Thursday, December 23, 2010

Did He Mean It?

Therefore I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for – believe that you have received them, and you will have them.” (Mark 11:26)

Did Jesus really mean what He just said above? Let’s think our way through it.

The statement above came in the context of the cursing of the fig tree the day after the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus led His disciples into Jerusalem that morning. He saw the fig tree with leaves on it, so He went to get some figs because He was hungry. But there were no figs, since it wasn’t the season for figs. So He cursed the fig tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” Jesus went into the city and then cleansed the temple. Then He and His disciples departed. The next morning on the way to the city, they saw the fig tree, withered from the roots up. Peter remarked about the tree, and Jesus then replied, “Have faith in God.” And from there He went on to make the statement above.

Some will call the words of Jesus “hyperbole,” which is simply an exaggeration in order to make a point. Some will call them metaphorical, suggesting that what He said was mainly symbolic, so that the real meaning is just “have faith.” Some will say His words were directed only to the apostles. Some will say that what He says He means IF what we ask for is according to the will of God. It seems that most of us like to find a little “wiggle room” when it comes to this difficult verse. Did He really mean it?

It is first important to understand that there are some conditions that must be in place. This does not apply to just anyone. The first condition is that there must be a personal, faith relationship with God. Second, there must be a depth of relationship with God in which there is a commitment to the will of God and an understanding of the will of God. Third, the thing that is prayed and asked for must be of importance and not frivolous. Fourth, the thing that is prayed and asked for must relate to the purposes of God and serve God.

When the conditions are met, Jesus means exactly what He says.

Father, Help us to walk by faith, not by sight. Amen.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Question of Authority

“’By what authority are You doing these things? Who gave You the authority to do these things?’” (Mark 11:28)

Authority was THE supreme question. At least, for the religious leaders it was. From their perspective, the only way Jesus would have the right to drive the money changers and animal vendors out of the Court of the Gentiles was for Him to have the authority to do so. Authority requires an authorizer. They were the authorizers for what went on in the Temple, and they knew they had not authorized Jesus to take these actions. In fact, it was just the opposite. They had authorized the money changers and animal vendors to set up shop in the Court of the Gentiles. So, this was a direct challenge to Jesus to produce His authorization. They were certain He could not.

Jesus responded with a question of His own about the basis of John’s baptism. It was the same question about authority – was it from God or from men? These were smart men, and they recognized that neither response would end well for them, so they said, “We don’t know.” So, Jesus refused to give them a response to their challenge. The truth is: Jesus owned the Temple, as the Son of God.

This story may seem to be specifically 1st century only, but the reality is that the challenge to the authority of Jesus is as current today as it was then. We live in a culture and society that, more than ever, challenges the authority of Jesus and His teachings through the word. Many give lip-service to the word of God, while in reality they may often dismiss its teaches as outdated and archaic when it comes to applying its teachings in the real world. For example, children and youth are raised on a steady diet that free sexual expression is a personal decision and ok when you are ready for it or mature enough for it. (What teen doesn’t think he or she is mature enough to handle it?) It is modeled for them through a steady stream of television shows and movies. It seems that this is the essential message that is taught in the public sector in government-mandated sex education classes. What is taught is not “no sex outside of marriage” but “safe sex.” The Christian community seems to sometimes have little to say in response, while the word of God is very clear. The charge that it is outdated and archaic is nothing short of a challenge to its authority and thus to the authority of Jesus. The bottom line belief of many is that there is no real consequence in challenging the authority of Jesus, just as it was in the 1st century. An unspoken belief is that WE are the real authority. Really?

Father, as Your children, help us not to just give lip-service to Your authority but instead to give heart-service to it. Amen.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


“’Rabbouni,’ the blind man told Him, ‘I want to see.’ ‘Go your way,’ Jesus told him. ‘Your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he could see and began to follow Him on the road.” (Mark 10:51b-52)

Bartimaeus was the blind man’s name. He was a Jericho beggar, of no regard to anyone much. People ignored him routinely and would have this day too, except that he just wouldn’t shut up. He kept crying out. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me,” as Jesus was departing Jericho on His up to Jerusalem. So Jesus stopped, called him, and healed him.

Now imagine – you’ve been a blind beggar for some 30-40 years, and the first thing you see is the face of Jesus, the man who healed your blindness. Is it any wonder Bartimaeus then followed Him on the Jerusalem road?

We are not told whether Bartimaeus continued on with Jesus to Jerusalem, but if it were you, would you? Assume for a moment that a very grateful Bartimaeus did just that. He would have witnessed the triumphal entry. He would have seen the city of Jerusalem and the Temple and people and animals and a whole world of wonder he had never seen before.

Assuming he stayed awhile, Bartimaeus would also have seen a battered and bleeding Jesus carrying a cross on the road to Golgotha. He would have seen Him nailed to that cross and hoisted into the air on it. Now, we might wonder if Bartimaeus was still grateful for his sight, if he wished that he had just kept his mouth shut in Jericho, that he had remained blind. He very likely saw things he wished he’d never seen.

But then, the third day arrived, and Bartimaeus would see something that would change everything.

Lord, We thank You that You redeem our lives and help us to see truth we need to see, even though at times that truth can be disturbing. Amen

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Service versus Position

“Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.” (Mark 10:43b)

Service is the measure of greatness.

The world in general finds that statement laughable. Most people believe that greatness is measured by the position you hold in life. That is what we are taught from childhood, and it is the basic model we see all the time. We see models where wealth provides position and influence, so we assume that wealth brings greatness. We see models where political power provides position and influence, so we assume that political positions bring greatness. In most business companies, position is everything. It determines salary, authority and power, so we are taught then to climb the corporate ladder, since that results in greatness. This seems to be the pervasive view in our world.

Thus, the teaching of Jesus about this is completely foreign to our experience in this culture and society and probably in every human culture. But do experience and culture determine what is true or not true? Experience can be a teacher, but it is not necessarily a determiner of truth. Culture may be the expression of values, but it is not a determiner of truth. For believers, Jesus is the Determiner of truth, because He is the way, the truth, and the life.

Jesus tells us that greatness is measured by service – regardless of position. Position is not irrelevant, but it cannot be the determiner of greatness. Position is a tool. Service is the energy required to make the tool work properly. Thus, the only reason for seeking any position is so that we may find opportunity to serve others, not be served.

Lord, Help us today, whatever our position is or may become, to use that as an opportunity to serve You and others. Amen.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Staying Alive

“Then Saul’s son Jonathan came out to David at Horesh and encouraged him in his faith in God.” (1 Samuel 23:16)

David was just trying to survive. Saul and his troops continued their relentless pursuit of David and his 600 men, and David moved from place to place in the wilderness, staying sometimes just one step ahead of Saul. Some days David arrived at a place called “discouragement.” He knew God had anointed him to become king in place of Saul. But that wasn’t happening. He had to have wondered why all this was happening to him, and in fact some of the psalms he wrote bear that out. What was the purpose of all of this? If God wanted him to be king, why didn’t He just make it happen? Such days David had.

On one of those days, when faith and hope were at low tide, Jonathan came to David in the desert. He secretly came to see him at Horesh, and there he encouraged David in his faith. He told David not to be afraid, that Saul would never lay a hand on him, that he would one day be king of Israel. Jonathan and David renewed their friendship covenant before the Lord on the spot.

What a friend Jonathan was! Friends encourage each other in their faith.

Lord, We thank You for friends You use to encourage us in our walk with You. Help us to be a friend like that to others today as well. Amen.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Building on the Final Sacrifice

“Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.” (Hebrews 10:18)

One of the arguments of the writer of Hebrews is that Christ made the final sacrifice and is, therefore, the High Priest of a better sacrificial system. In the Old Testament system, the high priest had to make frequent sacrifices and an annual sacrifice for the whole nation. The writer’s argument is that if that system had been perfect, there would have been no further sacrifice needed. Thus, that system was imperfect. What Christ did with the sacrifice of His own blood as High Priest, however, instituted a perfect system whereby there is no longer any need for a sin offering. He completed the former system with His sacrifice, so that now we have complete forgiveness. We no longer have to give a sin offering because Christ has done it once for all eternity.

We are thus called to build on that foundation. Now that the forgiveness of our sins is a reality, we are free so that we can build a life that freely honors God and lives in the personal walk of faith in Him. This means we can draw near to Him and know that we are now accepted. It means also that we can count on Him because He is faithful to His promises. Further, we can now turn our attentions to the needs of others and can promote love and good works. It means that we can enjoy the fellowship of worship in the Spirit with fellow believers and encourage one another as we await the Lord’s coming.

Lord, How grateful we are that You have provided the foundation we needed for building a life that honors You, blesses others, and fulfills who we are. Amen.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Living Instruction

“I delight to do Your will, my God; Your instruction lives within me.” (Psalm 40:8)

What a great thought – God’s instruction lives within us! We see this idea expanded in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart.”

God’s instruction is His word. Through the Bible, He teaches us how He wants us to live, or, how we can live the most effective life that a human being can possibly live. Because His Spirit dwells within us, His word is thus “living” in us, meaning that it is always there and always at work in our minds and our hearts, shaping our lives. We do not follow His instructions in order to be saved, but because we are saved. Our personal relationship with Him leads us to seek a life that brings honor and glory to Him

God’s living instruction within us thus leads us to a place of delight, a place where the will of God is paramount to us. It delights us to do His will, to live in the ways that most honor Him.

Lord, Help us today to delight in doing Your will because of Your instruction that lives within us. Amen.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Life Perspective

“Lord, reveal to me the end of my life and the number of my days. Let me know how short-lived I am. You, indeed, have made my days short in length, and my life span as nothing in Your sight. Yes, every mortal man is only a vapor.” (Psalm 39:4-5)

David wasn’t being morbid when he prayed this prayer. He was just asking God to help him with his life perspective. His purpose was to gain a heightened perspective that would help him live out his days more effectively, more in a deeper spiritual fellowship with God.

In the verses that followed, for example, David noted how people seem to live out their lives like shadows, frantically working to gain the possessions of this life, not knowing who will ultimately get them when they depart this world. To David that seemed so “off target.” Thus he expressed a truth from his heart: “My hope is in You.”

Maybe we need to take David’s words to heart ourselves and recognize first that this live truly is brief, almost nothing in the eternal scheme. Even a long life by our standards is still no more than a vapor in comparison to eternity. Second, while we recognize the importance and value of work, we need also to understand that our relationship with the Lord genuinely deserves a higher priority. Third, in this context, we need then to commit our hope all to the Lord, to trust our lives fully into His hands. Such a life perspective yields the fruit of peace.

Lord, We rejoice that whatever the span of our days, we are Yours. Help us to keep this perspective daily. Amen.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A King to Be – A Devotion for Children

“Samuel asked him, ‘Are these all the sons you have?’ ‘There is still the youngest,’ he answered, ‘but right now he’s tending the sheep.’ Samuel told Jesse, ‘Send for him. We won’t sit down to eat until he gets here.’” (1 Samuel 16:11)

Long ago there lived a young shepherd. He was about 17 or 18 years old, and he was very strong. He was the youngest of eight brothers, and he stayed mostly out in the fields, watching over his father’s sheep, protecting them from lions and bears and thieves.

One day when he was in the field, a messenger came from his father. The messenger told him that his father wanted him to come home. His father was having a special banquet in his tent for a guest named Samuel. And Samuel had told his father that they would not eat until he got there. So David hurried on home.

When David entered the tent he saw his father, his eight brothers, and another man in the middle, all staring at him, and he went over and joined them at the table. The Lord told Samuel that this was the one.

So, right in front of everyone, Samuel got up, went to where David was sitting, and poured some olive oil on David’s head. In those days, pouring olive oil on someone’s head meant that that person was chosen for something special. David was to become king of all Israel.

Well, David did not know how he could become king. For one thing, Saul was already king of Israel, and for another, David’s family was not wealthy or influential. But still, Samuel was a prophet of God, which meant that he announced the word of God. So if Samuel said this, David knew it was from God, that it was true, and that God would make it happen. He believed the words that came from God.

Now David was only 17 or 18 when this happened. We know he became king of Israel. But did you know it took 20 years? That’s almost like going all the way through high school twice. David was 37 when he became king of all Israel. There were all sorts of problems along the way, but eventually God made David king of Israel, just like He promised.

David could have given up. But he never stopped believing. He kept on believing God’s word and trusting God. That is what we call faith. Faith means you trust God forever.

God kept His promise to send His Son, Jesus. Jesus came so that we could all be saved from our sins. He said that when we turn away from sin and believe in Him, that He will forgive us for our sins and take us to heaven with Him one day. We trust God to keep His promises.

Do you trust God to keep His promises?

Lord, We trust You to keep Your word. Amen.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


“The Lord is near the brokenhearted; He saves those crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

What does it mean to be “brokenhearted.”

It probably means whatever someone who has one says it means. Just as “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” so being brokenhearted is defined by the one who has one. A breakup between a husband and wife can leave one or both brokenhearted. Any perceived loss can leave someone brokenhearted to the perceived depth of that loss. So, people tend to define this on the basis of their personal experience of loss.

Maybe there is a slightly deeper meaning. In the Bible, the word “heart” very often translates the word that actually means “will.’ It refers to the place where a person makes his decisions and determines actions. Someone today may say, “I just didn’t have the heart to do that.” By that they actually mean they did not have the will and its underlying emotional content to take a particular action.

Thus, to be “broken hearted” actually means that the will is broken. It isn’t working. It isn’t operational. Someone loses the will to go on. That usually occurs when someone reaches a point where things appear hopeless.

A parallel to this is in the latter half of the verse above: “crushed in spirit.” The word “spirit” in Hebrew is “ruach” and in Greek “pneuma.” They both mean the same thing: wind. The spirit was thought of and described by the word “wind.” Sailors who sail purely by the wind understand this. When you’re out on the water using only the wind, and the wind dies down to nothing, the water is smooth as glass, and the sails just hang there. There is nothing that can be done. The boat just drifts. “Crushed in spirit” means to have the wind taken out of the sails. Dead in the water, so to speak.

In this light, have you ever felt brokenhearted or crushed in spirit in this manner? You may want to remember the next verse, “Many adversities come to the one who is righteous, but the Lord delivers him from them all.” (Psalm 34:19) The Lord can mend hearts that are broken, and provide “wind” for those crushed in spirit. He can do that because He is near. In fact, He resides within us now through His Spirit.

Lord, Help us to rest in You today and trust You to lead us forward. Amen.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Faith versus Fear

“And Samuel asked, ‘What have you done?’ Saul answered, ‘When I saw that the troops were deserting me and you didn’t come within the appointed days and the Philistines were gathering at Michmash, I thought: the Philistines will now descend on me at Gilgal, and I haven’t sought the Lord’s favor. So I forced myself to offer the burnt offering.’” (1 Samuel 13:11-12)

So what’s wrong with this picture? Samuel told Saul he would be with him on a certain day to offer a burnt offering to seek the Lord’s favor for a coming battle. Samuel didn’t show up. The troops were drifting away, deserting Saul. The Philistines were rumbling. So, Saul determined that as leader he had to do something. He took matters into hand and offered the burnt offering himself. So, what’s the problem?

The problem is that God was looking for someone to be king of Israel who saw himself as more than just a military or governing ruler. He was looking for someone to be the spiritual leader of Israel, someone to shepherd Israel.

Wasn’t Saul acting in a spiritual capacity when he offered the burnt offering?

A burnt offering was to be a spiritual event, but Saul was not offering it in a spiritual manner. How so? He acted out of fear rather than faith. With the troops deserting and the Philistines rumbling, he feared that he and his remaining troops would be overrun and possibly killed. He also feared losing his leadership position. So he “acted” like he thought a leader should act. Fear was his motivation, not faith. Self was at the center of his actions rather than the Lord. And Samuel called his hand on it when he arrived. He told Saul that the Lord was then looking for another to serve as king.

The call of God on the lives of His people is to follow Him in faith, not giving in to fear. Both those who lead and those who follow have the same responsibility: to move away from fear and toward faith. Trusting the Lord is what glorifies Him.

Lord, Help us today to glorify You through trust. Amen.