Posted in 2Corinthians, Luke, Revelation

The Rudder

“My house shall be a house of prayer.” Luke 19:46

In the spring of 2009 the woman leading our weekly prayer meeting requested prayer because the burden of leading was heavy on her. She was in charge because she was a known intercessor and I knew I wasn’t. Early one morning while praying for her, I received an impression of a large ship with a small rudder. A sentence came into my mind, “Lead the church from the prayer meeting.” With this thought came an immediate understanding of three things:

  1. I had been trying to lead the church from Sunday mornings to that point.
  2. Because of this I was leading the church politically (human effort) instead of spiritually (trusting God).
  3. The large ship represented the church and the small, unseen rudder; the prayer meeting. God was asking me to take my place as the leader of the prayer meeting.

From that time until this I have tried to lead our prayer meetings. From that time we tell all who come to our membership classes that we consider the prayer meeting our most important gathering of the week.

If you’ve ever been to a Tuesday night you know it’s not very impressive. Yet it’s the prayer meeting that gives me confidence God is in all the other ministries at church, including Sunday mornings.

Jesus said: “My house shall be a house of prayer.” Until we’ve prayed, we should do nothing. Once we’ve prayed, we should only go forward as God directs. This is true of a church, but it’s also true for individuals. We are the house God lives in today. (2Corinthians 6:16)

So what’s the rudder in your life? What is the underlying motivation for all you do? Is it money? Fun? Selfish ambition? Family? Responsibility? The same Jesus who turned the tables over in the temple knocks on our door today asking for our permission to enter. He is still filled with zeal to make us a house of prayer but has chosen to wait for us to make prayer a priority in our lives.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20)

Posted in Luke, Proverbs, Psalms

Choosing Well

“Few things are necessary, really only one, and Mary has chosen the good part.” Luke 10:42

A recent quote I heard has really struck me, “It is almost impossible to overestimate the unimportance of most things.” Think about this for a moment. All talk about food and drink is really unimportant. All talk of sports is really unimportant. All talk of weather, past, present, and future is mostly unimportant. All speculation of how the rich and famous live is meaningless and most talk of others is to no valuable end either. It’s amazing how much we are able to talk without really saying anything important.

“Small talk,” is what we call it. It is purposely unimportant because it breaks the ice in relationships without causing controversy. I get that, but I hope our lives are aiming at something more valuable, or we may end up as empty as most conversations.

Mary was seated at the Lord’s feet listening to His Word. There is nothing more valuable than a life focused on a relationship with God. Proverbs 1:32-33 says, “…the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to Me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.” This is the good part.

Martha became distracted by her serving and ended up with the bad part; working for Jesus but no longer listening to Him; around Him, but not personally experiencing Him. Jesus is helping her to leave a distracted lifestyle by telling her that what Mary has, she has chosen. It’s as if He’s saying, “Martha, you are not a victim of your circumstances. You too can choose the good part.”

King David made this choice in the midst of his adventurous and busy life. “One thing have I desired and that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord (the Presence of God) all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.” (Psalm 27:4)

If something other than Him is the aim of our life, we’re on a tangent. Why not make a better choice today?

Posted in 1John, Luke, Matthew

Increase Our Faith

“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’” … “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’” Luke 17:5; 10

In response to His disciples request for increased faith, Jesus told about a servant who shouldn’t think he deserves anything special for all his work. What does this have to do with faith?

If you approach God as a servant who is looking for pay you will limit grace in your life because grace isn’t given on those terms. Serve God and keep His commandments because you love Him, but don’t allow a spirit of entitlement to get on you because of your sacrifice or great devotion. After you’ve obeyed God completely, remind yourself, “I am an unworthy (undeserving) servant. God owes me nothing.”

In obedience, we must think of ourselves as servants, but in prayer we must take our position as beloved children. (1John 3:1)  A master gives a servant wages based on the servant’s performance, but a father gives his children gifts based only on his love and available resources. Jesus said to us, “If you being evil know how to give good gifts to your children how much more will the heavenly Father give good things to those who ask Him.” (Matthew 7:11) In Luke’s gospel He says the Father gives “the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” The Father gives good gifts, natural and spiritual, not to those who are good, but to those who ask as His children.

Jesus said to pray as children of God, saying, “our Father.” We are adopted children who come to God through the blood of Christ with only the claim that we are loved, and we are His.

One of my favorite Dennis the Menace cartoons shows Dennis and his friend, Joey, eating a plate of cookies. Joey asks: “I wonder what we did that Mrs. Wilson made us a plate of cookies?” Dennis explains: “Joey, Mrs. Wilson doesn’t make us cookies because we’re good; Mrs. Wilson makes us cookies because Mrs. Wilson is good!”

The gospel is not about our performance, but about God’s generosity. To have increasing faith, we need to think of ourselves as both unworthy servants, and God’s favored children.

Posted in Luke, Matthew

Me First

“And He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.’ But He said to him, ‘Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.’ Another also said, ‘I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say goodbye to those at home.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.’” Luke 9:59-62

Is there anything wrong with burying your father or saying goodbye to those at home? Of course not. Then why did Jesus say what He said to these seemingly sincere people? One uses the phrase, “permit me first,” and the other says, “first permit me,” yet both preface their requests by calling Jesus, “Lord.” They call Him, “Lord,” but want to set their own terms in following Him.

Jesus is calling you and me to put the kingdom of God first, not ourselves, and not our families. If these two had left everything for the kingdom, it’s very possible Jesus would have given them the assignment of going home first, like He did to the demoniac who was delivered in the chapter before. (Luke 8:39) But Jesus telling you to go home is very different from you telling Jesus that you’re going home before following Him.

I think that family is one of the main idols of the evangelical church in America today. People run their lives around their children, their grandchildren, or their extended family, and just assume that God’s okay with that. Listen to the words of Jesus, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matthew 10:37) If family is first you won’t even be able to serve them in a right way because they are in the middle instead of Jesus. This is unhealthy and will end up leading the family you love subtly away from Jesus instead of to Him.

Jesus gave everything for us and He’s asking us to give everything back to Him. When we do, there is a freedom from self that brings a great rest into our lives. Let’s set our hands to the plow called the kingdom of God and trust God with everything else, including our families.

Posted in Luke

God’s Care for Detail

“Are not five sparrows sold for two cents? And yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Luke 12:6-7

“His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.” The truth of this song goes to another level when you experience God’s providential care first hand.

We were in Minneapolis one weekend because I was speaking at a friend’s church on Sunday morning. Our daughters joined us from Winona on Saturday night but were sleeping at a friend’s dorm. Late Saturday night I received a call while in bed: “Dad, the car died. I got it into a parking space but it won’t do anything when I turn the key.” “That’s fine, Honey, we’ll deal with it tomorrow.”  How we would get it fixed on a Sunday afternoon in a strange city was beyond me and I needed to sleep, so I just told the Lord I was trusting Him.

We finally got to the stranded car at about 2:00 pm. I got it out of the parking spot and into a large parking lot where it promptly died again. A guy in the parking lot gave me directions to an AutoZone nearby, so I jumped the car again, and headed toward it while the rest of the family followed in our van. Just as I turned the final corner toward AutoZone the car died again. After navigating it over to the curb, I noticed that we were right in front of an auto repair place so I tried the door and it was open! I peeped my head in where a grizzly looking man told me that the shop was closed. He told me he had only stopped by the shop to pick up some tools for a friend; Sunday was his day off. When I told him our predicament he agreed to look at the car.

For a total of $70 he ended up putting in a new battery and an alternator. AutoZone is only a parts store and would not have been able to help us if we didn’t have a mechanic who could put the parts in. We were on our way within an hour!

Maybe there are large things that God hasn’t come through on yet, but don’t let that mystery keep you from experiencing the little ways that He cares for us every day.

Posted in Luke

Defining the Relationship

“Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, ‘If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.’” Luke 14:25-26

After a couple has been going out for a while one of the parties, usually the woman, wants to have a DTR (Define the Relationship) talk. What is this? Are we just friends? Are we officially boyfriend and girlfriend? Is this possibly heading toward marriage? This makes the man, or the woman, look at the relationship honestly, and causes them to come to a crossroads where a decision must be made that will affect the future of the relationship.

In the passage above Jesus is asking for a DTR response from the crowds that are following Him. In the book, Not a Fan, Kyle Idleman comments on this passage:

“Jesus uses such dramatic language here, because in this culture if you were to become a follower of Jesus without having your family’s blessing, you would have been thought of as hating your family. A decision to follow Jesus would have been interpreted as turning your back on your family and walking away from them.” (pg 57)

Idleman continues: “In Luke 14 Jesus defines the relationship by making it clear that if we follow Him, we follow Him and Him alone. He won’t share us – not with money; not with a career, not even with your family. Maybe you read a passage like this and it seems that God is being a little possessive and jealous. But understand this – when Jesus explains that He will not share your affection or devotion, He isn’t just saying how He wants to be loved by you; He is making it clear how He loves you.

Where are you with Jesus? Is He not only first in your life but the center, the one and only, that true devotion requires? We need to define the relationship to move forward in God.

Posted in John, Luke

Staying in the Right Spirit

“‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But He (Jesus) turned and rebuked them (James and John), and said, ‘You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” Luke 9:54-56

James and John were very familiar with the message of grace that Jesus brought. He had said on a number of occasions that He did not come to judge, but to save. (See John 3:17 & John 12:47) Jews of that time had established a tradition of traveling around Samaria because they considered Samaritans to be heretics and didn’t want to be defiled by them. 

Yet Jesus had asked James and John to make arrangements in Samaria for a place to stay on their way to Jerusalem. They went in a spirit of grace most likely, but when they were rejected; when they felt judgment from others; they shifted to a retaliatory spirit. They had even convinced themselves that this was probably what God wanted them to do until Jesus rebuked them and said they were in the wrong spirit. When we feel judged it’s easy to respond in judgment toward others.

I was sitting in the sauna at a health club chatting with a man about a number of things including the remodeling being done on the men’s and women’s bathrooms. Because male workers were doing the remodeling, the women’s bathroom had to be the men’s bathroom for a while which meant the usual men’s bathroom was now the women’s bathroom. There were signs clearly letting everyone know about the change.

This man left the sauna before me but when I came out a few minutes later I saw him going into the women’s bathroom. It was too late to give a warning. A few minutes later he came bursting out of the door and announced to all in hearing range, “it’s hard to break old habits.” He wasn’t trying to go in the women’s bathroom, he had just reverted back to his usual pattern without even thinking about it.

It’s not enough to show mercy once in a while.  We need to stay in the right spirit all the time to reveal God’s love to a fallen world.

Posted in Hebrews, Luke

Guilt Detectors

“But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’… Mary has chosen the good part and it will not be taken from her.” Luke 10:40-42”

Carbon monoxide is known as a “silent killer.” It is a colorless, tasteless, and odorless gas that can kill you without you even realizing what is happening. Because of this many homes now have detectors that sound an alarm  if the air you breathe has become contaminated with too much of this gas.

We need a similar spiritual detector for guilt. We were created to live in response to God’s grace in a place where our relationship with Him is the priority. When guilt begins to infect us we lose track of the main event, as Martha did, and end up with the “bad part.”  As carbon monoxide kills us slowly physically, guilt based living slowly kills us spiritually. It takes the “want to” of grace and turns it into the “have to” of man-made religion. Christ died to “cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Hebrews 9:14) He wants to expose guilt based living so that He can cleanse us and empower us to live by His grace.

Here are three detectors of guilt based living:

  1. I’m serving God but no longer enjoying God. God doesn’t take us from the place of delighting in Him, but we can easily lose it. Martha allowed her serving to be so central that she was distracted from fellowship with the Lord.
  2. I’m serving God but no longer enjoying people. Martha felt it was her duty to fix Mary. When you’re trying to fix people you are no longer able to enjoy them.
  3. I feel like it is my responsibility to meet the expectations of those around me. If you can’t say “no” to those who ask for help then I fear that you can never really say  “yes” to them. You have become a slave to guilt, and any need will get you moving. God wants more for us!

Mary chose the good part and Jesus is inviting us to choose it as well.  No more guilt; only His grace. Have you made that choice?

Posted in Luke, Mark, Romans

Wholehearted Love

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Mark 12:39

Jesus told the experts of the law that this was the greatest commandment: to love God with everything in you. I don’t believe we can obey this command apart from the filling of the Holy Spirit. You can choose to worship God and you can choose to obey God and you can choose to say “no” to temptation; but you and I can’t choose to love God wholeheartedly; we need help. Here’s why: I can choose to worship, but I can’t make myself enjoy it, which is what is required if I’m going to be wholehearted. I can choose to obey, but I can’t force myself to be excited about it; and if I’m not impassioned, it’s not wholehearted. When a man is cheering for his favorite team to win, all of his emotions are invested because he wants them to win with all his heart. If it’s somebody else’s team and he’s asked to cheer for them, he might do it as a favor, but his heart isn’t really in it. You can’t make your heart be into something; that’s God’s part.

“The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:5) True love begins with God, not with us. When the Holy Spirit is filling us He is able to tap our deep passions and desires and turn them toward God. It takes God to love God. We can choose to obey God and do what is right but Jesus is worthy of more than that! He is worthy of us being passionate about our obedience and wholehearted in whatever we are doing because we’re doing it for Him and with Him. For this we need to ask and keep asking to be filled with the Spirit. (Luke 11:13) We are His temple and we only operate rightly when we’re filled with Him.

Sometimes the problem is that our hearts have been damaged, or hurt so badly that we can’t do anything wholeheartedly any more. Jesus is anointed with the Spirit to mend broken hearts so they can regain the ability to love. (Isaiah 61:1) Once again, we can’t heal ourselves, but we can recognize our need and earnestly ask for His healing power to restore us. Ask Him to heal you so you can love yourself and others again; that’s good. But a greater prayer is that He would heal your heart completely so that you can give Jesus the kind of love He is worthy of.

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?