come. “But where does this woman do that?” someone may ask.

The answer has to be, “Within her heart!” Remember we are dealing with One who knows the hearts of men. He knows what is going on in the inner thoughts. He knew her heart. Somewhere in the course of this incident she had to have repented.

Perhaps it was when she saw how Jesus handles this crowd of hypocritical judges, and she sensed the mercy and love that was in His face. Perhaps it was then, in His presence, that she realized how wrong she was, that she had sinned, and she repented. When she did, Jesus forgave her, obviously anticipating his death upon the cross for her.

The cross is always an eternal event in the mind of God. In anticipation of that cross, Jesus forgave her sin. The proof of it is in the words he next said, “Go, and do not sin again.”

If we have acknowledged our guilt, and received God’s forgiveness, the Lord is saying to us, “Go, and do not sin again.” He could never have said that to this woman unless something had happened within her.

This amazing scene speaks to all of us. When our sins are forgiven it is to free us that we might begin to live a different lifestyle; never to go back to the things that we have left behind. Forgiveness is always designed to set us free. That is why it is given.

Mark this truth: When Jesus forgave this woman that is what he did: He set her free to be a different kind of person than she had been before.

He does the same for you and for me. Sin is sin; it will always be sin and the only remedy we have is to sincerely repent, receive God’s forgiveness because of what Jesus did on the Cross of Calvary and re-commit ourselves to the Lord and to His Word.

I love the chorus written several years ago by Bill Gaither:

Something beautiful, something good,
All my confusion he understood.

All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife,
But He made something beautiful of my life.

Perhaps it was a sentiment like this that lived on in that woman’s heart for the rest of her life.

If we have found forgiveness from the Lord, remember always that we are forgiven so that we, too, might “Go, and sin no more!”

Thank God for His amazing love!

The Red Words #12 March 5, 2019

Twice in the list of Beatitudes Jesus made the statement: Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3,10.  It’s particularly interesting that this is the reward He assigned to the first and the last Beatitude.

Jesus actually repeats the words ‘the kingdom of heaven’ six times in the Sermon on the Mount.

Despite theological arguments about ‘the kingdom of heaven’ versus ‘the kingdom of God’, let’s make it quite simple.  They are the same.

The term has been defined in a number of ways but this is my favorite: it is the realm of the unhindered Holy Spirit within us.  We experience the ‘kingdom of heaven’ when the Holy Spirit rules over our life; when He is at home in us.

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Now the Holy Spirit is always with us once we are born again for Jesus said: I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.  John 14:16-17 . What a fantastic promise!

We learn from these verses that the Kingdom of heaven is invisible, inhabitable, internal and inherited.

Invisible: the Jewish people at the time were looking for a visible, tangible kingdom to be established with political power to overthrow the Romans.  Even the disciples thought that way. But Jesus said: ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed…’  Luke 17:20

Inhabitable: we can actually ‘live in’ the kingdom of heaven for He promised the poor in spirit that ‘theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’  When the Holy Spirit inhabits your spirit, heaven has come to you.  As Paul put it: Christ in you, the hope of glory.  Colossians 1:27

Internal: as Jesus described it, the kingdom of heaven would dwell in the hearts of those who followed Him and His presence is experienced as we learn to hear His voice and follow His leading.

Inherited: you receive an inheritance when someone dies. Therefore, no one could inherit the kingdom of heaven until Jesus died. Because He did, and rose again triumphant, everything changed for mankind.  By embracing what He did on our behalf and becoming born again, we are now able to inherit – internalize and experience – all the benefits of Redemption.  We become, as it were, the living, breathing, walking and talking kingdom of God on this earth.

Jesus also explained that this inheritance could only come to those who righteousness exceeded that of the Pharisees (Matthew 5:20).  The only way that is possible is by the work of the Holy Spirit within the born again believer.  Elsewhere in the gospels, we are shown that the righteousness of the Pharisees consisted of external ‘works’ apart from a changed and transformed heart and mind.  Religion majors in externals – the Holy Spirit majors in the attitudes of our hearts, changing us to become more like Jesus, which opens the way for us to enjoy the ‘kingdom of heaven’ while here on earth and guarantees us eternal life with God in heaven.

The ‘kingdom of heaven’ also presupposes that there is a King!  Without a King there is no kingdom!  Jesus said: ‘No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’ Matthew 11:27 . Furthermore He said, ‘For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom He is pleased to give it.’  John 5:21

That means that no one enters the Kingdom by accident but by invitation.  We choose to follow the Lord, not because our parents or our grandparents did.  It’s not a matter of human nationality – I’m Irish because my parents and grandparents were Irish.  Becoming a subject in the Kingdom of heaven is a choice, a life and death decision each of us is invited to make.

Without the Holy Spirit, none of us can grasp the depth of meaning in the words ‘the kingdom of heaven.’  It is only by being born again through the work of the Holy Spirit within us that we begin to learn how powerful this is.  Salvation does not come through performance of a list of good works but as the gift of God. It is not about what we do but what God does in us when we submit ourselves to Him.

To enjoy the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in our ongoing journey through life, Paul gave us two commands: Do not grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30) and Do not quench the Holy Spirit. (I Thess. 5:19)

To grieve the Holy Spirit is to refuse to allow Him to do through you what He wants to do.

To quench the Holy Spirit is to refuse to allow Him to be all He wants to be through you.

May we never do either one!

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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.’

lamplight

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.