Posted in Luke

Saying “Thanks”

“Jesus asked, Didn’t I heal ten men?  Where are the other nine?’” Luke 17:17

Jesus marvels at the ungratefulness of the human race.  Ten cried out in great distress; ten were miraculously healed by the mercy of God; yet only one returned to say, “thank you.”

In 1987 I was a youth pastor in Grand de tour, Illinois, and we were doing a fundraiser in a town 30 miles away from our church.  After we packed up the teens and took off, a seventh grade girl called my wife at our apartment and explained that she had missed the bus, but still wanted to go.  Could Alice pick her up and drive her to the event?

Alice felt compassion for her and agreed to do it even though it would be difficult.  It meant loading up our two little ones, driving 15 minutes in the wrong direction, and then 45 miles to get to the event.  It took most of the morning to do this good deed.

I went to the car after she dropped off the girl, and Alice looked disappointed.  “She didn’t even say, thanks,” was the explanation.  Alice was happy to make the sacrifice and she wasn’t looking for gas money, but couldn’t this girl recognize that someone had gone out of their way just for her? Couldn’t she take two seconds to say, “thanks?”

Alice was disappointed, but I was enraged.  Later that day I was alone in our apartment fuming over the ungratefulness of this seventh grade girl when a stream of thoughts came unbidden into my mind, “Why are you so angry at her?  You do this to Me all the time.”

My heart was cut and all my anger was instantly gone.  I looked around our apartment and it was as if my eyes were opened.  We had almost no money, yet our apartment was fully furnished.  There was a story behind everything we owned.

“God, please forgive me,” I prayed, and then purposed to make up for all of my ingratitude. “Thank You for this coffee table; thank You for our dining room table and chairs, we don’t deserve any of this, yet You have provided them in Your great love.”  Then I went piece by piece and thanked Him for every item in our apartment.  Ever since that time I’ve tried to count my blessings and cultivate an attitude of thanksgiving.  I want to be like the one who came back, don’t you?

Posted in Isaiah, Luke, Psalms

The Way Forward

“In repentance and rest you will be saved; in quietness and confidence is your strength.” Isaiah 30:15

 Sometimes the way forward is to go back.  Repentance is when we return to God and find our rest in His forgiveness and acceptance again.  The new beginning He gives requires an exchange of strength.  Instead of seeing our activity and energy as the way forward, we learn to quiet ourselves and to find our strength in God.

 “Cease striving and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10)  Quieting ourselves and encountering God will produce a new confidence to face life’s challenges that isn’t based on our ability to control, but on God’s ability to work all things for His glory and our good.  Here’s the end of Psalm 46:10, “Then I will be exalted in the nations; I will be exalted in all the earth.”

 In our text above, Israel was unwilling to repent.  They decided to go forward even faster than they had begun, and they became a sign to others of what not to do. (Isaiah 30:17)

What was God doing while they rejected His counsel? “Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you, and He waits on high to have compassion on you…”  God is waiting for you and me to come to the end of ourselves and our own devices, so He can have compassion on us!  Sometimes the way forward is to recognize we’re eating pig’s food, come to our senses, and then return to our Father no matter what it looks like. (see Luke 15)

 It turns out that the One who owes us nothing, longs to give us everything, if we’ll just come home!

Posted in 2Peter, Luke, Matthew, Philippians

Living Ready for His Return

“Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealer and buy some for yourselves.’” Matthew 25:5-9

The great work of this life is to live ready for Christ’s return. He has delayed His return because He doesn’t want anyone to perish (2Peter 3:9) and is even now calling sinners to repent and turn to God. But what about the danger to those who have begun their journey but are now distracted by other things? How do we ensure we don’t end up like the foolish virgins Jesus describes in Matthew 25? There are three things we can do daily, so that we’re living ready for His return.

  1. We must stay awake. Jesus said that before Noah’s flood and the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, people were “eating, they were drinking, they were marrying…they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building.” (Luke 17:27-28) The problem was that these legitimate things were all they were doing – they had lost track of a living faith in God. The busyness of this world easily lulls us to sleep and pretty soon we are relying on past experience instead of present relationship.
  2. We must trim our wicks. Yesterday’s sins, regrets, and successes have to be trimmed away to walk with God today. Listen to Paul’s encouragement: “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14) 
  3. We must have fresh oil. The foolish virgins think they can get oil from other people – it’s not possible. You can’t get your relationship with God from your grandma, parents, or pastor, however godly they may be. Go to the dealer Himself. He has fresh oil for every single day. The cost is only the time and effort it takes to seek Him for it. Jesus has already paid the price, so we can always be filled with the Holy Spirit. Your Father loves you, Jesus died for you, so all you need to do is ask each day.
Posted in John, Luke, Matthew

The Next Event

“When you see all these things, you know that it (His coming) is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Matthew 24:33-34

Jesus does not say His coming will be in their generation; He says it will be “at the door” in their generation. He says the sign of His coming will appear “immediately after the distress of those days…” (Matthew 24:29) Immediately, on God’s calendar, means imminently; His coming is the next prophetic event and has been since the fall of Jerusalem.

While the first rescue and judgment event was preceded by an abundance of signs so that God’s people would be prepared for the distress of their generation, the second rescue and judgment event will come unexpectedly.

While first century Christians were warned not to be trapped in Jerusalem, Jesus warns us not to be trapped in the things of this world before His coming in the clouds: “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth.” (Luke 21:34-35) We need to live ready for His coming!

The rescue in the first century required Christians to leave Jerusalem. The rescue at the Lord’s coming won’t require anyone to leave, we’ll be taken. “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.” (Matthew 24:40-41) The word translated “taken” is “paralambano” in the Greek and means: “to receive near to one’s self in any intimate act.” (Strong’s, 55) It is used in Matthew 1:24 when Joseph “took Mary home as his wife.” 

It is used of the rapture again in John 14:3 where Jesus makes this promise to His disciples: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take (paralambano) you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” Jesus is coming for His beloved bride. If He came today would you be ready?

Posted in 2Corinthians, Daniel, Jeremiah, Luke, Mark, Matthew

Two Events of Judgment

“Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.  But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.  For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah.”  Matthew 24:34-37

 I have come to believe that Jesus is describing two events of judgment in His discourse on the future (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 17 and 21) and that they are very different to prepare for.

One event, the destruction of Jerusalem, will happen in their lifetime, or their “generation.”  It is a time of God’s wrath on the Jewish people for rejecting Christ (Luke 21:22-24); it will feature an abomination of desolation being set up in the holy place (Matthew 24:15); and  it will be horrible but “cut short,” otherwise all of the Jewish elect would be wiped out.

  The rescue for the church at this time is to flee Jerusalem when you see these things happening.  “All these things” were to be expected within their generation and they would be as visible as a fig tree budding indicating that summer is near.  There will be a fulfillment of  “all that is written” (Luke 21:22), a reference to Daniel’s seventieth ‘seven’ (Daniel 9:27), and Jeremiah’s allusion to a time of Jacob’s trouble. (Jeremiah 30:7)

   The second event Jesus describes is not just in Judea, it’s world-wide (Luke 21:35); Jesus doesn’t know when it’s going to happen; the elect don’t have to flee, they are taken; and there are no signs to prepare for it, so people have to live ready.  This coming event is not a judgment on the Jews for rejecting Christ (that already happened in the destruction of Jerusalem), but on the Gentiles who have rejected Christ. (Luke 21:24) 

 By the end of their generation this second judgment will be imminent, or “at the door,” (Matthew 24:33-34) because it will occur immediately after Jesus appears in the clouds.  We are now living between the first and second judgment events in a time of God’s favor. (2Corinthians 6:2)  This is the time to respond to God’s salvation!

Posted in Ephesians, Luke, Romans

The Generosity of God

“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” Romans 8:32

Any sense of entitlement in us will undermine our faith. God never gives to us because He has to; He gives because He wants to. The gospel starts by revealing to us that God owes us nothing but hell because of our sins, and then proceeds to show us His kind intention of adopting us as His sons and daughters. (Ephesians 1:4-6)

I was speaking in Uganda about entitlement and told a story where God revealed to me that I had been waiting for an apology from Him. I felt I had been mistreated just like Job and the older brother did (Luke 15:26-31), and that attitude was keeping me from experiencing the generosity of God.

After I was done speaking a woman found me and said I had to talk with her friend, Annette. Annette was laying on a mat on the floor of the church and was unable to get up because of crippling pain in her back. Through an interpreter, Annette told me that God spoke to her through the message. She had experienced a number of setbacks and had been angry with God. Now she was free because God showed her she needed to let go of her bad attitude.

I felt in my heart that God now wanted to heal her body, so I asked if I could pray for her back. After a brief prayer, I told her to move her back around and eventually told her to stand up. As she did, tears started to pour down her face.

“Ask her why she’s crying,” I said to the interpreter.

The answer was what I was hoping: “She says God is healing her back.”

Before my next teaching, she came to the front with the joy of the Lord on her face and gave testimony to what God had done in her heart and then in her body. Everyone then rejoiced in the generosity of God.

Sometimes we become focused on the outward miracle we need while having the wrong attitude in our heart. Do you feel God owes you something because of your obedience, sacrifice, or prayers? Why not lay down your disappointment, acknowledge that God is not in your debt, and focus on His generosity?

“He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not, also along with Him, graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32)

Posted in 2Corinthians, John, Luke

The Joy Serving

“Now that you know these things, you will be blessed (happy, joy-filled) if you do them.” John 13:17

When people arrived at a feast in that time, it was customary for a slave to wash everyone’s feet as they entered, but in all the preparations for the last supper the disciples had missed this detail. Each of them apparently felt that this job was below them, so it appeared it would go undone. Then the unthinkable happened. One far above them went lower than they were willing to go. Not only did Jesus wash their feet, He called them to wash each other’s feet (willingly serve each other), and in the text above said this was the key to their happiness.

He explained that this attitude was also the key to their greatness: “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like one who serves.” (Luke 22:25-26)

Our level of joy is not to be a victim of our own sense of entitlement. In other words, we don’t have to wait until we are treated in a certain way to have joy. Our joy can be found in God’s delight in us regardless of how other people are treating us. I found out this truth the hard way while pastoring in northern Minnesota.

A group of thirty wanted me out of the church and had started a secret campaign of visiting members in their homes to try to get the necessary votes to remove me. God was moving in the congregation and so was the enemy. There was a deacon who represented the thirty, but whenever I tried to meet with them it got postponed. It finally occurred to me that they didn’t want to be reconciled, they wanted me gone. This was their church and they weren’t going to leave, so I would have to.

How do you pastor a church Sunday after Sunday when this is happening? The Lord made it clear that they didn’t have to like or respect me, for me to serve them. I wasn’t to defend myself or be offended by their attitudes.  I was to serve them for His sake. (2Corinthians 4:5) His affirmation was better than theirs anyway!

Emptying ourselves, rolling up our sleeves, and serving whoever God puts in front of us is the key to lasting joy.

Posted in Galatians, Luke

Who Inherits?

“Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Galatians 4:30

You cannot earn as a reward what is yours by inheritance, so when we go back to performing for God, the benefits of grace dry up. The Old Covenant, the slave woman, only blesses those who keep the law. Because no one can keep the law, all of her children become slaves of the fear and guilt which come from never being good enough.

Paul is stunned that the Galatians are allowing anyone to seduce them back into a performance identity because the fruit is so bad. “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you… are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?… Does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Galatians 3:1-4)

In Luke 15 Jesus tells us about the older brother who becomes angry at the Father’s generosity toward the prodigal: “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.” Listen to the Father’s response, not just to the older brother, but to all His children who are living like slaves in His house: “My son, you are always with me and everything I have is yours.”

Did you know that in Christ you have an abundant inheritance as a favored child of God? “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ (you are always with me) So you are no longer a slave but a son; since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (and everything I have is yours) (Galatians 4:7)

“So why don’t I feel like an heir?” you may ask. Maybe it’s because you haven’t once and for all put away the performance identity. Maybe you’ve been seduced in your heart and are still trying to perform for God’s approval instead of accepting it by faith. It’s time to take decisive action and “get rid of the slave woman and her son!”

I am so ready to walk in favored son status instead of being a slave to performance. How about you?

Posted in Luke

Living in the Party

“The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.” Luke 15:28-30

There is a party going on, but the older brother refused to enter it because it wasn’t the party he wanted. There are people at the party, but not the friends he would have chosen to be there. He has become a victim of his own sense of entitlement and is now alone in the isolation of self-pity.

In His great love the Father has thrown an extravagant party for the human race called “grace.” Through Christ’s death and resurrection, we can experience forgiveness of sins, new life, the assurance of heaven when we die, and a present fellowship with the Holy Spirit no matter what circumstances we’re living in.

But often this isn’t good enough for us! We want God to prove His love by doing certain things and healing or saving certain people (“my friends”) within the time frame we’ve given Him. We can feel like we deserve this because we’ve been faithful and obedient, prayed and believed “right,” or because we go to church regularly and even give money.

We don’t try to be ungrateful, entitlement just creeps up on us and makes us feel like we’re somehow being cheated. Then we find ourselves, even as Christians who love God, living outside of the party.

The father is not put off by the older brother’s self-pity. He goes out to him and reminds him of all the blessings that are his: “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” He explains that the party he’s throwing is not an endorsement of the prodigal’s sin, but a celebration of redemption. “We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

“We” are supposed to be celebrating; God and us, because of the grace He has lavished on us and on all who repent and believe in Christ. Are you missing the party God’s throwing because it isn’t exactly the party you wanted? Why not surrender your expectations to God, lay down that sense of entitlement that comes from self-righteousness, and enter fully into the celebration of God’s grace today?

Posted in Hebrews, Luke, Romans

Dealing with Differences

“‘Master,’ said John, ‘we saw a man driving out demons in Your Name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.’ ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said, ‘for whoever is not against you is for you.’” Luke 9:49-50

When I first came to Christ, I was part of a church that believed we were the only pure expression of Christianity in our city. Every sermon featured some way we were better than everyone else. We only used the King James Bible, for instance, and believed every other translation was defiled and leading people into heresy. We were “it,” and everyone else was deceived at some level.

Looking back, I feel sadness for how proud and blind we were; not just about ourselves, but about who God is. We had made the God of all grace so small and picky that if you didn’t believe exactly like we did you were on the outside. The truth is that we were small and picky, not God.

John is clearly proud of his rebuke of this man who wasn’t, “one of us.” Jesus had a wider circle of those who are with Him.

People come to me with accusations against Christian leaders across the body of Christ. Sometimes it’s about what a leader said and sometimes it’s about something questionable they did. I’m almost always in agreement with those who are bringing the charge, leaders are flawed and often say things and do things that are a little off. But once in a while the person bringing the accusation wants more than agreement, they want me to publicly renounce that leader and their group.

At this point I become a disappointment to them. Jesus is not ashamed to call me His brother (Hebrews 2:11) with all of my flaws and errors, so I want to be unashamed to stand next to brothers and sisters who love Jesus, but aren’t just like our group.

I understand and value the desire for truth and the need to be on guard against deception, but we must be very careful before pointing the finger at others lest we condemn someone who Jesus accepts and delights in. May God help us be humble and generous toward all those who are different from us. “Accept one another,” Paul says to Christians who were judging each other over minor differences, “just as Christ has accepted you.” (Romans 15:7)