October 17, 2017

October 17, 2017

MARK 6-7

Focus Verse: But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately came and fell at His feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of the Syrophoenician race. And she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And He was saying to her, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs.” And He said to her, “Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.” And going back to her home, she found the child lying on the bed, the demon having left.
Mark 7:25-30

 

What an incredible lesson for us to learn in this brief conversation. First, let me say that I firmly believe that Jesus is testing this woman with His answer to her. It is absolutely true that Jesus was sent to save the Jewish people first and then to the rest of the people. Even when Jesus sends out His disciples, they are told to only go to the Jewish people first, then once they have finished going to them, they are to turn their attention to the gentiles.

 

But for Jesus to refuse to heal a little girl because of her nationality goes against everything He just taught the people, everything He showed that the Pharisees were doing wrong, everything that God commanded His people to do in the Old Testament. There are also other examples in the Gospels in which Jesus heals Gentiles without ever bringing up this issue. So it makes sense that Jesus is using this as an opportunity to teach, both the people involved here and you and me through the Scriptures.

 

So let’s learn something! And it’s something that you should already know, but we can use the faith of this Syrophoenician woman to bolster our faith and get this knowledge deep down in our heart so it starts shaping the way that we act, the way that we pray, the way that we believe!

 

The woman could have reacted many different ways when Jesus first broke this news to her. Think about our reactions when God breaks this kind of news to us. We pray for healing and it doesn’t come right away. We pray for an unsaved loved one and they just keep drifting further and further away from God. What do we do? Some of us give up, throw in the towel and either start praying for something else or just give up on praying altogether. Others of us though, are like the Syrophoenician woman and keep pressing in.

 

This woman doesn’t let Jesus’ answer deter her. In fact, she shows exactly how much faith she has in God! She knows that her God is so powerful, that even the “crumbs” that fall from His children’s table are enough to provide for her and her family. She doesn’t stomp her foot and tell Jesus how faithful she has been and how much she “deserves” this miracle. Instead, she sees the grace and mercy and love glowing in this Man who would become her Savior and KNOWS that even His leftovers are enough for her.

 

COME ON SOMEBODY! Can you honestly say that you would have that much faith? I know I would struggle to muster up that kind of attitude in the same situation. Lord Jesus, please change my heart and make me like this sweet woman! Help me to see that the crumbs from Your table are MORE THAN ENOUGH to keep me through any circumstance…BUT THAT YOU HAVE PROMISED ME EXCEEDLINGLY, ABUNDANTLY MORE than just scraps through Jesus Christ!

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October 16, 2017

October 16, 2017

MARK 4-5

Focus Verse: And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”
Mark 4:13-20

 

According to Jesus, if we don’t understand this parable, it will be impossible to understand any of His other parables. So what is so vital to understand in this parable that all the other parables hinge on? It all has to do with your soil.

 

Now there are a plethora of fantastic lessons that we can learn from this one parable, but the one that will impact our understanding of every other parable Jesus will teach has to do with the soil that we are providing for the seed that God is planting in us.

 

We could go through the negative examples of exactly what the problem is with each of these “bad soils”, but I think Jesus does a pretty good job of that. Instead, I want to look at the positive example that Jesus gives and talk about how exactly we can cultivate that kind of soil in our lives…because there is really only one way and that way is the hardest easy thing you will ever do.

 

Verse 20 tells us that the ones who characterize the good soil are the ones who hear the Word and accept it. So there you go. There’s your answer to all the riddles. And when broken down that simply, it becomes pretty apparent why you can’t get to second base with the rest of Jesus’ teaching if you don’t get this. This is first base. You can’t get to any of the other bases without going through first. In a relationship with Jesus, you can’t get any deeper until you start with this…acceptance of the Word.

 

I’ve talked about this passage before, but in John 6:29, Jesus answers some people who ask Him what works they must do in order to do the will of God. Jesus responds by telling them that the work (singular) of God is to believe in the One whom He has sent. Belief in Jesus is first base. The growth of the seed that God plants in us is 100% dependent on the level to which we accept the Word of God. Jesus, the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit’s leading…the measure of our walk with God is completely based on how much we believe in and give God authority in our lives.

 

If we hold back, and give God authority in our lives to the extent in which we are comfortable, but keep some control for ourselves, the growth of our seed is going to be impacted. BUT if we completely surrender to His lordship over our lives (this is the hardest easy thing), there is no end to the growth that He will produce through the seed He has planted in us.

 

It’s not easy to surrender. It’s not easy to give God absolutely every part of you. In fact, I would argue that YOU can’t do it. But Jesus did and will through the Holy Spirit in you. All you have to do is pray the same prayer Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane in Mark 14:36, “Abba, Father…everything is possible for you…yet, not what I will, but what You will.”

October 15, 2017

October 15, 2017

MARK 1-3

Focus Verse: They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
Mark 1:22

 

I’ve always been a little curious about these verses in the Gospels. The crowds were amazed because Jesus taught as one having authority, but didn’t the Pharisees and Saducees and teachers of the law also teach with authority? I mean, that was really why they were so upset with Jesus – His ministry was interfering with their authority over the people.

 

Then I stumbled across a pretty incredible connection today when doing a little deeper word study on the Greek word exousia, which is the word used for ‘authority’ here. It is actually translated as authority the majority of the time that it is seen in the New Testament, but there is one occasion where it is translated slightly different, and it got my mind running down a pretty cool track of revelation from the Lord.

 

In 1 Corinthians 8:9, Paul urges the church in Corinth, “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” The word liberty here is the same exousia used in Mark 1:22. “So what path does that lead one down?” you might ask.

 

Jesus’ authority was so radically different from that of the teachers of the law, the Pharisees and Saducees because the authority of Jesus offered freedom. It was an authority that came from a position of relationship, not superiority. It was an authority that came from the position of a servant, not a ruler.

 

The authority of Jesus came as One who would walk with you through your trials, not judge you and condemn you for going through those trials. Jesus very easily could have towered above everyone else on every level. But He didn’t. He came down to our level. Not that He became like us, but He came down to us. The teachers of the law, Pharisees and Saducees’ authority made the people attempt to come up to them…which was especially ironic because they couldn’t even come up to the standards they were trying to get the people to live by.

 

Their authority enslaved the people. It kept the people under their thumb and kept them in a position of leadership. Jesus freed the people through His authority and empowered them to walk in that authority. He already had true authority, He didn’t need to push the people down in order to keep it. So instead, He used His authority to show the people how to be free. And this was so radically different than any other authority this world has ever seen.

 

Are you set free by the authority of Jesus Christ? And if you are, are you using His authority to free others? It’s not an authority that comes from above others, but an authority that joins others and walks with them.

October 14, 2017

October 14, 2017

MATTHEW 27-28

Focus Verse: And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20

 

Contrary to popular belief (maybe not popularized in our theology but popularized by our actions for sure), the Gospel doesn’t end with the resurrection of Jesus Christ! The Gospel “ends” with this command from Jesus…which means that the Gospel NEVER ENDS!

 

Jesus Christ has been given all authority in heaven and on the earth and chooses to use that authority by sending us out in His name. I talked about this verse a few days ago, so let’s be very clear here, He did not give us authority. Our authority is limited to the extent in which He grants it to us, to the extent in which we are in His will. We don’t get to run around “binding and loosing” anything we want while we are here on earth. We are to listen to HIS voice and work in HIS power.

 

But we ARE TO GO! We aren’t supposed to sit around and act like the Gospel is over and done with. This command from Jesus doesn’t something absolutely incredible, it writes YOU into the Gospel. You are now sent to the nations, you are now responsible for telling the world about Jesus, you are now empowered to baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, you are now to teach everything Jesus commanded while He was on earth and LIVE out His teachings.

 

Sound like a tall order? It should. You can’t possibly do this own your own. But Jesus did and will through the Holy Spirit in you.

October 13, 2017

October 13, 2017

MATTHEW 26

Focus Verse: And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
Matthew 26:75

 

I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that this is probably Peter’s most miserable failure of his entire life. This is the kind of epic fail that haunts us forever. The kind of thing that keeps you up at night, that’s waiting for you around every single corner, the kind of mistake that reminds you just how awful you truly are. There are so many of us, myself included, who this hits far too close to home for. We are haunted by past mistakes and the enemy would love for those mistakes to become WHO we are.

 

And when we don’t know WHOSE we are, the enemy has a much easier time making us believe that our sin makes us WHO we are. He tried that with Peter. But Peter found something stronger…someone stronger.

 

What had to have stung the most for Peter was the fact that less than 24 hours before, he had sworn up and down to Jesus’ face that he would never disown Him, that he would die with Jesus if that was what he had to do. And Jesus, calmly and patiently, persisted that before the night was through, Peter wouldn’t even want to be associated with Jesus. Now nobody likes to hear the words, “I told you so.”, and even though Jesus didn’t say it, you have to believe that Peter still heard it from someone else.

 

What an absolutely crushing experience. I know that I have had plenty of times in which I have felt like I’ve let God down. Times I could have talked to someone about Jesus, but chose to remain silent instead, times when I could have prayed with someone, but chose to just smile at them instead so I didn’t look crazy, times when I could have gone out of my way and included someone who was being left out by everyone else, but instead chose to stay socially comfortable with my friends. It’s not a good feeling when you get home and remember how you’ve failed. In fact, most of us solve that problem by sweeping these events under the rug and just don’t talk about them again.

 

But Peter didn’t do that. How do we know that? Because Peter was the face of the early church, yet, this story is found in every single Gospel. Not really a formula for success. “Hey guys, come join this church movement, our lead pastor failed miserably in his walk with our Lord, so you should come join our church!” Doesn’t exactly inspire the most confidence in an organization, does it? But the Church wasn’t relying on Peter’s power. The Church was relying on the power of Jesus…and so was Peter.

 

We know this because the same Peter who denied Jesus, who failed to come anywhere close to practicing what he had earlier preached to Jesus, led 3,000 people to Christ just a little over fifty days later. FIFTY DAYS after his most miserable failure, the Holy Spirit would resurrect Peter’s failure and use it to preach one of the most powerful Gospel messages every recorded in history.

 

Satan had poked the bear. He thought that he could ruin Peter before his ministry even started, BUT GOD used Peter’s failure as an instrumental part of shaping Peter into the rock on which Jesus would build His Church! Yes, Peter experienced one of the greatest failures in the entire Bible. But he also received the same unlimited grace and mercy from his risen Savior, Jesus Christ, that we have available to us. And on the day of Pentecost, Peter was filled with the very power of God that raised Jesus from the dead, and a determination that was dead set on never denying his Lord again.

 

Even though the people made fun of the disciples speaking in tongues, just like those who had made fun of Peter’s dialect and using it to identify him as one of Jesus’ followers, even though there would be those who would imprison, beat and mock Peter, his mind had been made up. To quote the hymn, he had decided to follow Jesus…this time for good…and there was NO turning back.

 

So what failure is the enemy trying to use to paralyze you? Because I’m willing to bet a healthy chunk of change that is the exact situation that God is look to resurrect to use for HIS kingdom!

October 12, 2017

October 12, 2017

MATTHEW 24-25

Focus Verse: The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
Matthew 25:40

 

THIS is the measure of how much we love God. THIS is the measure of how deeply we understand the Gospel. It’s not how many worship nights we attend. It’s not how much Christian music we listen to. It’s not how many times we complete a Bible-in-a-Year plan. It’s how we put the Gospel in action by loving others.

 

The flip side of this is in verses 45-46 when those who refused to show Gospel love to others are told that they proved how much they love God with their inaction and are cast out of His presence.

 

We have to move out of the idea of thinking that the Gospel is just for us. Now don’t get me wrong, the Gospel is for you. But you cannot get it down into your core until you realize that it cannot stay there. In fact, you cannot get the Gospel for you until you turn it to others.

 

All of these things that the Gospel is, all of the great things that we receive from the Gospel, those are all things that we have to now give to others. The unconditional love, the unconditional acceptance, laying down out lives, ALL OF IT FOR THE LEAST OF THESE. Regardless of social status, skin color, nationality. We love EVERYONE because Christ loves EVERYONE, and in loving them, we love Him.

 

You can’t do it. But Jesus did. And He will through the Holy Spirit in you.

October 11, 2017

October 11, 2017

MATTHEW 22-23

Focus Verse: “But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw a man there who was not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?’ And the man was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
Matthew 22:11-14

 

This is another pretty interesting parable. A man invites a bunch of people to his sons wedding feast, and all of the people ho-hum around and don’t accept the invitation. Some are too busy with their business, others too busy in their fields, while still others are just jerks and beat up and kill the people who come around to invite them to the feast! The Father (I’ll go ahead and use the capital letter because we all know Jesus is talking about God) has these people taken care of, and then extends the invitation to those wandering around in the streets. Unlike those who were invited the first time, these people actually accept the invitation!

 

And that’s where we step into our focus verses, and a pretty valuable lesson for us to grab hold of. The King comes in and notices a man who isn’t dressed in the appropriate attire. So He asks the man why he isn’t wearing the right clothes. The man is so stunned that he can’t even answer. So the King boots him from the party out into the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

 

Pretty harsh right? For a religion that is supposed to be so accepting, someone ought to tell Jesus that this parable doesn’t really fit with what’s politically correct. You can’t kick people out of parties because of what they’re wearing. This poor guy probably didn’t have anything nicer to wear.

 

And to that point, I think you’re absolutely right – I don’t think this man had anything nicer to wear. I think that’s why he accepted the invitation in the first place. These other people had “more important” things to do than come to the wedding. The didn’t see the need for them to accept this free invitation. Clearly though, this man saw his need to accept the invitation. There was something in this invitation that he needed, so he responded.

 

Are you making the connection to the Gospel here? Christ’s invitation is open to everyone, but only those who see that they need a Savior will accept His invitation. So many other people have more important things to do. They are pretty happy with their lives and don’t really need a Savior to step in and tell them that they need fixed.

 

Those who do see their need though, come running at the invitation. They can’t believe that they are even invited in the first place! They are fully known by the King and unconditionally accepted, even though they are broken and lost and wandering. That’s the good news of the Gospel! And it ought to put a thrill into our hearts! YOU are invited to the Son’s wedding!

 

But then there’s this second tiered teaching here. After accepting the invitation, we find out that there’s a dress code for the wedding. You have to be wearing the right clothes in order to stay at the wedding. What’s with that!?! I thought that we were saved by grace and grace alone – now you’re telling me that we have to dress a certain way if we’re going to maintain our status!

 

Well, if it makes you feel any better, I’m not telling you that…Jesus is. But it’s not a matter of acceptance, it’s a matter of laziness. The problem is the same in both camps. Those who didn’t respond to the invitation don’t think they need a Savior. But those who responded to the invitation and then refused to change their clothes ALSO don’t think they need a Savior. They realize they are broken, but don’t see any reason to, or don’t see any way that they can, change that brokenness.

 

I hope that what I’m saying makes sense here, because it is absolutely pivotal that we grasp this. BOTH meet the same end in this story. They both get tossed out into the darkness, which translated from parable terms equals hell. Maybe not the fire and pitchforks versions that you’ve seen in cartoons if that kind of hell offends you, but the kind that is an eternal separation from God…a fate far more awful than any amount of fire or little red men with horns.

 

Here’s the most frustrating part about this man that was kicked out of the party for not wearing the right clothes: the wedding clothes ARE PROVIDED FOR US! ALL WE HAVE TO DO IS TAKE OFF OUR OLD CLOTHING AND PUT ON THE NEW! Check out Romans 13:14 and Galatians 3:27. We are to clothe ourselves with CHRIST! Clearly there is a level to that which we can’t do on our own.

 

So the wedding clothes concept comes down to the same concept that we have talked about over and over again in this devotional – You CAN’T, but JESUS DID and WILL through the Holy Spirit IN you! So it’s not a matter of God not accepting you, it’s a matter of us being unwilling to change. Just as Jesus called out to the people when He raised Lazarus from the dead, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go”! Take off those grave clothes and put on HIS wedding clothes.