Posted in 2Chronicles, 2Corinthians, Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, John, Luke

The Best Wine

“You have saved the best wine for last.” John 2:10

I am convinced that God has saved the best of His Spirit for those who are older. I’m not an expert on wine, but I know that the older it is, the more valuable it becomes.

Paul said we are renewed in our spirits “day by day” and that we are being transformed “from glory to glory.” (See 2Corinthians 3-4) The picture here is of ever increasing glory as we grow older in the Lord.

Think about it: The temptations that were so strong in youth no longer grip us when we age, and the youthful pride we often had in our own strength no longer deceives us. As we age, we become better positioned to lose our life for Jesus so that we can find our life in Jesus.

It’s not that the Holy Spirit (wine is compared to the Holy Spirit in a number of places in the New Testament) gets better over time, but simply that less of His outpouring is wasted because of the wisdom gained by walking with God for many years. But only if we grow older in the right way.

There will always be a temptation of getting stuck in the past. In Luke 6:39 Jesus says, “But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine. ‘The old is good enough,’ they say.” This warning is about how our past experiences with the Holy Spirit can prevent us from entering into the fresh thing the Spirit wants to do.

Solomon warns us to not “long for the good old days.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10) God says in Isaiah, “Do not dwell on the past; it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19) Dwelling on the past, even the glorious past, will keep us from perceiving the new thing God is doing.

It seems that if we believe our best spiritual days are behind us, then they are. But just think about some of the past giants of faith: Moses was 80 when he led the people of God out of Egypt, Daniel was well into his eighties when he was delivered from the lion’s den, and Anna was 84 when she prophesied about Jesus. (Luke 2:37) God is searching for people to show Himself strong through (2Chronicles 16:9) no matter what their age. So why not you? Why not us?

Posted in Luke

Seeing Your Brother

“But when this son of yours who has squandered your property…” “We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again.” Luke 15:30,32

You were not just made for a relationship with God; you were made for a relationship with your brothers and sisters in Christ. The older brother had stopped seeing the prodigal as his brother – he only saw him as his father’s son: “this son of yours…”

When the prodigal left, his father’s heart broke, not just because of what he was losing, but because of what his oldest son was losing. The father had heard these sons laugh together, seen them compete with each other, and watched them defend each other their whole lives. He probably dreamed of them being life-long friends who would enjoy seeing their children grow up together and enjoy the bonds of family. The family was broken up when the prodigal left, and it was a great loss for everyone. Our sin doesn’t just separate us from communion with God, it hurts the whole family.

When the wayward son returned, the father was overjoyed because the family could be whole again, but the older brother didn’t see it that way. When he refused to join the party, the father went outside to reason with him: “This is your brother who had died to all that is good and beautiful. He is back; we can be a family again. Please embrace him and let us rejoice together.” (My paraphrase)

The father was ready to make him a son, but his oldest was not ready or willing to see the prodigal as his brother again. His life was smaller because of it.

How about you? Has the Father come to you and asked you to give a brother, sister, friend, parent, or child another chance? Let’s die to our right to be angry or wounded; let’s forgive and start seeing value in the broken people around us that God is trying to redeem. Let’s go into the feast and rejoice in God’s love together, for the sake of our Father, and for the sake of our own brothers and sisters.

Posted in Galatians, Luke

Missing True Intimacy

“He answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends….’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.’” Luke 15:29,31

You can go to church, keep the ten commandments, and have everyone think you’re a good person, yet miss true intimacy with God. The older brother in the story of the prodigal son represents the Pharisees who were also listening to him and grumbling to themselves, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2) The name Pharisee means, “separate one.” These guys kept all of God’s laws outwardly, went to synagogue all the time, and presumed that they were pleasing to God because of their performance. The older brother was angry that the father had received back the prodigal because he felt that his younger brother didn’t deserve forgiveness and the party his father threw for him.

In the text quoted above Jesus  tells of how the older brother had  served the father and kept all of his commandments. The brother then complained that nothing has been done to reward him for all of his performing. He was living more like a slave than a son and was waiting for the father to pay him. The father says, “you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.” You can’t work for what is already yours. If he wanted to have a party all he needed to do was ask. That is how grace works.

Galatians 4 tells us that Jesus was born under the law so that he might “redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” It goes on to say that the Father has sent His Spirit into our hearts so that you and I are “no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:4-7)  We could never have become God’s children by the law of performance because His holiness demands a perfection we could never obtain. So He sent His own Son who lived perfectly under the law and then died as a sacrifice for all of us who have broken the law. We become His children by receiving His grace.

Sometimes we lose track of grace when we’ve been in the church awhile and begin to think that we are worthy of the place we have in Christ because of all our service. It is important that we keep the “amazing” in grace, remembering that He came to save and love undeserving people just like us.

Posted in Luke

The Heart of God 

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20

Hopefully we have all heard the truth many times: “God loves you.” But what does that really mean? Jesus tells a story in Luke 15 to explain God’s emotions for sinful human beings.

A son leaves home demanding that he get his share of the inheritance. He spends it all quickly, carelessly, and sinfully, and when he runs out of money he works for a farmer, but is paid so little that he longs for the food the pigs are eating. At this point he decides that he will go home, admit his sins, acknowledge that he is no longer a part of the family, and ask to become a hired man.

The hired man in that culture worked for a slave’s wages but didn’t stay in the house. The prodigal’s feeling was that his father might be willing to provide for him, but that he would not want to be close to him, or to even have him around.

Do you ever think that’s how God feels about you? He may meet your needs because He is good. He may forgive your sins because Jesus died for them and legally He has to. But the bottom line is that He doesn’t really like you, or desire you because of the person you’ve been. I think a lot of us can feel this way in our hearts even though our minds may be able to give all the right answers.  Perhaps we don’t really know God’s heart for us.

As the prodigal starts home, he may have been rehearsing to himself all of his sins and wondering what kind of a reception he would receive. Would it be avoidance; the lights are all shut off, the door is locked and no one answers no matter how many times he knocks? Or would it be guilt; “Do you have any idea what you have put your mother and I through…” with a rehashing of all his sins after all their generosity! Or would it be cold business? “Here is the amount you took when you left. Yes, you can have a job, but you will pay back everything that you owe.”

Jesus explained how God really feels when any of us sincerely repent and ask His forgiveness: “He was filled with compassion, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him.” No guilt trip, no avoidance, no coldness. God rejoices over you and I and His heart is intimacy, not performance.

Posted in Luke, Psalms

The Longing of God’s Heart

“How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” Luke 13:34

Parents and all those in authority are used to taking care of everyone else, so it’s often hard to allow someone else to take care of us, even God. Why were the Jews unwilling to allow God to intimately care for them as He longed to do? I think it was because it meant they would have to humble themselves and admit they were really just vulnerable little chicks who needed to be taken care of.

We pride ourselves in America on our ability to be independent. The books on success encourage us to tell ourselves we are strong and can do anything we set our mind to do. But the truth is that we are not strong in ourselves, and we aren’t mother hens who are able to take care of everyone else. We too, are only little chicks, who need to be gathered under the wings of God.

Isn’t it awesome that the all sufficient One has a longing at all? He has a longing we can meet by simply acknowledging we are not as important as we thought, we aren’t as smart as we appear, and we are not as invincible as we would want everyone else to believe. We are in fact, like little chicks who need to be gathered under the wings of our Savior to simply be held and protected by Him. Could there be a more intimate picture than a chick being hidden in the secret place of its mother’s wings? God longs to have you and I that close to Him.

I love this truth even though I easily forget it. I often pray something like this, “Lord, here I am, your little chick. Go ahead and meet the longing of Your heart by holding me. Go ahead and do what you’ve been waiting to do, pour out your grace upon me.” David prayed along these lines in Psalm 61:4: “I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.” Is it any wonder he is remembered as the man after God’s own heart, when His longing to dwell under God’s wing was matched by God’s longing to gather him to that place of intimate care?

Maybe you’ve been weary taking care of everyone else and today you need to let God take care of you. Why don’t you pray right now and ask Him.

Posted in Luke, Matthew

One Thing

“The Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

Mary chose the good part. She was “listening to the Lord’s words, seated at His feet.” (Luke 10:39) She was enjoying the Lord, being refreshed by His Presence and changed by His words.

Jesus said this was the one necessary choice.  All the rest of life will flow out of this vital relationship if we will just make it our priority. Necessary means something you cannot do without.

Martha hadn’t made that choice. She loved the Lord but she was “distracted with all her preparations.” (Luke 10:40) Jesus implied that she was living the bad part; serving Jesus without enjoying Jesus. Giving and giving and giving without receiving from His Word and Presence. Distracted from the glorious One by our busy lives that are supposed to be in service to Him.

Have you ever fallen into this trap? Life gets busy. Priorities get mixed up and pretty soon the urgent rather than the important starts dominating our lives. We stop really living and find ourselves barely surviving.

We usually, like Martha, find someone else to blame. “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” (Luke 10:40) What’s she really saying? “Lord, don’t you see that I’m burnt out – do something!  It’s Mary’s fault! or the church’s fault or my spouse’s fault or my boss’ fault”…the list goes on.

Jesus is gentle but firm: (my paraphrase) “What Mary has, she has chosen – she has chosen and she has chosen correctly. I’m not going to take away  her joy because you’re miserable. Martha, you too can have what Mary has. Choose to fellowship with Me. Let your service be fueled by My Presence.”

Jesus said, “Come to Me you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)  Do this one thing and continue to do it and everything else in your life will take its proper place.

Posted in Luke, Malachi

Confidence In God’s Provision

“Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full-pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” Luke 6:38

It was November of 2004 in Minnesota when I received the call no homeowner wants to get. It was from my wife.

“Tom, it’s raining in the house.”

“What does that even mean?” I asked.

“Here’s what it means,” she replied, “I’m in our bedroom watching water drip through the ceiling onto our bed.”

I quickly grasped the problem as fear took hold of my heart. This was not a broken pipe – there were no pipes in our attic – this could only be a leak in our roof. It had been raining for days and apparently enough had leaked into the attic so that it was now coming through the ceiling of our bedroom!

We were a single income family living on a pastor’s salary with one child in college and three other children still at home. There was no extra money, no “rainy day fund,” though this was what we literally needed at the time.

We received a bid for a newly shingled house (that included removing the old shingles) from a roofing guy at our church for $5,800. Patching was not an option and the work had to be done quickly because winter was coming, so I needed to make a choice.

I had a talk with God. I reminded Him that we were His and that everything we had belonged to Him, and therefore it was His roof that was leaking. I reminded Him that I was a faithful tither and beyond, and that He had promised to open up heaven and pour out resources in my time of need.  He said He would rebuke the devourer for my sake. (Malachi 3:10-11)  I told Him that I was going to accept this bid unless He showed me a different way, and that His reputation was at stake if I couldn’t pay the bill.

In my journal at the time I recorded six different sources of money that came unexpectedly into my hands in the two weeks that followed my prayer. The roof was fixed, the bill was paid, and God’s reputation was intact!

Posted in Luke

Silent Night

“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” Luke 2:3-7

“How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given…” An engaged couple is found to be pregnant in a religious community. If they try to explain, they receive the silence given to fanatics; if they don’t explain, they’d be given the silent shaming of the immoral. As they come to Bethlehem, there is no family to greet them, in fact, there’s not even room at the public inn. The Savior comes into the world unattended by a nurse or a midwife, yet in the silence of that night heaven speaks clearly: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born for you; He is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)

Maybe the key to experiencing an increase of joy on Christmas is to turn down all the noise around us and to reflect more on both our need, and God’s provision of a Savior. “Silent night, holy night, Son of God, love’s pure light; Radiant beams from Thy holy face, bring the dawn of redeeming grace; Jesus, Lord at Thy birth, Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.”

Posted in Isaiah, Luke

The Shepherds

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you: He is Christ the Lord.’” Luke 2:8-11

The good news of great joy was not only for “all the people,” it was also to be incredibly personal, for the angel said: “a Savior has been born to you.” What did this mean to these shepherds?

At that time all Israel was waiting for Messiah because the prophet Daniel had given a timetable of when Messiah should appear on the earth. There is little doubt that the words of the angel would bring to the minds of Jewish shepherds the prophecy Isaiah gave about the Messiah: “For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders.” (Isaiah 9:6) They possibly felt that the joy would be the Messiah defeating Rome, and Israel becoming the governmental head of the nations again.

Yet this Child was born for a different reason than setting up an earthly kingdom at that time, and the joy would be much more than having a good leader running the government.

The fields on the outskirts of Bethlehem were used to raise the lambs used for sacrifices in the temple. The shepherds’ job was to watch over lambs whose sacrifice would cover over Israel’s sins one year at a time. Little did they know that the angel was calling them to watch over the Lamb who would take away the sins of the whole world; and that all the lambs they had watched over until that time pointed to this One baby, who was Christ the Lord.

Before Messiah rules on this earth, He needed to be a Savior that would die for the sins of all the people, including these shepherds. The great joy would be in the forgiveness of their sins which would allow them to have a personal relationship with God.

I hope you have made Christmas personal by receiving Christ’s forgiveness and by embracing a relationship with Him. God wants each of us to hear and believe the good news that brings great joy!

Posted in Luke, Matthew

Different Genealogies

Matthew 1:16 “… and to Jacob was born Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”

Matthew 1:6 “… and to David was born Solomon…”

Luke 3:23 “And when He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years of age, being supposedly the son of Joseph, the son of Heli…”

Luke 3:31 “… the son of Nathan, the son of David…”

Critics of the gospel accounts of Jesus birth have often pointed out the different genealogies given by Matthew and Luke. How do we reconcile two completely different lists that have nothing in common except for David and Joseph? The answer is quite simple if we look at the goals of the two authors.

Matthew is writing to Jews and wants to present Jesus to them as their king. He traces the lineage of Jesus from Abraham through David and then through David’s son Solomon all the way to Joseph. Joseph was a direct descendant of the kings which means that Jesus Himself is in that line. Matthew tells Joseph’s story – how the angel appeared to him when he was going to divorce Mary; how God spoke to him to flee Bethlehem after the visit of the Magi; and how God spoke to him again when they were in Egypt and it was time to return to Israel. It is only fitting that he gives the genealogy of Joseph which is what he does.

Luke is writing to Greeks and presenting Jesus as the Son of man – the ideal man. He traces the lineage of Jesus from Adam through David and then through David’s son Nathan all the way to Joseph: “the son of Heli.” Luke says Jesus is “supposedly the son of Joseph.” Supposedly, yet he isn’t really; he’s only the son of Mary. Luke tells Mary’s story – how the angel appeared to her and said she would carry the Savior; he tells of her trip to Elizabeth’s and about her famous prayer; and then he tells of the visit of the angels at the birth and how Mary, “pondered these things in her heart.” It is only fitting that Luke would give the genealogy of Mary who is also a descendant of David and that is what he does.

There is no word in Koine Greek for “son-in-law.” If you were describing someone as a son-in-law you would just use the word “son” which is what Luke does here. Joseph’s father was Jacob; his father-in-law, Mary’s father, was Heli. In the Greek, Joseph could be described as being both the son of Jacob and the son of Heli with no contradiction.