Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Giving God The Glory

Luke 8:40-56

The Gadarenes asked Jesus to leave, and he did so. God respects human wishes. Later, he instructed the Apostles, “And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city,” in Mark 6:11. They were not to try to force their opinion on the people, nor are we. Jesus has set the example already, and when he returned, apparently to Capernaum, where he had done much of his ministry, the people were glad to have him come again.

"And it came to pass, that, when Jesus was returned, the people gladly received him: for they were all waiting for him. And, behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue: and he fell down at Jesus' feet, and besought him that he would come into his house: For he had one only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she lay a dying.” (Luke 8:40-42)**

Jairus was a member of the group most likely to reject Jesus, and even he recognized Jesus power and welcomed his return. What a contrast to the Gadarenes. Everyone was clamoring to get close enough to hear what he would say and see what he would do. There was probably quit a bit of jostling and touching one another.

“But as he went the people thronged him. And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any, Came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: and immediately her issue of blood stanched.” (Luke 8:43-44)

For twelve years one woman had lived with constant slow blood loss, and the resulting anemia. Nothing the doctors had tried had made a significant change, although they had charged her everything she had to live on. Hoping for a miracle, and probably embarrassed about the problem, she secretly reached out and deliberately touched his clothing. Healing was instantaneous, but she wasn’t able to stay hidden.

“And Jesus said, Who touched me? When all denied, Peter and they that were with him said, Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me.” (Luke 8:45-46)

Many people who come to the Lord are like this woman, believing he can and will heal them, but afraid or ashamed to draw public attention. They accept the Lord secretly, and like the woman are healed instantly. I suspect that the majority of people who respond to an invitation to be saved have already been saved before they start down the aisle.

Jesus insisted that she reveal what had happened however. God wants us to acknowledge what he has done and give him the glory. In the story of the ten lepers in Luke 17: 17, it is clear that he was concerned that most were not appreciative of what God had done. “And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.” Their giving him glory was not required for healing, but appreciation should have produced at least an acknowledgement. For the new Christian, being baptized is a way of acknowledging that God has saved us and giving him glory.

“And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him, she declared unto him before all the people for what cause she had touched him, and how she was healed immediately. And he said unto her, Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace.” (Luke 8:47-48)

Acknowledging what God had done would have minimal effect on others, but it makes us aware of what has happened to us. Obedience also allows God to reassure us of the benefit. Jesus reassured the woman of the reality of her healing when she acknowledged it. The Holy Spirit uses Baptism to make our salvation more real to us, and blesses us because of our obedience. Refusal to obey implies we don’t appreciate what he has done.

“While he yet spake, there cometh one from the ruler of the synagogue's house, saying to him, Thy daughter is dead; trouble not the Master. But when Jesus heard it, he answered him, saying, Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole. And when he came into the house, he suffered no man to go in, save Peter, and James, and John, and the father and the mother of the maiden. And all wept, and bewailed her: but he said, Weep not; she is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn, knowing that she was dead.” (Luke 8:49-53)

It is amazing how inconsistent our view of God is. We believe he created the world, and that he can heal some diseases, but think raising someone from the dead is impossible. Mary thought it terrible Jesus didn’t get there in time to prevent Lazarus’ death. The people believed Jesus could heal Jairus’ daughter, but once she expired, they gave up hope. People do not distinguish the difference between the first and second death. The physical death is just a time of sleep for the body. For God, raising her from physical death was nothing more than waking someone from a nap.

“And he put them all out, and took her by the hand, and called, saying, Maid, arise. And her spirit came again, and she arose straightway: and he commanded to give her meat. And her parents were astonished: but he charged them that they should tell no man what was done.” (Luke 8:54-56)

There was no special ritual observed, Jesus simply woke her up. She arose, healed of the disease, but her body functioned normally. She was hungry and needed to be fed. It was no big deal to him, but her parents thought it was. The people knew she had died, and the fact of her being alive would speak for itself. To make a big deal of it could have a serious emotional impact on the girl. Jesus minimized that effect by the way he dealt with the situation. God's concern for us is unbelievable. The people who knew would give God the glory.

** When the verse divisions were put in they frequently ignored both punctuation and paragraphs divisions. Verse 42 is a combination of the last sentence of the previous paragraph with first sentence of the following paragraph. Properly dividing the statements enhances the meaning. The verse divisions are man’s addition, and sometimes hamper understanding.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Maniac Of Gadara

Luke 8:26-39

In our modern society, the man referred to in this event, the maniac at Gadara, would have been considered mentally ill and either confined in an institution or been on medication. Unfortunately, most supposedly mentally ill patients have no apparent physical malfunction in their brain. As a result, while drugs may suppress bad behavior, they are little more effective at curing the problems than the lobotomies and electrical shock methods used in the 1950’s, albeit more humane. I suspect that many are in fact a result of demon possession, unscientific as that may sound. Because they have not correctly identified the cause, treatments are at best an effort to reduce the distress from the symptoms.

Because they had no idea how to deal with him, people had isolated the man. His behavior and attitude was so bizarre that people feared and avoided him. He responded by avoiding or threatening people. We see similar behavior in many so called mentally ill people today, and rather than avoiding them, we lock them away in institutions, or dope them up to the point they are unable to function.

“And they arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is over against Galilee. And when he went forth to land, there met him out of the city a certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs.” (Luke 8:27-28)

Many of the insane are able to think logically at some levels and recognize people, but perceive reality in a distorted fashion. This man recognized who Jesus was, but perceived him as a threat, when he ordered the evil spirit to come out.

“When he saw Jesus, he cried out, and fell down before him, and with a loud voice said, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not. (For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For oftentimes it had caught him: and he was kept bound with chains and in fetters; and he brake the bands, and was driven of the devil into the wilderness.)” (Luke 8:28-29)

The muscles in the human body are far stronger than most people realize. As a result, an adrenaline rush enables a person to lift a car off a child or to run far faster than normal. The adrenaline both stimulates the muscle, and blocks the pain that would normally cause the person to stop before hurting themselves. Demonic spirits are able to cause fear or anger resulting in a similar flow of adrenaline and corresponding abnormal demonstrations of strength. Such power is often mistakenly credited to the demon. Similar effects often result from drug use. The similarity goes far deeper.

Almost no one initially likes the taste of alcoholic drinks, they are often mixed with other flavors to make them more palatable. As a person learns to enjoy the sensations which result from the alcohol, the taste reminds him of the anticipated sensation, and soon he loses his dislike for it. Whether he becomes an addict, or alcoholic or not depends how much he enjoys the sensations. Demonic possession is very much the same way. If the person enjoys the sensations the demons produce seem desirable, he may allow them to take over. Addictions or obsessive behavior may open the door for demon possession by encouraging surrender to an outside influence. Since demons have no physical body, they must find something which will allow them to influence or control it’s mind to affect the physical world. It is also why many may control one person.

“And Jesus asked him, saying, What is thy name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him. And they besought him that he would not command them to go out into the deep. And there was there an herd of many swine feeding on the mountain: and they besought him that he would suffer them to enter into them. And he suffered them. Then went the devils out of the man, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked.” (Luke 8:30-33)

Knowing the Lord would not allow them to enter someone else, and that it was illegal for the Jews to eat hogs, the demons requested permission to take over the pigs, hoping to still have effect on the world around them. The man had responded to fear by attacking other people. The pigs responded to the same fear by running away in panic, and drowned themselves. The herders were amazed by the result and spread the story.

“When they that fed them saw what was done, they fled, and went and told it in the city and in the country. Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. They also which saw it told them by what means he that was possessed of the devils was healed.” (Luke 8:34-36)

You would think people would have been thrilled to have such a threat eliminated, but they preferred to keep a danger they thought they knew despite the risks. Knowing the danger, people tell themselves it won’t happen to them and continue to use drugs, or alcohol or do self destructive things. They allow government to take control of their lives, or stay in a church or relationship they know is harmful because they are used to it. The Gadarenes begged Jesus to leave because they didn’t want things changed. People often reject what we have to offer because they don’t want change.

“Then the whole multitude of the country of the Gadarenes round about besought him to depart from them; for they were taken with great fear: and he went up into the ship, and returned back again.” (Luke 8:37)

Jesus honored their request and left. God does not force people to do what they should. He allows them freedom to choose. II Corinthians 3:17 tells us, “Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” Clearly, efforts to control people are not from God. Liberty requires taking responsibility for our actions.

“Now the man out of whom the devils were departed besought him that he might be with him: but Jesus sent him away, saying, Return to thine own house, and show how great things God hath done unto thee. And he went his way, and published throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him.” (Luke 8:38-39)

A young man I know had a drinking problem. He quit because of some serious problems it resulted in. His father in law purports to be a Christian, but drinks a little wine with his dinner, encouraged him to go ahead and take a drink because just one wouldn’t hurt. The young man refused because he knew what would happen. And his father in law became more insistent. Like the young man I know, the formerly demon possessed man knew the danger he’d been delivered from and wanted to get away from it.

Jesus instructed him to stay so people could see that what they were used to could be changed for something better. Before God sends us out to a new place to minister, he usually directs us to stay where we are as a testimony to those who knew us before. While They asked Jesus to leave, they were not likely to ask him to.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Learning To Trust God

Luke 8:22-25

Modern Americans think problems are abnormal. They assume that everything will always get better and that nothing will go wrong. This is the reason people engage in extreme sports. It is also why they go into huge debt for a home or other things. It was widely assumed that the price of homes would never go down, so people viewed it as a convenient bank account. A salesman told me, “You know your wages will go up.” I didn’t so I didn’t buy the car he wanted to sell me. They didn’t go up and I was glad I hadn’t listened.

Job 5:7 declares, “Yet man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” Problems are as natural as sparks from a fire rising in the smoke. Problems are always going to occur. This is just as true for a Christian who walks with the Lord as for the worst sinner. Jonah experienced a horrible storm because of his rebellion against God, but the apostles had a similar experience while doing exactly what the Lord commanded, and staying right with him.

“Now it came to pass on a certain day, that he went into a ship with his disciples: and he said unto them, Let us go over unto the other side of the lake. And they launched forth. But as they sailed he fell asleep: and there came down a storm of wind on the lake; and they were filled with water, and were in jeopardy.” (Luke 8:22-23)

Jonah was oblivious to what his sin had caused, like many today, but when he understood the situation, he had no doubt as to the cause. The apostles, on the other hand, had no clue as to the reason, and were very aware of the danger. Many times, we are in the middle of storms that have nothing to do with what we have done, and there is nothing we can do to calm the storm. Like the apostles, the only thing we can do is let the Lord know our concerns.

“And they came to him, and awoke him, saying, Master, master, we perish. Then he arose, and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water: and they ceased, and there was a calm.” (Luke 8:24)

While both Jesus and Jonah were asleep when the storms started, Jesus wasn’t concerned, because he knew that God was in control and he had nothing to fear. Jonah was asleep because he was not facing his own sin.

The apostles needed to learn what Jesus meant in John 16:33. “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” There is nothing this world that can happen without God’s approval. I Corinthians 10:13 is very clear about God control over things. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

Since God has the final say about what we experience, there is no reason for fear, if we have doing what God commanded. Romans 8:28 states, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Even the worst things that happen to us will ultimately result in our good, if we allow God to have his way. If we refuse, we may find ourselves, like Jonah, in worse shape. The fear the apostles had was a result of undeveloped faith.

“And he said unto them, Where is your faith? And they being afraid wondered, saying one to another, What manner of man is this! for he commandeth even the winds and water, and they obey him.” (Luke 8:25)

Only by experiencing the Lord’s power themselves could the apostles learn how great it was. They were amazed to learn that he could even control the weather and the forces of nature, despite the miracles they had seen him do. Frequently, the trials and problems we experience are to teach us to trust him the same way. Instead of getting upset when things go wrong, James instructs us to rejoice and give thanks.

“My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” (James 1:2-4)
The apostles and disciples had to learn this lesson, and we also must. They had the same experience more than once before they began to get it and most of us face the same trials repeatedly. If we yield ourselves, little by little we will come to realize God took care of it last time, and he will again. There aren’t any shortcuts to strong faith.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Listening to What God Says

Luke 8:16-21

As the economic situation has continued, we become more and more aware of the efforts to cover and conceal what has been going on in economic and political circles. Knowing their actions will be offensive, they try to cover it with secrecy and darkness. John 3:19-20 describes this. “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”

A person who is trying to help others, on the other hand, makes what has been done obvious so others can benefit. He doesn’t try to hide what has been done. As the economic situation makes clear, the truth will eventually come out.

“No man, when he hath lighted a candle, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bed; but setteth it on a candlestick, that they which enter in may see the light. For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither any thing hid, that shall not be known and come abroad.” (Luke 8:16-17)

Mankind has tried to hide sin since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden but as Hebrews 4: 13 warns, “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” David describes the depth of Gods knowledge of our actions in Psalm 139:1-11. “O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.

Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee."

God has complete knowledge of both our actions and our intent. As a result, a good appearance or token effort will not suffice. Only a genuine effort to do what is right is acceptable. It is critical that we learn what God desires.

“Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.” (Luke 18:8)

I John 4 tells us that one way of knowing whether a person is of God is whether they heed his teachings and commands. Matthew 13:12-17 explains that parable made those who thought about what he said clear, but for those who didn’t care, it was easy to just accept the story at face value and never examine the real teaching.

“For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.

But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.” (Matthew 13:12-17)

Even family relationships pale by comparison with learning and obeying God’s word. Later in Luke 14:26-27 Jesus points out that our most sacred and important human obligations are secondary to our obedience to God. “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” Nothing on this earth can be allowed to take precedence according to Luke 14:33. “likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” Here Jesus uses the presence of his own family to illustrate his meaning.

“Then came to him his mother and his brethren, and could not come at him for the press. And it was told him by certain which said, Thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to see thee. And he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it.” (Luke 8:19-21)

Even the apparent good things such as care for our family and other good works will be lost if not done in obedience to God. Jesus said the person who loved him would have and keep his commands in John 14:21-24. “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. Judas saith unto him, not Iscariot, Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world? Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me.” It is difficult to do what you don’t know you should do.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Doing The Ministry

Luke 8:1-15

Sometimes I hear pastors complain about the lack of men in the church. As we look at Jesus’ ministry, we see that human nature has not changed. Women seem to be more open to biblical teaching by nature than men. Perhaps that is because as mothers, more women tend to focus on the future while more men tend to focus more on the immediate problem. This is purely a generalization, and not true in every case, but as we look, we find that more women followed than men. The twelve apostles were the exception. rather than complaining about the situation, we need to focus on properly doing our ministry.

“And it came to pass afterward, that he went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him, And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, And Joanna the wife of Chuza Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance.” (Luke 8:1-3)

As he passed from place to place, groups would gather to hear what Jesus had to say. Even when they had no basis for understanding the underlying teaching, parables caught and focused peoples attention, because they understood and related to the subject. In the book, Life is a Series of Presentations, Tony Jeary stresses that people tend be drawn to those who appear to have a similar background, because they share common experiences and understanding. Israel was an agricultural society, and understood agricultural stories immediately. Suburban and urban dwellers find them less clear.

“And when much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city, he spake by a parable: A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it. And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 8:4-8)

While everyone could understand and enjoy the story, and even that it had a deeper meaning, only a few would be interested enough to seek out the deeper meaning. Those with only a superficial interest would not benefit, and might be confused by more in depth teaching, because they were not prepared to understand it. The disciples, those who followed him, both the apostles and others asked for more explanation, and Jesus explained his reason before explaining the parable.

“And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be? And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.” (Luke 8:9-10)

As Jesus explains, this parable is about ministering to others, and the result it will have in people’s lives. For those with no interest beyond hearing a good story, it would serve little purpose. He starts by explaining what the seed is.

“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.” (Luke 8:11)

Too many churches and people do not understand this very basic fact. We are not to plant church doctrine, politics, self help programs, or the pastor’s convictions. The seed is the Word of God, the Bible. Only the proper seed can produce proper results. To produce wheat, wheat must be planted. Nothing else will work. One reason the church is in the present state is because the wrond seed is too often planted. Jesus then explains that the results are going to depend on the hearers.

“Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.” (Luke 8:12)

Before the seed was sown, the field would be tilled and prepared to receive the seed. Broadcast seeding, or sowing involved scattering the seed across the prepared ground. Usually the ground would then be raked to bury the seed. Along the edges, some seed would fall on unprepared ground. Since it never got buried, it was exposed to every bird that came along, and was never allowed to grow. We need to understand that unprepared people are unlikely to receive the gospel and become Christians. Just telling the parable without explaining it would be a preparatory step for those who were not interested in the deeper meaning at that time, but they would promptly forget any deeper explanation. The book of Hebrews focuses on this group.

“They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.” (Luke 8:13)

Even the best prepared field may have some rocks in it. The rocks prevent the plant from putting their roots down into the soil, and while the plant may sprout and appear to grow, it has little chance of survival. There are people who make a quick decision to receive Christ, based on an intellectual assent to his claims, but have no deep sense of sin, or of faith in him. Though they may have prayed and asked the Lord to save them, they never yielded to his claims on their life. They never truly receive him as Lord and Savior. While they often seem initially to do better than the real Christians, they only stay for a while before they turn away. They did not lose their salvation, they just gave the illusion of having it for a while.

“And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.” (Luke 8:14)

Weed seeds drift into the best prepared fields, and much of a farmer’s work involves removing the weeds by hoeing or pulling. It is nearly impossible to kill all the weeds, and those that survive hamper the growth of the main crop by taking away nutrients and moisture, or by blocking the sunlight. The production of the plants is directly related to the success in controlling the weeds. The weeds are typified by such things as working overtime or getting kids involved in extracurricular activities that require missing church or neglecting our time with the Lord. Some church activities become weeds.

“But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.” (Lu 8:15)

Ground that has been properly prepared, that doesn’t have rocks and that the weeds have been carefully removed from produce fruit. Even then the quantity of fruit varies with the individual plant, and the rainfall it receives.

Doing the ministry God expects requires far more than most seem willing to do in our day. Preparing the field and pulling weeds is less exciting and harder work than sowing, but is crucial to the final product. Many today just throw out seed, and bring nothing to fruition. Worse yet, some choke out good crops by planting weed seeds among them.

Monday, November 22, 2010

What’s the Motivation?

Luke 7:36-50

Jesus repeatedly rebuked the Pharisees for their constant focus on social climbing. He said that everything they did was calculated to advance them socially, religiously, or politically. They vied constantly for the upper position at feasts, and their religious activity was always done to attract attention.

Because Jesus had attracted a large following, Simon, one of the Pharisees, invited him to his house, because it would increase his standing with the people. He could brag about having Jesus in his home. It would be a social coup, something the others hadn’t done.

“And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee's house, and sat down to meat.” (Luke 7:36)

We can only assume the ointment was something similar to that the woman brought to Simon the Leper’s house just before the crucifixion, very precious. That it is not the same event is clear from the different description of the actions of the woman, and of Jesus’ comments. In that case the woman poured the ointment on his head, but here the woman washed his feet with her tears, and dried them with her hair before applying the ointment to his feet.

"And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.” (Luke 7:37-38)

The woman lived a lifestyle that was clearly contrary to what Simon deemed acceptable, and he was offended that she even came into his house. He was even more offended that Jesus would allow some one with such a reputation to touch him. That he didn’t appear to recognize what she was implied that he really didn’t have the Holy Spirit’s leadership in Simon’s mind. This was really going to work out good for Simon, impressing the common people that he had Jesus to dinner, and pleasing the leaders that he has evidence that Jesus isn’t really from God.

“Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:39)

Jesus uses a parable or illustration to point out some things to Simon. He starts by using the example of a couple of debtors whos debt has been forgiven. As he points out the greater our awareness of debt, the more we appreciate what has been done for us. Simon was quick to see this and realize that it would affect a persons appreciation for what has been done. People who don’t have much sense of indebtedness have little sense of obligation.

“And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.” (Luke 7:40-43)

In a society where everyone walked every where, wearing sandals, it was just a matter of common courtesy to provide water to wash a guest’s feet, and in a case of respect to perform the act or have a servant do it. To provide an ointment to relieve the effects of the sun shining on one’s head was a further mark of respect and concern. The failure to kiss him was as much a mark of disrespect as refusing to shake hands is in American culture. And not doing these things was about the equivalent of not inviting a guest to sit down and talk. It was extremely rude and disrespectful behavior. It is apparent that Simon’s interest was not in what Jesus had to say, but in establishing his own moral ascendancy.

“And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” (Luke 7:44-47)

In his self righteous pride, Simon has pretended to have the same interest as this woman who was sincerely aware of her sinfulness and appreciated what Jesus had done for her. As a result, her sins were forgiven her, and she was saved.

“And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.” (Luke 7:48-50)

Simon and others present consider themselves so much better than the woman that they were offended that he said her sins were forgiven. I John 1:8-10 states, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” The attitude that we never did anything really bad to need forgiveness keeps us from accepting or appreciating Jesus’ forgiveness. It is a major reason some never get saved, and others fall away after a while. The wickedest people often become the best Christians, because they are honest with themselves.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dealing With Opposition

Luke 7:30-35

Year after year, we see people put into drug or alcohol abuse prevention programs. Some programs are tremendously expensive while others are federally funded, yet none have a very high success rate, because so few of the people are motivated to change. As long as the person thinks he is getting what he wants from the activity, he has no reason to change, and will resist any effort to produce it.

The same dynamic shows up in every area of life. It is at the core of our current political situation. Those who feel they are benefiting fight to maintain the their position, and do their best to destroy those who are demanding change. The attacks by both parties during the last election illustrate the level to which they will go. While the multitudes and publicans loved the changes Jesus promised, the leaders struggled to maintain the status quo.

“But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.“ (Luke 7:30)

The lawyers and Pharisees hated having to abide by Roman law, but they preferred it to having everyman free to make his own decisions. If every man was their equal, they would no longer be superior. They attempted to destroy his following by running down what he did, much like the media tried to picture George Bush as being unintelligent. Jesus described it a being like a bunch of kids making fun of others. They are inconsistent, and frequently irrational in their accusations against others.

“And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like? They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept.” (Luke 7:31-32)

The Pharisees and Lawyers hated John’s message that they were sinners and needed to repent, implying that he was some kind of kook because he maintained a stricter religious standard than they did even though he did not require them to. It must be Satanic. When Jesus practiced the same standard they did, They implied that he was not religious enough because he lived like common people, not quite up to their standard. He must be a wicked man.

“For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil. The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! But wisdom is justified of all her children.” (Luke 7:33-35)

Foolish people are so sure they are right they refuse to listen to any idea but their own. Proverbs 28:26 declares, “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool.” In their pride and determination to maintain they ignore good advice and Proverbs 22:3 and 27:12 warns, “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself; but the simple pass on, and are punished.” No amount of evidence or logic will make a person change if isn’t willing to. Proverbs 29:9 warns, “If a wise man contendeth with a foolish man, whether he rage or laugh, there is no rest.”

Warnings only make them more determined, because they are not wise. Proverbs 12: 15 states, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.” We mustn’t become as dogmatic and determined to force them to our opinion, because if we do, we become just like them, according to Proverbs 26:4. “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.” At the same time, we are not to lend their ideas legitimacy by treating them seriously. Proverbs 26:5 instructs, “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.”

How we handle opposition has a great impact on how our message is perceived by others. Angry attacks and accusations make us appear to be worse than the opponent, while a failure to answer implies we have none. How often we lose our testimony because of our response.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Focusing Our Efforts

Luke 7:24-29

Why do you go to church? Several years ago, a man told me I should go to a revival with him. I asked him why he went, and his answer was “because I like it.” Having been around the area for a while, I knew about the “evangelist” who was conducting it, and decided not to go, but it reinforced an important point.

A very successful internet business man says that one of the most common mistakes is concern with the how many visitors are obtained at a site. Traffic is meaningless unless they buy. Ten people who come to buy are worth more than a million who just visited. In order to increase business, draw buyers. If they came because they think you have what they need, they are likely to buy if it is available. On the other hand, if they came looking for something other than what you have, they are not likely to buy. Far too much advertising is expended on attracting the general public, rather than the ones who need or want the products you have.

Many people never consider their own reasons for going or what the possibility of being satisfied is. People who go for entertainment are going to expect polished professional performances. Those who come for an emotional high are going to expect a dynamic and exciting series of events. Those who attend a church for political or professional advantage are more concerned with the size and make up of the membership than with the teachings or activities. People who feel the church doesn’t meet their needs will not be deeply involved. Jesus asked the people why they went to hear John.

“And when the messengers of John were departed, he began to speak unto the people concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they which are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings' courts.” (Luke 7:24-25)

Some just went for the novelty. Here was a man attracting a lot of attention and performing baptisms that might be entertaining to watch for a few moments. Some went for the fashion show. After all John was so clearly out of fashion. Those who focused on his dress would not find anything to hold them. That could only be found among the rich. Years ago I was given a book, Dress for Success, and told how much it would help my ministry. I had my doubts, but experimented a little and found that the only difference it made was why people came. Far too often, our efforts to get people to church focus on superficial motives such as an exciting or famous preacher, a musical group, or an exciting program. Jesus pointed out the reason most of them came.

“But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet. This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.” (Luke 7:26-29)

The entertainment or fashion was not enough to draw or hold many people. Entertainment, celebrities and political or social advantage are only temporary draws and require constant attention to maintain. The world offers a wider, richer variety, and will probably draw them away.

The people who came to hear John preach came because they believed he was a prophet sent from God, and they wanted to know what God said. Even if they rejected the message after they heard it, they had obtained what they came for. Many times by getting people to come for other reasons than hearing the word of God, we cheapen it in their eyes, implying that it isn’t important enough itself, and making them feel cheated because the reason they came didn’t live up to it’s billing.

Jesus then reinforced what John had taught and reassured them that it didn’t end with John’s imprisonment. While John was the greatest of prophets, everyone could attain the same level. God doesn’t want us focusing on man, and is no respecter of persons. Contrary to the Pharisaical tradition, one man was not better than another. For the common people and the publicans, this was a tremendous blessing. They were not excluded because they were not the priests or members of the upper class.

If we concentrate on finding and drawing those who want what we have to offer, and making sure we deliver the things they need promptly, we will establish a solid base of satisfied customers which we can expand. If we don’t focus, we spend time giving that which is holy to dogs and casting our pearls before swine. We need to make it clear what we have to offer.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dealing with Doubt

Luke 7:18-23

I’ve heard a few people say they’d never had any doubts since they received Christ. I am concerned for them. Later in this passage, Jesus himself said there had been no greater prophet than John, yet he doubted. Isaiah doubted, and the disciples doubted when Jesus was crucified. Doubt is normal when we take control of our lives rather than letting the Holy Spirit have control. Few if any can honestly say they have never experienced a time when they didn’t walk in the Spirit.

With that in mind it is hard to be judgmental toward John in his moment of doubt as described here. He had been imprisoned for telling what God said, and knew that Herodias was pressing for his execution. He was also separated from what was going on, except for brief news from his followers. I can only imagine the emotional pressure he was under. To question is understandable. How we respond to the doubt is the important thing. Rather than yielding to it and giving up, John sent to make sure of the truth.

“And the disciples of John showed him of all these things. And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another? When the men were come unto him, they said, John Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?” (Luke 7:18-20)

Jesus did not immediately answer the question or give them some long explanation. Instead, he continued his ministry, healing the sick and performing miracles.

“And in that same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight. Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” (Luke 7:21-23)

After they had observed the results, the fruit of Jesus’ labor, he instructed them to go back and describe them to John. To often we depend on having followed a set of rules for our assurance. For example, we may attempt to reassure one of their salvation by reviewing the steps they took in obtaining it. It is an ineffective approach.

When I boot up my computer, there are certain things that must be done. The proof that they worked is that the computer comes on. The proof that a person received Christ is not that they followed a sequence of steps or prayed a certain prayer, but that the Holy Spirit is active in their lives. As Paul explains in I Corinthians 4:20, “For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.” Real assurance comes from observing what the Holy Spirit does in our lives. Romans 8:16 declares, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.”

Once again, we are to examine the results, the fruit, not just the actions. If the results are not proper, then it is certain the actions didn’t work. Our faith is not some blind faith, but is based on what God has done before. The best cure for doubt is looking at what God is doing and has done already.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Choked By The Cares Of The World

Luke 7:11-17

I started writing this post, and it was as if my mind couldn’t focus on what the passage said. Then as I finally got started, my computer was running so slowly that it was not keeping up with my typing. Since I am a very slow typist, it was obvious the computer was not running properly. Having just upgraded my antivirus protection, I suspected it of causing the problem. The website said to erase the program and reload it to solve the problem.

My computer was running so slow I couldn’t maintain my internet connection. Then I was called on to deal with some problems one of our men has. The entire day went that way, and by the time I needed to prepare for our adult Bible study, I was discouraged and really didn’t want to try to teach. In the process of preparing to teach about financial matters, Haggai’s statements about why Israel was frustrated in their efforts to make a living came into my mind, and I was forced to spend some time asking God’s forgiveness for being so focused on my own goals.

After the Bible study, a couple approached me about a situation in the wife’s family. The lady has not yet accepted Christ and they were really troubled because they had received news of the murder of her aunt and cousin just before coming to the Bible study. Another cousin from the same family was murdered just about two weeks ago, and they are concerned about four small children, as well as deeply hurt over the deaths.

I was reminded how often we allow Satan to distract us with the problems of daily life and we lose sight of his power and of the needs of others in our concern for our own problems. In the parable of the sower Jesus described the seed falling among thorns as representing the person who is so caught up in earthly cares he neglects the Lord, and ceases to grow or produce fruit. Matthew 13:22 describes the situation. “He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.” I was in danger of blowing off a person who is just getting interested in the Lord because I was focused on something so unimportant. Our passage today exhibit’s a totally different attitude.

“And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people. Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her.” (Luke 7:11-12)

Surrounded with people clamoring for attention Jesus meets a funeral procession headed for the grave. Most people would have simply stepped aside with little thought for the grieving mother, focused on what they were doing instead. Jesus had compassion on the mother. We see the same compassion when Lazarus was raised from the dead. Raising a person from the dead was no problem. Jesus was concerned over the emotional pain of the loved ones. John 11:33-35 describes his reaction to Mary and the other’s pain. “When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept.”

Jesus took the trouble to raise the young man from the dead because of his mother’s emotional distress. Had God not used his word to get my attention, I might well have overlooked the couples emotional stress to take care of the things I was fretting about. I am so glad he reminded me. We see such a wonderful example.

“And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not. And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.” (Luke 7:13-15)

Because Jesus took the time to deal with a mother’s grief, the power of God to heal was seen and both God the Father, and the Son were glorified. People understood that he was from God.

“And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people. And this rumour of him went forth throughout all Judaea, and throughout all the region round about.” (Luke 7:16-17)

How many times are we unfruitful because we are focused on those around us and our desires that we fail to recognize the needs and pain of those outside our group?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Such Great Faith

Luke 7:1-10

We are often amazed by the faith of the men who let down their friend through the roof, thinking what great faith it must take to exert such effort. Other times we are impressed with the faith required to produce some miracle.

When his disciples were unable to cast out a demon. Jesus told them that the reason was their unbelief. He didn’t tell them that it was because their faith was too small. He referred to the mustard seed as the smallest of seeds, and said if they had even such a minute amount of faith, nothing would be impossible in Matthew 17:20. “And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.”

I suspect that many of the rituals we develop for healing and other activities requiring faith are a cover for disbelief. We can blame failure on not properly doing the ritual, rather than on our unbelief. The centurion exhibits no such unbelief.

“Now when he had ended all his sayings in the audience of the people, he entered into Capernaum. And a certain centurion's servant, who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die. And when he heard of Jesus, he sent unto him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly, saying, That he was worthy for whom he should do this: For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue.” (Luke 17:1-5)

The centurion represents the hated Roman government, yet he has shown himself to be such a caring individual that the Jewish leaders would go to Jesus to intercede on his behalf. He shows the same concern for his servant, refusing to leave his side. He has demonstrated his interest in the things of God by paying for the construction of a synagogue. When he hears that Jesus is available, he believes he could heal his servant and asks Jesus to do so. While not a Jew, he clearly has a devout desire to serve God. It is what he does when he hears Jesus is coming that marks his faith as greater than most.

“Then Jesus went with them. And when he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying unto him, Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof: Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.” (Luke 7:6-8)

Knowing the Jewish prohibition on associating with those of other races, and believing that Jesus was the son of God, the centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant. Knowing his own authority, that he could ask others to do a task and expect it to be done, he did not expect Jesus to personally come to his house. Just speaking the word, where ever he was would be enough. Such faith, from a person who had not been raised on Jewish tradition was what Jesus referred to. He never even went on to the man’s home, but te servant was healed when they got home.

“When Jesus heard these things, he marvelled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick.” (Luke 7:9-10)

There have been a lot of books written about prayer, and many have emphasized spending hours upon hours in prayer. Like a lot of preachers, they ignore Jesus’ command in Matthew 6:7-8. “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” The impression is that God only hears us if we pray long enough and hard enough. That probably explains the ritual prayers we have as well.

At one point, in his orphans home, George Mueller had about a hundred children housed. A visitor overheard one of the staff tell him they had nothing to feed the children at noon. Mr. Mueller said they would pray and he and his guest knelt to pray. Mr. Mueller simply prayed, something to the effect of “Lord, you know we need to feed one hundred kids at noon. Please send the food.” He then resumed his conversation with the guest

The guest was appalled at such a short prayer, and questioned Mueller’s sincerity. As Mr. Mueller explained, God already knew and would supply. At noon, a carriage arrived with a fully prepared meal sufficient to feed everyone there. Like the centurion, Mueller believed God would act. The results were not dependent on his efforts. Too often we pray or act like the church in Acts 12, praying desperately for Peter’s deliverance, yet not believing when Rhoda told them. God’s answers do not depend on our ritual or prayers. We are just to believe, and act accordingly. The centurion did.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Fruit Inspectors and Builders

Luke 6:43-49

Jesus was very clear that we are not to judge others. We are too influenced by our own sin to make valid judgments, especially about the motivation and actions of others. Too often we confuse works and fruit. Works are the actions. Fruit is the result of those actions. Examining the results gives us a clear picture of whether the actions were effective or beneficial. To help us understand what he is teaching, Jesus used the example of a fruit tree.

“For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither doth a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. For every tree is known by his own fruit. For of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.” (Luke 6:43-45)

To identify a tree by it’s bark or leaves requires a knowledge of the different species of trees. The leaves are typical of the work of the tree, because without making them the tree dies and produces no fruit. The quality and quantity of the fruit is largely controlled by the photosynthesis in the leaves, and indicates how healthy the tree is.

The kind of fruit, however, is controlled by the genetics of the tree. Only apple trees produce apples, for example. To identify an apple takes very little knowledge about the tree. If the tree produces apples, it is an apple tree. If it produces anything else, it is not an apple tree. By examining the fruit, we can tell what kind of tree it is, as well as how healthy it is.

In the same way, we can examine the results of a person’s actions to see what kind of person they are and how healthy they are spiritually. Matthew 7:20 states, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” While we are not to judge the person, we are to examine the fruit. If the fruit is rotten, we should avoid mixing it in with good to avoid causing rot in the rest.

The final parable in this passage uses the illustration of a builder laying a solid foundation to illustrate the importance of developing a sound biblical basis for living. Failure to do so is like building a house without a foundation.

“And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will show you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6:46-49)

Studying the word of God is like digging the trench for a foundation. We need to dig into the word of God until we hit solid rock truth. Once the foundational truth is found, we carefully build a life according to what God has directed. When we do so, the final result is a life that will not be shaken by the raging storms around us. The man who does not take the time to find out what God teaches or to act on it has no basis for resisting the trials that will surely come. It will only be a matter of time before he collapses.

People often talk about how much they love the lord and speak of him as Lord, but their behavior does not support their claims. I have no idea how many drunks have tried to tell me how much they love the Lord but, as we know, actions speak louder than words. Their behavior indicates otherwise. Saying Lord is meaningless if we do not obey him, as Jesus stated.

“Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me.” (John 14:23-24)

Before we can keep his commandments, we are going to have to dig in and find out what they are. Only then will we know what we should be doing. John 14:21 makes this clear. “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.”

Children will frequently do something else than what their parents asked them to do and expect to be praised even though what they were supposed to do was not done. The parents may not be satisfied because it is deliberate disobedience. They may withhold rewards, or even punish the child for disobedience. When we fail to do what God has commanded, we make it clear we are more concerned with pleasing ourselves than with pleasing him.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Using Parables to Teach

Luke 6:39-49

We learn new things by building on what we already know. It is what makes the ability to remember so critical. If we lack the ability to remember, we will never be able to progress. One reason much education fails is that it does not produce long term memory. A major factor in remembering something is having given it thought. Rote memory usually only produces short term effects, because the learner only memorizes the words or facts, rather than what they mean.

One of the most effective ways of teaching is to relate a new subject to something the learner already knows but encourages him to think about what he is hearing. Modern videos allow one to passively observe and are easily forgotten, but listening to a story makes one think about what is being described. Since the hearer is already thinking, making a comparison or contrast is only a slight increase of effort, and pupils unconsciously learn what is offered. The more dramatic and easily understood, the less effort is required to learn the new material.

A parable is simply a comparison or contrast of a new concept with a familiar one to enable easy understanding. In modern English, we call it an illustration. Jesus was very skilled at using parables. His first parable in this passage refers to the easily imagined event of one Blind man trying to lead another down the road.

“And he spake a parable unto them, Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch? The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.” (Luke 6:39-40)

It is instantly obvious that if the leader doesn’t know know where they are going they probably won’t get there. Jesus compares this to a pupil who decides what they are to learn rather than allowing the teacher decide what is needed.

One of the high schools in Albuquerque failed the state test requirements because students were being allowed to set their own schedules, rather than having to take required courses. I was amazed at the number of graduates from a local college who got a degree in self directed studies. I wonder if they learned what they needed to know or just what they wanted to study.

Sadly, a lot of churches are taking self directed studies, rather than studying what God has directed us to learn. Few churches today actually study the Bible itself. I have not read The Purpose Driven Life, so cannot speak as to it’s doctrinal position, but it is a man’s ideas, rather than the word of God. Many churches have studied it as a substitute for studying the Bible. Are they learning what they should know, or just what the leaders want them to learn? After all, they are just student teachers themselves.

The second parable Jesus uses relates to what he said about not judging each other. Again he uses the easily imagined case of a man who has a stick stuck in his own eye and thinks he sees a speck of dust in his brother’s eye.

“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother's eye.” (Luke 6:41-42)

It is probable that what he sees is in fact the end of the stick in his own eye, rather than something in his brother’s. His efforts to pull it out may blind his brother, or at least make his problem worse. When we begin to judge others, we often attribute our own sins to them, like the habitual liar who assumes everyone else is lying or the thief who assumes everyone else is a thief. Our efforts to fix what we think is wrong with their lives may turn them away from God, and does not benefit us. For example, assuming others are sexually tempted can titillate and lead to sexual sin rather than deterring people.

It is less painful to try to fix the other person’s problem than to address our own and we tend to focus on other people’s sin rather than our own. Unfortunately our judgment is distorted by our own sin.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Two Tablets Before Bed Isn’t Enough

Luke 6:27-38

One of the biggest problems in the United states is our demand for instant results. Instant mashed potatoes, coffee, are just examples. Years ago, TV dinners were invented to save the time of preparing a meal, and today almost any thing can be obtained ready prepared. In my research on diabetes, I was amazed to discover the amount of difference in food values and effects on our bodies of these prepared foods.

For example, a cinnamon roll you buy at the convenience store or vending machine has almost twice calories as a similar sweet roll bought at a donut shop. I’m not saying either roll is good for you, but the prepackaged one is worse. The prepackaged roll uses high fructose corn syrup, a natural sugar that is twice sweet as regular sugar, and is totally absorbed by the body, while about half of regular sugar is not absorbed by the digestion system. The donut shop usually uses regular sugar.

Commercially produced oils are also added to the dough to retain a sense of moistness that is provided by water in the donut shop version, and these oils are absorbed by the body, but cannot be utilized by the cells, remaining in the blood stream until filtered out in the kidneys and liver. They contribute to the build up of plaque in the blood vessels and increased danger of blood clots and blockage.

By simply buying a donut at the donut shop rather than from a vending machine, The effect on one’s blood sugar will be reduced by about seventy five percent. While I do not advocate eating either donut, it is clear that a very minor change can have major impact. You didn’t even have to do without the donut. The same thing is true in a lot of areas of life. The changes may not even be visible to others.

In America, rather than taking responsibility for such things, we go to someone who promises instant relief with no effort on our purpose. We expect the doctor to give a pill to fix what is wrong without changing our lifestyle. We expect a politician to instantly solve the economic crisis with no changes for us. People come to Christ the same way, expecting forgiveness and loss of guilt, while not intending to make any real changes in our life.

In John 5, Jesus healed the impotent man. Later he met him and in John 5:14, warns him of the need for change. “Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.” While Jesus had healed him of the original problem, continuing his old lifestyle would only lead to worse problems.

When we come to Christ for forgiveness, he forgives and saves us. If we do not make appropriate changes in our life, however, we find ourselves in a steadily accelerating downhill spiral which can only end in a crash unless action is taken to stop it. Jesus here teaches the people about the changes they need to make in their lives to avoid getting into worse shape.

“But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also.” (Luke 6:27-29)

The first thing that needs to change is our attitude toward others. It goes deeper than just not hitting back, but of actually loving the person. “Killing them with kindness” or rubbing their wickedness in is not the goal. God will take care of heaping coals on their head when he judges them. We are to learn to yield and submit, giving up our pride and genuinely caring for even those who abuse us. We need to learn to focus outside ourselves.

“Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.” (Luke 6:30-34)

Human beings are naturally self centered and even our efforts to help others are based on some benefit to ourselves, either that the person will return the money, or that we will get some other benefit. A lot of what is given to charity is given for the tax write off or for the publicity, rather than for the benefit of the recipient. When the attitude is correct, the giving would be done even if no one noticed, and there was no financial incentive. Christians are not to be natural people, but spiritual, or spirit led.

“But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36)

As our attitude changes, we become less judgmental toward others. We begin to realize the times we have done similar things and understand that God forgave us. It is hard to get very angry at the driver who inadvertently cut me off if I remember the time I cut off someone else the same way, but if I pridefully deny my own guilt, it is easy to get angry.

“Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.” (Luke 6:37-38)

Verse 31 is what most people know as the Golden rule. “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” Jesus was quite specific that we need to treat others the way we want to be treated because that is how they will treat us. It is not just a philosophical theory, it is reality. You will be treated the same way you treat others.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Dealing With The Cause, Not Just The Symptom

Luke 6:17-26

Type II diabetes is at epidemic levels among the various Indian tribes. In some tribes the incidence is almost 45% for those over thirty five years old. Because so many of my church members and acquaintances had been diagnosed, I began to research the problem to find out how I could help them. I soon learned that there is a vast amount of information available, but the general medical consensus is that once it develops, you will spend the rest of your life experiencing a growing number of problems.

Over the years, doctors have determined that for those with pre-diabetes, a problem with the blood sugar, but not yet attaining true diabetes, simply reducing their body weight will reduce the chances of developing diabetes by about one third. Weight loss also alleviates some symptoms and slows progress of the disease for those with diabetes.

A group of doctors have begun to research the effects of diet and in many cases total recoveries have occurred, with one of the best know involving actress Halle Berry. It now appears that type II diabetes in in fact not a disease at all, but the body responding in the manner it should to and extremely abnormal situation. Modern Americans consume, on average, one hundred seventy pounds of refined and unrefined sugar, as compared with less than twenty fifty years ago. The human body is simply unable to cope with the levels of sugar. In addition, starches are converted to sugar in the digestive system, further increasing the level of sugar available.

A body at rest requires insulin to utilize sugar for energy, so the it monitors the sugar level in the blood and adjusts the output to meet the available supply. Unfortunately, excess insulin causes cell death so when the supply gets too high, the cells restrict their usage, resulting in a condition referred to as insulin resistance. Type II diabetics have blood insulin levels five times that of other people, and most medical treatments involve various attempts to decrease insulin resistance. Losing weight usually results in reducing the overall amount of food ingested, and thus bringing the amounts of sugar closer to an acceptable level.

The cures actually involve completely modifying the diet, to eliminate the excessive amounts of sugars and starches ingested. When the amounts eaten are in a normal range, the body is again able to regulate itself and the diabetes disappears. The real problem is not a malfunction of the system, but of being overwhelmed by an improper diet. Learning to eat a healthy diet results in both loss of excess weight, and of diabetes, as side effects.

Most people do not begin to modify their diet until diabetes or some other health problem forces them to acknowledge the problem, and the standard medical treatment is mostly concerned with alleviating the symptoms. As a result, the focus is on minimal changes to allow the person to live with their diabetes, and the real problem is not resolved.

Sadly, we see the same problem in our Christian society. Most people come to the church as a result of problems which have developed in their lives. We can devote most of our effort to resolving those symptoms, or we can focus on dealing with the root problem, of sin. If the person is to continue, they must see progress with the symptoms as well. Few understand that once the root problem is fixed, the symptoms will disappear, as they are only side effects. It was the physical needs which initially drew people to Jesus, and while he healed them physically, he always addressed the spiritual needs, as the root of the problem and only true cure. His healing was always accompanied by teaching, as we see in this passage.

“And he came down with them, and stood in the plain, and the company of his disciples, and a great multitude of people out of all Judaea and Jerusalem, and from the sea coast of Tyre and Sidon, which came to hear him, and to be healed of their diseases; And they that were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed. And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all.” (Luke 6:17-19)

Jesus started by meeting the pressing physical needs of healing, then moved to deeper but less apparent emotional and spiritual problems, giving assurance that they could be healed as well. Merely healing the body would enable the person to spend the rest of their life in emotional stress with a healthy body, then go to hell. They would only be marginally better off temporarily.

“And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh. Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets.” (Luke 6:20-23)

It is believed that unless action is taken, The percentages of people with diabetes will double within the next ten years. That a person has not been diagnosed with it yet is not an indication that there is not a problem. In the same way, Jesus warned that those who seemed to be avoiding the problems of those around them at the moment were not home free.

“But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger. Woe unto you that laugh now! for ye shall mourn and weep. Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:24-26)

A real cure for diabetes can not be attained by a pill to lower the blood sugar level or an injection of insulin. While these may relieve the symptoms temporarily, they have not resolved the cause of the problem. It will be necessary to take action by the patient.

In the same way, while physical healing would relieve the immediate problem, only by taking care of the root problem could the people experience permanent relief. This would require a deliberate action on their part. Failure to act will negate the benefit of Jesus’ healing them. It still does. Faith without action is dead.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Choosing The Apostles

Luke 6:12-16

There is some confusion as to what an apostle is. Many use apostle and disciple interchangeably. The word “disciple” is translated from the Greek word “matathetes” meaning ‘a learner or pupil.’ The verb form, “matheno” means ‘to enroll’ as a pupil and is sometimes translated ‘to teach.’ The number of Jesus disciples fluctuated widely from time to time. Many did not believe, but followed from intellectual curiosity. They left when he said that believing in him was required, in John 6:64-66. “But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father. From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.” To remain as a disciple required a deeper commitment.

Apostle comes from the Greek word “apostolos”, meaning a delegate, an ambassador, a commissioned representative. Jesus selected his apostles from among his disciples, after much prayerful deliberation as to which to choose.

“And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles; Simon, (whom he also named Peter,) and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called Zelotes, And Judas the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor.” (Luke 6:12-16)

Some have declared pastors to be Apostles, but Ephesians 4:11 clearly distinguishes the two offices. “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.” Others have said that missionaries are apostles, but careful study shows that what we call a missionary is called an evangelist in scripture, and Ephesians 4:11 also distinguishes between evangelists and apostles. While Paul was both an apostle and a missionary, he himself said he was an apostle born out of due season in I Corinthians 15:8-9. Paul warned about such false claims as an apostle in II Corinthians 11:13. “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.”

Acts 1:15-26 describes the selection of a replacement for Judas Iscariot after the resurrection of Christ. To even be considered as an apostle, one had to have been taught by Jesus, and have shown himself faithful through out the time. Most of the disciples could not qualify.

And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,) Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus. For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry. Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood.

For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishopric let another take. Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.

And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, show whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” (Acts 1:15-26)

Paul qualified by virtue of a special calling by God according to Acts 9:15, and being taught by Jesus, as described in I Corinthians 15:8-9 and in Galatians 1:15-18. “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.”

We must not allow those who pretend to be apostles deceive us with their claims. II Corinthians 11:14-15 refers to them as ministers of Satan.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

God’s Standard Or Ours

Luke 6:1-11

One complaint by outsiders about Christianity is that it doesn’t seem to take reality with all the rules. The same thing had made the Jewish seem irrelevant in Jesus’ day. The problem is that we begin to enforce the rules as absolute in every case, the letter of the law. In doing so, we ignore the fact that while those rules have a purpose they are not to be enforced as an absolute standard. Romans 7:6 declares, “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.”

The intent of the law was the protection of man, both from the judgment of God, and the from wickedness of man and the world around him. While man was forbidden to work on the Sabbath, provision was made for caring for his livestock or emergency situations. As is often the case, it began to be viewed as an absolute standard, and even made more specific guidelines, ignoring what God’s exceptions indicated. The result is exactly Isaiah’s prophecy, as quoted by Jesus in Matthew 15:8-9. “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” In an effort to appear more holy, they set standards that set them farther from what God desires. This passage illustrates the very problem.

“And it came to pass on the second sabbath after the first, that he went through the corn fields; and his disciples plucked the ears of corn, and did eat, rubbing them in their hands. And certain of the Pharisees said unto them, Why do ye that which is not lawful to do on the sabbath days?” (Luke 6:1-2)

The Jews had developed a standard that any physical exertion was forbidden on the Sabbath. While the Sabbath was not to be just another day, they were not forbidden to eat or participate in various other activities. The Jews had added to the law, forbidding many basic essential activities. Jesus cites an example showing historical precedent for the actions of his disciples. As he states, those laws are subject to God, not he to them. As a sovereign God, he has the right to overrule them at any time.

One of my biggest problems with the five point Calvinists is the belief that because God would have the right to say only certain people can be saved, that is the way he has to do it. While he does have that right, he says he has made it available to every one who chooses to believe. As a sovereign God, he is free to give people freedom to choose if he desires to do so, and he says he did. Their position actually seems to deny his sovereignty.

And Jesus answering them said, Have ye not read so much as this, what David did, when himself was an hungered, and they which were with him; How he went into the house of God, and did take and eat the showbread, and gave also to them that were with him; which it is not lawful to eat but for the priests alone? And he said unto them, That the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.” (Luke 6:3-5)

Most people become defensive when their beliefs are challenged. When Jesus demonstrated that the Pharisaical approach to the law could not be supported historically, they began to look for things to attack him on. It is much like most of the political ads leading up to the last election. There is no attempt to show a plan of action, just accusations that the opponent will destroy the system. Any action that can be construed as wrong will be highlighted.

“And it came to pass also on another sabbath, that he entered into the synagogue and taught: and there was a man whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and Pharisees watched him, whether he would heal on the sabbath day; that they might find an accusation against him.” (Luke 6:6-7)

Like the political candidates, the Pharisees and scribes were looking for any point they could use to discredit Jesus. Because he understood the law so much more clearly than they, he was able to show that their position was faulty. The law made provision for caring for those who needed help on the Sabbath, and Jesus pointed it out to them.

“But he knew their thoughts, and said to the man which had the withered hand, Rise up, and stand forth in the midst. And he arose and stood forth. Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good, or to do evil? to save life, or to destroy it? And looking round about upon them all, he said unto the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he did so: and his hand was restored whole as the other.” (Luke 6:8-10)

In their determination to prove they were right, these religious leaders forsook all logic and truth, just looking for some way to destroy Jesus. As I observed the irrational and unsupported accusations of some of the candidates, I began to understand a little better what Luke is describing.

“And they were filled with madness; and communed one with another what they might do to Jesus.” (Luke 6:11)

Such a determination to prove you are right, rather than to find out the truth is dangerous, but not uncommon among religious groups. It is not of God.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Patching Doesn’t Fix The Problem

Luke 5:33-39

The news constantly reminds us of the Muslim suicide bombers who, to earn a better position in heaven, commit suicide. Less fanatical Muslims stop and perform ritual prayer five times a day. A traditional Navajo sprinkles corn pollen to the four directions every day. Other groups offer food or burn candles daily to obtain blessings of the Gods. The lack of similar zeal is often questioned by Christian leaders and unbelievers. The people in Jesus day had the same questions.

“And they said unto him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink?” (Luke 5:33)

The Pharisees were known for their level of religious activity, and after John’s imprisonment and later beheading, his followers became more religious as well. Jesus pointed out that it is something like a family when their Dad is home. They seldom talk about him, but their love or lack of love is demonstrated by their treatment of him. When the husband and father leaves, even those who don’t really care are saddened by his departure.

“And he said unto them, Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days.” (Luke 5:34-35)

Although she always gave a great show of loving her husband, a woman I know was always so caught up in what she was doing that she could seldom find time to spend with him. People were impressed with the way she kept house and all her efforts and did not understand he felt that he didn’t really matter to her.

When his job required him to be away from home for several months, she spent a lot of time making him feel that she really missed him and couldn’t wait for him to return. She had everyone in the church convinced she really missed him, constantly asking for prayer for his safe return and talking about how she missed him. The letters and phone calls he received convinced the husband that she really cared for him after all.

When he returned home after several months of traveling, she didn’t even stop washing dishes to give him a kiss, or take time away from her normal activities to spend a few hours with him. In just a few hours, he felt that he was not welcome, and before long she divorced him, because her attitude had not really changed.

In the same way, it is easy to appear wildly in love with God when we are far away. When he is present with us however, we have to yield to his wishes and desires, and this requires giving up our old ways. Often the religious activity conceals a lack of real relationship with God. Just as the woman convinced herself and others that her love was real, we convince ourselves that ours is. When reality comes in, the pretense breaks down because there is no yielding.

“And he spake also a parable unto them; No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved.” (Luke 5:36-38)

Real change requires more than just adding a patch to the outside. Adding a religious activity such as fasting, church attendance, or prayer, while it may seem like a lot, does not produce real change. Without a fundamental change, disaster is assured. Far too much energy is spent in churches to sew on a patch, rather than developing a relationship with God. The more we have enjoyed the old, the less we are willing to be changed.

“No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.” (Luke 5:39)

Perhaps this is why some of the worst sinners frequently become some of the best Christians. They want to be changed. They don’t think just adding some patches to their behavior will be good enough, and they aren’t satisfied with what they have.