Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Greatest

“He told them, ‘Whoever welcomes this child in My name welcomes Me. And whoever welcomes Me welcomes Him who sent Me. For whoever is least among you – this one is great.’” (Luke 9:48)

An argument erupted among the disciples. Jesus had just told them He was going to be betrayed. They didn’t get that, but they did perceive that they would soon be going up to Jerusalem where Jesus would finally make the big announcement: The Messiah had arrived! For them, this meant that the kingdom was about to be established, and they would soon be moved into a ruling role. That being the case, they needed to figure out now who was going to be the leader, who was going to be in charge, who would sit at Jesus’ right and left. Thus the argument erupted as to who would be the greatest.

You can almost imagine it. Peter: “Well, I’m the biggest and the strongest, and I don’t mind speaking my mind.” Andrew: “Well, I’m the one who told you about Him to begin with!” James: “I’ve got what it takes to make snap decisions. I’m a real leader.” John: “Maybe, but I’m closer to Him than anybody else, and I understand His heart.” Thomas: “We’re all going to die, you know, soon as we set foot in Jerusalem.” Judas: “You’re all stupid. I’m the only one who has any financial sense. I’m the smartest of the lot, the only one with a real brain.”

Enough. Jesus had a child stand in their midst. He had something to teach them that they needed to hear. He who welcomes this child welcomes Jesus and welcomes the Father. That seems a little cryptic, but maybe what it means is that Jesus identifies with a child and with the Father, and that leadership isn’t about position. Neither is greatness about position or power. Greatness is about humility, about learning, about growing, about becoming, about appreciating others. Humility before God is the pathway to greatness. Greatness is not something we are to seek, but something that is bestowed as we seek to become the kind of people who translate the word “Christian.”

Lord, May greatness not be on our radar screen. Rather, let our hearts be in tune with Yours, so that we may trust our role in this life to You. Amen.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A First Prophecy

“I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed. He will strike your head, and you will strike His heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

In early days of freshness trouble barged into earth’s peace as first Eve and then Adam succumbed to the temptation of pride. The temptation came from Satan in the form of a serpent, and for his actions God cursed the serpent, and, thus, Satan. This curse became the first prophecy, a prophecy of generational enmity that would culminate with the coming of God’s Son through a woman, when He would strike and crush Satan at the cross, though Satan would bruise His heel, again at the cross.

All this came to fruition at a place called “Calvary” or “Golgotha,” a hill just outside Jerusalem that resembles a skull, appropriate for the events that took place there daily. In this place, Jesus dealt a fatal blow to Satan, and Satan’s end was sealed by the resurrection of Jesus.

The event that ushered this prophecy into prominence was the birth of a baby, the seed of the woman, who was also God’s Son. Little did Mary realize the forces that had been unleashed as she looked down into His face. All she saw was a beautiful, peaceful, sleeping baby. She would one day look up into His face, only it would not be so peaceful and so beautiful then; it would be covered in blood and sweat and dirt. But, the peace, though not seen, would certainly be there, because He would establish peace and reconciliation between man and God.

Lord, Help us to remember throughout the day that You are at work in our world, continually carrying out Your word, and engaging our world in ways unseen. Help us never to think that you are not at work in our world. Amen.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Fruit Production

“But the seed in the good ground – these are the ones who, having heard the word with an honest and good heart, hold on to it and by enduring bear fruit.” (Luke 8:15)

Jesus told the crowd a parable: A farmer went out to sow seed, and as He scattered, some feel on the beaten path, some on rocky ground, some on thorny ground, and some on good ground. The birds came and ate the seed on the hard path before anything could happen. The seed among the rocks sprouted but perished quickly because the roots had no place to go. The thorns choked out the plants that grew there. The seed on the good ground sprouted, sent out roots, and eventually produced a hundred-fold crop.

Jesus later explained to His disciples that the seed represents the word of God. The seed on the hard path represents those who heard, but Satan comes and takes away the seed so they cannot believe. Some hear, but the hardness of their hearts will not allow the word to take root. Some hear, but the cares of this life become their priority and choke the plants. Then, some hear, and the roots go deep and ultimately produce a blessed life.

In all cases, fruit production comes down to one word: endurance. Fruit is produced when the word of God enduringly grows in someone’s heart. It is thus by enduring that we will bear fruit. Jesus said, “If you abide in Me, you will bear much fruit.”

Lord, Help us today and each day to endure, to abide in You so that Your Spirit in us will produce fruit through us that blesses not only us but others as well. Amen.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On Tour

“The twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses.” (Luke 8:2)

Jesus went on tour. He traveled from town to town and through the villages of Galilee preaching the good news of God’s kingdom. He took an all-volunteer entourage with Him. This included the twelve disciples, of course, but a group of women followed as well. We know much about the twelve, but not so much about these women. Most first century writers would not mention them at all, but Luke does thankfully.

We have a few of the named here, probably because of something prominent about them. One was Mary from Magala, a major city and Roman hotspot on the western coast of the Sea of Galilee. Mary had been possessed by seven demons. Jesus cast them out and healed her. Another was Joanna. Her husband was named Chuza, who was the manager of Herod’s household. What Jesus healed in her we are not told. We are told the least about Susanna. All we have is her name. Luke then went on to say that there were many others.

All these women supported Jesus and His disciples from their possessions, from their means. We assume that they all had access to things of value, and evidently it was enough. Joanna’s husband, Chuza, for example, as manager of Herod’s household was in charge of buying, selling, and disposing of items no longer needed. Unused food would have been available to her. Unwanted and discarded household items could have been sold.

The point is this: Gratitude led to appreciative commitment to Jesus and to His ministry. Their caring concerns and thankful hearts led to the active expression of support. Is not this the same reason we support the Lord’s work?

Lord, We thank You for the opportunity to join with others in supporting the work of Your kingdom, through whatever means You give us. Amen.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


“He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. When the flood came, the river crashed against that house and couldn’t shake it, because it was well built.” (Luke 6:48)

Anyone who has experienced a flood knows the power of fast-moving water. The waters of a tsunami, for example, can unbelievably devastate entire towns and villages and destroy life. When a river floods, it may appear that the water is standing. In some places it may be standing, but eventually it moves and pushes objects out of its way and drags them along after that.

In a flood in Thailand, for example, the waters of the Ping River in Chiang Mai entered a subdivision that had streets lined with concrete walls. The walls stopped nothing and acted more like a turbo-charger. Water came roaring around one corner and barreled down the street at high velocity like white-water rapids. At the end of the street where it “T-ed,” the water ripped a huge hold in the concrete block fence and raged on through into an open field. But the buildings there that had solid foundations remained intact. There was water damage in the buildings, but the buildings were unmoved because of their foundations.

Jesus says that people who hear His words and act on them are like a man who dug down to the rock to build the foundations for his house. The flood could not budget it. The best flood insurance anyone can have is to hear and do the word of God.

Lord, Help each of us today to both hear and do Your word. Amen.

Monday, April 11, 2011


“But He replied to them, ‘My mother and My brothers are those who hear and do the word of God.” (Luke 8:21)

Jesus grew up in a family, just as most of us did. He was nurtured by a mom and dad in much the same fashion as we were. He grew up with brothers and sisters. That was His awareness of life in His younger childhood years, at least until the Father revealed to Him that He was His Son rather than Joseph’s. We know that Jesus had this awareness certainly no later than age 12 and probably much earlier. Still, the point is that He grew up in a family setting.

Through the 18 years following the events of His 12th year, Jesus continued as part of His family, while moving steadily toward the time of His public revelation and the launch of His public ministry. At that point, His heavenly priorities came to the forefront, and Jesus became the leader of a much larger “family,” those who “hear and do the will of God.”

Mary and her four other sons went to see Jesus one day. Their intent (not stated in Luke’s gospel but elsewhere) was to take Him home to Nazareth. That is when Jesus made this statement about His true family, those who hear and do the will of God. James was one of the brothers there, one who heard these words as reported.

James had to have recoiled at this. He undoubtedly saw Jesus as irresponsible, and even crazy at that point, out of control. He also developed a cynical view of Jesus, evidenced in John 5, with an almost derisive attitude. From his view, his older brother was rejecting the role of the firstborn and household responsibilities and the family business in order to pursue this crazy itinerant preaching thing. The next few years passed, and then came the crucifixion. But it was in seeing the resurrected Jesus that James finally came to understand. The Scripture does not record that appearance, but Paul refers to it specifically in 1 Corinthians 15.

This is the same James who later became the leader of the Jerusalem church after Peter’s departure, and the one who went on to write, “Do not be hearers of the word only; do what it says.” Sound familiar? It seems that James’ understanding of family was expanded once he came to a more complete understanding that we who are Christians are part of a much larger family. This family, our heavenly family, is an eternal priority. That in no way diminishes our responsibility and role for our earthly families, but it does serve to help us understand the calling we have as Christians to be part of a larger family.

Lord, Help us today to be the kind of family members who glorify You. Amen.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Civil Standard

“But I saw to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27)

A young Muslim responded to a reporter in a street interview: “You Christians say you turn the other cheek if someone strikes you. We Muslims do not. And if you turn the other cheek, we will strike it, too.” Not exactly the spirit of what Jesus taught, is it? Then again, how much do we Christians actually practice what Jesus taught?

Jesus set a standard for human civility that is unmatched. It clearly did not square with the teachings His listeners were raised with: “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” He instead teaches us to love our enemies, bless them, pray for them, give to them, lend to them, and be merciful to them. That’s a tall order! Actually, it’s humanly impossible.

Jesus said that if we live this way, our reward will be great because we are sons of the Most High, who is gracious toward the ungrateful and evil. What Jesus taught is actually how God behaves toward us. He expressed mercy toward us. To follow that behavior means that we must, therefore, be born of Him. Only someone who is born again as a child of God has the capability of expressing the goodness of God on a plane of behavior that is higher than what is common among people. Only a spiritual birth can create the possibility that a human being can actually live by the civil standard Jesus taught. Thus, we who have experienced this new birth have that capability, and we are called upon to practice it rather than the civil standard that is so common in our world.

Lord, Help us today, through the power of Your indwelling Spirit, to live the life that follows the standard You set rather than following the drumbeat of this world. Amen.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


"Then looking up at His disciples, He said, ‘You who are poor are blessed, because the kingdom of God is yours.’” (Luke 6:20)

Luke 6:20-26 is the introductory teachings to what is called “The Sermon on the Mount.” Luke’s version is similar to Matthews, but is much briefer and less inclusive. It may have been preached at a different time as the one in Matthew. It seems to be addressed primarily to His disciples right after He selected the twelve. The arrangement of the introduction teachings is extremely intriguing. It’s like a positive-negative mirror image. The first several verses accentuate the positive, while the last half focuses on polar opposites. Take a look as you read through the full text of verses 20-26:


Blessed Woe

Poor Rich

Hungry Full

Weep Laugh

Rejected Accepted

Hated Loved

Prophets False Prophets

Rejoice Not Rejoice

What this amounts to is a challenge to go the way of the true prophet, the true servant of God, because that is the way of great reward, understanding also that there is a cost for going this direction. This is, thus, a call to discipleship. To follow Jesus as a disciple may well mean that we do not have a lot of money, that we may find ourselves hungry from time to time, that we may cry more than we imagined, and that we may find ourselves excluded, rejected, and hated because of who we are. But, this is how the prophets of old were treated, said Jesus, so we are therefore in good company. So, we are to rejoice as we move deeper and deeper into discipleship.

Lord, Thank You for reminding us today that discipleship calls for a commitment to pay whatever the price is in order to follow You. We follow as You lead today. Amen.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dirty Salt

“They rejected His statutes and His covenant He had made with their ancestors and the decrees He had given them. They pursued worthless idols and became worthless themselves, following the surrounding nations the Lord had commanded them not to imitate.” (2 Kings 17:15)

It’s not like God didn’t give Israel and opportunity to turn around, to change their ways. He gave them opportunity after opportunity, grace upon grace. His patience with Israel reached a predictable conclusion, however. The year was 722 BC, and, ironically, His tool of judgment against Israel was the ungodly Assyrians who starved Samaria into submission over 3-years. The Israelites were deported and resettled, and other peoples, with their gods, were moved and resettled in Samaria and other Israelite cities.

How did this happen? How did the “salt” lose its saltiness?

It began with the very first cultural compromise, which made the next one easier, and the one after that easier until eventually the cultural and religious influences around them polluted their belief system into unrecognizability.

Salt cannot actually lose its saltiness, so to render salt useless and impotent, you simply add dirt. Enough dirt, and the salt becomes unrecognizable. Salt has its intended influences only when it remains pure. Only then can it preserve and flavor and add value.

Lord, Teach us how to live in the world, so that we may reach people, but not of the world, to the extent that we lose our witness. Amen.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Personal Prayer Retreat

“Yet He often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16) We are not told how often “often” was, or for how long it lasted. No doubt Jesus spent time in prayer daily, but it seems He also perceived a personal need to get away to places where there were no people, so that He could pray for an extended time. “Often” could have been once a week or maybe once a month, but it was at least frequent enough that it made an impression on the disciples of “often.” Why deserted places? Well, all day, every day, Jesus was swarmed by people, all with some kind of need. Some needed to hear Him teach. Some needed to be healed. Some needed to be released from demon possession. The constant flow of giving time, energy, attention, and service, even for the most extroverted among us, would first of all leave someone with a feeling of being depleted, and it would also, by its very nature, create an inner need to spend some extended time with God. This would required significant amounts of uninterrupted time. Before choosing the twelve, for example, Jesus went up a mountain and prayed all through the night. Maybe a personal prayer retreat is something we might find helpful. In today’s pace, some of us may feel that there is never a good time for a personal prayer retreat. We may not be able to go up a mountain or out into the desert, but maybe there is a park, or a place at home where we can get off to ourselves to pray. Church worship centers are rarely in use most week days. The point is that, if we look, we can probably find a place where we can take at least a brief personal prayer retreat, some place we can go to “often.” Consider a personal prayer retreat for your life. You may find that it is just the thing you need. Father, Help us each to commune with You on a daily basis, and help us also to find or make the time for a personal prayer retreat. Amen.