God on the Move: “Insufficient Evidence to Convict” – 2 Corinthians 1-3

boko1We continue today following the life progress of the Apostle Paul, and we are heading for a note he wrote to the church in Corinth – called in the New Testament “the Second Epistle to the Corinthians”. On the way, I want to mention a story to set the scene…

I took this account from an African Pastor who shared events recently. I was writing notes as he shared, but the paraphrase is my own:

The people sat huddled quietly in the rectangular room lined with bookshelves. Too many for the chairs, they pressed tightly against one another on the floor. Some were crying softly… all were praying. They were seeking God in a moment of extreme need. They were surrounded in a village that was preparing to fall to a vicious enemy that hated them because they claimed to be followers of Christ. They were warned this day might arrive, but as they faced the reality, they could barely speak now. It was too horrible to contemplate – losing their families, their community, their church, their children – all of it. There was no point in trying to fight back – they were grossly out-numbered and without weaponry beyond that in the spiritual realm. They did what they could… they asked God to preserve them if that would bring Him glory, and to let the cup of suffering pass them by if at all possible for His plan. They waited…

Stop for a moment…Let me ask you a question. If the enemy set up a tribunal at a makeshift table outside that room, and you were taken out from that tear-filled, huddling place– pulled from that crowd and put on trial…would the enemy have enough evidence to convict you of following Christ? Is there evidence in your life that you know, love and obey Jesus Christ and His Words as recorded in the Bible?

There is a truth that is so essential to grasp that God lodged it in the heart of the Christian Scriptures, in a letter written after the wearing effects of a firefight in the spiritual realm had left the writer, an Apostle of Jesus named Paul, deeply wounded. It wasn’t wrong to be wounded – because God used his pain to spill out a letter that was deeply personal, and beautifully instructive. At its core, it left us with a truth we want to explore in this lesson…

Key Principle: The work of the Spirit changes the life of the one who truly follows Jesus.

That is a fact. When God touches a stick, it can become a snake. When He touches a rock, it can spew forth like a fountain. When He touches a man or woman – lost in sin and filled with FEAR – He can change that one deep inside. Yet, there is a “catch”. Sticks and rocks don’t fight transformation – believers do. We fight God, even as He is actively transforming us. What shape do we fight to be in? In three words we fight to be in: “the world’s mold”. It is as though the stick resists being a snake and says – use another stick, I don’t want to be changed. Yet, the exciting use of our lives by the Creator happens when we open to being changed into what He intends… and that is our story.

We pick up Paul’s life in Acts 19, during his third mission journey with these words:

Acts 19:21 Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” 22 And having sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.

Paul deeply desired to move ahead in new ministry, drawing more people to Jesus…but the maintenance of the older places was necessary for sustained ministry – and that is ultimately the only kind that really makes a difference long term. The baby churches were under attack, and Paul couldn’t go forward until he strengthened the lines behind him. There was the church at Corinth (though a congregation among whom Paul spent a year and a half during the second mission journey) which had erupted into division, disobedience and defamation of Christ in their publicly unregenerate lifestyles. Meanwhile in Rome young believers hungered for a careful explanation of justification by grace and the implications for daily living. At the very same time, across Galatia some Gentile followers of Jesus were under attack by traveling Jewish teachers that were causing significant defections from the church. In short, the church was getting “pounded” from all sides – and this was not the time for an advance to begin new works. Paul responded initially as:

• He sent some men to carry a message to the people from God – offering them clear direction (cp. 1 Corinthians; Acts 19:21).

• He made plans to visit the center of the problem at Corinth when God enabled him (19:21b).

• He remained in Ephesus and wrote letters of instruction to Rome and Galatia, while praying fervently.

After Paul received word of the people’s response to his first letter in Corinth, he responded again, apparently with a lost letter written to Corinth, sometimes called his “sorrowful letter”. After some time, he wrote a third time (as best we can discern) – and this is the letter we call “Second Corinthians”. We are dropping in on a difficult relationship being played out in writing from a hurting but God-inspired leader. This is very important letter to round out our understanding of the time, and it addresses three primary issues:

• First, it is a letter to offer Paul’s explanation of tardiness for another visit to Corinth. He said he would visit them again, and when he didn’t show up, some who didn’t like his leadership anyway “smelled blood in the water” and attacked his reputation (2 Corinthian 1-7). The first section answers that attack.

• Second, this served as a reminder to the people that Paul still had an expectation concerning them, specifically that they would finish taking up the offering for Jerusalem’s poor and send it as they previously promised they would (2 Corinthians 8-9).

• Third, it was an exhortation to them not to discount his word or his authority as they moved forward – as some were encouraging them to do (2 Corinthians 10-13). Paul made clear he was called by God they were to listen to his words. These were very personal words written by a man who was sustaining one attack after another, but stubbornly refused to roll over and let others take his God-given place in the church away.

Honestly, you cannot study the letters of Paul without understanding how much more PERSONAL than any of the others this one is. It is apparent to me that the issues of the church got under the skin of the Apostle a good bit more than the other churches. I personally believe we need to carefully give Paul a break on that agitation, because of the heinous nature of the sinful punches the enemy and disobedient believers landed on the church. That was a church where division was institutionalized for a time – people didn’t truly love one another and that was “fine” with the leadership. This was a church that boasted about toleration instead of holy living. This was a church that hung the dirty laundry of lawsuits between its members in the middle of the basilica law court of their community – and saw nothing wrong with that. It was, to be kind, a mess of a church.

Look closely at the first part of the letter, because in that section, Paul exposed the key problems in the people’s thinking that became the underlying issues of their whole mixed up situation. He indicated that:

Problem One: Forgetful Christians…They thought: “Out of sight, out of mind” (1:1-11).

Paul opened with an idea: they didn’t seem to be aware of what was really happening with Paul, but were listening to stories about him that weren’t accurate (2 Cor. 1:1-11).

He opened in verses one and two with the standard greeting, and followed it by drawing out that God was the believer’s comfort. He noted in verse five:

1:5 For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.

After explaining that sufferings were endured to be a witness on their behalf, he made clear how serious the problems he was facing in Asia Minor truly were. Apparently they didn’t know the gravity of the situation:

1:8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came [to us] in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; 9 indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves..

He then enjoined them to be praying for the situation. We can’t know all that was involved, but with what we know of Paul – we know he was beat up and the situation was weighing on him excessively.

Sometimes we operate with an “out of sight out of mind” method in relation to ministry partners. We don’t hear, so we don’t pray. We are preoccupied with other things, and their problems don’t make our radar. Paul wanted them to see that their evaluation of his performance may have to do with the fact they were unaware of the troubles he faced. Let’s be careful to KNOW before we JUDGE what other people are doing. Forgetful Christians jump to conclusions about people without carefully recalling what they observed first hand from their lives.

Problem Two: Naïve Christians…They Were Hearing Voices (1:12-2:4)

Paul broached the idea they forgot the real Paul that was with them for so long, and were listening to voices that replaced and mischaracterized his heart and methods (2 Cor. 1:12-24).

He mentioned in verse twelve that if they really looked back, they would see how he and his team “conducted themselves in the world and toward them.” He urged them to look at what he wrote carefully and compare that with what they knew of him – and not listen to others who were turning him into a cartoon version of himself.

By verse fifteen he began to explain that he “intended” to come to them, but was not able to do it. He recognized that caused some to say he was flip-flopping on his word, so he responded:

1:17 Therefore, I was not vacillating when I intended to do this, was I? Or what I purpose, do I purpose according to the flesh, so that with me there will be yes, yes and no, no [at the same time]? 18 But as God is faithful, our word to you is not yes and no.

He argued that God also had a say in what he did, and he was called to follow God’s lead. He truly intended to come, but God showed him something that he couldn’t ignore. He went on to explain:

1:23 But I call God as witness to my soul, that to spare you I did not come again to Corinth.

Paul argued that God made clear to him that coming was a BAD MOVE at that time, and that was why he decided to write a difficult letter that left the whole relationship very strained. He explained:

2:3 This is the very thing I wrote you, so that when I came, I would not have sorrow from those who ought to make me rejoice; having confidence in you all that my joy would be [the joy] of you all. 4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears...

Paul was essentially saying, “I was deeply upset. I knew it wasn’t good for me to come right then, but rather offer written instructions and give you time to fix things, so we could enjoy each other when I did arrive.” Here is the problem. Paul looked like a chicken in the face of trouble. It appears people took advantage of the waffling and appearance of timidity in the face of dissension.

We cannot back down, but it isn’t easy to confront, either. We care about other believers, and we may be able to roar from a pulpit, but sensitive men and women in ministry do not find confrontation comfortable. Sometimes it isn’t productive. Timing is tremendously important in confrontation. If a woman catches her husband getting out of the car in the driveway at the end of the long work day and say: “Wait until I tell you what your son did today!” while she looks sternly – she is probably going to evoke a negative response in her husband, both about the son and even about her. His response is unfair, but the method was unwise. If a man walks in to a woman who has labored hard all day and criticizes something that wasn’t completely to his satisfaction, he will wound her. There is confrontation – but there is also sensitivity to timing. Paul wasn’t ducking the responsibility – but it looked that way and voices of others used the gap to fill the stage with criticism of Paul. Some of them were naïve about who to listen to when it came to truth. Naïve Christians listen to the loudest or most popular voice in the room, not the one who reasons carefully from God’s Word.

Problem Three: Harsh Christians…Even the forgiven couldn’t forgive well (2 Corinthian 2:5-11).

It isn’t only TIMING for confrontation that needs sensitivity – it is depth of response. We can overreact – all of us. Passion for God can be channeled easily into a “lynch mob for Jesus” if we aren’t careful. That is why we must learn to hurt for the offender, not just the offended. Paul referenced the man who was in sexual sin that he previously told them to “kick out” until he repented of his sin. Apparently, the man was broken by the response of his friends, and came to his senses. The problem was, they weren’t sure how to let him back into their circle. After all, he was a publicly shamed sinner. Paul told them in verses five and six that they were to DRAW HIM BACK IN now that he had turned away from his sin.

Here is the truth: many believers have more enthusiasm about discipline and failure of others than they do of restoration and renewal of others. The get steamed at sin, but not jazzed about repentance. That’s a heart problem… and we all need to guard against it. Paul told them:

2:6 Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which [was] [inflicted] by the majority, 7 so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort [him], otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm [your] love for him…

Paul sternly warned that failure to do so would leave the man and the church open to a new attack of the enemy. Forgiveness and renewal closes the breach left open by sin and the anger that it causes in the offended. Harsh Christians don’t let go – even when it is obvious that the other fellow-sinner hungers to be restored.

Problem Four: Befuddled Christians…They couldn’t read reactions of people to truth (2 Corinthian 2:12-17).

Paul explained that it was true that he wasn’t far from them, but still didn’t stop in to see them in verses twelve to fourteen. He claimed he was following the leading of God, who (like a triumphal procession or parade) was directing them and other believers to make an impact in different places. He used “fragrance” as his illustration when he wrote:

2:15 For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life…

His point was that people respond differently to the Word of God, and to those who bring it to others. Some hear the words of life and respond. Others hear words of condemnation – they are a sinner, they are required by their Creator to bow to Him – and they react out of arrogance and pride. That message condemns them. It is a message of death, because they won’t give up their sin – not for God or anyone else. They want what they want, everyone be damned. The problem is: they will be damned, and that is heart breaking. Yet, it is their choice. Befuddled Christians think it is their job to make the message smell better to arrogant men – it isn’t. We should be loving, but the message isn’t ours to change even if people think it stinks.

Problem Five: Unchanged Christians…With behaviors unchanged, they think they can add Jesus to their choices (2 Corinthians 3:1)

Paul opened chapter three with the note that their changed lives are the letter of effectiveness of the message of the Gospel in them. Verses one to three make clear that it is not a list of rules that characterize the faith in Jesus – but the changed lives of His followers. Even with their flaws, the followers at Corinth showed real change in many areas, and Paul simple said he possessed:

3:4 Such confidence we have through Christ toward God.

Ministry is the process of clearly delivering truth in model and word, and watching as God opens hearts and changes lives. Paul knew HE didn’t do it, because he said:

3:5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as [coming] from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,

At that point in the letter, Paul began to unfold the heart of the whole issue he wanted them to consider. It was our point at the beginning of the lesson. Paul wanted them to face the fact that there should be in the life of every believer life change and transformation that signals that they are, in fact, being sculpted by God’s Spirit. Believers are to be in the process of transformation. If we are living just as we did before we claimed to have come to Jesus – perhaps we didn’t come to Him at all. The difference between a believer and a non-believer is less what they know about Jesus and more what they have surrendered to God to crush and remake in themselves. Many people know much about Jesus, but that knowledge hasn’t caused them to open their heart to God’s work within.

Look at Paul’s next words, because they can seem difficult on first reading in 2 Corinthians 3:6ff:

2 Corinthians 3:6 [speaking of God] “…who also made us adequate [as] servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life…”

Paul said that God made Him a minister of the NEW COVENANT to them in a “spirit” way, not in the literal “letter” way. That deserves some explanation. The New Covenant was a term that came from Isaiah 59 and Jeremiah 31, and in both places it was an agreement for God to change the hearts of the Jewish people and give them the full and complete fulfillment of His promises to them in their own homeland. God repeated the terms of the new covenant “to the household of Israel and of Judah” in Jeremiah 31:27, 31 and 33 (only Israel is mentioned there). It is painfully clear that God was talking to the nation of Israel (Jer. 31:36) and not some loose spiritual substitute. He promised He would give them back their land, and give them His Spirit within – not just the Law without. They would be transformed, and their sinfulness would be a thing of the past. Jesus said the MEANS of that covenant was to be His broken body and shed blood in the Last Supper. Yet, Paul clearly did not believe this was a work already completed, as he made clear in Romans 11 – that the Jewish people would someday in the future all “be saved”. He didn’t believe the “church” replaced Israel’s promise, either, or his words in Romans 11 would make no sense.

Here is the question: If the New Covenant was for Israel, how could Paul claim he was a minister of it to the people at Corinth who were not Jews? The answer is in how he claimed it. He said they were not the LETTER of the agreement (that was for the Jewish people) but they were the SPIRIT of it – the transformation of their lives from the Spirit’s domination inside to the outside.

Just as the Gospel brings the stench of death to those who don’t want to be changed by God, so the ministry of the Law brought the stench of death to many goats, sheep and bulls – because of sinners. The Law was engraved on stone, brought a sacrificial system filled with blood – and yet came with the GLOW of God’s manifest presence!

How much more would the work of God in transformation by His Spirit do to bring glory to God and a glow to changed faces? Moses face glowed with the coming of the Law verses ten to thirteen remind. He needed a veil to cover his face. Yet, sadly, Paul remarked of his Jewish family outside the faith:

2 Corinthians 3:14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, [there] is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

Paul argued that his earthly family of Jews still needed to have the transformation happen – and it will one day. For now, the veil that blinds them as a people, which was a judicial move of God over them carefully forewarned by the prophet Joel, wasn’t blocking people (Jew or Gentile) who surrendered to Jesus and allowed God to work on transforming them by God’s Spirit.

Freedom came with the Spirit – I am free to follow God and please Him for the first time in my life when I open my heart to Him. Bondage is self-service; freedom is God-service. A writer for the “New Centurion” Blog posted something that caught my attention:

Bill Irwin, a man who is blind, has a talking computer he uses to study the Bible. He’s had a few chuckles over some of the pronunciations. “For a long time,” Bill says, “the computer pronounced Holy Bible as ’holly bibble’ until I figured out how to modify it.” But there was one thing Bill couldn’t change. The computer uses the Spanish pronunciation for Jesus Christ–HEYsus Krist. “The programmer is Hispanic,” Bill told me with a smile, “and he made sure that HEYsus Krist cannot be altered.” I like that. It reminds us that among the things in life that can be changed to suit our taste, one remains tamper-resistant–we can’t change Jesus. When life is unsettled, we gain great comfort from the Bible’s affirmation that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever”. But the statement is also a stern rebuke to our tendency to try to modify the words and character of Christ when we don’t like what He says. How easy it is to forget that we came to Christ longing for Him to transform us, not the other way around!

Let’s go back to the little tribunal where we began this lesson from the Scriptures. You are kneeling on the ground. An armed man pushes you with the muzzle of his rifle. The man sitting at the card table looks up at you and says…”I have evidence that you claim to belong to Jesus Christ.”

What evidence is there? What is scribbled on the paper before Him?

Was Jesus at the center of your choice of an occupation? Have you used your work to show others Who the Savior is? Is he at the center of your entertainment choices? Does He determine what you will say, what you will sing, what you will laugh at?

Pastor David Welch was preaching on “Life Signs of a Healthy Church” and he offered this insight I think is worth recalling: “Walt Disney was a dreamer. His crowning vision was EPCOT; Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. He envisioned the perfect city of 20,000 using all of the most modern advances technology. One problem, Walt Disney died before his dream was ever realized. His dream was so big and complex and outside the box that no one else in the Disney Company ever caught the dream and had no idea what to do after Walt was gone. What Walt Disney intended as a living breathing perfect city turned out only to be a [mere] entertainment center. Disney’s “World” would only become a place to visit.

Here was the part that I found inspiring…”Jesus left a blueprint for His church so vast, so marvelous, and so innovative. [He instructed and constructed] a living, breathing, expanding organism that would permeate and transform the whole world. The problem is, that as time went on, His followers lost the vision and couldn’t wrap their minds around such a magnificent plan. Rather than a community of loving, passionate followers of Christ dedicated to demonstrating the power of the Christ-transformed life in a dark world, they began to do what they knew best, build buildings and run organizations and develop entertainment centers that would hopefully draw the crowds to hear the story but miss the transforming power of Christ.” (From a sermon by David Welch, Life Signs of a Healthy Church, 10/19/2009 posted at Sermon Central.com).

That wasn’t Jesus’ call. He has never been the theme park building type. He has always been in the transformation business. I want to close this with some words from a few of my favorite authors combined by Francis Chan some time ago:

He was making the point that the transformation of our characters to that of one like Jesus is often A PAINFUL PROCESS. He wrote: “The truth is that the Spirit of the Living God is guaranteed to ask you to go somewhere or do something you wouldn’t normally want or choose to do. The Spirit will lead you to the way of the Cross, as He led Jesus to the cross, and that is definitely not a safe or pretty or comfortable place to be. The Holy Spirit of God will mold you into the person you were made to be. This is often an incredibly painful process that strips you of selfishness, pride, and fear. For a powerful example of this, read in C. S. Lewis’s book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader about the boy, Eustace, who becomes a dragon. In order to become a little boy again, he must undergo a tremendous amount of pain as the dragon skin is peeled away and torn from him. Only after he endures this painful process is he truly transformed from a dragon back into a boy. Sometimes the sin we take on becomes such a part of us that it requires this same kind of ripping and tearing to free us. The Holy Spirit does not seek to hurt us, but He does seek to make us Christ-like, and this can be painful.” (Francis Chan. Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit – pp. 50-51). Kindle Edition.

Let’s be clear: The work of the Spirit changes the life of the one who truly follows Jesus. If you aren’t changing, there are things you should be asking yourself about whether you truly know Him at all.

Following His Footsteps: “The Rock of Offense” – Matthew 12-13

Nicholas 1One of the men that has an infectious testimony presenting Jesus to crowds over the last few years has been a man named Nicholas Vujicic (pronounced VOO-yee-cheech). Born in Melbourne, Australia without any arms or legs on his body, Nicholas refused (even as a young man) to allow his physical condition to limit his lifestyle. Take a moment and imagine his world… living life without hands or feet you would need help with the most basic needs of life, and you would have no ability to ever tenderly embrace your loved ones… it is a sobering thought. It wouldn’t be easy. In fact, according to his testimony, this young man tells a story that was ANYTHING but easy. He struggled through his early life both lonely and depressed. He didn’t WANT to be different from other children… he just WAS – and there was nothing he could do about the difference, but learn to live with it. One day, Nicholas said, he met someone who changed his entire perspective of life, gave him purpose, and promised never to leave him alone… no matter how other people saw him. Nicholas met his Savior Jesus, and saw Him as both Savior and Loving Creator. Since Jesus made him with purpose, he knows now that he lives with purpose. “If only one more person comes to Jesus because of me, my life will be worth it!”

Who can deny that Nicholas found in Jesus a winning perspective on life? How did he do it? He placed Jesus where He belongs – at the center of the answers to our life’s most important questions. He recognized Jesus as both loving and powerful, and didn’t place Jesus at his own feet to explain things in a way that satisfied his temporal longings… so Jesus has worked powerfully through his life – and thousands have had their eternal destiny changed through his message. Limitations that could have driven Nicholas into seclusion and self-hatred, put him on a platform drawing others to Jesus.

Key Principle: When we don’t give Jesus His proper place in our lives, He withdraws His mightiest works, and we can easily end up offended at Him instead of being in awe of Him.

Since the “Fall of man” many of us somehow got the idea that God was made to serve us, and we were made to judge Him and the “job” He was doing running the world – but we have it completely backwards. Somewhere along the line we joined the “league of Job’s friends” and felt ourselves capable to both understand and even grade God’s work in our lives, as if the Almighty sits aloft in Heaven waiting for our approval. Even some believers today have bought into the notion that God must be fair according to whatever sense of fairness our current culture dictates – with little regard to our serious limitations in understanding absolute truth and walking in unstained righteousness. This isn’t a new problem, and in two chapters drawn from the middle of Matthew’s account of the life of Jesus, we can see this illustrated powerfully.

There are five stories that weave together this important lesson – people who “get” Who Jesus is are changed – and people who don’t, if they carefully consider His claims, just get offended by Him:

First, Jesus’ followers picked barley and ate it walking through a field one Sabbath (12:1-8). After some explanation, Jesus simply concluded: “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” His position offended the religious leaders of His day.

A second encounter is presented at the synagogue only a short time later (12:9-21), when a man with a withered hand is healed by Jesus. The leaders were so offended at the healing, they gathered in secret to kill the Savior, causing Him to withdraw from them.

As if in the same setting, Matthew recorded a story of some who brought a demon-possessed man before Jesus, and the Savior healed him (12:22-37). The blind and mute man became the seeing and singing friend! Religious leaders accused Him of having such power in league with the demonic world – but Jesus offered a compelling demonstration of their flawed logic.

A fourth encounter pitted Jesus squarely against those manipulative leaders – as they demanded a sign from the Master (Matthew 12:38-45), but Jesus offered only a coming sign that they themselves would help bring about. Jesus doesn’t “jump through hoops” of demanding and arrogant men.

The final story of the text laps into the next chapter, and offered a quiet reminder of those in the life of Jesus who should have understood Him the best, but were both weak in belief and under pressure to bring Jesus back to the fold. (12:46-13:52). This tiny episode is posed as the backdrop of the seven part “parable of success” (13:1-52) which ended with the tragic words: “A prophet is not without honor EXCEPT in his own town” together with the note that “He didn’t do many works there because of their unbelief.”

Let’s go back and look at the way the stories weave the point together…

The Case of the Hungry Disciples

First, drop into the scene as Jesus’ followers walk along through a field with stomachs growling one Sabbath (12:1-8).

Matthew 12:1 At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads [of grain] and eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw [this], they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.”

This passage always intrigued me. First, I am wondering why the boys didn’t have any bread in their satchel for a moment of hunger. Second, I am trying to figure out why a group of Pharisees are field watching on a Sabbath afternoon, watching what Jesus’ disciples are doing. Aren’t you curious?

The answer to the first question seems simple enough… even lovers of Jesus get the munchies. It may not be a meal time, but disciplines are hard to come by when walking by edibles with a growling stomach. I guess I can let that question go without any trouble.

The answer to the second question came with time around religious people. At first, the whole “watching the fields for violations” thing didn’t make sense to me – but now it is so very simple. Religious people are all about two things: rules and control. They seek to take a standard ostensibly made by God, and apply it distinctly and precisely to the lives of those around them, so as to control their behaviors. Religionists are focused on defending the purity of God by controlling access to God. Followers of Jesus are focused on pointing people to purity by allowing God to transform them – and they claim no control over the process. To an outsider the processes may look the same, but they are altogether different. The “law” referred to in 12:2 is not in the Torah – but in the rabbinic application of the Torah. Everyone sitting at a table in Sabbath had the opportunity to pick apart food and chew it – that didn’t violate any standard. The Torah prohibition against picking grain was to keep people from productive labor – not stop them from chewing on grain as they took a walk on a Sabbath afternoon discussing things with God – which is what the disciples were doing.

Drop your eyes to Jesus’ answer in verse three: 3 But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, 4 how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? 5 “Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? 6 “But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 “But if you had known what this means, I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Jesus made three claims:

• First, a careful reading of the Word would easily show that these men revered people like King David, but overlooked that he violated important principles they held dear.

• Second, in the Torah a priest performs functions that would be a ready violation of the teachings of these rabbis.

• Third, and here is the real heart of the matter, they are in no position to judge what Jesus did or allowed. As God in human skin, He simply didn’t require (nor seek) their approval for an understanding of what He meant by what He commanded. He already understood His Sovereignty – even if they didn’t.

After some explanation, Jesus simply concluded: “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” The fact of His position may well have offended the religious leaders of His day, just as it does in ours, but that wasn’t relevant then – and it isn’t now.

Here is the point of the passage: When Jesus is held in His rightful place – He is Lord over all. Our wants, our desires, our plans and our understanding are all subject to what He says about life. We don’t demand that He follow our rules – we humbly follow His rules… that is why we call Him LORD.

The Case of the Withered Hand

A short time later in the synagogue a man with a withered hand encountered Jesus (12:9-21).

Matthew 12:9 Departing from there, He went into their synagogue. 10 And a man [was there] whose hand was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”– so that they might accuse Him.

Call me crotchety, but does it bother anyone else that the man with the withered hand doesn’t seem to be anything but “window dressing” to the men who are attempting to entrap the Savior? I have read the account repeatedly, and I cannot grasp even a slight hint of compassion on the part of the leaders for the man in the midst of his emotional and perhaps physical pain.

Contrast that to the imagery Jesus uses to describe what He is going to do…

Matthew 12:11 And He said to them, “What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 “How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.

Jesus immediately phrased the man’s situation as one who was “stuck”, entrapped by a problem for which he needed rescue. He cited a well-known rabbinic exception to the Sabbath prohibitions: “If an animal is in need of emergency rescue” and makes the point that the man had more value than the sheep. That would seem obvious, but in that room on that day – it was anything but obvious. The man was being used by leaders to test Jesus – and none of them were voting for the man to be made whole. If I were the man with the withered hand, I would change my friends, and move to a different synagogue if at all possible…

Jesus continued: Matthew 12:13 Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand!” He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, [as to] how they might destroy Him. 15 But Jesus, aware of [this], withdrew from there. Many followed Him, and He healed them all, 16 and warned them not to tell who He was. 17 [This was] to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet….”

Can you imagine the scene? The men set up a test with no thought of a man with a withered hand, only to plot to destroy the healthy man that healed him…What a prized group of humanitarians! The leaders were so offended at the audacity of rescuing a hurting man on the day of the week they declared unavailable for that purpose – simply because it violated their amending of God’s law! They concluded that killing this blasphemous and thoroughly uncontrollable prophet was the obvious best course of action. After all, they couldn’t have people just walking around healing people with God’s power with no respect for when and where they were instructed to do it! Matthew concluded that Isaiah’s promise was being made real. Can you hear the prophet calling from the grave, “Oh vey!” Like so many people in life, when these men recognized they couldn’t control Jesus, they were ready to kick Him to the curb. People want a Savior, just as long as He is more like a genie in a lamp and less like a God on a throne.

The Case of the Demon Possessed Man

Perhaps in the same setting, Matthew continued with some who brought a demon-possessed man before Jesus (12:22-37).

Matthew 12:22 “Then a demon-possessed man [who was] blind and mute was brought to Jesus, and He healed him, so that the mute man spoke and saw. 23 All the crowds were amazed, and were saying, “This man cannot be the Son of David, can he?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard [this], they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.

Jesus was in “healing mode” and some friends brought in a demoniac that was blind and mute and placed him before the Master. Jesus delivered the man and gained a new friend who could see and share praises. The crowd was mixed with rejoicers and murmurers, people wondering who the One was in front of them. Fortunately, they had “paid staff” on board, a regular board of “experts” to consult with on Jesus identity. Unfortunately, the “experts” were completely wrong… So Jesus uncovered their flawed thinking and made the situation clear:

First, it is ridiculous that He could be using Satan against himself; that just doesn’t make sense.

Matthew 12:25 “And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. 26 “If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? 27 “If I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast [them] out? For this reason they will be your judges.

Second, if it wasn’t from Satan, but rather from God… something very significant was happening right in front of them! If He was moving demons out, He must have power over Satan himself – or the demons wouldn’t budge!

Matthew 12:28 “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 “Or how can anyone enter the strong man’s house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong [man]? And then he will plunder his house.

Third, lines are being drawn – for Jesus and against Jesus– and the choice has consequences.

Matthew 12:30 “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me scatters. 31 “Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.

In the end, people must decide that the work being done is truly by God to acknowledge God’s presence among them. If they ascribe the work as that of Satan, they will reject the payment Jesus will make on the Cross – and that has devastating consequences.

Fourth, if people sided against Jesus that day, they still had time to change their mind… until they died – then it would be too late.

Matthew 12:32 “Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the [age] to come.

Finally, Jesus told them to choose to follow those whose fruits of life are good and wholesome. Listen to their words – if they are poison it is an indicator of “heart troubles”. If the words are sweet and the fruits wholesome – the heart flows with good treasures. Listen to every word, because what they are saying is a good indication of what is inside…

Matthew 12:33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 “You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. 35 “The good man brings out of [his] good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of [his] evil treasure what is evil. 36 “But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. 37 “For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

In the end, religious leaders accused Jesus of having powers in league with the demonic world – but Jesus offered a compelling demonstration of their flawed logic and helped people listen to their words to examine more of their heart.

The Case of the Demanding Leaders

Nowhere is the wrestling for control more obvious than in the fourth encounter of the passage, where Jesus squarely answered manipulative leaders who demanded a sign from the Master (Matthew 12:38-45). The problem was they wanted to command Jesus to give them a special sign, so that He would show them what they wanted “on cue”. Jesus refused, but offered them a sign of His own choosing:

Matthew 12:38 “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” 39 But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and [yet] no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet; 40 for just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Obviously, Jesus was unhappy with the behavior and hearts of these leaders, and offered three prophetic words concerning the generation of leaders that stood before Him. Note that all three words were ABOUT THAT GENERATION, as is noted in each verse. Don’t neglect that, or you will draw strange ideas from these words! Jesus said:

First, even the wicked Gentile men of Nineveh that repented will be able to condemn that generation, for in their darkness, yet they fell to their knees and pleaded for God’s mercy.

Matthew 12:41 “The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.

Second, a Gentile Ethiopian Queen will be able to stand in judgment over them for she sought truth from God – and these men denied God’s own word given directly to them!

Matthew 12:42 “[The] Queen of [the] South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

Finally, this generation, by denying the Master before them and remaining unrepentant, was setting itself up for a terrible future. They may have their theology well organized, and may even have some of their former sinfulness set aside, but they were about to be swallowed up by even worse evil than they had ever known.

Matthew 12:43 “Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find [it]. 44 “Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came; and when it comes, it finds [it] unoccupied, swept, and put in order. 45 “Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.

Jesus stood before a generation of Jewish leaders that would answer before God for the rejection they were making – and their future generations would be wounded by their choice. Jesus wept over it, warned about it, and offered them something different – but religion is about control. In the absence of a real relationship with the Father, they could only attempt to organize their belief system, and clean up their disciplines. Little did they know the future would sweep in with such force that their efforts would mean little.

The Case of the Waiting Family

Finally, the last story of the text laps into the next chapter, offering a quiet reminder of those in the life of Jesus who should have understood Him the best, but were both weak in belief and under pressure to bring Jesus back to the fold. (12:46-13:52).

Here is the episode as it is recorded: Matthew 12:46 “While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. 47 Someone said to Him, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.” 48 But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” 49 And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! 50 “For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”

There it is, Jesus was under pressure from his family, because they were being pressured to shut Him down. Leaders were not happy with Jesus’ seeming defiance. Mark 4 suggests the crowds were less than happy with that they were getting from the messages of Jesus. In that context, Jesus offered a seven step parable concerning the “meaning of success” as He related it to the “Kingdom” He preached in Matthew 13:

1. It is like a sower and seed (v.3-23). After careful analysis of the elements of the story, the truth is, though the sower is good and the seed is good, there is some soil is that bad and some that is good. Not all the seed will produce fruit, because not all the soil is good. The problem is not the messenger (Jesus), nor the message (the Kingdom’s arrival) – the problem in the hearer.

2. It is like a field with wheat and tares (24-30; 36-43). Some of the plants are good, some are bad, because the enemy mixed in bad produce that looks like the good for a season. Both good and bad plants will be dealt with at harvest, but for now the Kingdom will contain both. There will come a time when the house will be cleaned, but that time was not then and the cleaners were not them.

3. It is like a farmer who plants a mustard weed (31-32). Who would take valuable garden space and plant a weed? Only the farmer that cares about a home for birds! His seed will seem foolish, but it will care for a surprise! God’s plan is to care for some that no one was thinking about!

4. It is like a little leaven that changes the whole mix (33). Think of it! Every Jew used leaven regularly in the making of bread. They put the leaven starter dough into the mix and the effect was slow, but irreversible. Such was the word of the King.

5. It is like a “treasure buried in a field” (44). This one, on first glance appears to part with the others. After all, who ever thought of a treasure in a negative light? Jesus did! Look at the other times He talks of treasure (Mt. 12:35) and it becomes clear that it can be either good or evil – some treasure is good, some is bad. Here it appears as something good – one who is committed to the Kingdom will sell all for the mysterious treasure of God! SOME will get the value now!

6. It is like a merchant who finds a special pearl (45-46). Wow, that is beautiful. What could be negative about a pearl? To a Jew, it is beautiful, but the product of an unclean origin – an oyster. What a great image for one like us! Even that from the unclean thing will be bought and brought into the Kingdom when one recognizes its unmatched worth!

7. It is like the dragnet (47-50) that pulls both the kosher and non-kosher into its net, and then casts off that part that is unclean at a later judgment. Good and bad are with us until the judgment – disciples should expect both this side of the judgment day.

Jesus shared that THESE THINGS HAD BEEN A SECRET (13:34-35)! “It is not clear to those who study the Tenach, and have not been clearly revealed before My message. Those who understand the Kingdom will realize it will include that which has been revealed earlier, and that which is new, both of which are treasures” (13:52).

The whole episode was posed as the backdrop which ended with the tragic words: “A prophet is not without honor EXCEPT in his own town” together with the note that “He didn’t do many works there because of their unbelief.”

Remember Nicholas – the armless and legless Australian? When he pushed ahead against God – nothing happened. When he submitted to God… his Creator began to use even his limitations for great purposes!

Pastor Jerry Shirley shared a story that I pass to you, because I think it helps pull these five scenes together into our lesson:

A very wealthy old man had an elaborate collection of Van Gogh and Monet paintings. His only son shared his father’s interest in the rare paintings. They traveled around the world buying these painting wherever they could find them. The son enlisted in the army and was placed in the medical corps. In a severe battle, while carrying a wounded soldier to safety, the son was seriously wounded himself and died. The mother was dead already and the news of the tragedy devastated the old father. He grieved in loneliness for months. One day a knock came at his door and when he responded he found a young man with a package. The young man explained that he was one of the several soldiers that the son had carried to safety. Knowing of his interest in paintings he had painted a picture of the son and presented it to the father. The painting was not rare but was very precious to the old man because it was a good resemblance of his son. The man moved a very valuable painting from the mantle and placed the picture of his son in its place. Hour after hour he sat in a rocker and gazed up at the image of his beloved son. When death came the art collection was put up for sale by auction. Hundreds of collectors came to bid. The auctioneer announced that the will stated that the picture of his son was to be auctioned first. A moan of disappointment could be heard from the crowd. “Let’s get on with the real paintings,” one was heard to say. The son’s picture was held up and the auctioneer cried, “Who will give $100.00, $50.00, $25.00. There was no response. A kind old gentleman in the back asked, “Will you take $10.00.” “Sold,” said the auctioneer. “Good”, cried the crowd. “Now we can get on with the auction.” “Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes the auction,” announced the auctioneer. The crowd was puzzled and upset. Then the statement was given. The will declared that the son’s picture was to be sold and the person who took it would get all the rest. The old man who paid $10.00 for the picture of the son was suddenly amazed at the fact that he now owned all the valuable paintings. When a person takes the Son of God, everything God has is included.

Remember, when we don’t give Jesus His proper place in our lives. When we do, He becomes our Savior and our Master.

God on the Move: “A Question of Loyalty” – 1 Corinthians 1-6

nineteen-year-old-mohammed-hamzah-khanFour days ago I sat in Rome and watched a news clip on an Illinois teenager who was arrested the previous Saturday at Chicago’s O’Hare airport attempting to travel to the Middle East to join the barbaric Islamic State. A 19-year-old U.S. citizen from Illinois was arrested and appeared in court facing charges for allegedly attempting to provide material support for a terrorist organization. If convicted, the man could face up to 15 years in prison. The FBI’s Chicago Join Terrorism Task Force revealed he had purchased a ticket to Istanbul, via Vienna. The young man had apparently penned a letter to his family, to be found in his bedroom after he left the country. “My dear parents, there are a number of reasons I will be going to the blessed land of Shaam [Syria] and leaving my home,” the letter says, according to the complaint. Among other things, the letter said, “We are all witness that the western societies are getting more immoral day by day. I do not want my kids being exposed to filth like this.” (One can only shake their head when a comparison of morality can be made to those who behead children… but that is a subject for another time.)

The man’s parents, who were present in court, declined to comment on the case – though I cannot imagine (as a parent) how they could not be mortified at the public exposure to their son’s actions. What caught my attention was that in the court documents, according to the reporter, officials have apparently estimated that around one hundred Americans have traveled for such illegal purposes. I mention this, because it brings up deep feelings in many of us concerning LOYALTY. Some of us truly struggle to see how someone can so deeply benefit from the good things our country has to offer, and respond by joining a heinous group like those filling the streets of the Persian Gulf with terror. Loyalty is a cherished ideal for most of us. Admittedly, the case I mentioned was quite extreme, and in a country of 350 plus million people, there are bound to be some who do the bizarre – so my purpose was not to suggest that massive shifts are happening in our culture. Extremes will always be out on the edge of our society, and every society. Yet, there is a direct connection between this story and our lesson at the beginning of Paul’s writing to the Corinthians.

By any Christian’s standard – at least until this generation – Corinth was an extreme church in aberrant behaviors. They found a way to be on the wrong side of behaviors in very short order, and the confusion that reigned in the place makes me wonder if there wasn’t a Pastoral shepherd some two thousand years ago who was surviving on the Roman version of antacids, and seeing a Greek therapist three times a week to keep himself from going over the edge. If you aren’t familiar with their behaviors, consider this: It was a church that was divided along lines of different teachers they each preferred more than any other. Add to that, they boasted of allowing some “wife swapping” of a man and his son – an incredible “swinger club” that had even the locals wondering what Jesus was all about. In addition, they were settling their disputes in public courts between each other… and all that was before they passed the first communion biscuit. They had loyalty problems – some to each other, and MANY to Jesus and His message. Their case of disloyalty was nearly as morally shocking (in a spiritual way) as attempting to join a terror group is (in a nationalist way). The “Apostle to the Gentiles” took on the work of a vicious enemy in the church – the devil was at work, and Paul answered with care- but he answered. His first letter to the Corinthian church opens with a direct address (now the first six chapters) to the people to understand proper loyalty.

Key Principle: God’s people must understand and apply appropriate loyalty. Without it, they will be ineffective and a hindrance to God’s Kingdom.

As you open your Bible to what we now call “The First Letter to the Corinthians”, travel in your mind’s eye with me to a city at the dividing point between northern and southern Greece. The land truncates at a small strip of land that cuts through the Corinthian Gulf to the west and the Saronic Gulf to the east. The land bridge connected the rugged lands of Sparta on the peninsula in the south to the Athenians in the mainland to the north. During Paul’s life, there was an attempt to cut a canal between the two gulfs to move ships more easily without the “Diolkos” conveyor system they used on land to pass whole ships across the land, but as public works projects go – it wasn’t completed until the 1880’s.

Go into Corinth with me for a few moments – you will quickly identify two things: First, it was a PAGAN town – like most Roman world cities it celebrated the gods of Greek mythology (as adapted by Rome) and the nymphs and demi-gods of common places like water supplies and the like. Second, and this would have been impossible to miss – it was a SEX FILLED town. There was no way to look along the roadway in which naked images would not have been strewn to show various coital positions and techniques – for it was a culture bathed in sexuality. Some may see our time as the same, but the difference was that there was no “off switch” – the statuary was everywhere one could look. This was a town funded by lust. Moral license (Biblically speaking) had become RIGHT in the standard of the city fathers, as they put their own young girls into prostitution as a ‘RESPECTABLE’ answer to the tax needs of the city. Inside such a town Paul, as “the kosher kid from Tarsus” labored for eighteen months to reach people for Jesus and establish a church amid the people living in a sea of darkness and licentious living. The task was HUGE.

Paul DID establish the group, but by the time of the writing of his letter, he was gone to Asia Minor, and he wanted the church to keep growing – but the body was apparently divided and drifting back into license in sexual behaviors. The surprise to the Apostle Paul wasn’t the temptation for the Corinthians to slip into licentious living, but rather how boastful the congregation became at its own tolerance and overt acceptance of sin. It seems that where wrong had long since been deemed right in the eyes of the culture, some in the church wrongly concluded that God was asking them to make it their primary task to accept people as they continued in sin and make them feel loved by the church, instead of expecting repentance to lead to behaviors surrendered to Christ. They appointed themselves to the task of “making God more popular” at the expense of making the transformation of behavior by the Spirit their telltale sign. Unsurprisingly, that method didn’t bring the blessing of God, and the Apostle rebuked them for their wrong direction. Paul needed to engage some who were hostile to his direction. In the process of healing their rift, Paul left us a pattern for the days ahead in our own country.

In a quick overview, Paul’s letter can be read as something like this:

Dear Ones at Corinth, You have misplaced your affections on leaders over the message of God they brought (1-4), confused the preeminence of truth over love (5) and placed the world’s standard over the body instead of Messiah’s holy standards (6). Thanks for sending me your questions! I would like to address the answers concerning your six areas: marriage, divorce and remarriage (7), use of doubtful things (8-10), church symbolic behaviors (11), order and the use of spiritual gifts (12-14), the Resurrection of Jesus (15) and giving – the collection of aid funds (16).

I want to take a few minutes to look at the first half of the letter, because in it is the secret of understanding, building and recognizing proper loyalty in the context of the church. Our pass will be quick, but I hope it will make the point clear:

In chapter one, Paul headed into the issue of loyalty by making clear some underlying foundational statements that we should keep in mind:

First, he established the call of God in his life and his “track record” of following Him.

Just because someone has an insight, doesn’t mean they have earned the trust of people to speak into their lives. He wrote:

1 Corinthians 1:1 Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother. 1:2 To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours…

Paul opened with what seems like his standard greeting, so we don’t want to squeeze it too hard. He calls himself an Apostle, as was common – but especially important in sharing tough issues with the Corinthian believers. Though Paul is the author, Sosthenes (Gk: “safe in strength”) was probably the man who carried this letter back to Corinth. One by that name was the chief ruler of the synagogue at Corinth, seized and beaten by the mob in the presence of Gallio, the Roman governor, when he refused to proceed against Paul at the instigation of the Jews (Acts 18:12-17). Could it be that he was later saved? My mind imagines some outreach to him by Paul after he was wounded. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine how he lost power in the religious community when he proved ineffective in persuading the governor. Did Paul step in and help him to lead him to Jesus – it would make a great novel!

My point is this: Mature believers get dirty to get others clean – and that is what Paul and Sosthenes were doing. They didn’t participate in sin, but they didn’t run either. It is worth remembering that men and women who KNOW GOD and WALK WITH GOD are the ones God wants to use to deal with sin. We are not to get holy and get INSULTED from the needs of men. We are to roll up our sleeves and get dirty outside while not drawing the dirt inside. Mother Theresa did with lepers what all of us were called to do with sinners – LOVE THEM without trying to join them.

Dr. Paul Brand, a well-known doctor and author, in his book, titled “In His Image,” writes about his mother. … He writes that when his mother was 75 years old, she was still walking miles every day, visiting the villages in the southern part of India, teaching the people about Jesus. One day, at age 75, she was traveling alone and fell and broke her hip. After two days of just lying there in pain, some workers found her and put her on a makeshift cot and loaded her into their jeep and drove 150 miles over deep rutted roads to find a doctor who could set the broken bones. But the very bumpy ride damaged her bones so badly that her hip never completely healed. He said, “I visited my mother in her mud covered hut several weeks after all of this happened. I watched as she took two bamboo crutches that she had made herself, and moved from one place to another with her feet just dragging behind because she had lost all feeling in them.” He said, “At age 75, with a broken hip, unable to stand on her own two legs, I thought that I made a pretty intelligent suggestion. I suggested that she retire. She turned around and looked at me and said, “Of what value is that? If we try to preserve this body just a few more years and it is not being used for God, of what value is that?” So she kept on working. She kept on riding her donkey to villages until she was 93 years old. At age 93 she couldn’t stay on her donkey anymore. She kept falling off. But she didn’t stop teaching. Indian men would carry her in hammocks from one village to another. And she continued to tell people about Jesus until she died at age 95. Paul writes, “My most vivid memory of my mother is of her propped up against a stone wall as people are coming to her from their homes, schools, and places of work. I can still see the wrinkles in her face, and her skin so tanned by the weather and the heat. “I saw her speaking to those people. I looked at them and saw the sparkle in their eyes, and the smiles on their faces. And I saw them deeply moved by the message of God’s love, spoken by this old woman. I knew what they saw was not an old woman who had passed her prime, but a beautiful person bringing tidings of love straight from heaven.”

Let me say it plainly – we are mature in Christ to become more useful to Christ. Babies can’t solve problems of other babies. We don’t need to run from the world – we need to have more of the WORD in our lives to challenge the WORLD in our lives. When we are maturing, we will be drawn into correction of those behind us – that is the way it has always worked in the body.

Second, he addressed believers with issues of sin, but showed that he truly loved them.

They were not a project, they were brothers and sisters (1:4). After the “grace and peace” greeting (1:3), Paul got personal with them and thanked God for their part in his life. He let them know that he was happy they were a part of the family of God.

1 Corinthians 1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus.

Third, he addressed the issues of sin, only after assuring them he truly believed in them.

People need to hear the good to be encouraged before they need to hear the correction – it sets the relationship in the right tone. (1:5-7

1 Corinthians 1:5 that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, 6 even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ…

People are getting kicked DOWN all the time. Encouraging a believer is like offering oxygen to a drowning man! We HAVE to remember how much every person counts in our mission to reach a lost world!

Issue One: Misplaced Loyalty (“Men over Message”- 1 Corinthians 1-4)

Drop down to verse ten, where Paul picked up the problem of division. Paul raised the specific examples of the infractions.

1:10 Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. 11 For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. 12 Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.”

Don’t forget, the pattern of the Scripture is this: When we address believers with issues of sin, we must help them connect their actions to specific violations of Scripture. You and I are not the judge of right and wrong – the Word reveals right and wrong – and the Spirit teaches the Word and drives its truths deeply within.

First, Paul knew some were following leaders like him because they had great STANDING in the work. He personalized the argument as though they followed him and Apollos, but in fact they were following others that Paul did not name. The leaders of the various factions probably demonstrated a similar style of teaching to Paul’s Jewish line of plain argumentation and Apollos’ more eloquent philosophical approach. Paul stated that he is personalizing the reference and not offering a literal argument in 1 Corinthians 4:6.

Second, Paul knew some were following leaders because of their SKILL in the work. These were attracted to the wisdom and eloquence of leaders like Apollos because his argumentation drew new people to Messiah.

Most church divisions in history have divided along the same two lines. Some follow people because of their STANDING in the church. Maybe they are charter members, or maybe they have been historically the most active family or most financially supportive family. The challenge to that group is one who comes in with great SKILL, and through eloquence of talent pulls the hearts of many with them. Paul knew the two parties and the problem: You have misplaced your loyalty. The issue of the Gospel is not the preacher, but the One preached! The believer should glory in the Lord, not the messenger of the Lord (1:10-4:21). We don’t follow talent, eloquence, tradition or treasures – we follow God’s message found in His Word.

Some believers get confused about the STANDARD of truth – that God speaks primarily through, and always in harmony with, His Word. You and I are not the judges of right and wrong – the Word reveals right and wrong.

Paul asked in 1 Corinthians 1:13 “Has Christ been divided?” Think about what Paul was saying. He wanted to know if BOTH SIDES could clearly claim that God was with them – and not with the other. At the heart of the claim was this issue: Jesus has made known where He stands on issues. When we begin to think other voices are equal to Jesus’ Word in our hearts – we are following skill or standing and not truth.

Some believers get confused about what the CENTRAL TRUTH of the body of Christ is – that Jesus and His work is to be elevated above all. He is to be elevated in our DAILY CHOICES as well as our WORSHIP.

Paul went on in 1 Corinthians 1:13b “…Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

Paul wanted to remind the Corinthian believers that JESUS was the One that was crucified for them- and in the name of Jesus they were baptized. He is the center of the Christian faith.

• Our central message cannot become JUSTICE for the POOR. That is a worthy message – but it cannot be the center.

• Our central message cannot be the RESTORATION of former American morality. That is a worthy goal – but it is far from the center of what God has called us to complete.

Paul continued in 1 Corinthians 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void…. 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.”

While we must be careful not to elevate the WORKER above the WORK, we also don’t need to denigrate them. I love the little story: A minister gave an unusual sermon one day, using a peanut to make several important points about the wisdom of God in nature. One of the members greeted him at the door and said, “Very interesting, Pastor. I never expected to learn so much from a nut.” (A-Z sermon illustrator).

One issue the church faces in loyalty is making men more important than the message. Don’t do it. Check what everyone in this pulpit says to you. Read your Bible, and know its truths. Paul concluded the issue of “man over message” with simple words from 1 Corinthians 4:1 “Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.”

Issue Two: Misplaced Affection” (“Love over Truth” – 1 Corinthians 5)

Yet, there was a second issue, found in chapter five, that was as deeply divisive and demonstrated rank disloyalty to God in behavior in the church at Corinth. The issue takes a moment to reflect upon, so don’t jump too quickly.

Here is the record: 1 Corinthians 5:1 “It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. 2 You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst. 3 For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 [I have decided] to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump [of dough]?

On first reading, one can easily see that a man had entered a marital bed with his step mother – a rejection of both Biblical morality and a common Roman sense of decency. This was an egregious violation of sexual morays for the time, and the church not only accepted the man – but boasted of their tolerance in the process. Paul rebuffed the church – not so much for the sin – but for the acceptance of it and the boasting about their toleration of sin. This is a message for our times…

Modern followers of Jesus must seriously consider this truth: Either the Bible will define our morality, or our culturally molded senses will. If the words of the Holy One fail to determine and define truth in our hearts, and right and wrong behaviors in our walk – it will be our own conscience – deeply seared by sin and relentlessly pressed into the world’s mold that will determine what we commend as right and eschew as wrong. A culturally molded morality, unchallenged by God’s Word, will re-shape God Himself in our eyes – and the Almighty will look nothing like the character familiar to Moses, David or Daniel of old. Rather, that “god” will be nothing more than a household idol we have created to appease our religious instincts, hopelessly powerless and helplessly passive.

Paul’s response was simple and direct: Don’t focus on fixing your culture’s view of sexuality – God will deal with that. Rather, maintain the standard of the Word of God in relation to your spiritual family. He wrote this in the end of the chapter:

1 Corinthians 5:13 “But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.”

Paul clearly told Corinth to remove the man who was walking in sin in regards to his sexual behavior (1 Cor. 5:13). Let every church with a rainbow flag take note: God isn’t impressed with your relevance, nor is He delighted by your popularity in current culture. Your “loving toleration” is a mere mask for “refusal to stand by His Word”. You aren’t truly a “loving congregation” when you obscure what God clearly said – you are perpetuating the work of a deceiver – plain and simple. If that sounds wrong, read the end of verse thirteen and ask yourself this question: “Was Paul unloving when he called the man who violated a holy standard of sexuality wicked? Was he wrong to have the man removed from the church?” What has changed in the last two thousand years about the desire of men to change sexual morays to suit their own lusts?

I am not going over the edge on Puritanical judgment – there is a balance here as well. Paul later wrote to restore the man after he repented, because with the Lord there is always love in discipline. The question for our time is this: “Will such disciplines be removed out of a false sense of love and a hunger for cultural acceptance?” If it is, the one who walks in sin will die without correction, and be robbed of his or her productive walk for Jesus – and they will walk into the presence of the Lord only to have the lie unmasked before the King.

Some people just “change the bar (standard)” to make their lifestyle acceptable: The story has been told that Willie Nelson at one time owned a golf course (before the IRS owned Willie Nelson). He said the great thing about owning a golf course was that he could decide what par for each hole was. He pointed at one hole and said, “See that hole there? It’s a par 47. Yesterday I birdied it.”

Sin in the house of God is an affront to God. Paul was horrified that the church leadership was doing nothing. Indeed, they were rather proud of all the other things they had going. God is not interested in the things you’re doing as a church, if the people of the church aren’t living as the church.

Issue Three: “Misplaced Standards” (“World over Word” – 1 Corinthians 6).

A final misplacement that led to a false sense of loyalty was also referenced in Paul’s writing to the church at Corinth. Paul wrote about it this way:

1 Corinthians 6:1 “Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints?

Paul told the believers not to take their legal issues between one another into public courts. He offered FOUR reasons:

First, because of what we WILL BE we must settle our disputes among believers within the circle of believers (6:2-3).

1 Cor. 6:2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?

Paul told them believers will be judges in a future time (6:2). Jesus told the disciples they would sit on the judges seat (Mt. 19:28) because they gave up their future to walk with Him. Paul told Timothy that believers would “reign with Christ” (2 Timothy 2:12), a reference to Revelation 20:4 where believers became the underling judges to Jesus’ Kingdom.

Paul told them believers will judge angels (6:3). 1 Corinthians 11:12 says that our lack of submission can affect the angelic observers. The word judge does not always mean to “condemn” – in this verse it may well be “to distinguish or decide”. A wife may ask her husband to look at some wallpaper for the bathroom and help her “judge” which is best for them.

Paul told them believers should know what they are NOW, and must deal with disputes among believers in the circle of the church (6:4-8).

1. We deal in higher (ultimate) issues in the church (6:4).

2. We have available resources of wisdom within (6:5-6) to keep us from needing outer assistance.

3. We have a higher value system than those without (6:7-8) to be prepared to lose something this side of Heaven to uphold Heaven’s values.

Finally, Paul told believer they should recall what we were in our past (6:9-11). We know sin. We have committed sin. We have hurt people and trashed our reputations before. We don’t belong there anymore! That is what 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 are all about – a walk through “memory lane” of the former way of living…

1 Cor. 6:9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.

The fact is: the world does things the EASY WAY: Since the Fall in the garden, it is easier for people to do wrong then to do right. We have to work at doing good and doing wrong just seems to come naturally. It is easier not to pray then to pray; it is easier not to be committed then to be committed. It is easier to have impure thoughts then pure ones. It is easier to not give then to give.

1 Cor. 6:11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

BUT what Jesus did for us can be described this way: We have been washed (apoluo), marked (sanctified as in agiadzo) and freed from further obligation (dikaio).

The story has been often told of Harry Houdini, the famed escape artist from a years back, who issued a challenge wherever he went. He could be locked in any jail cell in the country, he claimed, and set himself free in short order. Always he kept his promise, but one time something went wrong. Houdini entered the jail in his street clothes; the heavy, metal doors clanged shut behind him. He took from his belt a concealed piece of metal, strong and flexible. He set to work immediately, but something seemed to be unusual about this lock. For thirty minutes he worked and got nowhere. An hour passed, and still he had not opened the door. By now he was bathed in sweat and panting in exasperation, but he still could not pick the lock. Finally, after laboring for two hours, Harry Houdini collapsed in frustration and failure against the door he could not unlock. But when he fell against the door, it swung open! It had never been locked at all! But in his mind it was locked, and that was all it took to keep him from opening the door and walking out of the jail cell.

God’s people must understand and apply appropriate loyalty – message over men, truth over tolerance, Word standards over world standards.

You are released from payment to your former life. Jason Jones wrote: During the mighty movements of the Holy Spirit in the Moody-Sankey meetings in Dublin, the worldly father of C.T. Studd was gloriously saved. He invited some of his worldly companions to come to his home so that he could tell them the wonderful news. When one wealthy English sportsman arrived at the railway station he was met by the coachman. He could not wait till he got to the house to know what had happened to his old friend, so he began to question the coachman. ’I hear that something remarkable has happened to your master. I hear he’s got religion. Please tell me about it. In what way is Mr. Studd changed?’ ’Oh,’ said the Irish coachman, ’It’s a revolution. In one sense he is still the same man–he’s in the same body. But the best way I can explain him is he’s a new man in the old skin.’ The new creature receives a new set of appetites and a new set of attitudes. The babe in Christ has now a holy nature with a propensity toward holiness. The things he used to hate, now he loves and the things he used to love; now he hates.”

There are so many things that bind us. As long as we hold on to them, their power over us continues. Don’t let it happen. Fall into His arms.

God on the Move: “The Syrup Principle” – The Epistle of Galatians

uphill_both_ways_in_snow_actionHave you ever tried to push something uphill that couldn’t get traction and rolled back on you? Years ago a heavy snow storm hit Jerusalem, and I had the wonderful privilege of driving up the slope of the west side of Mount Zion toward the Bishop Gobat school property to attend a meeting that I couldn’t seem to arrive at, because the road was unplowed and barely passable. What made matters even worse was the fact that the large boulders that normally marked the side of the road were hidden under the snow drifts, and navigating the road was made even more hazardous by objects that were designed originally as a “safety feature”. I tried to make my way upward, but on several occasions ended up slipping back down the slope, as my tires found no traction on the ice. I hate the feeling that I am putting massive effort into something and slipping backward, don’t you? It reminds me of the frustrating times as a youth when I attempted to rake and back the leaves around my parent’s home, but the wind covered the lawn with newly deposited leaves as fast as I removed and bagged the old leaves. Ugh! How frustrating to work hard at something, and have that sinking feeling – like the faster you bail the boat, the bigger the hole in the bottom becomes.

Bailing was something the Apostle Paul knew – he would easily recognize the sinking feeling I am talking about. Paul was an Apostle charged with overseeing the spread of the Christian message by Jesus. He fought the world for a hearing for his message. He fought Jewish leaders who felt that he had no right to open up a small sub-group of Jews – these so-called “Nazarene people of the Way” – to practices that were not under the oversight and in the veto power of the Chief Priest and Courts of the Rabbinate of Israel. He fought wayward Christians who wanted their salvation to be a statement of both grace for eternity and license for their current desires. On every turn, he fought – and that was no doubt frustrating, tiring and at times, exasperating. He pressed to get the Gospel to new places, but equally pressed to keep the small bands of followers of Jesus on track and following their Savior by the power of the Spirit. He explained how the message of Jesus fit into the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures, even as he was carefully scrutinized for his every word and action. There was little that looked peaceful from outside the room where Paul was dwelling. This was a hard month in a hard year on a hard journey.

From the west, the Roman believers needed to be exhorted to place themselves in a position of Divine inspection – so Paul wrote to them to get ready to make that decision. From the southwest, Corinth was acting like their misguided notion of “love” for sinners justified a “tolerance” of sin that led to a “sex fest” that would make even modern believers blush – so Paul opened a line of correspondence to them. In the east, Galatian believers were slipping away from the message of justification backward toward an expansion of the Temple’s authority over the church – and losing Gentiles in the process (who felt the message was misrepresented to them). It is on this last group we want to focus in this lesson – in the letter to the Galatian believers. It was written under fire, and Paul was responding to an attack on the Gospel by lost me without and confused men within the group. Paul had something he wanted to say to them – but God said something even bigger in the example of the letter…

Key Principle: When the core message of the church is under attack, there is a consistent and godly way to respond.

Travel back in time for a few minutes to join Paul’s mission team in Ephesus, during the third mission journey, and note how anxious he seems to be to get moving west toward Macedonia, then Corinth in Achaia, and finally to Rome. He couldn’t leave – because the churches were being attacked by “spiritual sharks” that were tearing away at everything his first two mission journeys had produced (from a human perspective). He was sharing the message of the Gospel, and it was both shattering darkness with its light and drawing the bugs that always show up to a flame in a dark place. It was piercing the armor of rebellious men with the arrows of truth – and that was a threat to them. Paul’s message was being challenged in some places, but in Galatia it was being burdened with mythology, and laden with misunderstanding.

Introducing the Syrup Method

syrup1I really like maple syrup, but a few years ago I had the opportunity to taste maple sap… and I was very disappointed. It wasn’t very “maple-ee” and it wasn’t very sweet. In fact, it tasted a little like sassafras root with the dirt still on it – something I remember from Cub Scout campouts as a kid. What I found out was this: to really get the flavor, you have to distill the maple sap and get rid of the water to get it down to the viscous syrup form – that is where the flavor is. I am not suggesting for a moment that God wastes words in the Bible. At the same time, I want to readily admit that an epistle is like a closing argument delivered to a jury – seeking the conviction of the heart and the commitment to godliness. Every word God used is important, but it is possible to get the distilled argument of the text in fewer words. That is what I want to try to do with you in this lesson if we can: get to the heart of the six chapters of Galatians by boiling the argument down to essential elements.

Step One: Collecting the sap; gathering truth in a bucket.

To do this, I want to pick out key sentences and phrases. This isn’t random – it is based on a very systematic and careful study of each line. We are distilling, but we are also in need of the essential “bones” of structure of Paul’s argument. Let’s see if we can do this is a few minutes together…

Chapter One

Paul and his team opened with words about who they were, and who the letter was addressed to – those who had given their heart to Jesus and were living in Galatia. Verse four offered an important word about the purpose of the work of Jesus that will be addressed later in the letter – that He came to rescue us from this evil age. The fact Paul pointed to was this: commitment to Jesus isn’t just about afterlife – but about how we live now. We are not to be victims of the crashing waves of evil in this life.

The next paragraph (1:6-9) set up the argument with Paul’s emotional reaction to what he has heard about the believers in their region: Paul was shocked at how quickly they were being drawn away from the message of justification before God entirely based on the work of Jesus. He hammered the word “Gospel” in verse 6, again in 7, again in 8 and again in 9. He made the point that the Good News had come to them – and there was nothing better to expect. He wouldn’t back down, even if it would take pressure off of him and make him more widely popular (1:10).

He wanted them to recognize that the Gospel he preached to them was not from men, but rather “through a revelation of Jesus” (1:12). Paul’s background in Judaism didn’t create it, but God met him, called him and taught him (1:13-17). He was three years a follower of Jesus before he ever met the leadership in Jerusalem (1:18-24).

Chapter one, then offered three points to Paul’s statement of truth to the Galatians:

• The Gospel affects now – not just when we die.

• The message of the Gospel was specific and measurable content – and departure from it could be reckoned. It wasn’t so experiential that one could not identify its truths as well as stand opposed to what varied from that message.

• The message source was from God – not men. It wasn’t put together by a committee, and could not be disassembled by one without departing the truth and ending in error.

In essence, the first chapter was about the definition, source and demand of the Gospel. It held specific content, it came from God and it wasn’t limited to things that start at death.

Chapter Two

Continuing his argument in the second chapter, Paul reminded the readers that he “went up fourteen years after coming to Jesus” (to the Jerusalem Council in 50 CE- Acts 15), and had the Gospel he was preaching thoroughly evaluated. He was joined by Barnabas and Titus (2:1-2). When men saw that Titus was born of a Gentile family, they didn’t expect him to be circumcised or to play at being like a Jew – though some false brothers tried to press the case (2:3-4). The “truth of the Gospel” was at stake – and we didn’t let them gain any standing at all (2:5-6). The other leaders saw God was at work in this, and they agreed with me and shook my hand publicly (2:7-10).

“It wasn’t all easy,” Paul wrote. He explained that Peter was adding rabbinic standards of separation to his life when Jewish men came from Judea, and that confused the Gospel message – because they had been teaching that Gentiles who came to Jesus were fully accepted in spite of the fact that they didn’t keep the regulations given to Jews (2:11-14). Paul even detailed some of the argument he made with Peter. He told him, according to Paul’s record – since the diaspora (dispersion of Jews) it has become nearly impossible for us to make it to the Temple three times a year (as commanded in Deuteronomy 16:16) and we were born Jews. Why in the world are you trying to make these who were not born under these regulations join us in this nearly impossible task! (2:15-7). Temple worship and atonement law offered nothing to one who died with Christ and was justified totally through Him (2:18-21).

Chapter two, then, offered two additional point:

• Paul’s message thoroughly checked and publicly endorsed by the leadership of the church. They acknowledged Gentiles didn’t needed to join the atonement system or markers of the Jewish people.

• He made clear that some leaders confused the message and he confronted them to clarify the teaching: full acceptance by God because of faith in the completed work of Jesus was all that was required – and any breach of that was a breach in the Gospel message.

The bottom line of the second chapter was this: Paul’s message was endorsed and any teaching to the contrary was corrected when leaders discovered it.

Chapter Three

As chapter three opened, Paul left his walk down memory lane and went back to his argument concerning the faith of the Galatians. He asked them if the “got the Spirit by the works of the Law” or if their acceptance of the Gospel message was sufficient (3:1-5). He pressed the truth that before atonement law, God already established a simple pattern – believe me and that is what I will count (3:6-10). Paul made clear that nothing in the atonement law could offer salvation now – because the justification work of Jesus was complete (3:6-13). God was working in his time to bless the Gentile world with direct access to God apart from the atonement system – because of Jesus’ completed work (3:14-18). The atonement law set a pattern, but the Promised One completed the whole work (3:19-25). Sons of God now had direct access by belief in Jesus – nothing more was necessary (3:26-29).

Paul reminded them of their reception of the Spirit based solely on belief in the justification message alone.

In essence, Paul made clear that there was nothing MORE than full acceptance – and nothing greater to be received if one participated in the atonement system now that direct access to God had been provided apart from the Temple and Jewish people.

Chapter Four

Chapter four reminded that they “…were in bondage (4:3) …but God sent forth His Son” (4:4-5). They became sons in the Spirit, and they should not be anxious to go backward into the atonement laws that included killing animals and making sacrifices (4:6-9). He was concerned… they were learning how to meticulously practice all the things that were replaced in the atonement law and that was going to truly hurt their understanding of the Gospel (4:10-20). He challenged them: “If you want to be under all that is involved in the atonement laws, do you TRULY know them?” (4:21).

He argued: “If you look at Abraham’s life, you can see a dramatic rendering of the way of fleshly answers to a problem and the way of the Spirit’s answer. In Hagar and Ishmael, you see human effort expended. In Isaac you find God at work without man’s help – and that is what the Good News of Jesus is all about (4:22-28). “Besides”, he argued, “flesh always persecutes Spirit, so you should cast out those who want to take you back into that world.” (4:29-31).

The Apostle added two more lines to his reasoned speech:

• He reminded the people they were in darkness before Jesus, but were set free in Him – and the practices of the atonement system would only distract them from recognizing the access through faith.

• He warned them that flesh participation had distracted his ancestors –because many missed the role faith played and substituted “actions” for “heart belief”. Now some argued against faith – because in acceptance by God – the flesh has always opposed the spirit.

In essence, when men do anything to participate in the process of becoming acceptable to God, they begin to believe it is their participation, and not God’s grace alone, that makes healing the breach possible – but that isn’t true. It is always by grace (unmerited favor), through faith (acceptance that what God says is true – is true indeed).

Chapter Five

In chapter five Paul commanded them to remain firmly rooted in the “Gospel of Justification” by grace through faith in the work of Jesus alone – and not allow anyone to drag them back into the atonement laws and their sacrificial solutions (5:1-6). “Who is making you go back?” Paul again asked (5:7-8). He told them he “had confidence” they would remain (5:10) and that the taste of freedom held a danger they must also be aware of – the danger of allowing justification to authorize license in their behaviors (5:13). The answer was not a new list of rules, but rather allowing the Spirit of God to work in them (5:16) to help them navigate life. The Spirit was opposed to the flesh, and the atonement laws – which required the participation of the flesh- would only confuse them (5:17-18). He enumerated the traits that showed licentiousness of the flesh (5:19-21) and contrasted them with the fruit of the Spirit (5:22-26).

The Apostle told them two more important things:

• He made clear they should stick to the message and not divert to the older atonement system – acceptance by God has already been secured.

• He warned that emphasis on the flesh would lead to powerful waves of fleshly activity in their midst, while emphasis on the Spirit would yield great freedoms and unity.

In essence, Paul made clear his point – don’t change – and then made clear the consequences of teaching the participation of the flesh in the message of the acceptance of God. It won’t end well – but be swamped by sin and darkness. Emphasizing the Spirit led to freedom and unity.

Chapter Six

In the final part of the letter, Paul called upon believers to help each other with their struggle to walk with God (6:1-4) while taking responsibility for their own issues (6:5). They were to be careful to receive from those who carefully studied God’s word, and recognize that there was a coming consequence to ignoring truth (6:5-8). They were to stay at the task and not become weary doing right (6:9-10). He closed the letter reminding them it was truly from his hand (6:11) and that there were those who would try to pry them from the truth – but he placed all his hope and trust in the finished work of Jesus at the Cross (6:12-15). He wanted peace, particularly with the Jewish believers in Jesus that were confused and confusing them – he wanted this discussion to end (6:16-18).

The final words of Paul’s argument were these:

• Show the Spirit at work as you work together, each taking responsibility for yourselves and yet helping each other.

• Listen to the Word and stay at the work of doing right – they mustn’t let anyone pry them away from the full acceptance of God through faith.

• He wanted peace, especially with Jewish believers, but truly wanted this discussion to be laid to rest in Galatia.

In essence, it was time to make the choice to set aside this distraction. Peace was desired, but not at the expense of walking in truth.

Step Two: Put the Sap on the Stove; reducing sap to syrup

Look yet one more time at the whole of Paul’s argument – this time with an eye toward what Paul DID to defend the central truth under attack in the faith:

In chapter one: He defined the Gospel, its source and the fact that is places demands on the living – not just the dead.

Here, Paul defined the problem. In this case, the issue was the definition and content of the message as to how a man or woman becomes acceptable to God. The issue was clear – God is holy and we are not. What to do? God made full acceptance and direct access to Him via the completed payment of Jesus at Calvary – but some wanted to go back to the older atonement system because it made them feel they were allowed to participate in the process, and gave the Jewish leadership at the Temple some continued control over the process. Paul made clear the message that was under attack

In chapter two: Paul addressed the charge that his message was rogue.

The second step Paul used was to look backward to those in whom God had given earlier direction. In his case, it was church leaders in Jerusalem. In our case, it would be the men and women recorded in the Scripture. When a core message of our faith is under attack, we should become thoroughly versed in the Scripture, and point people to how what we are saying is a continuation of that message. They may reject that message, but we should strive to show that we are KEEPING the committed charge of the Scriptures – and not altering them.

In chapter three: Paul laid to rest that the truth needed to be amended – or even could be.

The Apostle made clear that there was nothing MORE than full acceptance. He pressed that no one had the right to add to the ideas that God made clear were the completed truth. When a core message is under attack, we must make clear that “adjusting” God’s prescribed truth is nothing less than leaving the truth of the Creator.

In chapter four: Paul connected the dangers of consequences if they pursued the way of thinking that led them away from the message they received from him.

He made clear that in the case of judging between the atonement system and justification by faith alone there was a clear danger. When men do anything to participate in the process of becoming acceptable to God, they begin to believe it is their participation, and not God’s grace alone, and they end up in the wrong place. Instead of gratefulness, arrogance becomes easy. When a core message component comes under attack – it is essential that leaders make clear the damaging consequences of embracing a lie in place of the truth.

In chapter five: Paul called the people to “stick to their guns”.

He pressed them to stand for the truth and further warned of allowing the “flesh message” (regressive participation in the atonement system) in the message of the acceptance of God. He offered the negative of the flesh’s grab on their hearts, and contrasted the freedom of the Spirit’s work in an through them. When there is an attack on the core principles of the Scriptures among us, leaders should openly and unapologetically call people to stand with the truth. We cannot shrink back and hope for the best.

In chapter six: Paul told them he wanted peace, but not at the expense of truth.

As he told them it was time to make the choice, he assured them that peace was desired, but not by acquiescing to lies. When a core principle or truth of our faith is under attack, peace is NOT more important than standing for the truth of the Scriptures. They are God’s Word – and we have no right to “adjust them” to make people more comfortable. Jesus came to give us direct access to a relationship with the Father in Heaven – but no other earthly relationship can become as important to us as that one – or we are not His disciple at all.

Behold the Syrup!

There is our method of defense of God’s truth, as modeled by Paul in the first century:

  • Define God’s message and the problem of the challenge.
  • Make clear that you are sticking to the Scriptures and not departing from them.
  • Make clear that no one has the right to amend the Scriptural teaching (not even you).
  • Connect the dots to some of the dangers if the wrong line is followed.
  • Don’t back down because God’s teaching is unpopular; rather recognize the Spirit will be present to help you make things clear through words and lifestyle.
  • Don’t make peace your primary goal, but clarity about what God said in His Word.

Step Three: Pouring Syrup; how we “cover” the issues of our day

First, we need to be careful about the separation of issues of conviction (things the Bible addressed indirectly through principle) and core message (things the Bible specifically teaches).

You may be a Republican or a Democrat. You may drink alcohol on occasion or believe that one should completely abstain because of the potential damage it can cause your life. You may believe in gun control or an absolute right to have a rifle hanging in your shed. You may think people shouldn’t date but rather have their parents arrange their marriage. You may like Breyer’s ice cream or you may think the generic is just as good. You may like rainy days, or you may loathe them… these aren’t issues that are directly ascribed in the text of the Bible – no matter how clear they are in your mind. They are indirectly addressed by principles. They aren’t unimportant, but they aren’t the core of our message. Don’t make them some kind of litmus test on Christianity, and don’t proclaim them with the force of the Bible. Peter thought the rabbinic laws about “who to eat with” were equal to the Biblical rules for the Jewish people as to what to eat – and he was corrected. His dilution of the message of the Gospel affected people’s reception of Jesus – and some were turned away from the Gospel.

Let me say it clearly: make a separation in every public forum (personal discussions to Facebook posts) between what your informed view has come to be because of an indirect (even if in depth) teaching of the Scripture’s principles and the defense of the core message the Bible teaches. This is important. Don’t represent your view of issues as God’s view, unless the text offers specific and direct teaching on that issue. If you believe there are principles from God’s Word, then apply them as that – principles. For instance, it wouldn’t be wrong to say:

“This position of this particular political party doesn’t seem to me to square with the principle in God’s Word that I got when I was studying these verses. I cannot put them together, and so I am not a part of that group.”

Is that getting “wishy-washy” on the truth as we need to stand on it today? Not at all! Let me illustrate:

Many modern issues are re-worked attacks against core truths of Scripture from long ago:

The attempt to re-define marriage isn’t new – just the approach that people are using. The actual battle isn’t over the definition – but WHAT FOUNDATION our modern country should use to define its most precious concepts and identity issues. Christians want to keep a Judeo-Christian foundation for the definitions, while others would like any reference to that system to be expunged from the history of the nation and re-frame the issue as a secularist and values neutral group making small adaptations to their understanding of family definition. The Bible DOES say how a family came into being, what it is and what it is not. We have direct, specific teaching of what a marriage is and what it pictures. It isn’t an opinion – it is the defense of what the text actually argues.

The attempt to separate sexual identity and gender behaviors is also a direct teaching from the text of Scripture. When David told Solomon to “act like a man” there were direct and measurable ways in which that could be perceived. The purposes of human sexuality are not left in the background of a shadowy text – they are addressed directly and forcefully in many places. We aren’t offering opinion, we are defending the literal statements of the text.

When even the most educated in our society seem unable to identify simple issues like “What is evil?” and “What is a terrorist?” we have recourse. The Bible is neither silent on the issue of evil, nor is it unclear where it came from and how to see it in daily life. When we call it evil, we aren’t being intolerant – we are defending the black letters of the page of Scripture. Individuals acting to kill or imperil non-combatants to offer protest to authority is wrong –always. They may be right in the point they are making, but the Bible specifically and carefully shows ways to make change that don’t include imperiling innocent parties. Even in war, God weighed in with specific rules – we can and should be vocal about things that violate these direct principles from the Word.

When people try to obscure the purpose of the Gospel, teaching that it has as a primary purpose the gaining of riches in this present world – we should take a clear and vocal stand against the corruption of Scripture. It doesn’t matter if the proclamation is from a stadium or a glass cathedral that cost millions – the Scripture directly addressed what the Gospel is: direct access to God through full trust in the completed work of Jesus alone. It is not a direct access to material wealth – and never has been. That is a corruption, and that is not an opinion – it is a defense of the text.

When someone attempts to enshrine selfishness as a virtue and argues that the unborn are not “people” and do not have any “right to life” – the Bible directly weighs in. God held the unborn as worthy of defense in the Law. He revealed that He chose people before they were born for various specific tasks. He made clear that His image stamp on them is what gave them value. He called killing the unborn a crime worthy of death… we aren’t being political, we are defending the Book as we should. We need to love those who have made that choice in their past – because they cannot undue it. Yet, we cannot make the choice one that God approved. It was wrong, and it requires repentance and payment by the blood of Jesus at Calvary.

Finally, before we POUR THE SYRUP of the Galatian truths on issues, we must be clear and Biblically sound in our approach to what the church of Jesus Christ actually IS and IS NOT. The church isn’t primarily a daycare facility designed to teach morals to working people’s children. It isn’t primarily a counseling center designed to offer self-help Scripture to help people navigate life better in the midst of growing darkness. It isn’t a place for religious people to get together and measure how we are doing on “keeping the rules” of our faith – some busybody’s paradise. The church is primarily a place where transformation occurs over time by constant exposure to the Word of God. We become a family, we nurture people that hurt in a healing place, we join together to meet God together in worship, and we gather in a place to meet people like ourselves, to belong – but that isn’t WHAT WE ARE. We are people who were SINGLE who are in an engagement period to learn to become a spotless Bride for our coming Savior. Every function we have is subject to that Biblically explained core reason for existence. We are a BRIDAL TRAINING school awaiting the coming of our Bridegroom.

The church offers the Gospel to lost men, women and children – but that is a function of our obedience – and not our primary identity. We help the struggling in obedience. We serve Jesus by serving others… but those aren’t the primary functions of the church. Worship, instruction, fellowship and evangelism are directed toward transformation by the Spirit through the Word – in order that we might become a prepared bride.

When the core message of the church is under attack, there is a consistent and godly way to respond – and we must use it.

Following His Footsteps: “The Truth Within” – Luke 7

truth within2Have you ever had someone suggest to you that you could find the truth about life WITHIN yourself? The other day I was invited to watch a motivational seminar on video by a Christian friend who thought I could really gain some insight from a well-known speaker. Because I know this friend well, I put it on the list of things I do for personal growth, and when it got to the top of the stack, I watched it. The man was entertaining and informative, and I found some of the information quite useful, that is, until he journeyed into “self as a source of truth.” That idea troubled me. There are many spiritual and religious groups that suggest that truth is found “within” a man or woman – many Buddhists believe this, and the Gnostics of the early centuries of Christianity taught it as well. They believed that “real truth” was sparked inside a person when they confronted the Almighty and had an incredible experience that led to the truth.

Students of the Bible – especially those who appreciate literalism – have generally dismissed that thought, and turned people to the fact that the truth is found in Jesus Who called Himself that very title: “The Truth”. In Him, we know, is the answer – in His purposes for us. If you think carefully and deeply, I think there IS an important truth that you can discover within you… but it isn’t the answer to a question – it is the problem we face. I believe that if you look inside – you will see that we are broken people, but we are also stubborn people. We can’t find the answer to our brokenness within – that truly IS found only in Messiah; but we can discover the problem – the fact of our brokenness, closely guarded by our stubborn pride.

We like to think of ourselves as competent. As Christians, we like to think of ourselves as vessels usable to our Master. Yet, if you ask almost any Christian they will tell you that for much of their life they admit to stubborn, self-oriented decision making. We who know Jesus also know ourselves – for when He came into our lives, the truth of who we are – and who we are NOT – became evident. That is a hard side of our faith… Inside each of us we wrestle with the pride and ego that hinders us from the continual surrender that invites God to work at transforming us – and for much of our life our stubborn resistance is our single greatest foe.

Key Principle: God draws near to one who opens their heart, but withdraws from one who refuses Him entrance.

There is a portion of Jesus’ ministry that highlighted the battle within those who met Jesus– the fight to surrender to God’s control – we want to continue our look at lessons in the life of Jesus with a brief stop in Luke 7. That passage is carefully framed around stories of five encounters between Jesus and people. For this lesson, let’s look at how Jesus dealt with people, and what hindered some people from really gaining the full benefit of standing face to face with God in human skin. Look at each of the five encounters. They were:

1. Jesus and the Humble Gentile: The Open Reverence of the Needy Centurion (Lk. 7:1-10).

2. Jesus and the Helpless Widow: The Surprise of the Broken-hearted and Helpless Widow (Lk. 7:11-16).

3. Jesus and His Uncertain Friends: The questioning of the familiar, yet unsure cousin of Jesus, John the Baptizer (Lk. 7:17-23).

4. Jesus before the Hardened Theologians: A fourth was a group of Pharisees that diverted the heart truths of God by theological arguments! (7:24-35).

5. Jesus and a Grateful Sinner: A shattered sinful woman that came to Jesus full of gratitude for His love, forgiveness and acceptance (7:36-50).

Step into the five scenes, one at a time – and look carefully for those who really grasped the truth of Who Jesus was, and what He could do for them.

The Humility of a Needy Centurion (Lk. 7:1-10)

Luke 7:1 When He had completed all His discourse in the hearing of the people, He went to Capernaum. 2 And a centurion’s slave, who was highly regarded by him, was sick and about to die. 3 When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders asking Him to come and save the life of his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they earnestly implored Him, saying, “He is worthy for You to grant this to him; 5 for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue.” 6 Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; 7 for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 “For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” 9 Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the crowd that was following Him, “I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith.” 10 When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

Jesus finished teaching and walked back into the village of Capernaum. When he got into the town, he was met by some of the local elders of the “synagogue near the sea” who came and asked Jesus to do a good deed for a slave – a strange request. It appears the centurion previously built a great relationship with the Jewish community by showing care to the local Jewish community and helping them raise the funds to maintain and add to their synagogue. The Jewish leaders came to Jesus and sough a healing for the man’s servant.

We don’t know much about the centurion – but we know some important details. The text offers six details:

• His rank put him in charge of a “centuria” consisting normally of 80 men. Six “centuria” formed a “cohort”…. The man was in a responsible position in the Roman army.

• The Centurion had a soft heart toward his servant (7:1-2). He was a leader with a heart for PEOPLE, the object of God’s affection.

• The Centurion had a tender heart toward God’s people (7:3-5). To love me is to love what I love beside me.

• The Centurion had a deep sense of unworthiness (7:6-7a). An open sense of God’s “stooping” to us is a great place to begin a successful walk with God!

• The Centurion had a firm trust in Jesus’ authority (7:7b-8). The first step in our walk must be to stand firmly in Jesus’ ability.

• The Centurion gained Jesus’ attention (7:9-10). Jesus required only one thing of this follower – honest trust in Him!

This story made clear that Jesus aided a man of humility, tenderness and faith. The humility was not a poor self-image – it was “ranking himself beneath” out of respect. He recognized the power and position of Jesus, and he recognized his own sinfulness. His tenderness was shown in actions of assistance to those who needed help. His “faith” – the ability to see things as God says they are – was clear in the way he dealt with the Savior. Arrogance pushes God away – humility draws God in to help.

A second story also draws in a hurting and needy person…

The Surprise of the Broken-hearted and Helpless Widow (Lk. 7:11-17).

Luke 7:11 Soon afterwards He went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large crowd. 12 Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother. 16 Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and, “God has visited His people!” 17 This report concerning Him went out all over Judea and in all the surrounding district.

Jesus left Capernaum not long after the assistance to the centurion’s servant, and walked toward the Jezreel Valley on the road that passed the foot of Hill of Moreh – a place famous because of the ministry of Elijah and Elisha long before. As he walked by the village of Nain, a parade of mourners happened on the road carrying a funeral bier of a young man. Jesus noticed a widow – walking without a husband or children behind the bier. He approached the broken hearted woman and told her to cease weeping. Next, He walked toward the bier; in a bold but shocking move – He TOUCHED the small bed with the body on it. This story offered a few details of the woman:

• The broken woman was loved, but broken beyond the hope of asking for help from God. Truthfully, in the midst of her pain, she probably never noticed Jesus standing before her! (7:11-12).

• The widow could not “cry out” for help, but Jesus picked her out (7:13).

• The crushed momma was unprepared for the incredible deliverance God brought – though He had done it before in others nearby! Elisha raised the Shunnamite woman’s son – and Shunem was a nearby village on the opposite side of the same hill! (7:14-16; cp. 2 Kings 4:36).

Consider this woman for a moment. Isn’t it true that in our tears, we can fail to see clearly? Sometimes in the midst of a terrible night, God stands ready to reveal Himself – even if we weren’t looking for Him! Jesus saw her tears, and He met her in the midst of her pain. He gave her back what she lost – but He gave her much more – He gave her His kind attention and care. Brokenness draws in the tender approach of God. There is no place so painful that God cannot touch it. There is no person so broken that God cannot repair them. There is no joy deeper than the knowledge that God is there when my pain is unbearable!

Yet a third story was collected by Luke and joined to this one, and though this one isn’t a healing, it is by someone in a desperate situation…

The uncertain cousin of Jesus: John the Baptizer (Lk. 7:17-23).

Luke 7:18 The disciples of John reported to him about all these things. 19 Summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?” 20 When the men came to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, ‘Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?'” 21 At that very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave sight to many who were blind. 22 And He answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. 23 “Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”

John knew about the power of God (Lk. 7:18) and John HOPED that the promises were true and found in Jesus (Lk. 7:19-20), but he was uncertain (7:21-23; cp. Isa. 8:13-15). Jesus explained that His identity should be recognized based on the promises of God’s Word and the evidence of His walk before men! (7:21-23; cp. Isa. 8:13-15).

Why is this story tucked into this passage? Is it because a messenger approached Jesus just after he encountered the widow at Nain? Perhaps…but that doesn’t seem to be true based on the cross references of the other Gospels. It appears the point Luke was making in the organization of the stories together was this: John was under arrest. His desperation wasn’t from loss of a son or sickness of a servant as the other stories – but rather the loss of his personal freedoms and the fear of his own future. John’s life was all about one thing: Proclaiming the message of God. When he pointed people to Jesus as the Lamb, was he mistaken?

We have seen that humility attracts God’s hand, and brokenness move His gentle touch – but what about desperation and uncertainty? Does God withdraw from one who cannot trust Him fully? The answer is NO! God understands our deep connection to the physical world and to our own preservation. He knows what we fear most – and much of it relates to leaving this world. God’s answer to the “doubting desperate” is to offer more truth –more evidence of Himself. Honest doubt in the face of desperation doesn’t repulse God – it draws Him in.

A fourth story was joined to these…

Religious leaders as opposed to repentant businessmen (7:24-35).

Luke 7:24 When the messengers of John had left, He began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 “But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who are splendidly clothed and live in luxury are found in royal palaces! 26 “But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet. 27 “This is the one about whom it is written, ‘BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.’ 28 “I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29 When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they acknowledged God’s justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John. 30 But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John. 31 “To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? 32 “They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ 33 “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ 34 “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 “Yet wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” 36 Now one of the Pharisees was requesting Him to dine with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.

The next story Luke paired with this set of remembrances was Jesus’ encounter, first with the crowds to pose a question about John – and then to two groups who heard John. On the one hand were those who followed John’s message – guilty cheaters who saw the need to repent and be baptized by John – acknowledging their sinfulness. On the other hand, there were some trained men that were proficient at using information and debate to deflect heart truth. They heard John, but his message of repentance meant nothing to them – for they saw themselves as righteous by virtue of what they KNEW. Jesus cut through the layer of theological objections to deliver a set of four powerful truths! These truths were targeted as a caution to those who had considerable knowledge of God’s Word, but little faith to walk in it!

The first truth was people want something that is REAL, not simply something that is highly polished. Not as many are faked out by religious nonsense as the religious may think. Jesus began His time before them with a question: “Why did you all go out to see John in the wilderness?” (7:24a) He offered several possibilities:

• Did his commitment draw you? (7:24b).
• Did his “sophisticated and polished look” draw you? (7:25)
• Were you perhaps seeking God’s truths? (7:26)

Next, Jesus affirmed that John was presenting the truth and preparing the crowd for Messiah (7:26b-27) as He explained the role that John played in prophetic truth (7:28). He was the announcer, the introducer – the pointer.

Jesus offered a second statement: When people encounter the truth and are powerfully changed by it, they are ready to take a stand for it! The many in the crowd that had been at the great revivals of John affirmed Jesus’ statements with an “Amen!” (7:29) but the theologically trained Pharisees withdrew (7:30).

A third truth became apparent: Real leaders see changes in their followers as truth is offered, while fake leaders moan about real ones! Jesus offered this observation about the religious leaders: “They lead, but they complain that no one follows” (7:31-32). “They reject the power others have found encountering God’s truth, and offer nothing but complaints about the externals” (7:33-34).

Finally, Jesus ended with this parable: “Life-changing God-given truth evidences itself unmistakably in the lives of those who follow it!” (7:35). Real truth has measurable fruit. Real wisdom transforms. Why is this story included here?

We have seen that humility, brokenness and desperation draw the tender response of the Lord… but here that truth is contrasted with those who repulse God. God is drawn to those who allow Him to transform them, but moves away from those who choose to know ABOUT HIM without surrendering TO HIM.

God isn’t seeking highly polished theologians – He seeks surrendered saints. He is looking for those who WANT Him to work in them, strongly desire Him to sculpt away their desires and leave them with a greater hunger for His touch.

There is still one more story…

A woman with gratitude, who found love and acceptance in the Savior’s presence (7:36-50)

Luke 7:37 And there was a woman in the city who was a sinner; and when she learned that He was reclining at the table in the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster vial of perfume, 38 and standing behind Him at His feet, weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears, and kept wiping them with the hair of her head, and kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 “When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” 44 Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 “You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. 46 “You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. 47 “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” 49 Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” 50 And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

The story reminds us that the woman presented was a well-known sinner. Perhaps it was her dress, perhaps her speech or manner – but it was clear that she was a woman with a past. Luke described her: She was filled with shame and guilt from the past, but took the most precious thing she has and offered to it Jesus to express deep gratitude that she could be made whole (7:36-37). She poured out both her earnings and the pain of their heart, finding solace in merely being allowed to touch Jesus’ feet and find His acceptance. She was unconcerned about how she appeared to those who thought they had life together. She loved that God forgave her, and she cherished forgiveness with overwhelming gratefulness (7:38).

Some people you meet don’t really sense their need of God so easily. For people like that, God may need to provide a lesson to help them understand their need – by observing the advantages of brokenness in someone else. People with a brokenness about their past are often used by God as a lesson to others – and that is the gift we have in them! Consider this:

• Even those who know something of God’s love and power can misunderstand His heart. They want justice for others, but mercy for themselves. God shows that He knows how to love in spite of sin (7:39).

• Jesus wanted to teach even the self-righteous of His own mercy, that they might experience mercy (7:40).

• God is not unclear. He knows we all owe Him – none are worthy! (7:41-42).

• Jesus wanted the self-righteous to become as the broken – to acknowledge his own unworthiness (7:43)!

• Jesus desired an “exchange of eyes” – as the self-righteous discover their neediness (7:44).

• He contrasted the extreme love of the broken woman as a model to the stayed dignity of the self-righteous (7:45-46).

• Self-righteous men and women can be shocked by how the broken, guilty and shame-filled people are able to shed the need to look good in the hope that someone can love them and accept them – and God lovingly pulls them to Himself (7:47).

God draw near to the heart filled with gratitude, but withdraws from the haughty heart. Think about it this way:

Gratitude presupposes we know we are forgiven. Jesus openly claimed the right to forgive the sin, as well as remove the shame and guilt to those who trust Him (7:48). We need to trust His word. We must gauge forgiveness by God’s Word, not by other people who are also guilty. People are not as forgiving as God is, and they will resist the cleansing of one who has acted shamefully (7:49). Don’t forget, we need to be released from the bondage of shame and guilt, so that we can LIVE for Jesus! In this story, Jesus wanted this woman to know forgiveness and acceptance so that she could go out and LIVE, not cling to Him reliving her guilt over and over (7:50). Gratitude fills us when forgiveness is truly recognized.

The simple truth is that inside each of us we wrestle with the ego that hinders us from continual surrender – and for much of our life that is our single greatest foe. Humility before God, brokenness before God, honest desperation of heart, a hunger to surrender all the dark corners of the heart within, and gratitude for God’s forgiveness and intimate companionship draw Him in. That is the message of the five stories of Luke 7.

There are many people who have stories like the five we have encountered in this lesson. They have been burned by life, and the fires have scarred them and left them hurting. Yet, God wants to use them. Consider this, as we draw this lesson to its close:

Sequoia National Park is a reserve in the southern Sierras of California, in the United States. The park was established in 1890 and spans more that 400,000 acres. It is covered with a variety of trees – some of them are a very resistant kind of pine. These “Lodge Pole pines” were created by God to withstand incredible opposition. Seeds within the pine cones of these trees are not easy to break, like some of the other pine cones we find around our yards. Can you guess when the seeds come out? The cones lay dormant and open only under extreme heat, such as what happens in a forest fire. If you place “Lodge Pole” pine cones in a campfire they pop loudly as they open and expose their protected seeds. The true value of the cone is this: the crisis of a fire, the testing of extreme heat brings the release of the life-giving seeds that will spur reforestation in a fire that destroys other trees.

Maybe your life has been tested by fire. Maybe you feel broken by pain. You should know this: that is exactly when God moves in. It is pride that dismisses Him, while trust, humility and brokenness invite Him.

God draws near to one who opens their heart, but withdraws from one who refuses Him entrance.

God on the Move: “The Divine Right” – The Epistle to the Romans

rope7What do you do when your life is falling apart? For some it can be the dreaded phone call that announced, “Sorry, the test came back positive, we are going to need to discuss options”. Perhaps yours was the announcement of a spouse, or the loss of someone you loved deeply. For others, your job fell apart even though you gave it more than any healthy and sane person should. One minute life is moving along, the next minute a powerful storm pummeled your life, and your plans seem to be in tatters. What do you do?

I read a Huffington Post article some time back by a life coach named Tamara Star. In it she described her process of recovery. I was stuck on how powerful the reversal of her fortunes has been. I don’t know her, and from the sound of what she described, we don’t agree on many lifestyle choices – but we are both human, and I can the heat of pain rising off the page of her writing.

She wrote: “In a 30-day period I lost it all. My money, love, health, a baby, beloved pets, security and pride. My boyfriend at the time broke up with me while I held the still dripping, positive pregnancy pee stick. His response to having a baby with me was to end our relationship and share that he hoped to tile his kitchen and travel that summer.
I lost the baby at nine weeks and suffered an extreme crash of hormones. Being in my 40s, I realized this was probably my last chance to have a child. To make matters worse, 48 hours after losing the baby I learned my bank accounts had been emptied. I had 40 cents in my pocket when I stood at that blinking ATM on an early July morning.
Someone had sued me out of state and due to a loop hole in the serving process, I never received notice and didn’t show up to defend myself. When you don’t show up, it’s as though you’re admitting guilt and judgments were issued — every account was emptied. Seven days later, I was faced with putting my 16-year-old pet down, only to be followed by the rapid decline of my other 15-year-old pet 10 days later. If you’re like me, pets are family. This was a loss beyond words. My health was shot and continuing to decline, my mind was a mess, my heart was broken and I had 40 cents to my name. My father died years ago and I had been the one helping my mother financially. I was in my own words, lost.” (Huffington Post: “How to Bounce Back When Life Falls Apart: posted: 11/25/2013).

Don’t exercise the religious temptation to judge her life choices – that isn’t my point. Listen to her pain. She isn’t alone – people all around us are hurting… In fact, every Sunday, across America and around the world, people will enter churches and seek God. Some will come in with great problems on their heart – financial struggles, failures in love, brokenness in relationships – all seeking both Divine guidance and inner comfort from the One Who created them. Our hurts often make us more sensitive to our vulnerability, and we seek help in times of trouble. In that moment, we need someone to get past judgment and bring us to truth and then transformation. I am not going “soft on sin,” I am trying to make a point. People see their lives as their choice – but when life collapses, they recognize how fragile and out of control life truly is.

In a world where our rights are so often asserted, we may easily forget that we have a God. We are not in control. We didn’t choose our color, our sex, our parentage… none of it. We cannot add an inch to our stature or a minute to our life. We don’t have the power to make change the most important features of our life. We have a God, and He is our Creator, not subject to larger influences, and not limited in options like we are. In fact, one of the great difficulties we have is to recall the truth that the Creator of all that we see and know also has rights – and they are far more significant than our own. That may not seem important in times of pain, but it is the single most transforming truth – that we live in the plans of One greater – we are not our own.

As Christians, we must recognize that God has a right to expect to thoroughly inspect those of us who claim to follow Him. He has the right to mold our lives. He has the right to all the “stuff” we call “ours”. We are not self-made and we cannot be self-fulfilled – in the end our purpose is found in Him. That was Paul’s message to the expanding number of back alley believers in the center of the ancient empire. He wrote that truth to them in a letter of the New Testament that we simple call today “Romans”. It is a letter so often referenced in Christian circles, so often quoted in our literature – one would think EVERY Christian fully grasped its central truth – but that would be wrong. Remember, before it was a book of the Bible, it was a letter, written by a church leader, directed by God’s Spirit – and sent to a growing group of Jesus followers still uncertain about many things…At the core of the letter was this truth…

Key Principle: God revealed the pattern for a growing believer: we are to recognize His work on our behalf, humbly yield to His inspection and correction – and have our lives transformed. That is the true pattern of the Christian life.

Romans were, generally speaking, very confident people who truly believed that in their armed conquests they actually brought “civility” and “culture” to the barbaric tribes north of the Alps. They subdued people with regularity and believed they were “helping” them! They were a proud people caught in a moment of history that seemed to validate their exceptionalism. At the same time, the idea of bowing to a god was not new – but they bowed for “reciprocation” – the notion that they would serve a god or make an offering IF that god performed certain acts on their behalf – a sort of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” paganism. That gave way, eventually to the “patron saints” of the Latin church – but that is a lesson for another time.

Paul’s letter to the Romans was written from the port city of Ephesus in Asia Minor during the third mission journey (54-58 CE, cp. Acts 18:23-21:14). Paul was in his early 50’s when he wrote it, and he made a swift pass through what is now central modern Turkey toward the west coast of Asia Minor, but remaining for an extended stay in Ephesus (nearly three years). A careful reading of what Paul wrote at the time shows that he wanted to take a trip and get away from western Asia Minor, but he was caught – bogged down in the mud of harassing heresies that were hitting the church and being lobbed from all sides at the same time.

In Galatia, Gentile believers were slipping backward from the Gospel – and he wrote Galatians to them to stem off the effects of Judaizers and defectors.

In Corinth, sinful practices and arrogant believers that allowed them in the “name of love” were pulling down the roof on the church. Paul wrote them several letters addressing their compromises and the consequences to the Gospel of each.

In Rome, Paul sense the need for a different kind of letter. This is the one we want to quickly view in this lesson – because he recognized there was both a lack of understanding and resistance to God’s right to inspect their lives and hold the believers to His standard of life. Salvation was by grace through faith, but the life that followed it validated the true access of God to their hearts. Some argued, apparently, for a theoretical faith – one that did not touch life choices. “If God saved me without my work, then He will sustain me without it as well”, they argued. The end result was a named faith that didn’t change them…We can all understand this argument because it hasn’t gone away.

Stop for a moment and consider what Paul said to the Romans in a short paragraph. He wrote:

“Dear brothers in Rome: Because you were, like all mankind condemned judicially before God as a result of our fallen state (1:1-3:20), but God justified you through the completed work of Jesus on the cross and your acceptance of that payment (3:21-5:21), you are His privileged children. Yet, God didn’t stop there with you. The salvation He offered began a transformation in which you were released from bondage to sin (6), and empowered by His Spirit to be distinct apart from any continued obligation to the old atonement system (7-8). Yet God has not forgotten His promises, but rather still maintains His plan to keep His promises to Abraham (9-11). Because of all that God has done for you, it is right for you to submit your life for Divine inspection (12:1-2), and live the life of a real believer (12:2-16:27). In short, God did much for you – and He has a right to hold your life to account. In Messiah’s name, the Apostle Paul.”

Take your Bible in hand, and follow as we pass over the pages of this letter to make sure we grasp the argument completely…

Paul slipped quickly from making much of himself in the opening of the letter when he wrote merely: Romans 1:1 “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…” and moved into a description of the Good News, and the Savior in Whom it rests. He declared Jesus:

• As the “Promised One” in verse 2.
• As a descendent of King David in verse 3.
• As the One declared as God’s Son, announced in the Resurrection in verse 4.
• He was the “Lord” or “Master” in verse 5.
• He was the patron Who called each of those who believed at Rome in verse 6-7.

From the beginning it was to be very clear – Paul’s message was about Jesus the Son of the Living God who was promised to men as the one and only remedy for the sin problem. The Apostle was not a social reformer – his task was to present the simplicity of the Gospel as man’s remedy.

The first statement Paul left us is this: Jesus is Lord – the fulfillment of man’s sin need.

Only a few words into the letter, Paul already expressed thanks that God saved them (1:8) and made their faith known across the world. Paul claimed that he spoke of them often, prayed for them always, and longed to be able to come to them and spend time together (1:9-15). Regardless of any rumor they may have heard, Paul said he was unashamed of the message of Jesus’ death and Resurrection – for it held the power to transform men, both Jew and Gentile. The end point of that message, Paul declared, changed men’s lives to become a clear picture of (not only God’s mercy but also) God’s righteousness (1:16-17).

The second statement Paul left us is this: the Good News of the Gospel is the message of the church.

Moving on in the letter, there is a third important statement Paul wanted the readers to understand…

Man is Condemned (1:18-3:20)

Foundational to our understanding of God’s work, and countering many (if not most) world philosophies is the truth from Scripture that man is broken on the inside as a result of the Fall in the garden of Eden. He is depraved and needs saving… Look at how Paul made the argument:

He wrote:

There is a gap between God and man, and it is known and obvious to all who do not try to cover it over.

Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.

“How do men know it?” you may ask. In Romans 1:20 mark these words: “creation” – “invisible attributes” and “clearly seen”. God says He hasn’t been hiding. Any microscope or telescope will scream DESIGN to one who is honest about it.

In verse 21 Paul made clear that men didn’t want to HONOR GOD – so they made up other explanations for Creation and human history – but they are empty. Truth doesn’t need a vote to become true…it is true whether believed or not.

Man is condemned and it isn’t because God made Himself hard to find.

In verse 24, Paul said God, in response to man’s desire to shut out His right to be worshiped, simply gave man over to the “lust fest” man wanted, but the result is one broken society after another. Verse 27 used the term “degrading passions” for the same sex explosion. Verse 28-31 explodes off the page with all manner of evil that will reign in godless society. If you aren’t familiar with the list, read carefully the text here – or simply consult your local newspaper.

Flip to chapter two, because he is still on the same idea. Mark in 2:1 the words: “condemn” and in 2:2 “judgment”. Paul made the point clearest in 2:5 “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God…”

Lest someone say, “We didn’t know God’s law, so we shouldn’t be accountable to it… God replied: 2:11 “For there is no partiality with God. 12 For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law.” Why? Some had the law and others did not! True, but all men had something inside God wrote into them. Note the word in 2:15: “conscience”. Everyone has one – and everyone violates it. Even if we didn’t have the Word of God in written form – we have a conscience and we don’t follow it whenever it gets in the way of what we truly want to do.

Man is condemned and it isn’t because God “hid the rules” from people as they “tried their best to do good”.

“Wait a minute!” Some may say. “I am religious, and I have had the Word of God in my life for years!” Jews in Rome certainly would have echoed this idea. Paul told them in 2:19 “…[you] are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness..” but drop your eyes down to 2:23 “…You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?

Paul punched them in the practice. “So, you know God’s laws? Do you LIVE them?” Who can say they actually DO the things God told them in every area? His point:

Man is condemned and even religious people cannot claim they really surrender to God. We are condemned, even when it is hidden under a religious cloak.

Paul acknowledged that Jews had some advantages in history. The possessed for centuries the very “oracles of God” in 3:2- the Word of God was passed along to the world by them. At the same time, that didn’t make them righteous. In those very scrolls was the condemning message of 3:10 “…as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; 12 ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”

Man is condemned if left to himself and that is what God has been saying all along.

The next part of the message lifts us every time we hear it. It is our one hope. It is our central message. It is the GOOD NEWS…

God Broke in and Made Justification Possible (3:21-5:21)

God took care of the gap between man and God – He closed the breach and made access to Him possible. He made the unrighteous able to attain righteousness through a gift. Paul recorded in 3:23 “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.” God made a way for judicial satisfaction for condemned man – righteousness was made available to the unrighteous.

Yet, there was still a problem. Access to righteousness wasn’t enough. God led the horse to the water. The horse now had to drink or remain in want. Paul explained man’s role in response to God’s gift. He used Abraham as an example in Romans 4:3 “…For what does the Scripture say? “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due. 5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

Man is justified, not by work, but by trusting the completed work God did on his behalf in the death of Jesus.

Paul made sure they understood that faith was enough. He told them in 4:10 that it wasn’t through “circumcision” but by belief alone. God made the way, but man had to respond to enact the justification personally. A great summary of this whole idea is found in 5:1-2, where he shared: Romans 5:1 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.”

That isn’t the end of the message – and that isn’t the end of this letter. Paul went on to remind those who accepted Jesus as Savior that there was more ahead for them. The point of the book wasn’t simply to DESCRIBE SALVATION in theory, but to offer a pattern for the DAILY RESULTS of surrendering to Christ. Paul made it clear that…

Salvation is about Transformation (6-8)

Life is changed by Jesus. We are not to live like the world. He wrote in 6:1 “…What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Through chapter six he argued that we are “dead to sin” – meaning we don’t have to serve our old nature any longer. We are set free by dying to self and living in Christ. He wrote in 6:5 “…For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin.”

A man or woman who is justified is no longer a slave to the passions, lusts and actions of their former self.

How should they live a life that reflects their freedom? Are they to become like the Jews of old and launch into a careful life of Torah practice? “Not so fast”, Paul said.

In Romans 7:4 he wrote: “Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” He continued in 7:6 “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.”

The Law was given to the Jewish people to accomplish certain ends. Atonement laws led us to understand sacrifice. They are no longer the way to deal with sin – because that work is done already. In 8:1-3, Paul made clear that atonement law – where sin brings the demand of more blood and another death – has been replaced by a completed justification.

A man or woman who is justified cannot live the Law to be transformed as they ought to be – for the Law was incomplete and not for that purpose.

How then can I be transformed into an obedient, surrendered, transforming follower of the Savior? Look at Romans 8 briefly… and there is a word that makes the whole picture crystal clear. See it in verse 8:4? It is the word “Spirit”. Do you see it again in 8:5, not once, but twice? How about again in 8:6? Is it not three times in 8:9? 8:10 has the word, so does 8:11… you get the idea. The second half of Romans 8 helps make clear what the Spirit of God provides, and how we can stand in the face of trouble – because God is changing us from self-willed men and women to surrendered people. Our hope shifts, day by day, from this life to the next.

A man or woman who has been justified by Jesus will be transformed by the Spirit’s power.

Jews in Rome were probably getting a bit upset by this point. After all, they were given God’s Word, and carried it for generation. They were given the promises of God through their Father Abraham, his son Isaac, his son Jacob and his many sons in the tribes from which they sprung. Paul had a message for them as well…

God is Still Keeping His Word concerning Israel (9-11)

Paul had no hard heart for the Jewish people; rather he had a broken heart. Romans 9:1 recorded: “…I am telling the truth in Christ, …2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” Paul ached for the Jewish people and their need of Messiah.

God made them promises, and Paul wanted to be clear that in Christ those promises were still being worked out. He said in 9:6 “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel, 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED…” In other words, throughout time, God has always worked within a subset of those born to Israel’s people. Don’t get sloppy in the reading – everyone in the text here are born as Jewish people – but only some of them are “real” Jews – in the respect that they have more than the name – they have a walk with God.

God is keeping His promise to the Jewish people right now because some of them have found a walk with God through Messiah. They aren’t a majority, but they exist right now.

He made the argument ever so clear by using the words of Isaiah when he wrote: 9:27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “THOUGH THE NUMBER OF THE SONS OF ISRAEL BE LIKE THE SAND OF THE SEA, IT IS THE REMNANT THAT WILL BE SAVED.”

The remnant was small, but it was real. It remained small because, as Paul made clear, Jewish people were trying to make their relationship with God work on their own terms. He wrote in 10: 3 “For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.” He said that the present age was, in part, to help the Jewish people see their distance from God, become jealous of others in their relationship, and turn back to God. He argued this was a long prophesied strategy made known by God as he wrote in 10:19 “But I say, surely Israel did not know, did they? First Moses says, “I WILL MAKE YOU JEALOUS BY THAT WHICH IS NOT A NATION, BY A NATION WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING WILL I ANGER.”

Paul wanted the Jews in Rome who knew God to feel a special part of God’s program as a remnant, but that was not the whole picture. He wanted them to know God continues to have a future for the Jewish people. He wrote in 11:11 “I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. 12 Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!” “Yes”, Paul admitted, “the majority don’t know God today…but that won’t always be the case!” God will do a work in the Jewish people after a time, Paul promised.

To the Gentiles in Rome he offered a stern warning: “11:13 But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. …. 15 For if their [the Jewish people’s] rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” He told them not to become arrogant, but to listen to his words: 11:25 “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery -so that you will not be wise in your own estimation -that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved…”

God will save the people of Israel in the future – every one of them who are alive when Messiah returns to rescue them – because God keeps His word- always.

Paul understood the resistance among Gentiles that were being persecuted by some Jews. How could they still hold God’s promises? Paul answered in 11:28 “From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Men are fickle, but God doesn’t revoke promises.

At this point in the letter, Paul placed the two lines that were the point of the whole letter… God has something they needed to be aware of…and they needed to respond to…

Time for Inspection (12:1-2)

Paul made clear, the letter he was writing was to elicit action. He wanted them to DO something. He told them what it was. He said… On the basis that we were all condemned, that God justified us, that He provided His Spirit and power over sin, and on the basis that He ALWAYS keeps His word…

Romans 12:1 “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” The words are unmistakable…it is time to place yourself under God’s inspection. You will be examined for how thoroughly you have surrendered – how you have yielded to Him and allowed His Spirit to work at your transformation. God will look closely.

God wants to look at your life – all of it. He is not looking for how capable you are – only how much you have truly yielded of your heart to Him.

How will I know if I have yielded…Paul made clear…

What a Christian looks like (12:3-16:27).

• He looks like someone who recognizes the value of other believers, and serves the body faithfully (12:4-13).

• He looks like someone who isn’t combative, but overcomes evil with good (12:14-21).

• He looks like someone who respects authority, even government authority (13:1). He pays his taxable due (13:6) and walks in love of his fellow man (13:7-12).

• He doesn’t feed his own lust (13:13).

• He walks intimately with God and allows God to govern his daily choices (Romans 14).

• He follows the example of the Savior in becoming “other person centered” (Romans 15).

• He builds his life as a team player with others who are following Jesus (Romans 16).

You can tell if someone is a Christian even if they have no t-shirt or bumper sticker that says they are!

Let me encourage you… God is at work in many places today, even where you think He is not.

In December 2001, Sheikh Ahmad al Qataani, a leading Saudi cleric, appeared on a live interview on Aljazeera satellite television to confirm that, sure enough, Muslims were turning to Jesus in alarming numbers. “In every hour, 667 Muslims convert to Christianity,” Al Qataani warned. “Every day, 16,000 Muslims convert to Christianity. Every year, 6 million Muslims convert to Christianity.” Stunned, the interviewer interrupted the cleric. “Hold on! Let me clarify. Do we have six million converting from Islam to Christianity?” Al Qataani repeated his assertion. “Every year,” the cleric confirmed, adding, “a tragedy has happened.“…

Seminaries are being held in caves to train pastors to shepherd the huge numbers of people coming to Christ. Why such a dramatic spiritual awakening? “People have seen real Islam, and they want Jesus instead,” one Sudanese evangelical leader said, Iran — in 1979, there were only 500 known Muslim converts to Christianity, but today Iranian pastors and evangelical leaders say there are more than 1 million Iranian believers in Jesus Christ, most of whom meet in underground house churches. One of the most dramatic developments is that many Muslims are seeing dreams and visions of Jesus and thus coming into churches explaining that they have already converted and now need a Bible and guidance on how to follow Jesus.” (Reported from Worldwide: 174,000 converts daily — David B. Barret and Todd M. Johnson of the Global Evangelism Movement).

If an interviewer would ask me the same question: Why is this happening? I wouldn’t answer anything about Islam – that isn’t the point. I would answer simply: “Because Jesus said the Gospel would get there – and it changes people.

God revealed the pattern for a growing believer: we are to recognize His work on our behalf, humbly yield to His inspection and correction – and have our lives transformed. That is the true pattern of the Christian life. If you know Jesus, the time to get into the pen to be inspected is now.

Following His Footsteps: “Misrepresented” – Matthew 10

misrepresent 2Have you ever had someone misrepresent your position before others? The other day a friend explained to me that he got in trouble at work because he sent an email to someone in another department that was entirely appropriate, but that employee added offensive words to the end of the message and passed them on to his immediate supervisor with a stinging rebuke that made clear they “didn’t want to receive that kind of correspondence again.” Fortunately, my friend had a copy of the original still in his “sent” file – and it became clear that the problem wasn’t his email, but the other employee’s claim that cast a fellow employee in an inappropriately negative light.

When it comes to misrepresentation, we have all had both services and products presented to us without the caveats that made clear what the purchase will and won’t truly do for us. Even worse than these “sales pitches”, everyone in America, unless they have been living in the wilderness “off grid” has been subject to a barrage of commercials about drugs they don’t personally need, with a list of warning of what could go wrong if you TOOK the drug. I find some cases where I suspect I would choose the disease over the side effects of the drugs. “Got insomnia?” the ad says. “Take our drug and you will sleep well, but Medical studies show that you may also lose your hair, teeth, liver and desire to take meaningful nourishment – but, then again, at least you will sleep!” I am wondering what I would do in life as a profoundly hairless, toothless emaciated man who slept well, but needed dialysis twice a week. I think I would just stay up nights, and pick a new book to read to pass the time eating potato chips with my full mouth of teeth, but that’s me…

It occurs to me that if there is anyone in the history of man who has ever been misrepresented, it has to be Jesus. I can think of no one in history who has been misquoted (that is if clear intent matters in accuracy of a quote) more often. Jesus has had many a “spokesperson” – and careful examination of their words show they have perhaps never even “met” Him – and some I doubt ever even “saw” Him. Today’s lesson is about the proper representation of Jesus as He was proclaimed in the Gospels, and as He told men to represent Him and His message. For insights into that question, we have to drop into the Gospels as Jesus was about to send out the twelve to bring His message to surrounding areas near the Galilee shore.

In our last lesson, we looked briefly at a “theme message” of Jesus to the crowds by the Sea of Galilee – a teaching that really exposed the heart of Jesus and how He wanted to be reflected in the actions of His followers. A few chapters later, as Matthew recorded the work of the Savior, we have a different kind of teaching. This one was directed to the handful of disciples that were in final preparations of being sent out to speak to the villages near to Jesus –and the focus of the teaching was on representation of the Messiah and His Kingdom. Here is the simple truth…

Key Principle: Jesus set the tone and gave the message to those who represent Him. Any other presentation that doesn’t match what He established is a misrepresentation of Him.

Before we look at the passage deeply, let’s skim the surface of Matthew 10 and make some quick notes about what Jesus was doing in the record, so we can feel “at home” in the scene. It appears on quick glance that He took (at least) five profound actions as He sent out the disciples:

First, Jesus selected the men and second He empowered the men. Their specially endowed abilities became like a “uniform” or a “badge” that allowed others to recognize their authenticity as “official representatives of Jesus”. Matthew shared it this way:

Matthew 10:1 Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Matthew 10:2 Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.

It is clear from these first four verses that Jesus called each man, knew each one, selected them for the task, and gave them enabling that was neither natural nor from within them. God never tasks us without providing us access to His power to complete His purpose. One other thing is also obvious by the end of verse four – not all of those who experienced the empowering and the representing would graduate from the class. Judas Iscariot was counted in the number. That should remind us that experiencing ministry isn’t the same as following Jesus. Accessing His power is not the same thing as truly being His child by faith. We can DO the right things and not be truly surrendered to the Savior, walking with Him in a way that He has called men and women to do. That was even more obvious from Jesus’ earlier preaching when He warned disciples that “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Did I not cast out demons in your name?’ Yet I will say to them, ‘Depart from Me, I never knew you!’” (cp. Mt. 7:23).

In addition to calling and empowering, a third action of Jesus was that He instructed them. Matthew recalled it this way:

Matthew 10:5 These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; 6 but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. 9 “Do not acquire gold, or silver, or copper for your money belts, 10 or a bag for your journey, or even two coats, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worthy of his support. 11 “And whatever city or village you enter, inquire who is worthy in it, and stay at his house until you leave that city. 12 “As you enter the house, give it your greeting. 13 “If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace. But if it is not worthy, take back your blessing of peace.

Jesus offered the men five important instructions:

• Speak to the God-selected audience. You don’t have to decide who to talk to – follow the instructions you are given.

• Offer the God-selected Word. You don’t choose the script – teach what I give you to say.

• Don’t just speak – act to free people. Focus on needy people – not self-sufficient types. Make sure that in addition to clear teaching, you offer practical assistance – especially in light of the power I am giving you.

• Don’t charge to get the message to people, and don’t carry much. I have people lined up to care for you all along the way – and I will give you a way to decide who they are and what do when you are not with them.

• Find those who are spiritually sensitive and stay with them – blessing them and remaining with them.

Fourth, in addition to instruction, Jesus clearly warned them about situations ahead. Matthew recorded it this way:

Matthew 10:14 “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. 15 “Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city. 16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 “But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; 18 and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19 “But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. 20 “For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. 21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 22 “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. 23 “But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes. 24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. 25 “It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household! 26 “Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.

You must be both shrewd and yet harmless because some will not receive you:

• Remember they will be judged at the right time by the Master- so don’t feel that is what YOU must do. This subject seems to have been a constant temptation Jesus battled in His followers – as He made clearer in Matthew 13 when He said: “The angels are the reapers.”

• Expect to be unjustly treated, physically assaulted and governmentally abused – but don’t worry about your self-defense – God’s Spirit will provide whatever defense God wants you to have.

• Expect even close family to betray you. People will fear for their own lives, as well as be desperate for acceptance of their peers. In fact, the startling truth is that Jesus told His followers that if they valued relationships and peace more than they valued the truth of His message, they were not worthy of Him.

• Expect hatred and persecution, but flee when you see persecution coming – and keep fleeing. Don’t expect it to be fair.. You will face abuse, lies and accusations, and you should expect it– because you are Mine.

• Don’t worry! All the secrets of your persecutors will one day be fully disclosed. You don’t have to work at showing how the people who tell lies are funded or connected – I will bring it all out in the end.

Finally, it before sending the men, Jesus commissioned them to do the work at hand. Matthew recorded:

Matthew 10:27 “What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim upon the housetops. 28 “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 “So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. 32 “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. 33 “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. 34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 “For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; 36 and A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD. 37 “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. 38 “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it. 40 “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. 41 “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. 42 “And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”

Break down the words of Jesus and it is obvious that the charge or commission of the men was four-fold:

• Stick to the script! What I tell you to say is what you should publicly proclaim. Your message is MY message. Your job is to articulate My words, not re-think and re-sculpt My words.

• Take courage! Don’t stop proclaiming because they threaten you, or even kill some of you! God takes no sacrifice on His behalf lightly, and He values your life. Stand up for Me before men and expect I will do so for you before the Father.

• Make sure that you recognize the proper priorities! Do not put any other relationship before Me – that is idolatry. Get set to even lay down your life, so that you will truly gain it. If you hold tightly to this physical life – and you will lose it.

• Remember the promise: God keeps track of what people do – and He rewards the smallest deed done truly for Him.

That is the summary. Jesus selected, empowered, instructed, warned and commissioned a specific group of men to represent Him. That is a helpful nugget of history, but a closer look at the passage will offer even MORE. Step back and ask yourself what Jesus offered by making this a part of the record for His church? While you are thinking about that question, go back with me to your old high school, and stand outside the gymnasium for a moment…

Imagine you were trying out to join the “Varsity squad” of a team in your favorite sport. You showed up for every practice and gave your best effort – and you had some talent in the sport. In the individual try-outs your performance was not the best, but not the worst…and you are hoping to be selected, not only for the team, but for the “starting line-up” of the team’s roster. The day arrived for the team list, and it was posted on the board. In the hallway, outside the coach’s door, the whole team crowded around to see the list of who made the team, and who the starters were going to be. Not everyone that began the first day of practice ended up on the team, for it was necessary to fill the positions with the RIGHT people. Those who were “cut” from the team were those the coach believed would not do as well in the season’s contests. The coach was selecting the team.

Though Jesus was building a totally different kind of “team”, this passage offered His initial followers a list of expectations that Jesus had, as well as some reasonable expectations a disciple should have. It was a reality check for disciples. No one can claim that Jesus made it sound like a vacation to truly represent Him!
Principles of Outreach

First, let’s make something clear based on our study of the Gospels – discipleship was the method by which Jesus intended real and sustained growth in the Kingdom. Jesus didn’t send out the mass of people He fed on the hillside. They were able to spread a “popular message” about a folk Jesus – but they didn’t really know Him well enough to represent Him well. To be a disciple, a man or woman needs to have spent time following Jesus, not just be attracted to the neat things Jesus can do.

Spending time with Jesus, they a disciple saw His passion, and felt the warmth of His love – first for the Father, then for men and women. You see, it is easy to determine when something is aflame; it ignites other material that touches it. The fact is that any fire that does not spread will eventually go out. Jesus “touched” His followers in the discipleship process – and the fire of passion to surrender this life for the promise of the Father spread.

The record of the sending of the disciples reminds us of important principles:

First, we are to GO TO THOSE HE SENDS US TO (10:5-6). Everyone who is called to be a disciple will eventually (after some training) be engaged in deliberately reaching others for Jesus, but the people we reach out to will be selected by God. In time, disciples of Christ will reach all 18,800 people groups on the planet, different disciples will be drawn by God to different groups. (Acts 1:8). Jesus said of His mission, “For even the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10). His method to reach men and women has been through other men and women… Let’s be clear: Evangelism is not an option for a disciple of Christ Jesus – they go when Jesus tells them to go, to whom Jesus sends them. Disciples are intentional, decisive, determined and directed about reaching others for the Master. If that is not a part of your life – you cannot claim to be an obedient disciple.

Second, disciples PREACH THE KINGDOM OF GOD (10:7). The Kingdom literally means, “King’s dominion or control.” We are to declare the truth of recognizing Jesus as Lord – not simply preach a “fire escape message” that allows people a “get out of Hell free” card at death. We must explain that it all begins with a personal relationship with Christ who is the door to heaven. Before people will agree to submit to Christ’s control they need to be introduced to the real Jesus of the Word. Christian Theology in Plain Language, p. 162. H. Richard Niebuhr summarized the core of liberal theology in a single sentence. This shows how and why many churches have lost their zeal for evangelism. “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” (Source: Michael Moriaty, The Perfect 10: The Blessings of Following God’s Commandments in a Post Modern World. p. 86). The Jesus of the Bible is both a loving Savior and a Sovereign Lord – or the Jesus being preached isn’t the One found in the Bible.

Third, disciples of Jesus get a “platform” to speak into people’s lives when they MEET NEEDS. Jesus said, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, and cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” (Matt. 10:8) Christ told them to meet physical, emotional, mental, social, cultural and spiritual needs of people to whom we are called by God to minister.

• Missionaries in Africa are now reaping a great harvest of new souls because the pioneers set up hospitals, schools and leprosariums to meet the needs of the whole person in many of the 54 countries of the African continent.

• Around the year 1800, there were less than 10 million true Christians in Africa, today there may be as many as 400 million in Africa because of the seeds of love sown by the earlier missionaries, and the sacrifices of this generation of mission workers.

We must work today, not only to reach men for today, but to offer a platform for ministry tomorrow. Let me illustrate: Once Napoleon told his soldiers to plant trees along the streets of Paris so they would provide shade for his troops. A top lieutenant said, “It may take twenty five years before those seeds come to full fruition. Napoleon paused and said, “Well, start now, no sense waiting any longer.” (author unknown).

Fourth, disciples should deliberately CHOOSE PEOPLE OTHERS LEFT BEHIND (10:8). Outreach is an expression of our overflowing gratitude for what the Lord has done for us through Jesus Christ. We are not to feel that we are doing something above and beyond the call of duty. Reaching into the lives of others should come out of an overflow of our gratitude for what the Lord has done for us. We should be like the four lepers who discovered the enemy had fled and the necessary food and supplies were now available to the starving in the cities of Israel (cp. 2 Kings 7:9). They said, “This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.” If people do not share the good news of Christ they will be held accountable for their failure to share the cure for sin and eternal life through saving faith in Christ Jesus.

Fifth, disciples TRUST GOD TO BRING NEEDED SUPPORT (10:9-10). We must recognize the Lord will supply us with all our needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:19) Some people hesitate to reach out because they do not think they have enough knowledge, financial resource or emotional strength. Let them realize that as we move ahead in God’s will we will not lack any good thing. Hudson Taylor famous quipped: “God’s will done in God’s way will not lack God’s supply.” Here is the truth: the will of God will never lead you where the grace of God cannot keep you. Real outreach should be the reflection of God’s supply, not the contrivance of men.

Sixth, disciples BUILD AN INDIGENOUS TEAM to spread the message long term (10:11-13). In my experience, the people who have been called “great evangelists” are often people that do not work well with others. There is something wrong with that. Many missionaries are learning that by working through local people who are spiritually open but under-trained, they are far more successful. Local messengers are considered much more credible because they speak the language, understand the social, cultural and educational environment of their audience – and can apply the Scriptures more precisely.

Seventh, disciples have to learn a very hard lesson… to PASS BY THE UNRESPONSIVE. (10:14-15) Jesus said, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.” (Matt. 10:14,15). Apologetics is an important study background, but we must learn not to argue incessantly nor take rejection personally. We cannot internalize criticism directed against our Savior and fight in His place. Remember, many people are reacting out of conviction of their sin and those who recognize the Lordship of Jesus are completely repulsed by it. Lost men want to control their own fate – even though they really DON’T. Control is an illusion they love to savor as truth. Jesus said, “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects Me but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:15,16) Continue to show love, but don’t tie up all your time trying to get those who reject the message of the Lord, as He is fully able to deal with them in His own time and way. Our responsibility is love and clarity, not convincing – that is left to the Spirit of God. When you argue, you can easily get in His way. Maybe it isn’t the content of your message that offends – but the fact that it will cost them control of their own life. At least, if that is the case, they grasped the message.

We should EXPECT OPPOSITION. (10:16-18) There will be opposition both from the agnostic world as well as in the halls of the religious who have made a system that is their own ladder to God, and do not wish to hear of surrender to Jesus. They built their ladder, rung by rung – only to find at the end of life they propped it against the wrong wall. Let every disciple be warned: “Take up the full armor of God so you can stand in the evil day.” (Eph. 6:10-18) We must EXPECT OPPOSITION EVEN FROM HOME (10:21-39) when we stand for Jesus and live by His principles. They oppose the natural order. People don’t want to live a disciplined life. They don’t want to live in monogamy. They don’t want to take responsibility. The world defines freedom as “constant unfettered choice” when it comes to them, but expects another to be faithful to them. Their method doesn’t work and doesn’t make sense – but no matter…they like it their way. Don’t be surprised: Some of the people appear to be our allies may end up opposing God’s priority purposes in our lives. I have watched as my government went from promoting family health to flying rainbow flags on foreign embassy buildings – pushing an agenda that will destroy the nuclear family.

Finally, disciples learn to TRUST GOD’S SUPPLY IN ALL THINGS (10:19-20). Fear is a chief reason some believers do not put themselves into the discipleship process. We are, in a sense, saying “Follow me as I follow Jesus.” Doesn’t that sound arrogant – I “know how to follow Jesus”? It isn’t arrogant, it is obedience. You will slip and fall in front of other disciples – that is ok. Get up. God will use even your failures to get to the goal. Don’t be afraid of the critics. Don’t worry they will trip you up. Jesus said, “So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed or hidden that will not be made known… Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matt 10:26-28) The reverence of God is a great antidote to the fear of men.

The real disciple knows the RESULTS ARE NOT OUR ULTIMATE RESPONSIBILITY (10:40-42). We don’t run the plan. What others will see in our life is this: have we truly surrendered to following Jesus. We are not consultants, we are disciples. He is the Master.

There is an old story about Alexander the Great that is probably apocryphal, but nevertheless makes an excellent point. He conquered the western world with his military strength, cleverness, and sometimes even diplomacy. One day Alexander and a company of soldiers approached a strongly defended, walled city. Alexander, standing outside the walls, raised his voice, demanding to see the king. The king approached the battlements above the invading army and agreed to hear Alexander’s demands. “Surrender to me immediately,” commanded Alexander. The king laughed. “Why should I surrender to you?” he called down. “We have you far outnumbered. You are no threat to us!” Alexander was ready to answer the challenge. “Allow me to demonstrate why you should surrender,” he replied. Alexander ordered a squad of his men to line up single file and start marching. He marched them straight toward a sheer cliff that dropped hundreds of feet to rocks below. The king and his soldiers watched in shocked disbelief as, one by one, Alexander’s soldiers marched without hesitation right off the cliff to their deaths. After ten soldiers had died, Alexander ordered the rest of his men to stop and to return to his side. According to the story, the king and his soldiers surrendered on the spot to Alexander the Great. He could not defeat an army with such resolve. (source unknown).

These men were more than followers – they were dedicated to their master’s victory at any cost. They were HIS MEN. What would happen if the world met Christians with that level of surrender and dedication? They would have met those who knew EXACTLY how to represent the Master correctly. Jesus set the tone and gave the message to those who represent Him. Any other presentation that doesn’t match what He established is a misrepresentation of Him.

God on the Move: “Fight the Good Fight” -Acts 19

Chuck-HagelRecently, many American Christians I have spoken to became deeply concerned with the lack of a coherent strategy to face the growing global threat of ISIS. The mission community is watching this crisis, especially those of us who work in the Middle East region. Watching with horror as journalists were brutalized, many around the world reacted in fear, and wanted the comfort of our governmental leaders – and some are noticeably bitter about not getting what they wanted in assurances from Washington. Others are more concerned with the startling outbreak of the Ebola virus, and the seeming lack of a cohesive plan to combat the illness’ steady sweep through parts of the African continent. In all of this time of crisis, something has become very clear to me, and I believe today’s lesson will bear it out. Many dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus, seem are far less concerned about the lack of a coherent strategy by the church of our generation to “fight the good fight of faith”, as Paul implored Timothy to do. Let me explain…

We live in times of an assault on our faith in the west. We are fighting against pervasive and deadly spiritual enemies that espouse militant naturalism, moral pluralism and ethical relativism. They are taking the halls of our schools, shining into our living rooms night after night on our television sets and blaring through all the speakers of our culture. While ISIS has been around for a short time, the moral slide toward relativism has been occurring in a steady march since I was a child right in my own schoolyard. We wanted the Pentagon and President to articulate a strategy – but I wonder if we have grasped that we as believers have largely failed to project a strategy on our own battle lines. We are in a pitched battle within our own country, and rather than it being symbolized by the lopping off of heads, it is symbolized by the removal of the moral conscience. Yet the Bible offers answers. We don’t have to sit back and be victims.

In fact, I would argue that it is a time for positive heroes to emerge and defend our faith. The victories of the past are swiftly gathering dust, but these are days for God’s people to grab the Biblical strategies of men and women of yesteryear who marched into the pagan world as far back as the first century and turned the place upside down with the message of Jesus. Paul faced a battle doing just that, but he did it with confidence, generosity of spirit, and a positive approach. It is time to revive the old strategy and articulate it all over again!

Key Principle: We must anticipate the battle, and we must use the model to effectively combat the enemies of the Gospel – but God gave us a manual to accomplish the task.

The text for this lesson offers us a series of challenges Paul faced as he moved the Gospel forward, as well how he responded to each of them. They offer more than a history – they offer a pattern…

First, there was the challenge of UNTRAINED FOLLOWERS – people who are open to following God but don’t really know what God said (19:1-7).

Acts 19:1 It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. 2 He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.”3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. 7 There were in all about twelve men.

Look more closely at the procedure Dr. Luke recorded when Paul met the men who were insufficiently trained in the faith:

• Paul found them in the course of his travels (19:1).
• He recognized them as “disciples” (19:1b).
• He examined their beliefs, and determined they were open-hearted, but lacking knowledge of some key parts of what God was doing (19:2).
• He pursued specifics of their background to determine where the breakdown occurred in their spiritual formation (19:3).
• Paul instructed them in specific Scriptures concerning the truths they were missing, and set them in context (19:4).
• The disciples accepted the teaching, and publicly displayed obedience (19:5).
• God empowered the people and led them to the next step of their journey (19:6-7).

I am thankful the story begins with the most enjoyable challenge of ministry – the open but untrained believer. There is no greater joy than working with this kind of follower. My teaching affords me the opportunity to work with disciples that have chosen to take a year of their young lives and learn the Bible. I wish I could explain how it feels to watch them embrace the Word of God!

I am blessed by these few verses, because they remind us of some important truths. First, as we are journeying through life, we will happen upon some who have been led to Jesus, but have not been properly instructed in the Word of God in a way that they can really follow the Lord obediently. They (in the best circumstances) will demonstrate willingness to learn (“teachability”), but they may be using the Bible’s sharp edges in a way that is liable to cut them and others around them. We must consider how careful Paul was to see them as disciples in 19:1, and offer respect and brotherly kindness, in spite of the fact that they may be very poorly taught. Respect is the first key.

A second key drawn from this short account is the inspection Paul made of what they were following. He questioned them as loving brothers, embracing them as colleagues, not chastising them for their lack. It seems clear enough to me that Paul based his treatment of them on their open heart, rather than their developed theology. That should be the signal for us. If someone knows the Lord, and they have the fruit of the Spirit – patience and an honest teachability – we should ask question, listen carefully, and show love. People don’t care what we know until they know that we care about them. If we share truth, it must be in the context of love, and to the point of weakness of their lives. We have limited time together, so we need to address the most important things with the time we have.

The third essential key to dealing with untrained followers beyond respect and inspection is instruction. Note that Paul guided them from the part of the Bible story they knew into the part they did not. They got John’s baptism – they accepted and understood its meaning. They knew repentance. What they didn’t know is that the Lamb John announced did His work, and there was something more they needed to accept. Here is where the fourth key is introduced – challenge. The growing disciples needed to be challenged to step forward and publicly embrace the truth God was making known to them.

Think about what we just saw in the Word. An untrained believer needs to be entreated to grow while being treated with respect. Training them requires that we really listen to them, and inspect what they are saying for Biblical adherence and truth. Where truth is lacking, there needs to be deliberate and careful instruction that is applied to the needy one. Finally, they need to be challenged to live the truth unapologetically. That was the method left to the church by our early church fathers, and recorded by the Spirit’s oversight.

Second, there are DELIBERATE REJECTORS – people who heard the message but were hardened against it (19:8-10).

Acts 19:8 And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. 10 This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.

Stop for moment and consider how Paul handled those who rejected the message of Jesus:

• Paul made sure there was sufficient time for explanation (three months of Sabbaths – 19:8).
• He made every effort to answer their honest questions, and deliberately tried to persuade them of the truth (19:8b).
• When it became clear that they were not truly interested and were bad-mouthing God’s work in their midst– he withdrew (19:9).
• Paul pulled out those who wanted to follow Jesus and who would have been harmed by remaining in the synagogue after his departure (19:9b).
• Paul carefully trained the followers over an extended period – focusing significant energy on building them up before he left them (19:9-10).

Perhaps much harder to face are those who grew up in Christian homes and walked away from the faith, or those who have been misled within our churches, schools and seminaries. One of the most heartbreaking situations to experience as a parent is to raise your child as best you can in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and then watch them rebel against God – sometimes in overt agnosticism or even irate atheism. We have our war stories at the church where I serve – every church does. The problem is that we may spend too much time trying to figure out “where we went wrong” and forget that though we should be on the lookout for how to do things better, it might not be our fault they walked away, and they may not stay that way if we keep on loving them. Instead of focusing on failure, we should look to the model in the text before us.

First, Paul made sure they ACTUALLY HEARD the truth. Just because your child was in a Bible class does not mean the Bible was being carefully explained. The world is only too ready to gang up against any detail of the Word of God – are you sure they have been exposed to a real and systematic teaching of the truth? In Acts 19:8, Paul stood in the teacher’s place for three months before he judged some simply unwilling to hear the truth – but he gave them three months first. We are too quick sometimes, I believe, to write off rebels. They may have honest questions – and they may come right back into the fold if we both love them and offer honest answers to their queries. I am concerned because I run into so many young people that were given a “flannel graph” view of the Bible stories, and never shown how they answer the deepest struggles of the human experience.

• Who can explain pain and set it in context better than God in Job?
• Who can reason why God rooted sexual attraction deeply within man better than Solomon in his Song of songs?
• Who can explain what happened to humanity, why relationships fall apart and genetics are breaking down better than Moses?
• Who can make clear man’s need of a new life better than Jesus did to Nicodemus?

The problem is that many young people (and many older as well) aren’t really confronted with the true problem. Like the Pharisees of old, the “faith” they learned was about cleaning up their act and washing their hands and dishes according to the rules. The fluffy teaching didn’t explain the deep brokenness inside of the depraved human heart, and the solution for its killing effect.

After Paul was sure they were EXPOSED to the truth sufficiently, he made a very hard call. He didn’t keep battling forever to get the rejecter to listen. How many a parent keeps the conversation going LONG AFTER the young person has stopped listening? Paul cut off the discussion, period. He moved the class away from those who didn’t want to hear it. He WITHDREW with those he could continue to teach. I have several friends who represent the truth in tough places (some of them on Facebook where neither truth nor grammar are treasured). Some of them get regularly beat up, and don’t know when to politely withdraw and let people believe what they want to believe.

Christians don’t change hearts. In the mystery of God’s work within, the Spirit presses and the person responds – and much of that process is not really fully explained in the Word. What is clear is the fact that people are often not rejecting US, but rejecting the God we represent.

Not long ago a friend of mine was dealing with a teen who was a mess. He kept disrupting the youth group in the church, but he kept coming. My friend is a godly man, and he and his wife couldn’t figure out how to work with this young person. Gathered in a small circle of trusted friends, he expressed that he was almost at the point of giving up and walking away, dismissing this young fellow and telling him not to return. Don’t judge him harshly – the young person had twice been caught with drugs on the church campus, and had attempted to draw several other young people into sexual situations – and parents demanded a response. I admit that I was on the page of protecting the other children, when a large African American man sitting with us spoke up. He said: “Can you introduce me to that young man?” The youth leader agreed. Awhile later I asked the man, “What are you going to do?” He smiled and said, “When I was thirteen I was molested by an uncle who was a deacon in my church and a Sunday School teacher. I know this kind of pain, and I want this young person to at least have one solid opportunity to feel loved, trusted and then have an occasion where they can open up about why they are acting out.” This wasn’t long ago, but I am glad that man is taking on the challenge instead of writing off a young man. We’ll see where it goes as time passes. My point is that there comes a time when we cannot chase down those who choose to reject, but we need to be careful to really get the message through to their broken heart first, or we are robbing them of a response, and ourselves of watching God heal.

Third, there were FALSE FOLLOWERS – those who were not walking with God, but using His name (19:21-22).those who imitated God’s work (19:11-20).

Acts 19:11 God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out. 13 But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” 14 Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this.15 And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” 16 And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 This became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified. 18 Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. 19 And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.

In addition to some who were ignorant of the truth but open to God, and those who were informed but openly resisted the message of Jesus, Paul also had to deal with people who claimed to be a part of the move of God, but who were not:

• Paul was being used by God in powerful ways that were clearly God at work (19:11-12).
• Imitators thought they could “co-opt” the work of God and began to try to imitate what the Apostle was doing (19:13).
• Messing with the spiritual world, the men said the right things, but didn’t have the relationship with God to deal effectively with the spiritual world (19:14-16).
• The enemy’s attack was used by God to spread the Gospel, and remind people that the evil one was real and at work (19:17).
• Paul confronted the spiritual darkness, and as people continued to be a part of the work, they surrendered their dark practices (19:18).
• God convicted people, and they destroyed their attachment to the old life in front of all (19:19).
• While magic books were being destroyed, the Word of God was growing and spreading (19:20).

Fake followers have always been around. Some of them lead large congregations and have TV shows, but their lifestyle, if examined, shows an incredible financial attachment to the Gospel. Others join what they view as a spiritual circus, because they think they can be performers.

Yesterday a friend of mine urged me to watch a YouTube of “American Idol” singers coming together to sing “Shout to the Lord!” He was excited. I wasn’t. I am glad there is a public place for truth, and I celebrate that. At the same time, my Lord didn’t come to make hits or draw TV audiences – He came requiring repentance and offering salvation. I personally would struggle watching a stage filled with people who have no real relationship with God, based on their open lifestyle choices, singing praise to a God they don’t serve. That may sound quite “judgy” but I think there is a point at which we need to expect some people to use our faith for popularizing their agenda, not for promoting God’s Word.

I will not thank the world for throwing scraps from my faith in order to keep Christians watching their show, or offer an occasional “hat tip” to Jesus. I lived through both the Jim and Tammy Faye and the Oprah periods, and I have seen the damage of mixing statements of worship with lifestyles that do not match the Bible. More people are turned to darkness when people who don’t know God masquerade as people who do. I don’t’ want to campaign to stop it, but I won’t support it either.

Look at what God did for Paul. The apostle focused on moving the ministry forward, and God stepped in to unmask the fakes. We cannot ignore the charlatans, but we don’t need to spend vital energy focusing on them. I have no problem with Al Mohler making clear that Joel and Victoria Osteen don’t speak the truth and don’t seem to know the Bible. At the same time, that is about all the energy I am going to give to that subject – because we have disciples to make and a Bible to teach…and frankly that is all I have the energy for these days! The charlatans and their ilk lead us to their offspring… the fourth challenge to Paul…

Fourth, there were ERRING BELIEVERS – people who began in a walk with God, but were drawn into sin and error that required correction (19:21-22).

Acts 19:21 Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” 22 And having sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.

In Acts 19, this group is hard to pick out if you don’t know the chronology of the life of the Apostle Paul – and that chronological approach is what we are following in this series of lessons. There is some background that will help explain this fourth challenge. Corinth, though a group among whom Paul spent significant time (a year and a half) during the second journey, erupted into division and disobedience. Meanwhile in Rome young believers seemed to be facing a need for a careful explanation of justification. At the very same time, across Galatia Gentile followers of Jesus were under attack by traveling Jewish teachers that were causing significant defections from the church. The church was getting pounded from all sides. How did Paul respond in these months to this “defecting challenge” by erring and attacked believers?

• He sent some men to carry a message to the people from God – offering them clear direction (cp. 1 Corinthians; Acts 19:21).
• He made plans to visit the center of the problem when God enabled him (19:21b).
• Many scholars believe he remained because he was dealing with other groups who were defecting from the faith because of pressure (cp. Romans and Galatians; 19:21b, in the upcoming studies we will examine these problems and Paul’s responses by letter).
• He remained in Ephesus, worked on instruction by letter to Galatia and again to Corinth. In each case he carefully listened to reports and responded with prayer and very pointed teaching directed to them about their situation (19:22).

The pattern God left us through Paul’s work and Luke’s record of it was this: when correction was needed, care had to be taken to settle down and systematically answer the attacks. Hours, weeks and months of Paul’s life were taken up behind closed doors in prayer and the construction of carefully worded letters to answer each defection situation. The work of correction is a major part of the work of pastoral leadership, and Paul was a Pastor’s pastor. It is a sacred duty, but it is also very much a privilege. In recent years I have begun more and more writing, because I believe that a legacy needs to intentional.

Now before we get any further, I don’t think I am a Paul, and I don’t think what I write will have all that much enduring quality. What I am saying is this…time matters. People matter. Discipleship matters. We have only so many years on the planet, most of us, to accomplish the calling God places on our lives. I feel called to do certain things, and that isn’t a statement of my goodness as much as it is a dramatic statement of God’s patience.

Paul took the time to write several letters during the period of time he lodged in Ephesus. Unlike his feelings during the second journey, when Paul was alone and pining for his team – this time he sent them away on important missions, and worked to build new teams. He wrote and wrote to explain the great doctrines of the faith, as well as to combat the error that was chewing up the hearts of younger believers. He taught, preached, wrote and prayed. He traveled and encouraged. He followed God’s lead and honored God’s Word. A man called of God could wish for little more.

There is a great error in taking one’s self too seriously. Yet, I have to admit, that a great number of friends I know have made a greater error not taking God’s call seriously enough. They have judged the call too big and themselves too small – and that helps them excuse shrinking back from the larger tasks. As we develop discipleship, grow Christian followers and even work to build called leaders for the coming generation, I don’t want to hear from our team about how much it costs – it is our privilege to serve God for the few years we have… and time matters. It matters not only in evangelism for the lost, it matters in growth of the saved. If we reach young people, but do not equip them for the storm that is coming in their university to tear their faith away, we will have done little to further the cause of Christ. We will leave them as sheep among wolves – undefended and easily wounded. Erring believers are a pain sometimes, but they are a privilege always.

Fifth, there was THE LOST WORLD – the confrontation with pagan religious systems that dominated his world (19:23-41).

Acts 19:23 About that time there occurred no small disturbance concerning the Way. 24 For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, was bringing no little business to the craftsmen; 25 these he gathered together with the workmen of similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business. 26 “You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable number of people, saying that gods made with hands are no gods at all. 27 “Not only is there danger that this trade of ours fall into disrepute, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis be regarded as worthless and that she whom all of Asia and the world worship will even be dethroned from her magnificence.” 28 When they heard this and were filled with rage, they began crying out, saying, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 The city was filled with the confusion, and they rushed with one accord into the theater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia. 30 And when Paul wanted to go into the assembly, the disciples would not let him. 31 Also some of the Asiarchs who were friends of his sent to him and repeatedly urged him not to venture into the theater. 32 So then, some were shouting one thing and some another, for the assembly was in confusion and the majority did not know for what reason they had come together. 33 Some of the crowd concluded it was Alexander, since the Jews had put him forward; and having motioned with his hand, Alexander was intending to make a defense to the assembly.34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, a single outcry arose from them all as they shouted for about two hours, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 35 After quieting the crowd, the town clerk said, “Men of Ephesus, what man is there after all who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of the image which fell down from heaven? 36 “So, since these are undeniable facts, you ought to keep calm and to do nothing rash. 37 “For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of our goddess. 38 “So then, if Demetrius and the craftsmen who are with him have a complaint against any man, the courts are in session and proconsuls are available; let them bring charges against one another. 39 “But if you want anything beyond this, it shall be settled in the lawful assembly. 40 “For indeed we are in danger of being accused of a riot in connection with today’s events, since there is no real cause for it, and in this connection we will be unable to account for this disorderly gathering.” 41 After saying this he dismissed the assembly.

The final group that challenged the early believers in this text were found on the cobbled street lined with vendor’s shops and trinket salesman. Paul felt the heat of the battle with the enemy in a number of ways revealed previously in Acts 19, but among these shopkeepers Paul grappled with open conflict against an ingrained paganism backed by self-interested financiers.

• Note that in the midst of a two front battle between Galatia to the east and Corinth to the west, the enemy took that moment to spring into local disturbance (19:23).
• At the heart of the commotion was a financier and businessman, who had a financial motive to promote paganism (19:24-25).
• At the heart of the attack was not true religious belief, but rather a self-interest and wealth motive – but that will fade in the reasoning and be hidden behind some faked spiritual devotion (19:26-27).
• Watch carefully and identify the fingerprints of the enemy. First, there was a stirred “rage” (19:28), then a tumult and “confusion” all about (19:29). Crowds pounced on believers who were not doing anything to incite the people (19:29b), while the leaders were divided about the safety of helping the disciples (19:30-31).
• Paul went to stand as defender of the faith (19:30).
• The enemy used the “bandwagon effect” to draw a crowd that was not even specifically informed as to the nature of what they were “against” (19:32). They found themselves shouting down people without any guiding principles (19:33-34).
• The “moderate pagan speakers” offered their own conclusions as if they were obvious “facts” and anyone who opposed them clearly – but tried to get the people to follow just procedure (19:35-41). If you listen carefully enough, you will note there was nothing the individual believer was doing that caused the attack (19:40, note the phrase “no real cause”).

Demetrius’ logic was all about his wallet. The bandwagon goons jumped on without even knowing the depths of meaning in the cause or considering the reality of their positions and the consequences of their stand. We are seeing it more and more. Someone is gunned down. Riots ensue, and in the end looters steal from their own neighbors in the name of injustice. None of it fixes anything, and it doesn’t make sense. It is a display of self-interest masked as public good. Stay tuned, it will stay with us, and has been around since the first century. That’s ok, because we have a pattern to follow, and that is what we needed.

Black Bart was a professional thief whose very name struck fear as he terrorized the Wells Fargo stage line. From San Francisco to New York, his name became synonymous with the danger of the frontier. Between 1875 and 1883 he robbed 29 different stagecoach crews. Amazingly, Bart did it all without firing a shot. Because a hood hid his face, no victim ever saw his face. He never took a hostage and was never trailed by a sheriff. Instead, Black Bart used fear to paralyze his victims. His sinister presence was enough to overwhelm the toughest stagecoach guard. -Today in the Word, August 8, 1992.

We don’t need to be afraid; we know the face of our enemy very well. God’s Word unmasks his identity and makes clear his methods – so that we are not ignorant of his schemes… We must anticipate the battle, and we must use the model to effectively combat the enemies of the Gospel – but God gave us a manual to accomplish the task.

Following His Footsteps: “Journey in a Foreign Land” – Matthew 5-7

JetPicAt age 19, I left my home and my family in New Jersey to go to an archaeological school in Jerusalem. I had never flown in a plane. I never before had a stamp in that brand new, spotless and blue, US passport. I hadn’t traveled much past the Philadelphia tri-state area for the first part of my life. I hadn’t stayed in a hotel, and (probably because of the size of our family) hadn’t eat outside my mom’s kitchen for most of my life. The trip was exciting, but I don’t mind telling you it was also a bit scary. The languages of Hebrew and Arabic were a mystery, I couldn’t even read their characters. The tribal nature of the Arab culture was utterly foreign to my way of thinking. The only thing I knew of Judaism was that my childhood dentist was Jewish – and I didn’t like dentists as a rule, but that was not exactly an informed decision about a cultural group.

It isn’t an exaggeration for me to say that those days in Jerusalem changed my life. I learned about the Bible’s native culture, and was thrilled to learn about the huge pile (pun intended) of archaeological evidence for the Bible that I had placed so much trust in since I came to Christ. I learned that Arab culture preserved many ancient practices and methods that were familiar to the ancients, while the Hebrew language – revived over one hundred years ago and now spoken throughout Israel – made clear the details of Bible stories that seemed distant and obscure before I studied them. The Bible came alive in the flora and fauna of its ancient home… but those weren’t the only lessons I gained.

I learned what it was like to be in a crowded city, and yet feel intensely lonely. I experienced being “on the outside” as part of a tiny minority as it regards issues of faith and culture. I felt people despise me simply because I was Christian. You see, I was an alien in a place I admired – it wasn’t MY place. Sometimes it hurt because I couldn’t join in the things going on around me – I was different, that was made very clear to me, many times.

I mention all this because I want to assure you as we look at a well-known portion of Scripture, that I understand some of the emotion behind resistance to following what Jesus taught in the “Sermon on the Mount” before we begin our study. I know why this sermon can prick the heart of even the most experienced in the faith….It takes barely fifteen minutes to read aloud in Matthew 5-7, but it is riveting, powerful and penetrating. The problem of the sermon isn’t the complexity – it is very simple. The problem is its proposition – it is painful.

A careful reading of the sermon will yield one clear observation: Jesus repeatedly called for His followers to be DISTINCT from the world around them. He urged them not be like the people who were dominating the religious landscape, (like the Pharisees) nor like those who did not know God… His followers were to be distinct. They were to be different. They were to live out a practical righteousness that was unique in their time, and show themselves to be a disciple of Jesus – a true follower of the Master’s teaching. This is the hard realization: Following Jesus makes us aliens in a world we used to feel at home in…

Key Principle: A disciple of Jesus doesn’t BLEND in. He or she is called to exhibit attitudes, make choices and stand on commitments that are distinct from the world around them.

Look at the beginning of Matthew’s account of the famous sermon of Jesus:

Matthew 5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying…

Stop reading in the middle of the sentence before you hear what Jesus taught. It is important to set the message in context. The landscape was set on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. A slope in the early morning drew a crowd, and the early public ministry of Jesus was just getting underway. Fishermen, stone masons, bakers, leather workers, shepherds, cheese makers – the lot gathered to hear what the now rising itinerant speaker was presenting. His preaching voice carried over the rocky slope, and Matthew remembered this as a major address, giving it a large and complete telling in his account. The words Jesus spoke on that mountain were no doubt compelling, but the other Gospel accounts remind us they were delivered again and again in other places and settings. Because that is true, let’s look at these words as a well-remembered “theme message” of Jesus.

The sermon can easily be divided into three major parts:

• The Character Traits of a True Disciple (5).
• The Commitments (Daily Practices) of a True Disciple (6:1-7:12).
• The Choices (Ultimate Direction) of a True Disciple (7:13-29).

The Character Traits of the Disciple

Jesus wanted His followers to understand that He expected them to be unique, to stand out, and to display character traits that would mark their lives. He opened the message with these eight traits, but they offered a coherent sketch of one kind of individual – the dependent kind:

Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus wanted His followers to be absolutely clear about the fact that HE was to be the center of their lives, and He could not use anyone who was unwilling to yield their importance to Him – and make Him the Master of their lives. How did He say it? He said:

You cannot be about YOU and ME (5:1-12) at the same time. I am seeking one who is:

• POOR IN SPIRIT – not self-dependent (3),
• ONE WHO MOURNS – not someone who is self-secure (4),
• ONE WHO IS GENTILE – not a self-reliant person (5),
• ONE WHO HUNGERS AND THIRSTS FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS – not one who is self-satisfied (6),
• ONE WHO IS OTHER PERSON CENTERED – not a self-focused person (7),
• ONE WHO IS SINGULAR IN HEART – not one who is divided within (8),
• ONE WHO MAKES PEACE – not someone with a power agenda (9),
• ONE WHO CAN TAKE THE PERSECUTION – not a self-defensive person (10-12)

If I readily admit that I am bankrupt in my spirit, I am not self-assured. If I look within and see such lack as to fill my eyes with tears – I am not smug. If I seek to offer gentleness to others, I acknowledge my need of them. If I long to be righteous, I admit my current inner darkness. If I am willing to have my heart reduced to purity, I already recognize that without heat, the dross will pollute it.

Step back and you will see one idea that protrudes through these rich words… Jesus had no need of self-made men and women. He wanted the wounded, the broken, the inadequate. That was the room in which He chose to make His closest friends. The less someone believed in themselves, the closer they were to being ready to allow Jesus to change them, run their lives, and follow His commands. Let’s be clear: Weak people make great disciples; self-made and self-assured people make lousy disciples.

A second kind of person was also mentioned by Jesus as one with the character traits that were right for a disciple… that of the loyal kind. Jesus said:

Matthew 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

This saying is often badly misunderstood. There are two facts the Bible student needs to get it right: first, that salt in the region was collected by the Dead Sea and placed on the table in a “chunk” with the dirt mixed in. As people took from the salt chunk all of the salt, what was left was mainly dirt – and the salt lost its savor. Second, the preservation use of salt doesn’t seem to be the main idea here. Mark 9:50 appears to be the cross reference to this passage, and the reference is about loyalty between disciples:

Mark 9:50 “Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Jesus was looking for people who would lock arms together and follow Him together. He wasn’t expecting the “Long Ranger” or “Superman” type. He celebrated the disciple that was willing to do something that others got the credit for; He sought the one who cared more for the team than self-exaltation. Make no mistake about it – Jesus likes team players. He chooses disciples who want to build up others, not those who enjoy tearing down others. Religious people get a special thrill out of tearing down those who don’t measure up – but Jesus chastised that behavior, and didn’t pull that kind of smug and arrogant type on His team. He wanted people who could celebrate others, not run them down and make them feel small.

A third trait also attracted Jesus’ attention – Jesus sought people who recognized they would not blend into the crowd, but rather would walk before others and be the kind that offered an example. Jesus said:

Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; 15 nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

The fact is, Jesus told His followers that they were unable to be a true disciple and remain anonymous. They would not be hidden, because they were not called to be hidden! Their purpose was to live in such a way that others would turn to the Father in Heaven because of their example. They would be a sign of God’s living transformation, and point people to the One who was making the changes in their lives. The simple fact is that Christians don’t blend in, because they want others to see the God that is at work in them. They don’t hunger for personal attention, rather they crave God’s exaltation and serve others to get them to consider the work God can do in them as well. They put their life on display without the desire to be affirmed in themselves.

When we step away from the first sixteen verses of the sermon, we can clearly see that Jesus chose dependent, team-loyal, willing models to join His discipleship team.

The Source of Standards for the Disciple

The thumbnail sketch of those Jesus called for discipleship notwithstanding, there was a second feature of the call that was very carefully taught by the Savior – the source of the standard of ethics for His follower. The standard of their training was not mysterious; Jesus called disciples who recognized the value of God’s revealed Word, particularly in the principles found in the Law. The standard wasn’t other religious people – it was God’s Holy Word – and every timeless principle it revealed.

Jesus plainly said:

Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. 18 “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

No one can claim to be a disciple and have little regard for the Word of God. Even though the Law was given for Israel in a specific context, it was built upon the character of an unchanging God, and not a word of it was spurious. Jesus loved the Word, taught the Word, explained the Word…and is the living embodiment of the Word made flesh. Jesus taught that no command of the Creator could be routinely pushed aside – His Word has pre-eminence over all else. No teacher can decide to carve out of the Word something God has spoken – as the Pharisees did. Religious men often believe the things that offend them offend God – and they entitle themselves to add selections to the Word of God that originated in their own egos.

The law was given as Jesus’ standard but only when understood within its original intent (5:18-48). The measure of a disciple was not the Law plus the additives of the rabbis – but the Law as it was originally delivered – following the principles that the Father in Heaven cared about.

God cares more about people than about religious celebration. Jesus said:

Matthew 5: 21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER ‘ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’

Follow the line of His teaching all the way down to 5:26 and you will see clearly that “killing” was something that could be done to the body OR the spirit. It would be done with the mouth, and it disqualified one from worship. Jesus said it was more important to make right broken relationships than to make offerings and perform religious celebrations.

God cares more about inner disciplines than outward piety. Jesus said:

Matthew 5:26 “Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent. 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY ‘;

No sooner did Jesus say that than He made it clear that adultery could occur without a movement, solely in the lustful heart. Every part of the disciple was to be surrendered and cleansed, disciplined and submitted – because God desired that more than their attendance at the Temple.

God cares more about integrity than theological intricacy. Jesus said:

Matthew 5:31 “It was said, ‘WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE ‘;

The teachers of the Law of Jesus’ day had taken to word trickery at the cost of integrity when it came to promises – even in the most important area of marriage. They had theologically accepted games that allowed their vows to seem clear, but really have a completely different meaning. Jesus upheld the value of vows, and rebuffed any attempt to water down our word with slick games. A disciple should say what they mean, then stick to their word. His disciples are called to speak honestly, and lived without the complication of deception that marks people who routinely “double speak.”

God cares more about drawing people to Him by life testimony than disciples getting justice now. Jesus said:

Matthew 5:38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.

People of Jesus’ day took a standard of Law that was designed to urge than any punishment fit the crime, and turned it into an individual license for revenge. Jesus urged His “would be disciples” to consider the value of doing more than was demanded and giving more than was asked for in order to be a testimony to their Master’s teaching, and draw others to God.

God cares more about how you treat those who mistreat you than those who affirm you. Jesus said:

Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.

The Master made clear that anyone would naturally care for those who show them love, but the measure Jesus considered was how one handled the persecutor, the hard to love, the dissenter. He made it incredibly clear: “Love your enemies” – period. The standard that was acceptable in the world was not the standard that was acceptable to His disciples. In the end, Jesus made it clear yet again… His disciples were to be distinct. They were to be different… and one of the places that was to be ever clear was in the face of persecution and those who meant harm to His followers. Jesus stood unimpressed by the warm embrace we can offer for those who already love us, for He called us to seek to offer that warmth to those who appear to hate us.

Each of these five statements were examples of how Jesus used the principles of the Law to demonstrate the standard of righteous living to His followers. Yet, a disciple needed more than principles, they needed clarity when it came to daily practices of their faith. What exactly WAS the commitment of discipleship? When they “signed on” what were they agreeing to do?

Eight Commitments (Practices) of My Disciples (6:1-7:12):

Jesus broke down the daily practices into eight essentials:

First, His followers were to give –but their giving was before an audience of One – God alone (6:1-4). They were to avoid public displays for God that were given specifically to be noticed by others. There was to be no intentional show (6:2), and they were to make a concerted attempt to cloak their giving for the “Father’s eyes only” (6:3-4).

In the same way, the second practice was praying intimately (6:5-15), but taking care to avoid hypocrisy (5:5) and seek to pray in privacy (5:6). Disciples avoid meaningless expressions (6:7) and don’t take cues from the pious who don’t know God (6:8). When real disciples pray they acknowledge: the Person of God, the Place of God, the Perfection of God, the Plan and Purposes of God, the Petitions of need, the Pardon from God, the Protection of God, the Power o God and the Praise to God!

A third practice was that of fasting – but again it was for the audience of One (6:16-18), avoiding outward shows (6:16) and deliberately trying to keep from public view the private work of God in us, so that it is not cheapened and we are not tempted to be showy (6:17).

Nicholas Herman worked in the food service industry. He was a short-order cook and bottle-washer. But he became deeply dissatisfied with his life; he worried chronically about himself, even whether or not he was saved. One day Nick was looking at a tree, and the same truth struck him that struck the psalmist so long ago: the secret of the life of a tree is that it remains rooted in something other and deeper than itself. He decided to make his life an experiment in what he called a “habitual, silent, secret conversation of the soul with God.” He is known today by the new name given to him by his friends: Brother Lawrence. He remained obscure throughout his life. He never got voted pope. He never got close to becoming the CEO of his organization. He stayed in the kitchen. But the people around him found that rivers of living water flowed out of him that made them want to know God the way he did. “The good brother found God everywhere,” one of them wrote, “as much while he was repairing shoes as while he was praying with the community.” After Lawrence died, his friends put together a book of his letters and conversations. It is called Practicing the Presence of God and is thought, apart from the Bible, to be the most widely read book of the last four centuries. This monastic short-order cook has probably out-sold novelist John Grisham and Tom Clancey and J.K. Rowling put together. (sermon central illustrations)

A fourth practice was saving in the right place (6:19-24), keeping at center our focus on things eternal, not earthly – to help us keep our hearts on target (6:19-21). We must keep a clear agenda and open heart (6:22-23) determined to serve God above any other agenda or goal (6:24).

A fifth practice was to push worry out of our lives, and learn to trust God with our lives (6:25-34). Disciples must remember God is powerful (6:25-26). Though we have no power over many things (6:27), God is able to meet our needs in elegant ways beyond our comprehension (6:28-30). Our confidence must become a testimony that marks us as different (6:31-32). If we focus on following God, He will take care of the rest for us (6:33-34).

Once time filming a movie in the desert and an old Indian walked up and said, “Tomorrow Rain.” The next day it rained. Week later the old Indian walked up again and said “Tomorrow storm.” Three days later walked up and said “Hail storm.” The director was amazed with the Indian, and he told his secretary to hire the Indian so He could predict the weather for the remaining of the shoot. However, after several accurate predictions the old Indian did not show up for 2 weeks. Finally the director sent for him. They found him and told him the director was counting on him for his weather predictions because there was a big shoot coming the next day if the weather permitted it. “What is the weather going to be like?’ The old Indian shrugged his shoulder and said, “Don’t know… radio is broken.” (sermon central illustrations)

A sixth practice is that of the examining properly our companions and ourselves (7:1-5). We are not to judge another with a standard different than we judge ourselves (7:1-2). We must not overlook our issues to spot theirs (7:3-4) but deal with our issues first (7:5).

Someone has said: “A Buzzard and a Humming bird fly over the same desert. One is looking for something dead and rotting. The other is looking for pretty, colorful flowers. BOTH find what they’re looking for!” (source unknown).

A seventh practice is that of guarding God’s truths (7:6). We are to understand the value of what God has given us, and be careful not to treat His Word as common. Guarding includes where and among whom we share God’s truth.

Finally, an eighth practice includes seeking confidently God’s provision (7:7-12). Disciples ask for what they need (7:7-8) and understand the Father is good, and is FOR us (7:9-12). He is not stingy, nor does He delight in withholding good things!

Four Choices of a True Disciple (7:13-27)

Jesus’ sermon closed with four couplets that emphasized the fact that a true follower must come to a place of choices concerning Jesus’ teachings:

He told of two gates (7:13-14): A true disciple must choose the path less traveled, opting to forego the way “every one else” seems to be going! You have a choice!

He told of two fruit trees (7:15-20): A true disciple will be careful to watch the fruit of a teacher before following their message (7:15-17). He will recognize the fruit exposes the type and usefulness of the tree (7:18-20). You must evaluate my teaching as true!

He pointed spoke of two confessions (7:21-23). A true disciple won’t just speak as though they know me, but will live according to My teaching (7:21). Some will even be self-deceived into thinking they experienced My power in places where My presence was not even found (7:22-23). You must submit to obeying My words!

Finally, He spoke of two foundations (7:24-29). If you hear and then follow My word you are building well (7:24-25). If you hear my teaching but don’t allow it to transform you – you are setting yourself up for a future collapse (7:26-27). My teaching must be transforming you!

Think as we close this lesson of the early disciples of Jesus. They had no history behind their movement. They had no public identity. They had no publishing houses, no music ministries, no publicly performed dramas, no seminaries to train preachers and no architecturally designed church houses. They often met in secret, in the darkness of night, in a private villa. They cared for each other and they shared with each other – even when they barely had enough. They loved Jesus, and they showed that, not by carrying a big Bible and sitting in a prominent place in church meetings – but by how they loved those who persecuted them and how they lived exemplary lives. Soldiers in the Roman army surrendered to Christ in large numbers – because they were the devices of persecution that encountered Christians first hand. The early disciples stood out, even when they had no public banners, building markers or t-shirts. What showed the world their faith and their Savior was their distinct behavior. They acted like they were in love.

A disciple of Jesus doesn’t BLEND in. He or she is called to exhibit attitudes, make choices and stand on commitments that are distinct from the world around them. This is the chief problem with Jesus’ call to discipleship. He wants people who will live like this world is a foreign place – not people who will try to make this world a HOME to them. He wants followers to treat our time here as a journey in a foreign land… where we never “fit in”. That is a tall order – and few there be that truly do it.

Following His Footsteps: “The Paper Cut Test” – Mark 1 and 2

paper cuts1Did you ever get a simple little “paper cut”? Isn’t is unbelievable that you can be so careful, eat right, exercise, maybe even go off to the gym and really try to get in shape, and a simple piece of paper can wound you in such a way as to distract you all day long? Not long ago, I was trying to organize some notes for a rather detailed speech I had to give to a group up north. One of the last things I do before I am going to make any kind of presentation is to check to see that I have all the pages in the stack, and that they are in the right order. In the process of checking the pages, the stack began to slip away from me, and as I grabbed the falling papers, one cut into my skin in two places between my first two fingers. It wasn’t any big deal, and I barely noticed it until after the presentation. A group of us decided we would go out for a bite to eat, and the place we went had a special on their renown “corn of the cob.” I wanted to give it a try, and used my normal method of dousing the cob in butter, followed by an unhealthy dose of salt. You know where this is going… the salt found its way into both of my paper cuts and suddenly I felt like my fingers were undergoing surgery. I could barely enjoy the meal…obviously I was experiencing a “first world” problem. At this point, some of you may be recognizing me for the true wimp that I am.

It occurs to me that if rocks can be sculpted and cut through by the long term and constant drip of water, if a fully grown adult man can be dislodged by a swarm of tiny bees, if a vast oak tree can be felled by the work of small termites… paper cuts can do significant damage to even the most strong and efficient office workers. Seriously, sometimes it isn’t the BIG ISSUES that tear us down – but the steady wear of small ones. It is clear that method of attack was used against the Savior, and it may be used against you as well – so it is worth exploring as we follow the early part of the ministry of Jesus.

Let’s remember first that the Savior came to serve His Father and to develop a ministry to people that was both effective and sustainable. He took care to model for us how to care for people, and how to prioritize the work of God as we represent Him before a lost world. At the same time, the Gospel writer included for us something more – the enemy’s attack on Jesus’ ministry. He attacked every forward move of that ministry – as is his method. Some of the attacks were profound and pronounced. For those, we have been taught to pray fervently, armor up and stick together, huddled around the Word. They come, and in those dramatic moments people are tuned to pray. Yet other attacks are more like the steady wear of “paper cuts” designed to annoy and draw spiritual blood and energy from the work. It is now as it was then…

Key Principle: Ministry is not only tested by the more profound struggles, but energy can be significantly drained by steady harassment of the enemy.

There are a number of weights on your walk with God and your service to Him that are common among people who want to be used of God to care for and reach others. Since every believer is to be intentional about ministry, it is important that we identify the points fo attack that are used to cause that strain and look for the pattern to overcome their influence:

First, let’s recognize the call to make disciples puts a strain on those who do it (Mark 1:16-20; 2:14-22). We’ll call it a “drain”.

The beginning of Mark’s Gospel offers some snapshots of Jesus choosing the disciples near the Sea of Galilee. Let’s look at two of them so that we can identify the kinds of pressures disciple making can place on those who follow Jesus by doing it:

Mark 1:16 As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 19 Going on a little farther, He saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately He called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants, and went away to follow Him.

Before you keep reading, notice a few things about the disciples that Jesus chose in this little picture.

First, Jesus called the men from the work they were already doing (Mark 1:16). The men were busy, not idle. Some were casting their nets to fish as in Mark 1:16, while others were mending the nets from the night’s work they just completed (1:19).

Second, Jesus told them that He had a task that was in some ways not wholly unfamiliar, but required they change from what they were doing and follow His lead (Mark 1:17).

Third, they immediately obeyed and left what they were accomplishing to simply follow the Master.

This is not the only record of the call of the disciples, for they were called more than once. By this time, Jesus was well known to them. They heard His speaking, and some had even traveled with Him on a journey. It is easy to read this like they were new to Jesus, but they weren’t, and we know this by cross-checking the other Gospel accounts. In the end, they chose to do what He said and follow Him – that is obvious in the narrative. What is far less recognized is the reverse – that Jesus’ life changed by calling them to His side.

To deliberately make disciples is to sign up to be constantly observed, to become intentional about the slightest things. It is a decision to become conscious that people are watching your work and your responses to the normal stresses of life. Your diet becomes their license. Your favorite song comes under the morally sensitive scrutiny of the follower – are those words really “God honoring?” Discipleship has its own drain…it places a tiny discomfort, like a “paper cut” that heightens your sensitivity…but the observation of your life by the disciple isn’t the only factor that places a strain on your life. Drop down to Mark 2…

Mark 2:14 As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him. 15 And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. 16 When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” 18 John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and they came and said to Him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bridegroom cannot fast, can they? So long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 “But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. 21 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; otherwise the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear results. 22 “No one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins as well; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”

Here, the passage reveals other stresses that were placed on Jesus as He chose disciples that we should make note of as well.

First, the people chose by the Master quickly focused scrutiny on Him. Some with religious titles were acutely aware that Jesus’ choices were not what they would have chosen – and that became the subject of criticism. All this, and the disciples hadn’t done yet anything but eat dinner! Jesus found Himself answering criticism concerning His choices (Mark 2:17), and acknowledging that the men were not the healthiest lot – but those with great spiritual need. Here is the point: disciples are needy, and they will require something of your life – and that is the reason we would rather offer classes as a church than personally make disciples. All of us are under the pressures of daily life, and we can easily excuse our distance from others as a necessity in our busy world. Yet, discipleship – deliberate patterning and encouragement is our call – and we know it. We keep hoping that classes will do the trick, even when it seems obvious that we offer so little time compared to the number of hours the world offers to press young believers into its mold.

A second factor involved in the criticism was not simply the choice of disciples, but the methodology and practices taught to the learners (Mark 2:18-19). Jesus chose the men and not everyone like who He chose – but they also “weighed in” on what He trained them to practice. “Why not fasting like John’s disciples?” they asked. Discipleship raised the scrutiny of other “experts” and Jesus didn’t get a passing grade in their evaluation. The truth is that discipleship and training draws the trainer under the scrutiny of those who are not even engaged in the process. Everyone has an opinion about how to do it, even if they aren’t doing it.

The objective of making disciples is one that will put a strain on your life. When people are watching, you must be even more careful. When people are learning, you must be intentional. When people are following, you must act as a leader. It isn’t a bad thing, but it isn’t an easy thing either. Ask a parent!

Imagine you take your child into a market to pick up a few things, and they are not feeling well. Teeth are causing pain and a slight fever. The otherwise pleasant child is fussy and uncomfortable. You know what is wrong, and you are letting them fuss a bit to get things selected and get home where you can administer a little gum soother and get them to sleep. It will all be fine in a few minutes. As you pass people and they look in the cart at your little bundle of fussiness, each offers advice. “If you just pick him up and rock him, he’ll settle right down!” the woman behind you says. “Thanks!” you mutter, as if you hadn’t thought of that. Everyone feels the right to give instructions, but they aren’t going home with you, and don’t know the whole picture of what you are doing with the child. Discipleship draws criticism… and it often comes from people who are not engaged in the process a whit. Criticism can sting like a little enduring paper cut.

I am not complaining about the call to make disciples – it is a fantastic and rewarding part of our call! I am, however, making the observation that with obedience to that call you will add strain to your life. Everything valuable in life comes at a price, and obedience in making disciples is no different. We cannot engage the process without recognizing the drain it will put on us, or we miss part of the lesson of the verses God included to instruct us.

Second, the enemy offers resistance to any forward movement that will cost him (Mark 1:21-28). We’ll call this “disruption”.

Beyond the strain of criticism and inspection is another very important truth that we need to reckon with – there is an enemy at work to defeat us. Go back to Mark 1…

Mark 1:21 They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach. 22 They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit; and he cried out, 24 saying, “What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are-the Holy One of God!” 25 And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” 26 Throwing him into convulsions, the unclean spirit cried out with a loud voice and came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him.” 28 Immediately the news about Him spread everywhere into all the surrounding district of Galilee.

We usually anticipate the opposition when it concerns evangelism, but that isn’t the only place planned snares of the enemy will trip us. When we help disciples move out of bondage and into a fuller walk with God, the enemy is still losing ground – and that will come with stiff resistance – because he doesn’t like losing ground! In fact, a deceived and ensnared believer is often a more powerful a weapon in the hand of the enemy as one who is still spiritually dead. Go back to the story…

Jesus took the disciples to the synagogue because it was Sabbath, and He taught the crowd that gathered in Capernaum to listen. He spoke directly, and made clear sense. As the people began to respond to TRUTH, the voice of the enemy DISTRACTED people from the “life-filled words” of the Master. There are a number of truths that are important in this passage:

Note first that the enemy was lurking in the synagogue… because the enemy does some of his best work in religious places.

Second, note that nothing they said was UNTRUE, it was simply distracting Jesus from the forward progress of teaching. The demonic presence simply raised questions and made distractions that pulled the class off track. Have you ever seen something like this? I don’t mean that you sat next to someone who murmured like they were possessed… I mean someone who drew the class off track, week after week, only to confound, confuse and disrupt. They didn’t learn, and they didn’t let others learn. The veteran teachers know what I am referring to in this… the enemy works both in deception and in distraction – and we must recognize the difference between real questions and disruptions.

Recently I engaged a young man who asked many questions about God, about belief and generally about my faith. His questions were complex, and they took time to answer in detail to be sure that I was saying things that were both Biblical and clear. I spent a number of hours on each question. Weeks wore on, he wrote question after question and I answered diligently. I prayed over each answer and asked God to make clear how I should proceed. I felt a real strain on the load this added to the week, but I didn’t want to drop the ball on a sacred trust – God may have brought this man into my life to draw him to God – and I didn’t want to be slack on my responsibility in this area. After a few more questions, I made the point that I had done my best with every question, so I wanted to ask him a question of my own… “Was he serious in the questions he raised?” I asked. He replied, and I admit I was floored by his response. “Not at all!” he said. “I just wanted to tie up your time and keep you from teaching other people about your God fantasies.” I was shocked, but I was thankful that God answered my prayer, and I learned a lesson. Everything you and I are offered is either an opportunity or a distraction – and it will take maturity to know the difference.

Jesus took control of the message, and cast out the demon – causing others to recognize His power. God’s Word isn’t open to sharing the stage with anyone else’s word – and Jesus took care of the problem. Yet, it came at a cost. We look at FAME as a GOOD thing, but that is not always the case. Some of the most effective ministries I know of are not well known around the world – but they are incredibly effective. In our modern “Madison Avenue” view of ministry, we cannot easily understand why Jesus may not have wanted to be too well known at this point in the ministry – but the enemy knew that POPULARITY can swamp the boat – and that can become the most effective way to pull a ministry down.

Distraction is something that can happen to any work of God – large or small. Believers need to be able to measure God at work by many standards – not simply “popularity” or parking lot sizes. When we use modern business metrics to measure ministry effectiveness, we lose sight that God works in different ways in different places. The measure of a ministry should be how well it accomplishes sustainable work within its consistent and Biblically infused vision.

The point is that Jesus didn’t need to be that well known yet, and the enemy couldn’t wait to make Him the hottest thing on the block. What looked like a great acknowledgement of Jesus’ power was actually a pressure hold applied by the enemy who wanted to get Jesus’ popularity rating boosted to the point of ministry hindrance. Even viral popularity can become a problem to sustainable ministry. It can become a “paper cut” that hinders growing people because the program takes over… and it is something mature believers need to be careful about.

It is true that discipleship is a call of God that puts a drain on your life. It is easier to navigate life without pulling along someone else. It is also true that we face an enemy who wants to find ways to distract us from focusing on the growth and development of people – in favor of other notions of popularity and success that fill our hearts but are not from our Father above. Yet, there are other “paper cuts” that can distract us…

Third, we should consider that a drain of physical limitations can distract progress (Mark 1:29-31). We’ll call this “distraction”.

Jesus and the boys were just beginning to get the work in Capernaum going, and one of the people who provided meals and care for the men was taken ill…

Mark 1:29 And immediately after they came out of the synagogue, they came into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was lying sick with a fever; and immediately they spoke to Jesus about her. 31 And He came to her and raised her up, taking her by the hand, and the fever left her, and she waited on them.

What is clear is the fact that Peter’s mother in law was an asset to the ministry, as she took care of the men again as soon as she was well. Her “down time” slowed the ministry, because a servant was knocked off her feet. Don’t miss that detail…

I am not being “spooky” when I admit the enemy can get permission from our Father to attack the ministry and add extra “drag” by attacking our health. He can attack our feelings, our digestion, our sleepiness – an array of symptomatic attacks. He did it in a pronounced way with Job in the Bible, but that isn’t the only time he did it. In Mark 1 he wanted to slow down the work at home and keep the men busy and strained to do the little “normal” things of life, he wanted to Simon to worry about his mother-in-law and be distracted from the growing ministry. Don’t miss that Satan was at work on both public popularity and private distraction – that is one of the combinations that often lands in the life of God’s servant. While the pressure mounted in the public eye for Jesus to do more and more, private pressures at home made the rising popularity seem even harder to navigate – and that was the point of the two-pronged attack. Jesus healed the women, but while He did, He surely recognized the play the enemy was making.

Fourth, even misdirected followers can easily disrupt ministry and help the enemy (Mark 1:32-32, 39-45). We’ll call this what it is: “disobedience”.

One of the common attacks of the enemy that I have profoundly noticed over the years is the aid they inadvertently offer the deceiver by being blatantly disobedient to the Word of God – all the while thinking they are aiding God’s cause. Let’s look at the case offered in Mark 1…

Mark 1:32 When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. 33 And the whole city had gathered at the door. 34 And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was… 39 And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons. 40 And a leper came to Jesus, beseeching Him and falling on his knees before Him, and saying, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” 41 Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed. 43 And He sternly warned him and immediately sent him away, 44 and He said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” 45 But he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the news around, to such an extent that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere.

The enemy was already at work trying to get the public ministry of Jesus to rise in popularity so fast that He would be unable to focus on the development of the men, and be inundated with public fame. Demons didn’t want clear teaching, so they disrupted at the synagogue. Now they used a needy man that came to Jesus, but then didn’t follow His words obediently… the man had a plan to “help God” without the need to be weighed down by obedience to God. He came needing healing, as we all do. He came ready to receive from Jesus.

Note verse 42, Jesus completely healed him and he was clean. Now look at the words of the next verse very carefully. In all of the Gospels, have you read of any time when Jesus spoke and “sternly warned” anyone? It seems the demeanor of the Savior was serious and sober as he looked at the now healed man. “Say NOTHING to ANYONE except the priest.” Those were Jesus’ words. They sound straight and to the point. They were neither complicated, nor confusing. Yet, the man disobeyed in short order, all the while thinking he was doing something GOOD for God.

We need to rehearse, again and again in our lives, there is no substitute for obedience to God’s commands. We do not know what God knows, nor do we see what He sees. Our stubborn need to control must not be allowed to drive us from our knees and back onto the throne of our life while under the delusion we are helping God. We are NOT. The tragic end of King Saul came from that very decision – to do what he thought would help God MORE than to accept the instruction from God and follow it precisely.

The man was disobedient to the word of Jesus, and it caused a mess for Jesus. How often I have observed this attack of the enemy, facilitated by a believer who blissfully thinks careful knowledge of and obedience to the Word is less important than the “clear fame” they brought to Jesus. Reach a nation in disobedience and you have accomplished a great victory for the enemy – because God desires obedience more than anything else… period. Believers carving their own path cause constant and irritating “paper cut” wounds on believers and ministry workers who are trying to follow the Word – it is both distracting and hurtful.

Fifth, there is a constant weight placed by those who misunderstand God’s method of direction that can confuse ministry workers (Mark 1:35-38). We’ll call this “delusion.”

Jesus got alone, but the disciples didn’t understand the essential nature of His time with the Father – because many people think ministry is a physical pursuit – with a little “nod” to the spiritual realm. They don’t get how the world really works, let alone how ministry works…

Mark 1:35 In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. 36 Simon and his companions searched for Him; 37 they found Him, and said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.” 38 He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.

The disciples pressed for more and more ministry without breaking away and recognizing the need to seek the Father in Heaven. Jesus got alone because He needed to commune and exemplify the need to seek the direction from above. The disciples were living the “rat race of ministry” while Jesus was getting alone. His alone time re-energized the Lord.

People caught in a “rat race” – even of ministry events – cannot lead like Jesus. There is a difference between being full in your schedule and being driven by it. Jesus understood the need for solitude and searching out the Father’s heart for ministry before taking on the next task. The men were ready for the “next big thing” while Jesus was communing with His Father, and getting re-energized.

Jesus knew how to get alone with His Father. It is worth noting that the devil miscalculated the strength of that alone time at the temptation. Jesus was physically hungry, but His time away left Him spiritually full. His denial of the physical helped Him to stay focused on His walk before the Father and not get sidetracked by lesser things. His responses to the devil showed that Jesus valued the study of the Scriptures in the “good times” – for Jesus knew the Word and was able to recall it when needed.

This is a common mistake: people see ministry as primarily a physical pursuit, and measure its growth in buildings, budgets and bodies in the pew – but those metrics don’t tell the story. Eleven disciples transformed in heart would eventually yield much more than five thousand spectators deeply moved at their full bellies. The DELUSION is a common one, and it creeps into ministry all the time: the focus on the physical as the point of ministry. Look at the little story in Mark 2…

Mark 2:1 When He had come back to Capernaum several days afterward, it was heard that He was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men. 4 Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying. 5 And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts? 9 “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven ‘; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk ‘? 10 “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins “-He said to the paralytic, 11 “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.” 12 And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.” 13 And He went out again by the seashore; and all the people were coming to Him, and He was teaching them.

Jesus healed the man’s heart, and the work was essentially DONE. His sin forgiven, Jesus did the part that only He can do. That didn’t satisfy the scribes. They thought it was a hoax, because they measured ministry by externals – by physical markers. The man needed life inside, not simply working legs.

There is an old story I have used before, but it illustrates well the problem of looking at externals when the internals are the real issue:

I heard about a man who saw his dog walking across his lawn with his neighbors dead cat in his mouth. The man was horrified to see that the dog had apparently killed the neighbor’s beloved cat. He was determined to hide this embarrassing and heart-wrenching situation from the neighbor. He took the cat from the dog’s mouth and proceeded to wash the animal gingerly, to brush the fur and make the animal look well kept. That night he slipped over to the neighbor’s porch and placed the cat quietly beside the door. He left undetected. The next morning before work his neighbor was in the driveway visibly shaken. “What’s wrong?” he asked, feigning concern. The neighbor replied, “It is the strangest thing I ever seen. Fluffy got hit by a car yesterday. We had a funeral service for her in the backyard. But, when we got up this morning we found the hole empty and the body of our now clean cat clean on the back porch.” (adapted from sermon central illustrations).

Here is the problem: The man tried to clean the cat outwardly, but he couldn’t change the fact that the cat was dead. A lot of people think that is what ministry is really all about. They try to change the outward appearance, or deal with the outward need. They feed the hungry, house the homeless and try to act kindly – and that is good – but it isn’t the primary need. It is part of the DELUSION that spiritual things can be seen clearly through the physical eye. When ministry is measured that way, it discourages and weighs down those who are working in the spiritual realm.

• Discipleship is wonderful, but it drains your energy.
• Forward moving ministry is exciting, but it draws the attention of an enemy that disrupts.
• Servant hood is essential, but the needs of the body can be a distraction.
• Jesus is delivering men, but disobedience unsettles the ministry.
• Ministry needs press God’s workers, but we must be directed and measured by spiritual metrics.

I recall years ago in Elkhart, Indiana, finding out that a neighbor was tapping off my friend’s electricity, and she was being charged for power usage that she didn’t ever get. She went away on vacation during the heat of the summer, and turned off most all of her electrical appliances. When she came home, she noticed the meter spinning wildly on the pole, and couldn’t figure out what where the power was going. We traced the lines, and found the neighbor was using a line strung from her house to theirs. Knowing where your power is going is important. God is at work through many, and some of them are tired, but haven’t figured out where their energy is being tapped. The model of Jesus can help us spot some of the ways power is pulled from its rightful place.