Friday, December 31, 2010

Starting A Fire

Luke 12:49-59

Why did Jesus come like he did? It’s so easy to give some glib answer like to save the world, or the send peace, but why in the way he did. He did none of the things people who want to be known do. He didn’t send out publicity teams, except when he sent the seventy, or seek endorsements from other religious leaders. He didn’t dress in a manner that attracted a lot of attention or participate in most religious events. His own brothers thought that his approach seemed a ineffective, as we see in John 7:4. “For there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly. If thou do these things, show thyself to the world.” It was, by most standards, doomed to fail.

Many leaders gain or retain a following by emphasizing even minor differences. The conflicts can be over anything from which version of the Bible is acceptable , or styles of music, or dress, to whether what style of church government is allowed. The implication being that anyone who doesn’t do everything like we do is wrong. In I Kings 12:25-33, Jeroboam used this technique to solidify Israel behind his leadership. In the process he turned the attention from what God commanded to his own system, causing the people to go into sin.

We’ve nearly all heard the quote, supposedly by Einstein, that “insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results.” Jesus took a different approach because he wanted different results. He was not seeking to develop devotion to a series of religious beliefs, but of personal devotion to God. It brought him into conflict with the Pharisees, who sought devotion to their religious system. It brings him into conflict with nearly every religious group of our day because almost all of them seek to promote their own beliefs, whether Catholic, Baptist, Church of Christ, Mormon, Nondenominational, or Charismatic. That is the source of the conflict between different groups in our day. The different goal explains the unusual approach.

“I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled?” (Luke 12:49)

Anyone who has attempted to start a campfire knows certain things about starting a fire. You start it by using pieces of fuel small enough that your source of ignition will raise them to a high enough temperature to ignite. A match will ignite small twigs, grass or leaves. A propane torch will ignite much larger branches. A spark will only ignite very dry leaves or grass. Almost any spark of flame can trigger a gas which is at ignition temperature.

As numerous individual leaves or twigs ignite, they produce enough heat to ignite larger branches, and the fire will eventually spread to the entire pile, no matter how small the initial spark was if it successfully ignites enough small pieces. It may take quite a bit of time to attain a very large fire.

Today most people want quicker results so they use some kind of accelerant such as lighter fluid or gasoline. The smallest spark can cause almost explosive ignition, which may burn things that were not intended to burn, including hair and eyebrows. While it may give an instant appearance of success, often the flames are of such short duration or directed in such a way that the main fuel is not ignited, making a second attempt even more dangerous as residual hot spots may cause unexpected ignition.

“But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” (Luke 12:50)

For a match or twig to successfully ignite others, it must itself be burned. Jesus uses the illustration of starting a campfire safely to help us understand his approach. He is not trying for a quick result, but a steady and consistent flame. To attain that will require his participation, event to the point of giving up his own life. Baptism means to be placed completely into something. Jesus here refers going through all of death. When Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22, Isaac came to very point of death, but never went through it. Jesus Christ, on the other hand went through all of it to the fullest extent. He was completely dead, and buried. Our salvation could not be accomplished with a near death experience, and Jesus knew what was required. It was a source of stress for him, to the point of actually sweating drops of blood just before his arrest, as Luke 22:44 tells us.

Just as fire results in destroying the structure of the wood, and the wood resists being burned, allowing God to have his way in our life will destroy our old systems of values and standards. People instinctively resist changes that destroy what they are familiar with. Conflict is the natural result. To change will result in conflict, but we cannot enter heaven without being changed.

Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.” (Luke 12:51-53)

People observe things such as clouds or wind that indicate a change in the weather and take appropriate actions, whether taking a raincoat or umbrella or taking off their coat. It is pretty silly to see snow outside and wear a pair of shorts, or to wear a winter coat in Florida in July. It is pretty dumb to ignore evidence of a need for change in our behavior and refuse to do it.

“And he said also to the people, When ye see a cloud rise out of the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it is. Lu 12:55 And when ye see the south wind blow, ye say, There will be heat; and it cometh to pass. Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky and of the earth; but how is it that ye do not discern this time?” (Luke 12:54-56)

Just as a person should be able to look at the weather and decide what kind of clothing to wear, People should be able to look at God’s word and see what they need to do. To insist on dressing improperly because it is the current fashion isn’t very smart. It isn’t very smart to deliberately ignore what God said because our system of beliefs says we should do something else is no different.

“Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right? When thou goest with thine adversary to the magistrate, as thou art in the way, give diligence that thou mayest be delivered from him; lest he hale thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and the officer cast thee into prison. I tell thee, thou shalt not depart thence, till thou hast paid the very last mite.” (Luke 12:57-59)

If people deliberately wear shorts in the snow, they have no right to gripe about being cold. They need to expect to be cold until they change. A person who ignores what God says has no right to be upset when he is chastened. We are expected to live with the consequences of our actions. The only way to avoid judgment is doing what we are supposed to do. Whether the fire destroys you or refines you depends on whether you are willing to be changed.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Being Prepared

Luke 12:35-48

Most people have heard the old saying, “what you don’t know can’t hurt you.” Unlike most of those old sayings, this one is patently false. Not knowing that a chemical is poisonous can lead to death, as can not knowing that a rock is poised to fall or that a rope is about to break. It is critical that we learn to know what is around us for our own protection.

A far more valuable and accurate saying is “Forewarned is forearmed.” If we are aware of the danger, we can take steps to avoid or minimize it, but if we are unaware of it, we will not. A cousin of mine has contracted a disease known as Brueger’s Disease because she had no knowledge that it even existed and engaged in activities that made it possible to develop. The Boy Scout Motto is “Be Prepared.” If one is, it is far easier to deal with what happens. Jesus instructs his followers to “Be Prepared.”

“Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately.” (Luke 12:35-36)

We are told repeatedly that the Lord will return to take his people to heaven. Many spend great amounts of effort trying to determine just when he will come, ignoring his statement that it will happen at time when we aren’t expecting him. Matthew 24 gives more information on this teaching of Jesus. Matthew 24:44 Commands, “Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” Matthew 24:36 states that no man knows the time. “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.”

When the disciples asked him about the time, Jesus said we were not to know the time in Acts 1:7. “And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.” This definitely goes against a lot of popular teaching today, which seems to be designed to create a sense of fear and urgency, rather than of growing faith. Jesus teaches that the ones who will be blessed are the ones faithfully doing the job when he comes, rather than those who are rushing around to get things ready at the last moment.

“Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants.” (Luke 12:37-38)

We are told that he will come like a thief in the night. As Jesus says, if we knew when the thief would come, we could just plan to be ready at that time. Since we don’t know, we have to be ready at any moment. He has prepared something special for those who are ready when he comes.

“And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through. Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.” (Luke 12:39-40)

Like Matthew 24:44, Jesus said it will happen at a time when believers are not expecting it. Since we are not to even know the times or seasons, any attempt to set a date is clearly bogus. We are to be prepared at all times.

“Then Peter said unto him, Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even to all?” (Luke 12:41)

Peter’s question was “is this just for us Apostles, or is it for everyone?” Jesus responded with a tremendous teaching about taking responsibility for the Job we have been given, whatever it might be. It targets those who are charged with teaching others in particular.

“And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath.” (Luke 12:42-44)

God has put pastors and teachers in position to feed the flock spiritually. The ones who have done that job faithfully will be rewarded because they have done the job they were given.

On the other hand , if the pastor or teacher begins to abuse his position, making the people bow to his will and disciplining those who don’t do what he wants, or making himself rich through the ministry, he will face judgment. Literally many of them will find they are in hell because they didn’t believe, just like other unbelievers.

“But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.” (Luke 12:45-46)

Pleading ignorance will not be accepted as an excuse. Deliberate disobedience, called iniquity, will be severely judged, because it was deliberate and intentional. Ignorance will be judged because we had the opportunity to know what God expected, and were not concerned enough to find out. God has given us his Word, and he has given us the Holy Spirit to teach us. We have no excuse for not knowing.

“And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” (Luke 12:47-48)

The greater responsibility we’ve been entrusted with, the greater returns will be expected. It is not unreasonable to hold those in a level of leadership to a higher standard. By taking the job, they accept the responsibility.

Depending On God

Luke 12:22-34

Las summer, I planted a garden. I bought some seed and some plants, and planted them in the best soil available. I watered them and pulled weeds, and most of them did quite well. A few plants, however, just wouldn’t grow like they should, and one cucumber vine never made a single cucumber. I have no idea why, as they were from the same nursery, and planted in the same soil. I had no control of their growth.

Traditionally, most farmers had even less control than I had. I had water available, and since I was working in a very small area, I could pick already started plants and place them in soil I knew had plenty of nutrients. The traditional farmer would have to plant seed and hope it would sprout and grow. He would have to trust that the rains would come at the proper time and the soil would have the proper nutrients. If the weather turned cold, he might be unable to protect the plants, and insects or disease could wipe them out. Whether he realized it or not, and most did, they were totally dependent on God to make things happen properly. Even those who did not acknowledge God recognized that there were forces beyond their power to control.

Most modern Americans have a less immediate connection to what the Lord does, and often forget they are just as dependent on what God does. As a result people’s faith becomes focused on man’s abilities rather than on God. When we think we have a sure source we are confident, but when we don’t know where the next meal is coming from it is hard to trust. Jesus had already begun teaching his disciples to depend on God, but now he explains more fully.

“And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment.” (Luke 12:22-23)

While we depend on food to survive, we can eat a great variety of things, and survive for a long period with very little food. Our bodies are far more adaptable than we often realize. During the Depression, My mom’s family survived largely on tumble weed greens, jack rabbits, and milk because they had a cow. The kids didn’t even realize that it wasn’t what their parents liked. It was just what they had. Our life isn’t about what we have to eat or to wear, contrary to what many seem to think. It is amazing how many homeless people survive, eating what other people have thrown away as garbage. While I don’t want to live that way, I can if others can. I will still be alive.

“Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?” (Luke 12:24)

In our area, there are a lot of ravens. Most of them are pretty healthy. They nearly always find food to eat. People are much more valuable to God than the ravens, and God feeds them even when they did nothing to earn it. We so easily forget that we have little control over the things around us, and some of the self help Gurus insist that it isn’t so, but the fact is, we are limited.

“And which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest?” (Luke 12:25-26)

Our bodies are part of us, and there are many things about the body we can control, including, to some extent our weight, and health and hair color. However we have little control over our height, and it is one of the least important aspects of our life. It really makes little difference whether one is four feet tall or seven. If we cannot control such unimportant issues that are directly connected to us, why try to control things beyond our reach. It seems a little silly and arrogant to think we could control the weather, or the economy. Why waste time worrying about it? Focus on the things you can do.

“Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (Luke 12:27-28)

Several years ago, I worked for a plumbing company that was forced into bankruptcy because they were unable to collect on some work they had done. I had done my best, but I could not make the builder pay his bill because he had no money to pay with. The recent economic collapse forced many companies to lay people off, even though they had done a good job. We cannot control those things, and worrying about it will drive us nuts. God has promised to supply our need, and we need to trust him just as the ravens and plants do. They don’t worry what they will eat tomorrow, just enjoy what they have today.

“And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.” (Luke 12:20-30)

Rather than worrying and striving to get the things we need, we need to try to please God. That does not excuse us for being lazy, but it does mean we learn to be content with what God gives. Those who stress that we should never be content are going against scripture. I Timothy 6:8 commands, “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content.” Instead of focusing on things, even food, we need to focus on what pleases God.

“But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:31-32)

God wants to give us all the riches of heaven. A man I know had a lot of stuff, and refused to get rid of it. When he needed to move, he spent so much moving the stuff that it forced him into bankruptcy. If he had just given the stuff away, he would have lost it, but he would not have been bankrupt. If he had sold it, he would have had quite a bit of money to work with. It’s foolish to keep stuff that prevents us from getting something better.

“Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Luke 12:33-34)

If our belongings keep us from obeying God, they are Idols. They will surely not make it into heaven, and may not last through this life. Why not trade them in on something better?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Leaven of Hypocrisy

Luke 12:1-12

While I was in high school, one day my folks had to leave very early. I was to cook breakfast for my brothers and sisters, before catching the bus myself. I decided to make biscuits and gravy, but in my hurry, trying to get everything done, I forgot to add the baking powder to the dough. The biscuits were almost as hard as a rock, and didn’t taste very good.

The baking powder serves as a leavening agent, producing gas that makes the dough rise as it cooks, softening it. While it works by a chemical reaction, most natural leavening agents depend on the action of bacteria or other organisms which produce gas as a result of consuming sugar or starch in the dough. The quantities should be so small as to be almost undetectable in the dough, since excessive amounts cause the dough to rise excessively, and release the gas to the air, causing the cake or loaf to fall, when it may become almost as hard as if it never had any to start with. While the leaven makes the bread easier to eat, it offers no food value itself, and is an impurity. Almost all leavenings cause health problems if taken in excessive quantities.

Jesus had just condemned the behavior of both the lawyers and the Pharisees. While the Pharisees had a great deal of good in what they taught, there was an impurity that could cause problems if allowed to grow in ones life. The leaven was, and is hypocrisy. It is especially important that Christians understand the danger.

“In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.” (Luke 12:1-3)

It is so easy to slip into a habit of judging others for their sin while excusing the same or similar sins in our own life. Romans 2:1 warns, “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.” Rather than focusing on the behavior of others, Romans 14:13 instructs that we should focus on the effects of our own behavior. “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.” Failure to do so leads to pride and sin on our part, and God will not ignore our sin because some one else was worse. Unconfessed sin will be published publicly. It is better to confess it ourselves than to ignore it. There will be greater damnation for those who have known and accused others while doing the same.

“And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:4-7)

It is easy to be intimidated by the number and apparent power of those around us and not speak out about the Lord and what is right. We need to understand that the worst they can do to us is to kill us. If they do so, as Paul says, in II Corinthians 5:6-9, “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him.” What to them is the worst possible thing is to us desirable. We know how much God loves us, so what they do to us isn’t anything to worry about. We do have to worry about what God thinks, however.

“Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God: But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven.” (Luke 12:8-10)

What we say under duress is an indicator of what we think. Whether we really trust God or not will show up when we are under pressure. Luke 6:45 advises, “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." How we respond to others about our faith indicates whether it is real to us, or just words. Whether we recognize the Holy Spirit’s work as from God or not indicates whether we are really saved. He is the one who gives assurance of salvation, and his absence is a clear sign that one is not saved, according to Romans 8:9. When the Holy Spirit is the one guiding our tongue, it will greatly change the outcome.

“And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.” (Luke 12:11-12)

Several years ago, the Christian Law Association was stressing how important it was to plan your defense before you were arrested. Their recommendations were exactly contrary to Christ’s command. It only emphasizes how completely we have moved from walking in the Spirit to dependence on the flesh.

During the Scopes Monkey Trial, which resulted in the adoption of evolution as the official government stance, Clarence Darrow was selected to present the biblical view, because he was the most respected lawyer of the day. Despite months of preparation, he was soundly defeated. What do you think would have happened if they had depended on the Holy Spirit to guide the defense rather than human wisdom? I suspect that the results would have been far more pleasing to God.

We need to learn to depend on God in every situation, rather than doing things our own way.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Dealing With Guilt

Luke 11:45-53

A family we know got saved several years ago. They felt they ought to go to church, so they attended several to find one they liked. At one church they were pleased with what they learned so began attending regularly.

One day the man came home really upset, because all that preacher talked about that morning was smoking and he wasn’t going to stay and just listen to such ranting. The wife couldn’t even remember the preacher having said anything about the subject, so she obtained a copy of the sermon to see what had upset her husband so much. She listened to the tape and couldn’t identify a single reference to smoking.

Finally, she convinced her husband to listen to the tape and explain what was making him so mad. After listening to the tape three times, the husband admitted the preacher had not said any of the things he thought he’d said. He decided to give the church another chance. It wasn’t long before he gave up smoking and became a preacher himself.

I have learned over the years that many times when people take offense, it is because of their own attitudes and sense of guilt rather than what was actually said or implied. Pride opposes admitting one’s faults so they become angry and defensive, often avoiding those who remind them of it, rather than correcting the problem.

Jesus had just pointed out some sin by the Pharisees, and one of the lawyers took issue with what he’d said. It is important to understand that Jewish governmental law and religious law were very closely linked, so while the lawyers were not religious leaders like the Pharisees, they were very involved with the same set of standards, and their income was directly dependent on interpreting the law. It is not hard to understand the Lawyer’s concern when Jesus accused the Pharisees of violating the law they purported to uphold.

“Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also.” (Luke 11:45)

If the Pharisees were misinterpreting the law for their own benefit, then the lawyers who supported that interpretation must also be wrong. Rather than apologize, Jesus addressed the lawyers part in the problem. Guilt must be acknowledged before it can be resolved. To pretend it isn’t real dooms one to live with it forever, but by confessing it, it can be eliminated, according to I John 1:8-10. Jesus focused on their guilt in an effort to get them to face it.

“And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.” (Luke 11:46)

Political leaders of today enact laws that require every person to buy health insurance or pay certain wages, but set up a special exemption for themselves. For example, congress has a separate health program. They never have to purchase standard insurance again. The most recent minimum wage law includes certain exemptions which allow Nancy Pelosi’s family to pay less than minimum wages and hire illegal aliens that others cannot.

The lawyers of Jesus day were doing much the same thing in their enforcing Jewish law. Over the years, I have observed a number of preachers who would not allow the women in their churches to wear slacks, but when on vacation would allow their own wives and daughters to do so. After all, they are the ones making and interpreting the rules.

“Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres. Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute: That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; From the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation.” (Luke 11:47-51)

By sponsoring rebuilding the monuments to murdered prophets, the lawyers acknowledged than as coning from God, but by teaching contrary to what they taught, they’ve placed their approval on killing God’s messengers if one doesn’t like what is taught. How many theologians of today reject the scripture as God’s word, while claiming those who believed them as part of their heritage, and using them as justification for their organization. They often devote much of their energy to eliminating those who still cling to the old beliefs and practices.

“Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.” (Luke 11:52)

Both lawyers and theologians make their living from other people’s ignorance. As a result, they have a vested interest in making it as obscure as possible so people have to come to them for clarification and guidance. Unfortunately, they have little interest in anything except what produces immediate benefit to them, and do not study beyond what they need for the moment, to support their present position, resulting in serious distortions of both law and scripture. Every effort is made to convince people that they are incapable of understanding on their own and discourage them from learning the truth.

“And as he said these things unto them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to urge him vehemently, and to provoke him to speak of many things: Laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him.” (Luke 11:53-54)

The scribes and Pharisees reacted in thoroughly typical manner. Rather than humbling themselves and admitting their own guilt, they began to look for something to destroy his credibility. They even tried to get his opinion on other subjects in hopes of making him appear ignorant. In refusing to face their own guilt, they made it grow larger. Sadly most of psychology seems to be devoted to denying guilt.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Using Hand Sanitizer

Luke 11:37-44

While teaching Second grade, my sister was shocked at the number of parents who sent antibacterial hand sanitizers with their children. So often, when instructed to go and wash their hands, the children would insist they didn’t need to because they’d used sanitizer. They, and their parents thought that hand sanitizer would eliminate danger from germs.

Studies have shown that regular hand soap is more effective at killing harmful bacteria than sanitizer. It also kills less beneficial bacteria that destroy the harmful ones. Neither is effective at killing viruses, but flushing the surface with water washes them away. Teaching the kids to wash their hands would be far more effective.

Worse, the sanitizers contain toxic chemicals that are absorbed through the skin, including alcohol. Some kids have used such quantities of sanitizer as to become intoxicated. There is fear that they may become addicted, as some alcoholics are using it to get drunk, when they can’t obtain regular alcoholic beverages.

Like the parents who send sanitizer to protect their children from germs, many churches develop codes of behavior intended to protect their people from sin. Unfortunately, those codes become a substitute for doing what is really needed, and provide a false sense of security. The Pharisees had developed such programs, and in fact one code involved the washing of hands.

“And as he spake, a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him: and he went in, and sat down to meat. And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first washed before dinner.” (Luke 11:37-38)

The Old Testament Law provided specific guidelines for cleansing ones hands and body after handling dead bodies or caring for the sick to prevent the spread of disease, similar to that of doctors today. Sanitizer was developed as a final step in the cleansing process for surgeons to prevent introducing pathogens into healthy tissue. It was never intended for general use.

While over ninety percent of all germs are beneficial and some are essential to survival, the Pharisees began requiring that everyone apply the antibacterial procedures before eating. They were offended when Jesus did not do so, although the Law made no such requirement.

“And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness. Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without make that which is within also?” (Luke 11:39-40)

The cleansing the outside gave an illusion of cleanliness and protection, but did nothing for what was inside. Just as washing ones hands with sanitizer cannot protect one from most of the germs one comes in contact with, observing the ritual washing would not prevent people from sinning or take away the sin. Just as washing their hands would have far greater impact on the children’s exposure to pathogens, obedience to god’s commands will be far more effective in maintaining spiritual health. Often these human codes create other problems.

“But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you.” (Luke 11:41)

Jesus instructs them that they should use what they have already and allow God to make the other things pure. Far too much emphasis is placed on minor activities resulting in neglect of what actually pleases God. In I Samuel 15:22 Samuel reminds Saul that obedience to him is what pleases God. “And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.” The Pharisees had it backward.

“But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Luke 11:42)

While the outward actions matter, they ought to be the byproduct of the Spirit in our lives, rather than primary focus. When we focus on the actions, we, in pride try to do the right actions in the flesh. The flesh cannot produce spiritual products. That which is flesh is still flesh. Flesh is just self spelled backward with an ’h’ added. The selfish pride is shown by the desire for man’s accolades by doing what man wants.

“Woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye love the uppermost seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets.” (Luke 11:43)

Just as convincing people to use sanitizer every time gives a false sense of security, and may in fact result in more virulent germs, as well as creating other problems, the Pharisees deceived people by prescribing their own standards. They were actually in greater danger as a result of following the standards. It is frequently true in our day as well.

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.” (Luke 11:44)

Lighting the World or Casting a Shadow?

Luke 11:33-36

A candle is meant as a source of light. Where it is set makes a great deal of difference how much benefit the light gives. Placed down on the floor, the light may provide very limited benefit, but raised high, it can light a lot of things.

“No man, when he hath lighted a candle, putteth it in a secret place, neither under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that they which come in may see the light.” (Luke 11:33)

Placing a candle in a place where it’s light can’t be seen defeats the purpose of lighting it in the first place. Worse, enclosing the candle does not allow the heat to escape, causing the candle to melt and creating a fire hazard. What should have increased one’s safety and comfort becomes a danger instead. It would be a foolish decision to do so.

In Matthew 5:14, we see that Jesus introduced this statement by pointing out that we are the light of the world. “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.” The candle will give off light if it is lit. Attempts to hide it will destroy the candle and potentially cause a fire. We cannot hide the light of Christ in us very long without destroying ourselves and possibly those around us as well. Instead, Jesus said we are to let our belief be obvious to everyone, in Matthew 5:16. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 10:32-33 warns, “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.”

During the late 60’s and early 70’s, it became popular to not put a central light fixture in the ceiling, but depending on lamps around the room. I owned a trailer built during that period, and quickly learned how inconvenient the arrangement was. The resulting shadows cast by the various lamps made seeing things across the room difficult because it is difficult to look from a well lighted area and see things in the shadows as ones eyes are not adjusted for the lower level of light in those areas. Reading required special positioning of the lamps so the book was not in shadow. A single light overhead would have eliminated many of those shadowed areas.

Light enters through the eye, enabling us to see. If the eyes focus together, we see clearly. People who’s eyes don’t focus together, were often referred to as having a n evil eye. They could not see clearly unless they ignored the input from one eye. They became like the person in the room with no central lighting, able to see only some things clearly. It becomes difficult to function normally because one cannot trust his vision. It might actually be easier to be blind so that you were not distracted with out of place images.

“The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness.” (Luke 11-34-35)

In the passage in Matthew 6:19-34, which gives more detail about this teaching, it is clear that what Jesus is referring to is the importance of being focused on a single goal. If we are trying to get rich at the same time as we try to serve God, for example, we will become confused and be forced to choose which one we want. To try to do both will only end in frustration on both counts. It is not possible to serve God and anything else. Even efforts to serve our family, or the church can hamper our service for God.

“If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light.” (Luke 11:36)

When we are able to focus totally on one goal, the confusion and conflict disappears. Our way is clear, and we can confidently move toward goal, whether the goal is of the world or of God. Success is dependent on seeing our goal clearly.

Those who focus on the other goals, such as money get farther from God and as Paul warned Timothy in I Timothy 6:9-10, they place themselves in danger. “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” They conceal the light, and destroy the candle.

Those who focus on the Lord, on the other hand, draw close to him and clearly see where he wants them to go. They no longer have to ask “What would Jesus do?”, because they become like him. II Corinthians 3:18 promises, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” Now we become lights like him, as his light shines through us.

Equals before God

Luke 11:27-31

The principle of personal equality established in the Declaration Of Independence is a biblical principle. In spite of that fact, and our avowed belief in it, people still struggle with it two hundred and thirty five years later. We look and see huge discrepancies between the income of a plumber or electrician and the head of some large corporation.

The show, Undercover Boss has revealed that many of those in the highest positions cannot do the jobs of their employees. Far too may of them think that they are better because they make more money. It shocks them to understand they can’t do the job. Unfortunately the same attitude that some are better than others because they have a special position occurs in the church as well. A considerable amount of Jesus teaching was devoted to destroying this idea.

The Catholic church has especially exalted Mary’s position. After all, she was the one who gave birth to our Lord. One of the women in the crowd expressed the concept to Jesus.

“And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.” (Luke 11:27-28)

Jesus responds that Mary is no greater than any other person who Hears God’s word, believes it and acts on it. When Mary was told what God was going to do, she simple believed it and acted accordingly. The giving birth and raising Jesus was otherwise no different than what any other good mother does. She did not get the privilege because she was superior to other women, and having fulfilled that privilege does not make her better than other women.

The Declaration of Independence did not imply that everyone would attain the same things, or that they would have the experiences, but that each one should have the opportunity to develop their own life as they chose. Their success should be dependent on how they exercise the opportunity. Each person has that same opportunity to attain equal standing before God. If they fail to seize the opportunity, it is the result of their choices. It is not because the opportunity isn’t there. Each person is responsible to God for their own actions, and the results.

Several years ago, I heard a woman say that if her husband didn’t bring her flowers every week, she’d assume he didn’t love her and leave him. Apparently she saw flowers as the proof of love, and missed some far more meaningful demonstrations. Clearly the determination to leave her husband implies she had no commitment to him and would go where ever she got more flowers.

Jesus said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign;” in Matthew 12:39. Literally they are like the woman, with no intention to stay unless they get their way. People who depend on seeing signs to believe God is real have no commitment to the Lord himself, they are just there for the benefits, and will go elsewhere if they stop. I am amazed at the number of people who go to a different church because it is growing faster or has a more exciting program or a better healing ministry. When the sign they are looking for isn’t visible, they walk out, because they have no commitment to the Lord himself.

“And when the people were gathered thick together, he began to say, This is an evil generation: they seek a sign; and there shall no sign be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet. For as Jonas was a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation.” (Luke 11:29-30)

Just as it is ridiculous for a man’s marriage to depend on wheter he brings home flowers every week, it is ridiculous for people to demand special signs to keep them serving God. Jesus said tha God is not going to bow to such a shallow faith. Nineveh only received the message of Jonah one time. Jesus would only come one time and deliver his message. People who ignored it would have to suffer the consequences.

Others have believed and obeyed on the basis of what they have heard without repeated warnings and signs. Demanding more before a person will act is evidence he has no intention of staying and serving the Lord. The queen of Sheba committed on the basis of what she had heard, and traveled about a thousand miles to learn from Solomon. The people of Nineveh had seen no sign but Jonah, but they listened and acted.

“The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation, and condemn them: for she came from the utmost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineve shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.” (Luke 11:31-32)

Those who seem to have an advantage will be held to a higher standard. Luke 12:48 declares, “ For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” Everyone has equal opportunity and responsibility. They don’t get to demand special favors.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Nothing to Fear

Luke 11:14-26

While my parents were having our Bible college for training Navajo pastors, a missionary was sent to assist in the teaching. A few weeks after he arrived he told my mom that the previous night they’d had some ‘visitors.’ The way he expressed it seemed odd, and she asked who it was, assuming it was some of the Mormon or Jehovah Witness missionaries. “Oh no, they were not from this world.”

He went on to explain they’d heard thumping noises on the outside of the trailer, and babies crying but when they went outside there was no one around. I’d lived in the same trailer for a while, and when I heard similar sounds, had discovered that it was some feral cats making the noises, but he was convinced it was demons. Nothing we said or did changed his mind.

An emergency forced my folks to be gone for a few days and Dad asked the missionary to preach while he was gone. When he returned, the people asked that he not allow that man to preach any more. As one lady put it, she grew up around the beliefs in all those evil spirits and living in fear. When the Lord saved her he took away the fear and their power over her. She didn’t come to church to learn about demons. She came to learn about the Lord.

A few days later, Mom saw the missionary go into the college building as she drove up to the church, and since she’d picked up the mail and some was addressed to him she took it up to him. He’d locked the frond door, which struck her as strange but was no problem as she had a key and assumed he probably had forgotten something and just gone on through and out the back door. She decided to just leave the mail on the desk in the office, but the door was locked. She could hear someone inside so she knocked. When he opened the door, he explained that the demons had been bothering him and he had to keep the doors locked to keep them out. Mom asked him if he really thought doors could keep demons out. He became so focused on demons Dad had to ask him to leave.

The Bible does speak about demons, but most beliefs about them are not in accord with biblical teaching. Most people see evidences of demonic control regularly, but their idea of demons is based on the world’s ideas, and they are unable to correctly identify them. For example, during Prohibition, there was a great deal of emphasis on “Demon Rum.” Alcohol is not a demon. It is just a chemical compound, and can be used for good or evil.

Such misunderstandings about what demons are and do has led to a great deal of false teaching about how we should deal with the problems that arise. One preacher told us that he was so troubled by demons that he couldn’t sleep unless he left a Bible lying open by his head. An “Evangelist” taught that when you felt oppressed you should start repeating “The blood of Jesus over and over.” those ideas aren’t much different than the Medieval superstition about wearing a piece of garlic on a chain or buying a special fetish or memorizing a special spell to keep the demons away. They are based on superstition, rather than biblical teaching, and lead to confusion. I Corinthians 14:33 tells us, “For God is not the author of confusion…”, and such teachings are not from God.

The Jews had a number of people who purported to cast out demons, such as we find described in Acts 19:13. Like most making similar claims today, their results were inconsistent at best. This is what made Jesus’ power so amazing.

“And he was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake; and the people wondered.” (Luke 11:14)

That the man had a speech impediment and was unable to speak intelligibly was obvious to everyone. That Jesus simply spoke to him and he was healed was also obvious. Some wanted to discredit Jesus and began to accuse him of having a deal with the devil. Others wanted more signs as proof he really came from God.

“But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils. And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven.” (Luke 11:15-16)

As Jesus points out, Satan would be pretty dumb to make such an agreement. Their claims are base solely on their own desires rather than any evidence. If it were true, Satan would be destroying his own power base.

“But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because ye say that I cast out devils through Beelzebub. And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out? therefore shall they be your judges.” (Luke 11:17-19)

In addition, if Jesus got his power from Satan, then it was probable that the other exorcists they accepted as being from God were also acting out of a league with the Devil. Such a position brought their own beliefs into question. On the other hand, if Jesus was acting out of the power of God, then there was no question as to the validity of their belief in God.

“But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you. When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace: But when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils. He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.” (Luke 11:20-23)

That the power behind Christ is greater than that of Satan is obvious because he can take people from Satan‘s power. As I John 4: 4 states, “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” There is no reason for a Christian to fear Satan’s power because God is more powerful than Satan. As Jesus declares in John 10:29, “My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.” Demons cannot take possession of God’s children.

Not wanting to acknowledge Jesus power came from God the Jews credited his power to Satan. Sophisticated modern man would say that the possessed man had a psychological blockage, and that Jesus enabled him to overcome it in their effort to accomplish the same thing. As I discussed in the study of Luke 8:26-39 and Luke 9:37-42, demons gain possession because the person allows them to control their mind. Many so called psychological problems are the result of demonic control or possession. Jesus addresses the reason why programs to cure such problems have such a high rate of recidivism, why they fail to produce permanent cures.

“When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.” (Luke11:24-26)

The person can retake possession of their own mind, but they become so accustomed to allowing demonic power to have control that they lack resolve to do so. Most programs use motivational techniques, drugs, and isolation to stop the person from yielding to psychological problems such as alcoholism, drug addiction, or bulimia, and accomplish a temporary relief. Unfortunately, they depend on the person’s self control to maintain their freedom. It is relatively easy for demonic influence to be reasserted, since the person has been accustomed to allowing the control.

When a person receives Christ as savior, however, he gives up control to Christ, who protects their freedom to make their decisions. As a result Satan can never take full control. Human programs do not provide such a defense. Unfortunately, some religious “experts” on the subject are even less cognizant of the problems than secular psychologists.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Praying Effectively

Luke 11:5-13

A young boy wanted a pocketknife. Knowing little about prayer except that the preacher said God would give what you asked for, the boy decided to ask God for one. Not wanting to be embarrassed, he went out behind the barn and began praying for a knife. He tried several times and nothing happened, but he remembered that the preacher always prayed very loudly. Maybe God was like his grandfather and didn’t hear well, so he began to pray louder. Finally, when he was shouting at the top of his lungs, a pocket knife came sliding off the barn roof to land close to him. His father had heard his prayer, and thrown his pocketknife over the barn to keep him from deciding it was a lie. For years, the boy thought that God was hard of hearing so if you wanted an answer, you had to pray really loud.

Throughout history, people have had different Ideas of what is needed to get God to respond to our prayers. Some of their ideas were extreme. In India, people would throw one of their children to the crocodiles, while the Incas cut a living person’s heart out and offered it to the sun. We’re told that the Ammonites burned their children alive to Molech.

Other religions have demanded a an offering of money or food. Sadly, some of these groups call themselves Christian. Acts 8:18-22 describes Peter’s comments about this pagan belief. “And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee.” Bribes are an attempt to get someone to do something tey don’t want to or think is wrong. We are not to try to bribe God. Honest people are offended by attempts to bribe them. How offensive is it to God? We can expect results without bribery.

“And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.” (Luke 11:5-8)

Even though friendship is not enough to make the man get out of bed to help his friend, recognizing his need will make him get up and give what is needed. In the story of the unjust judge in Luke 18:1-8, Jesus points out that even a corrupt judge will give in to get a case out of his hair, and God isn’t unjust. He will supply just because it is needed. Philippians 4:19 promises, “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”

Working as a plumber, we used a lot of pipe fittings of different parts. However, if they were delivered to the job too early, many got lost. Consequently, it was better to leave everything that wasn’t needed immediately on the truck and send the helper to get more when we were ready for it. In a similar way, God has what we need available, but seldom delivers it until we are ready for it.

“And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Luke 11:9-10)

All we needed to do was ask our helper to get it, and he would do so. However, we needed to ask properly so he knew what we needed. God already knows what we need, but sometimes we ask for the wrong reasons. So often we try to get what we want but as James 4:2-3 says, “…ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.”

No one was authorized to purchase materials in the company’s name for jobs that the boss had not approved. When we pray in Jesus’ name, we are in a similar manner asking this on the basis of his authorization. We had no right to demand materials if we had not been authorized, but if we had, we could expect to receive them. This is what I John 5:14-15 is talking about. “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.”

Finally, we know that God is good. Animals almost always try to protect their offspring, and humans have the same instinct. Only those who are abnormal actively try to harm their children. If God is good, we can expect good from him.

“If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:11-13)

God has invested a great deal in our lives already. He’s not going to throw that investment away lightly, by refusing to supply what we need to do the job. Romans 8:32 reminds us, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”

We can safely trust God to provide what is actually needed. Many times, when I looked at the list of parts from the architectural drawings, I didn’t understand why they sent certain things. The reason became obvious when we reached the place where it was needed. We can trust God’s decisions as to what will be needed when the time comes, even when it is not what we expected. He knows far more about what is needed than we do.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Learning To Pray

Luke 11:1-4

“And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)

There are an untold number of different ideas about prayer. Almost every religion has their own form of prayer. Even many non religious doctors recommend prayer because it has such powerful psychological benefits. Most people are familiar with the prayers of the Moslem religion or at least some of the those of the Catholic church. Unless it is explained, few would recognize that the Navajo sprinkling corn pollen to the four directions was a form of prayer. For many Buddhists, rubbing the statue’s belly or leaving an offering is also a form of prayer.

The confusion dates back many centuries. In first Samuel 1:9-16, Eli did not recognize Hannah as praying because she prayed silently. We are told that Jews coming to the wailing wall to pray in Jerusalem shout their prayers and it seems that was what Eli thought prayer was.

Over the years some of the ideas I’ve heard about prayer are laughable, while others are really troubling. One man didn’t believe you should pray kneeling on a carpet floor. Sounds like his belief was similar to the prophets of Baal in Elijah’s day who believed God would listen if they hurt themselves enough.

Another man spent two hours every morning praying. In order to keep himself awake, he walked a certain path continuously. Many books have been written advocating that people spend a certain number of hours in prayer, or that they use certain prescribed prayers. Several writers recommend praying the scriptures, and some state that if you conclude with the words, “In Jesus’ name”, God is obligated to fulfill your request. Some have advocated praying until you got your request.

In the light of such confusion, Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. Matthew 6 records details of what Jesus taught that Luke does not. The first thing we learn is that prayer is between God and the individual. Hypocrites make a big production of their prayers, because they want man to know what they were praying. Matthey 6:5-6 gives specific guidelines. “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”

Public prayer tends to focus on the response of those hearing it rather than on talking to God. Real prayer is nothing more than talking to God. It should not be concerned with how the prayer sounds to others. Many are concerned that their prayers will not be heard if not couched in certain terms, so they buy prayer books or memorize prayers in hopes they will be more effective. Such concern ignores the teaching in Romans 8:26-27. “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” The Holy Spirit will convey the message to God properly, so we don’t have to worry about not saying it right. It is not some kind of spell.

Jesus forbade using memorized prayers or even thinking that we should pray long prayers in the belief that God will listen if we pray long enough. Matthew 6:7-8 commands, “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.” God doesn’t need or want a long explanation as what we want or why. He already knows. Think how you would respond if your kids talked to you the way you pray to God. Would you listen or get upset. I’m pretty sure you’d get upset if they kept repeating the same words.

The Lord gave an example for us to follow. He was not praying when he gave it, nor is it a prayer we should pray. Matthew 6:9 stresses that it is an example or model. “After this manner therefore pray ye:…” It is impossible for us to “Pray” this prayer. It is not us talking. When they forbid schools to quote this prayer, they did not ban prayers in school. The kids were not praying anyway. They were just parroting a speech they had memorized.

“And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.” (Luke 11:2-4)

The first thing we notice is the very shortness of this example. It gets straight to the point. The second thing is the emphasis on who God is. Un like the Evangelist who prayed, “God I command you…” it recognizes that God is to be respected. He’s not the old man upstairs, or our homie, he is the God of heaven, the creator of the world, and the rightful King. Everything is to be done in a manner that satisfies him.

The request for meeting needs is presented in a manner that acknowledges God’s right to supply as he sees fit rather than demanding that he give what we want as we want it. The request for forgiveness acknowledges our sinful nature, and our responsibility to recognize others as our equals. It acknowledges our dependence on Him for victory over sin. It is very similar to the publican’s prayer in the story of the Pharisee and publican in Luke 18:10-14. There is no pride in real prayer, just simple telling God what you think.

Unfortunately most of the books focus on the sense of religious pride we get from a perfectly worded prayer rather than on talking with God. Please understand that talking with God means listening as well as talking. Many people just talk at God, not really to him.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Does It Really Matter?

Luke 10:38-42

“Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.” (Luke 10:38-40)

Luke’s description of Martha reminds me of a woman I know. Everyone who met her used to think of her as the epitome of Solomon’s virtuous woman in Proverbs 31. According to her husband, she would arise at four a.m. to read her Bible and have devotions, then spend the entire day cleaning house, fixing meals, teaching her children, and decorating cakes for someone or making Christmas presents until midnight.

She always taught a Sunday School class and hosted youth meetings. She coached the girls basketball team at the Christian school and often provided a place to stay for visiting church groups. She never missed a service at church in the time I knew her.

Most people believed she was the ideal Christian. When she divorced her husband, people thought he must have really done some terrible thing to make her leave him. Other people who knew her said she was bitter that her husband was so lazy and never helped her, about never having enough money, and that he would never talk to her.

Knowing that her husband worked two part time jobs as well as a full time job, it was hard for most of us to believe he was lazy. Her husband said that she became increasingly resentful that he couldn’t supply as much money as she wanted and she constantly complained that he never talked to her, but that she would get angry if he tried to talk to her while she was busy with some thing. By midnight, when she finally slowed down, he wasn’t up to carrying on a conversation, knowing he had to be at work at seven the next morning. Even if he tried, she dozed off within the first few moments. After a ten or twelve hour day, it was hard to motivate himself to tackle all the things she wanted done, and she resented his not doing them.

It also got to be a burden listening to her complain about how much she was expected to do. Nobody at the Christian school or the church was doing their share and she resented them for it. Though he didn’t believe in divorce, it was a relief not having to deal with her constant anger.

Like the woman I described, Martha was very busy doing good things. In fact she got so busy doing them that she began to resent the fact that Mary wasn’t doing as much as she was. It is the typical response of a workaholic. Jesus was very loving, but not very sympathetic in his response.

“And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

Martha was so busy doing good things that she had neglected the only one that mattered. Jesus and his disciples could have eaten less fancy food or stayed in a less than perfect house. They did so on a regular basis, and it would not have been viewed as an inconvenience. In reality, Martha was more concerned with her reputation as a hostess and housekeeper than she was with the Lord himself. She wouldn’t take time from her activities to spend with him. The woman I described was more concerned with her reputation as the perfect wife than she was with her husband. She didn’t have time or energy to be his wife because she was so busy. Like Martha she began to resent those who didn’t share her ideals.

The resentment indicates that one is not acting out of love but for some selfish reason, regardless how good the actions may appear. A woman who can’t take time for her husband is not really a wife, just a glorified housekeeper. In the same way, a person who can’t take time for the Lord isn’t really a Christian, just a hypocrite like the scribes and Pharisees, doing everything to impress people.

Another woman never cleaned her house, washed dishes, cooked or did laundry. Her children were ashamed to invite other kids to their home, and learned very young to wash a dish and fix something to eat for themselves. They washed the clothes they wanted to wear to school themselves. This woman frequently stopped by her husband’s workplace and talked to him during his lunch hour. When he was working at some side job she would go as his helper or and they spent nearly every evening discussing their interests. Their marriage was still strong after more than sixty years, although people wondered how he could put up with her refusal to keep house.

The first woman’s husband had no question. She took time for a relationship with her husband. He was perfectly capable of washing his own dish or clothes, and was willing to do it because he valued her interest in him. That interest in him was far more valuable than all the things she could have done for him.

Like the second woman, Mary had focused on the only thing that really mattered. Jesus stated that that could never be taken from her. How much of our busyness is involved with things that don’t really matter?
Most advertising today stresses a limited time to act to create a sense of urgency. In most cases, the same deal will be repeated, so that it is not critical that you act immediately. Besides, you have gotten by this long without, so you can probably do without if you never get the item. If you focus on the apparent urgency, you may well buy something you didn’t need or even want. Many of our activities call for the same kind of urgency.

Many self help programs teach the importance of prioritizing what we see as needing to be done. If we prioritize which are most important, and do those first, we may not get everything done, but we will have done the most important ones. We will have no reason for stress because what mattered is done. If we don’t learn to identify what matters, and do it first, we will never have peace. Like the first woman, that lack of peace may result in losing what we had.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dealing With Insincerity

Luke 10:25-36

Many news reporters take great pride in asking the hard questions. Unfortunately, some of their questions are designed to force one to support their agenda, rather than discerning the truth. Such questions can be almost impossible to answer without playing into their hands. Because the media can control what part of the testimony the viewers and readers hear, the interviewee is at a definite disadvantage.

Lawyers use the same process in a trial to convince a jury of their position, and many witnesses leave the stand feeling that they were forced to lie or prevented from telling the whole truth, despite the oath they had to take. It is the same approach hecklers use to discredit ideas they oppose. Any legitimate question needs an honest answer, but these are not sincere questions. They are traps disguised as legitimate questions with the intent of making the asker look smart. The lawyer who questioned Jesus had the same intent, tempting him. No matter what Jesus said, it could probably be twisted to imply something else.

“And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25)

Acting in human wisdom, we may well fall into the trap by answering insincere questions in a manner that enables people to continue in their own opinion. Since we have no way of predicting what questions might be asked, Jesus advises that we just trust the Holy Spirit to direct our speech in such cases in Mark 13:11. “But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.”

Rather than answering directly, Jesus asked the lawyer what he believed. Now the lawyer has to commit himself to a position, and he no longer has the advantage of a well known public figure. In a another case the Holy Spirit might direct another approach, more fitted to the situation at hand. Learning to allow the Holy Spirit to direct will enable us to avoid many such traps.

“He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” (Luke 10:26-27)

The lawyer knew the answer the law had given, and quoted it back. Jesus’ response to his answer was essentially, “You‘re right, so just do it.” How can you attack or disagree with some one who just said you’re right?

“And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10:28-29)

Obviously there was a sense of not meeting the requirements as the lawyer wanted to justify himself. One doesn’t need to justify himself if there is no sense of guilt. Shakespeare reveals the same understanding when Macbeth says, “Methinks the lady doth protest to much.” She wouldn’t need to protest her innocence or establish an alibi if she was innocent.

When confronted with a failure on their part, most people try to avoid responsibility. A lady once asked my dad to make a list of everything she couldn’t do as a Christian so she’d know it was okay to do anything that wasn’t on the list. Many churches have taken a similar approach, setting a list of acceptable standards and requirements. The lawyer wanted a list of who he had to love. Jesus used a parable to explain his answer.

“And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.” (Luke 10:30-32)

Both the priest and the Levite were integral parts of the Jewish worship, having a responsibility to set the example as to what believers should do, much as pastors and deacons do in the modern church. Both were too involved with maintaining their own appearance and prestige to risk getting blood on themselves or delaying their journey. The priest tried to ignore what he’d seen, while the Levite went and looked more closely, but neither took action, even though the man was obviously one of their own people. They just didn’t want to get involved.

“But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.” (Luke 10:33-35)

The Jews despised the Samaritans as half-breeds and their religion as a perversion of the Jewish religion. In normal circumstances, the Jew would never have even looked at the Samaritan, but when he was hurt, the Samaritan forgot about the prejudice to help him. In fact, he delayed his own journey, applying first aid and medication as needed. I find it significant that he anointed him with oil, literally applying it as a medication, especially since olive oil has been proven to have healing properties. It gives an understanding of what is meant in James 5:14. “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” How often does God want us to apply the medication he provided and trust him to provide the healing? He doesn’t have to use the medication, but he may choose to.

The Samaritan then set the injured man on his own donkey and walked himself, to get to the nearest Motel. When he arrived, he rented a room, and guaranteed to pay for room service and anything else the injured man might need, knowing that it would cost at least two days pay, and perhaps more. All this for a man he didn’t know, of a race who hated him, with no inkling of being repaid, and with no tax deduction for his efforts.

“Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that showed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37)

Religion doesn’t make a man a Christian. We can perform all the rules a religion requires and be the most highly respected person in our church without being saved. The attitude or spirit motivating us is far more important than the actions themselves, but if the spirit is right, it will produce actions. This is why James 2:17 declares, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” The Levite and the priest took no action, implying that their faith was only a show.

It’s up to the lawyer what he will do about it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Spiritual Power

Luke 10:17-24

“And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.” (Luke 10:17)

The seventy advance agents return from their journey excited at what they have been able to do. Why, even the devils have been subject to them, through Jesus’ name. It was a heady experience. There was such a sense of power and accomplishment. I suspect that is how the apostles had felt when they came back from their training mission. It must have been a shock to be unable to cast the demon out of the boy in the previous chapter.

Jesus reminded the seventy who he is. It is easy for us to forget that Jesus is God, and that he was there even before the world was created. His existence did not begin with his virgin birth. He saw Satan cast out of heaven, as described in Isaiah 14:12-16 and Ezekiel 28:13-19. John 1:1-3 tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” It is the same one who created the universe who empowers us. We should not be surprised that the power to do these things is available.

“And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” (Luke 10:18-19)

The issue of spiritual power causes a lot of confusion in our day. Jesus promised, “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth,” in Acts 1:8. In Mark 16:17-18, he promised that his followers would have the same powers exhibited by the seventy. “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” Just as the apostles were disappointed by their inability to cast out the demon in the boy in the previous chapter, many of us become disappointed by our inability to exercise such power.

Jesus makes it very clear that the power is not the important thing. Power must not become our focus. Too often it becomes a source of pride and leads to misuse. In Acts 8, Simon offered money to obtain spiritual power. Acts 8:20-21 records Peter’s response. “But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.”

When we begin to seek power for pride or other selfish purposes, we are not right with God, and we cannot exercise the power. As Jesus pointed out to the apostles in Matthew 17:21, this kind of power is the result of faith which is developed by prayer and fasting. “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” Power, like prayer, always subject to God’s will.

“Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20)

It is human nature to focus on the physical power and abilities but we need to understand that the spiritual is far more important. The physical power is only a byproduct of the spiritual relationship. We need to focus on our salvation, and walking with the spirit, rather than exercising power. When we do so, the Holy Spirit will manifest his power as it is needed. Most of the religious world never understands that the real power is in learning to walk with and yield to the Lord. Only those who really learn who Jesus is ever experience real spiritual power in their lives.

“In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.” (Luke 10:21-22)

Vast amounts of resources are expended every year in scientific research, trying to find the causes of psychological problems, explaining how the world functions or solving world problems and explaining what is happening. As Christians, we have access to information and understanding that they will never attain by intellectual means, regardless how much is spent. All that is required is spending the time with Christ and getting to know him. What a privilege we have.

“And he turned him unto his disciples, and said privately, Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: For I tell you, that many prophets and kings 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.” (Luke 10:21-24)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Commissioning the Seventy

Luke 10:1-16

Many people think that Jesus only had twelve disciples. As has already been discussed, a disciple is a student or pupil. The number fluctuated considerably. He only called twelve apostles, or special messengers however. The twelve apostles received all the instruction the other disciples received and special instruction beyond that, because they were the ones who would have the primary responsibility for training the others and carrying on the ministry after Christ ascended into heaven.

Initially Jesus had sent out the twelve apostles to teach and learn what the ministry involved. Shortly there after, he chose seventy more of his disciples as advance teams to go to every city he would be visiting. Essentially, they were to go and prepare the ground to receive Jesus’ message, as described in the parable of the sower.

“After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come.” (Luke 10:1)

In many ways, the seventy have a job similar to that of John the Baptist. They were to share the word of God so that when Jesus came, they would already be thinking about God’s word and take Jesus’ message seriously. They were to pray for and seek others to assist in their efforts, because the job was greater than a team could do alone.

“Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.” (Luke 10:2)

The instructions to the seventy is almost the same as that he gave the twelve when they embarked on their training mission. They were to go in complete dependence on the Lord, making no effort to raise support or provide a backup plan. Jesus describes it as sending lambs into a pack of wolves. They had no protection or reserves to rescue them.

In Jewish culture, it was customary to stop and talk if one had the time. Failure to spend the time visiting was considered almost rude, excusable only if one was on urgent business. The seventy were not on a training mission, but had a specific job to do. They were not to allow other things to delay their getting to work.

“Go your ways: behold, I send you forth as lambs among wolves. Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way. And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again. And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house.” (Luke 10:3-7)

Having been involved in missions, as a missionary kid, a missionary, and a supporting pastor, I have observed some troubling things, when I compare what Jesus instructed his emissaries with modern missions. Too often it appears that our focus on human planning and organization has led to the missionary’s faith resting in his supporting churches or missions organization, rather than in God. “You have not because you ask not” is quoted to justify asking other churches to supply things theat are not necessary, or that the local people should supply for themselves.

A major problem on the Navajo reservation is that most groups have hired people to preach for them. As a result, many view the ministry as a job, and are constantly looking for a better paying one. In addition, some will profess to believe whatever you ask in order to get the job. It has resulted in many morally or doctrinally unsound teachers, and a lack of commitment to Christ in many churches. They go to whoever pays the most. During the course of my ministry, I have dealt with a number of people resulting from such ministries, finding almost none have any real understanding of or commitment to God’s Word. The few that have gotten in and gone on are frequently confused as to how to trust God. Following Jesus’ instructions would eliminate part of this problem.

Jesus instructed both the twelve, and the seventy to stay in the place they came to and not spend time looking for something better but accept what was provided. In Numbers 11, God was angered by the Jews complaining about what he had provided, and killed a great many of them. I cannot believe he was pleased by complaints about the food he provided such as David Brainerd recorded in his journal, despite the exalted attitude of many toward his ministry. I don’t believe he is any more pleased by our complaining about what he supplies.

“And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you: And heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.” (Luke 10:8-9)

When my folks came to the Reservation, The only place we could get land was in the new town of Navajo. It was never intended to be any more than a housing community for employees of the tribal sawmill, so was not expected to grow, and dad was informed he’d never be able to build much of a church there because there were so few people.

The church is still there forty nine years later, and supports their own pastor. In addition, because the mill became a job training program, the church at Navajo was used to open the doors to twelve other communities where churches were started. Had we gone to the tribal capital or one of the larger towns in the area, those doors would have not been opened. Jesus instructed the seventy to stay where the door was open, and utilyze the opportunity there. How many have ignored some little place where the door was open to try to reach some more impressive place. Jesus advised his disciples not to waste their time in a place that wasn’t interested.

“But into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you not, go your ways out into the streets of the same, and say, Even the very dust of your city, which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.” (Luke 10:10-11)

Paul makes it very clear that the gospel had to be first offered to the Jews, but that it was then to be offered to the Gentiles. Even the very Son of God had little impact in cities that chose to reject him, even though he had done more miracles and spent more time teaching in them than elsewhere. It is pretty arrogant to believe we can make it happen and devote our efforts in such a place when other, less popular and attractive cities would love to hear the Gospel.

Paul and Silas had definite ideas where the it would be best to preach the gospel, but God had a different plan, as Acts 16:6-10 describes. We need to learn to follow God’s plan rather than human wisdom. A willingness to hear is a definite indicator God uses to show his will.

“But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than for that city. Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, which have been done in you, they had a great while ago repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell.” (Luke 10:12-15)

One thing we must keep in mind is that this is not our work, but God’s. It doesn’t matter how they treat us, except that the treatment of us indicates their attitude toward God. If they refuse to hear, it is not our problem. Our job is to offer them the choice, then teach those who accept the offer.

“He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.” (Luke 10:16)

The great commission, Matthew 28:19-20 commands, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” We can’t properly teach those who believe if all our energy is expended trying to win those who refuse to listen.