Posted in Luke, Psalms

Seeing Jesus

“Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was happening; and he was greatly perplexed, because it was said by some that John had risen from the dead, and by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen again. Herod said, ‘I myself had John beheaded; but who is this man about whom I hear such things?’ And he kept trying to see Him.” Luke 9:7-9

Herod Antipas was a “somebody.” After his father died, he was made a tetrarch in Israel (tetrarch means one fourth) and given the region of Galilee to rule. Why couldn’t he see Jesus who was from his own region?

In the chapter before the text above, a woman with an issue of blood saw Him. While Herod was curious, she was desperate. She had no options left because she had spent her life savings on doctors and had only become worse. She told herself that if she could get to Jesus, she would be healed. She pressed through the crowds until she found Him and when she did, was immediately healed. It’s not the curious who see Jesus apparently, it’s the desperate.

Herod Anitpas wanted to see Jesus but he was a busy man, maybe there wasn’t ever a convenient time for the two of them to meet? Yet Jairus, a ruler in the synagogue, saw Him. His only daughter was at the point of death and he knew the only One on earth who could help was Jesus. All of a sudden, this official had only one thing on his schedule: seeing Jesus. Maybe that’s why he found Him and Herod didn’t? Maybe Jesus can’t be seen unless He’s our top priority?

When Herod finally does see Jesus, he puts him on trial and asks for a miracle to be done in front of him. (Luke 23:8) Jesus came to serve mankind, not perform for us. Human pride puts God on trial and demands Him to prove Himself so we will believe, but Jesus didn’t submit to Herod’s request. In fact, He wouldn’t speak to him at all. (Luke 23:9) “The proud He knows from afar, but He is close to the humble of heart.” (Psalm 138:6) If we want to see Jesus, we must humble ourselves like children and ask Him to reveal Himself in whatever way He desires. “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to children. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.” (Luke 10:21)

Posted in Luke

God Healing Through Us

“And He sent them (the twelve) out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing….Whatever city you (the seventy) enter and they receive you, eat what is set before you; and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘the kingdom of God has come near to you.” Luke 9:2; 10:8-9

Are you willing to have God heal through you even if you haven’t experienced God’s healing to you? This message from Jesus to His disciples wasn’t about their healing, but about the importance of healing in advancing the kingdom of God. Healing was to be a key to let people know the kingdom of God had drawn near, it’s God’s calling card. Mark 16:20 says that the disciples “preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed.” God wants to do things only He can do to help people know the gospel is true.

One day I went to breakfast with a friend and noticed that the man who took us to our table was limping. When he faced us I could see his hand and wrist were bound with some type of bandage, so I asked him what happened. He told me he had an accident on his bike the Monday before.

Now what. Maybe God wants to heal him right there so I should pray for him, but how awkward will it be in front of everyone? “Before leaving today, I’d really like to pray for you,” is what I said, and then tried to measure his reaction. All during breakfast I tried to envision how I would go about praying for him, or if I should. Maybe he was hiding in the kitchen waiting for me to leave for all I knew.

It turned out he was the one who checked us out and there was no line behind us, so I asked if he would come over to a private corner to be prayed for. He came, and I prayed a brief prayer of healing over him and then told him God loved him. He said thanks and went his way while we left the restaurant.

Did God heal him? I don’t know. What I do know is that I tried to love him with God’s love and tried to give God an opportunity to do something only He can do. Was I pushing too hard to get God to do something He didn’t want to do? According to the text above, I don’t think so. The bottom line is I don’t want to live a safe, comfortable, sheltered faith; I want to be on the front lines bringing the kingdom of God everywhere I go, even if I’m not that good at it yet. How about you?

Posted in 1Samuel, Luke, Mark, Revelation

Hear, and be Healed

“A great number of people from all over Judea came to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch Him, because power was coming from Him and healing them all.” Luke 6:17-19

Health care is a problem today. As we age there are more pains and blockages as well as the risk of external parts and internal organs wearing down and no longer functioning as they should. The medical community can help, and they do what they can, but for many things there is only a pill to treat symptoms and no real promise of healing.

Jesus is a healer. He can and does use doctors, but sometimes He acts apart from them, like in the text above. Two things grip me in this passage – one relates to humanity; the other to Divinity.

The people came to “hear Him and be healed.” There is a great tendency in our culture to want to be healed from God without listening to God. The idea that God might want to correct me is offensive in a culture which insists that any correction is being “judgmental.” God loves us and wants us to be healed but to Him the heart, the inner person, is more important than the body. When He sees us He looks through the outward appearance to what’s really going on inside. (1Samuel 16:7) He wants to speak to us. Jesus’ last recorded words are found in the book of Revelation where seven times He repeats the same phrase: “He who has ears let him hear what the Spirit says to the church.” (See Revelation 2 and 3)

The second thing about this text that amazes me is the Divine generosity. Divine power flowed from Jesus and it was “healing them all.” When Jesus is free to be who He is in our midst, healing power to restore and deliver is available to all. Oftentimes we restrict what He is able to do by our unbelief (Mark 6:5-6), or by our busy schedule which distracts us from ever stopping long enough to hear, or be healed.

Posted in Luke, Matthew

The New Wine

“Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:17

God was not able to pour out His Spirit in fullness under the Old Covenant. In fact, He put a veil between His manifest glory and mankind because of their sin. If sinners got too close to His holiness, judgment would break out as it did many times when they were under the cloud of His presence in the wilderness.

God didn’t love His people any less under the Old Covenant, but His touch of blessing was limited to people’s obedience to the law. The law was the old wineskin and the wine it held was limited to a few people (kings, priests, and prophets) and was only poured out while they performed their functions.

In our text, Jesus is answering a question the Pharisees had. They wondered why Jesus’ disciples weren’t keeping the fasts they kept. Jesus announced that a change had taken place with His coming. After He was gone His disciples would fast again, He explained, but it would be for a different reason. Under the Old Covenant one fasted in hopes of receiving favor; under the new covenant a person can fast as one who already has favor.

The new wineskin is the new covenant Jesus made with the Father. He died in our place so that we can be forgiven and be adopted as the very children of God. The new wine can be abundantly poured on anyone who believes in Jesus because His shed blood removes the judgment our sin would have automatically triggered under the Old Covenant.

Jesus’ death and resurrection frees His Father to pour out the Holy Spirit and allows us to receive more of Him as often as we ask. Jesus said: “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask (and continue to ask) Him.” (Luke 11:13)

Own your identity as a child of God and use this favored position to ask for more of heaven’s wine. This wine is key to lasting joy and healing unlike the stuff that can only give a short buzz and is often followed by a hangover.

Posted in Luke

Contending for More

“If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask (and continue to ask) Him.” Luke 11:13

Our greatest need is more of the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus lets us know that even though we’re sinners (“evil”), we are the children of God and can just ask for more of the One who will overcome our lack and give us what we need for every situation we face. It may seem like God is delaying, but if we are persistent in our asking, He will give us His Holy Spirit. (See Luke 11:5-13) So why don’t we ask?

Some fifteen years ago when we lived in Montevideo, MN we got a computer game called, “Raptor.” It was straight forward and seemingly easy to play, so I initially loved competing with my ten year old son, Matthew. Then something horrible happened, he started beating me. The game centered around this fighter airplane you operated that shot down enemy aircraft as they tried to destroy you. The enemies increased as you went along, but you could also pick up money packs at different stages to buy more weapons. I always bought the weapons that I understood how to use, bombs and shields. But as I struggled to get through level one and only infrequently made it to level two, Matt started making it to the fourth and fifth levels every time he played.

“Dad, you need to buy different weapons to go higher. Let me show you how to do it.” Why was a ten year old having to show me how to do anything? I had a choice to make that day; either I keep my pride intact and continue to struggle, or I humble myself, admit I can’t do it on my own, and allow my ten year old son to teach me how to acquire the weapons that will take me to the higher levels. He taught me and I began to gain confidence with my new weapons. That which had seemed impossible before became second nature, and enemies that had intimidated me before were now on the retreat. I was amazed at how much difference having the right weapons made.

The advantage we need to fight the Christian battle more successfully is not going to come from us trying harder, but from us asking more. The Holy Spirit has gifts He is waiting to give us if we would only humble ourselves and start contending for what only He can give.

Posted in John, Luke

Ministers of Forgiveness

“’Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.’ And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.’” John 20:21-23

I grew up in a tradition that took this verse to mean that there were some men who had the authority to forgive sins on this earth. The truth is that only God can forgive sins, but He has placed the authority to give the conditions of forgiveness to His people. This is John’s version of the great commission.  Jesus is sending them out to preach the gospel which at its core is about forgiveness that God has made possible. The church has the authority to assure those who meet God’s conditions that they are forgiven, and the responsibility of being careful not to promise forgiveness when those conditions are not met.

The first condition is faith in Christ. The idea that I must be forgiven because God is a “forgiving God” is false. God is loving, and God is just, and in His love He sent His only begotten Son to pay the penalty His justice required, so that anyone who believed in Jesus would not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) There is no forgiveness outside of Christ, only justice for our sins.

The second condition for forgiveness is repentance. In the exact scene of our text above Luke records a more expansive version of what Jesus said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (Luke 24:46-48) The church has no authority to offer forgiveness without repentance which means both a confession and a turning away from sins committed.

In the tradition I grew up in I was regularly told my sins were forgiven when in fact, they weren’t. I was living for myself and adding a little religion; that is not repentance. If we don’t repent and live for God, it doesn’t matter how much religion we add to our lives, we won’t be saved in the end.

Does God want us to live in fear? Absolutely not!  It’s His good pleasure to give us the kingdom. We just need to treat our forgiveness as something precious to be protected by a life that honors God, and not trampled on by a life that presumes that God has to forgive.

Posted in Luke

The Surprise of God

“Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” Luke 11:11-13

At the beginning of 1996 a group of leaders from the church I was at went to visit the revival in Toronto. Every one of us was dramatically touched by the Holy Spirit, but it all left me a little confused. People were shaking and falling, laughing and crying, and there was prophetic ministry as well as extravagant acts of worship that were more than I was used to.

Although I enjoyed the presence of the Holy Spirit, I questioned the Lord about the need His people have for safety. It was then that the Scripture above came to my mind.

I had gifts for my children in the car to bring home and surprise them with. They would be thrilled about the gifts even though they didn’t know what was in the packages. Their safety was not in knowing everything they were getting, but in who was giving it to them. They knew me, and they knew I would never give them anything that could hurt them. I knew they would close their eyes with smiles on their faces, and let me place the gifts in their laps. No fear at all, only anticipation for something good from their father. The Lord spoke clearly in my spirit, “You (church leadership) have sought to keep My people safe through control, and you’ve taken the surprise out of church.”

To me, the number one problem of the church in America is boredom. We are so scheduled and so concerned that everything runs efficiently, we can easily miss the interruption God may want to bring. God wants us to ask for the Holy Spirit again and again so that He can put fresh gifts in His children’s laps, reveal His great love, and draw hearts to intimacy. I believe God wants churches and lives that require more than man’s best effort. He wants us to always be looking for His surprises!

Posted in Ephesians, John, Luke, Zechariah

Being Filled with the Holy Spirit

“Do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” Ephesians 5:18

The greatest need of Christians today is to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Not as a one time event, but each and every day. The literal Greek would read, “be being filled with the Spirit.” How can we be filled with the Spirit?

First, by recognizing the need. In Zechariah 4:6 God says, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord of hosts.” God’s work does not go forward by human strength, will, or cleverness, it requires the operation of His Spirit. We must be convinced this is true, or we will not sincerely seek the Spirit’s filling.

Second, we must be thirsty. John 7:37-39 reads, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me (Jesus) and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke of the Spirit, who those who believed in Him were to receive.” God wants a river of life flowing out of you and me to bless this hurting and dying world, but it starts when someone is thirsty enough to receive. Are you thirsty for more, or content with what you have? Our hearts are created to thirst for God, but many seek to quench that thirst with stuff, alcohol, entertainment, human relationships, or fill in the blank. If these other things have dampened your thirst for God ask Him to forgive you, and tell Him you want to thirst for Him again.

And finally, we must ask. Jesus said, “If you being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” (Luke 11:13) The Amplified Bible brings out the Greek tense, “to those who ask and continue to ask Him!” This is not a one time asking, but a continual relationship of dependence. As our cars regularly need to be refilled with gasoline, and our bodies regularly need to be refilled with food, so our spirits need to be regularly refilled with the Holy Spirit.

The main reluctance Christians have about asking is that they don’t feel they’re good enough to be filled. While God may lead you to repent of areas before He fills you, He wants you and I to know that His Spirit is a gift, not a reward for good behavior. In fact, He starts off this wonderful promise by alluding to his own disciples as “being evil.” He’s saying that our sinfulness is not preventing Him from pouring out His Spirit, rather the Spirit’s filling is actually the solution for our evil. No one washes up before taking a shower – that’s the point of the shower!

Posted in Ephesians, John, Luke, Romans

Who is the Holy Spirit?

“But when He, the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.”  John 16:13-15

The Lord’s vision for the church was not based on His disciples’ abilities, but on the ability of the Spirit who would indwell them. Nothing has changed today. God’s vision for your life is way beyond your own personality and gifts – you and I were created to have the Holy Spirit indwell us, speak to us, empower us, and guide us. Without the Holy Spirit’s presence, we are like cars with no gas in the tank. They may look nice, but they aren’t going anywhere.

The Holy Spirit is a Person, not a force. We don’t refer to Him as an it, because He is an intimate personality who Jesus says “hears,” and “speaks.” In other places we find the Spirit rejoicing (Luke 10:21) and grieving. (Ephesians 4:30) He is a Person who feels, communicates, and wills.

He is the Spirit of truth. He will convict us of our deception, and will always bring us back to being real. Sometimes we think God wants us to put our religious best forward when we come before Him. Nothing could be further from the truth. He wants us to be gut wrenchingly honest with Him, so that He can truly forgive us, and truly fill us with His power. If we fake it before God we end up with an empty heart. 

Not only will the Holy Spirit tell us the truth about ourselves, He will also bear witness to the truth of the Scriptures and to the Person of Jesus Christ who is the truth. He wants to disclose to us all that Jesus has for us, and guide us in the way we should go. None of us are qualified to be in charge of our own lives. We don’t really know ourselves, we don’t know the future, and we don’t know what other people are going to do to affect us. God, who knows all, invites us to live beyond mere “common sense” as His children. “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the children of God.” (Romans 8:14)

Posted in Luke, Psalms

Friend of Sinners

“This man is the friend of sinners.” Luke 15:2

The speakers at a Power & Love conference a few years ago empowered us with messages of God’s love and the worthiness of Jesus, so that we could be sent out and demonstrate His power and love wherever we went. We were taught to be unafraid of people and unapologetic in our approach to them. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live it.” (Psalm 24:1) Everyone we meet was created by God, redeemed by Christ, and is borrowing air that God gives them to stay alive. We don’t need to feel like we’re trespassing when we ask them if they’d like prayer.

I approached one woman who was walking with a limp in Panera and asked her politely if I could pray for her. She was upset: “I have my own religion and I’m offended by you and think that you should ask people before praying in the future!” I didn’t feel like it was my place to point out that I had asked, so I just smiled at her and told her to have a nice day. It’s okay to experience rejection for Jesus’ sake!

The day after the conference, my wife and I were walking near our house when I spotted a woman through the pine trees who was sitting on her back porch smoking a cigarette. I raised my voice to say, “Hi, how are you?”  She replied, “I just moved here to be close to my mom because my two brothers have died in the last six months and I lost my job in Chicago.”

I led the way through the trees up onto her porch. I told her how sorry I was and that God loved her even though these bad things happened and we wanted to pray for her if that would be alright. She was more than willing. As we prayed, tears started to come as the presence of God rested on her. When the prayer time was over and we had invited her to church she was amazed. “Think about it, I just decided to come out here and you were walking past at exactly the right time.” 

Jesus is the friend of sinners. Let’s open our eyes and our hearts and not be afraid to bring His love and power to those around us.