OK, here's the plan (if God is willing):

1) Every day will be a new devotional. I have enough devotionals for every day for three years

2) Also as I can, I'll be posting on my new political blog (see bottom of page).

Some other housecleaning:

A) If you'd like to just get new postings sent to your email, just submit your address in the box on the left just below. There's just one possible downside, though. Occasionally I'll add a music video at the end that's relevant to the devotional, and you won't get them in the email sent to you. If I add a video though, I'll make sure to mention in the posting, so you'll know to come to the site to see it if you'd like.

B) I actually finished writing new blog posting for the TAWG at the end of 2016. So what I'm doing now is at the beginning of every month, I'll move the earliest month from 3 years ago ahead so that a "new" posting appears every day. That's why you won't find any postings for January 2014, for example.

C) When I started this Blog, I was using the 1984 edition of the NIV, and that’s what I linked to on the Biblegateway site. However, in 2011 Zondervan updated its edition and thus reworded a lot of the NIV translation. Therefore, all the links which went to the 1984 edition now redirect to the 2011 edition, which often has slightly different wording. Thus, part of my editing process has been to update my Scripture quotes in my postings. But I might have missed some, in which case you might see my quote in the posting as a little different from what comes up when you click on my citation link, since that redirects to the 2011 edition on the Biblegateway site. It's a good thing that we realize that the work of translation never ends, but it can be a kind of a pain on a site like this. If you see any difference in verbiage between my quote and what shows up as a link on the Biblegateway site, or if you hover over a link and it has "NIV1984" at the end of it, please notify me and I'll correct it.

D) I can't believe I have to say this, but here goes. At the end of every posting is a suggested short prayer that has to do with what we discussed. This is actually what I've prayed when I finished writing it. In no way am I asking you to pray the exact verbiage of my suggested prayer. It's just a springboard for your own prayer, nothing more. Quite frankly, I've never been a fan of praying rote prayers written by someone else. As with everything else I do here, to the degree it helps, great; to the degree it doesn't, chunk it.

As always, thank you so much for reading, even if it's to read one post. God bless.

[July 15]--A Hero?

Luke 16:1-13

God’s word is full of examples of irony, and I guess I’m enough of an oddball that they’re fascinating to me. The Story of the “Prodigal Son” is Jesus’ most famous parable. Countless sermons have been preached from it to good effect. But right after it is a story that rarely ranks on anyone’s “favorite parable” list. The NIV calls it “The Parable of the Shrewd Manager,” and that’s as good a name as any. It took me a while to get the point of this story, but it’s become one of great meaning to me.

We start off the story with a “manager” or “steward” and his rich boss. Actually he had the same type of job that Joseph did under Potiphar. The manager was a trusted servant who was put in charge of a person’s day-to-day operations. It was commonly his job to feed the other servants, pay the bills, conduct business affairs, etc. Joseph was an honest one, and this guy was not. The rich man discovered some discrepancies in the books, and gave him notice. Apparently the boss only saw him as incompetent, not dishonest, which explains why the manager had enough time to do what he did.

Interpreters disagree over whether or not what the manager did in response (in approaching all these debtors) was dishonest in itself or not. What was the extra money that the manager's taking off their bills? Was it the boss’s interest rate? Was it his own little “managing fee”? Or was the manager simply stealing from his boss one last time? Jesus doesn’t really make it clear, but I would lean towards the first option. At any rate, it looks like his special arrangement was dishonest, since he kept it a secret from the boss.

There are two surprising things about this story, at least to me. The first is the boss’s reaction to this. The manager still was fired, but the boss actually complimented him on his shrewdness. His reaction was not “You stole from me! I’m having you thrown in jail for that!” It was “Well done! I’m impressed!” I guess he admired the manager’s skills and intelligence, even if he despised him for his dishonesty.

The thing that surprises me much more is the “punch line” of the story. Jesus is praising the manager! He points us to this guy as someone to emulate! This lying thief provides an important example for us to follow!

Our Lord, who put a commandment against stealing in his “Top Ten” list, is not condoning dishonesty or theft. But he wants us to learn some things from the manager. There are some admirable attributes which we need and often lack.

First and foremost, the guy saw enough of the future to prepare for it. He knew he was about to turned out of his job, and he took steps to provide for himself. He was smart enough to realize that he either had to have a source of income or starve. So he carried out a plan to ingratiate himself to some people who'd be indebted to him.

That’s really the main point that Jesus is making here. Like the manager, we’re handling money and resources which don’t really belong to us. We’re only managers ourselves, and one day we’re going to have to surrender it all and give an accounting. No matter how much money I have in my bank account, whether $20 or $2,000,000, it’s all going away. No matter what I invest it in, it’s going to be dust and ashes one day: Land, stocks, buildings, technology, etc.

But there’s one area in which I can invest which will provide “dividends” on the other side of the Great Divide. Souls. I can invest in souls. How can I do that? By pouring my resources (money and everything else I have) into spreading the Good News of Christ and helping people to develop a relationship with him. That’s what Jesus is talking about in vs. 9. Once I step into Eternity, I'm going to be welcomed by those whose lives the Lord touched through me, and I'd rather have that than Bill Gates's bank account any day, wouldn't you?

That’s the sad irony here. The manager puts most believers to shame when it comes to seeing the future. Even materialistic nonbelievers can know that they aren't going to have their job forever, so the smartest among them plan for the inevitable day when that income dries up. We as followers of Jesus know that everything in this world will be dust and ashes someday. Why don’t my investments reflect that? And don’t forget what he said as an epilogue to this: If I want to have the Father trust me with “true” riches, I need to be a good steward of what he’s given me thus far. Am I? Are you?

On a much more positive side to this, here's a video perfectly illustrating this grand "welcoming" which Jesus talked about: "Thank You" by Ray Boltz

Lord Jesus, please give me an eternal perspective. May I hold loosely to what I’m going to lose anyway, and really pour what I have and what I am into what’s going to last.

[July 14]--Who’s the Prodigal One?

Luke 15:11-32

OK, we’ve come to it. This is undoubtedly Jesus’ most famous parable, repeatedly told over the last 2000 years. It’s a beautiful story, and God has certainly used it to bring countless lost souls to himself. The only reason why I wouldn’t like it is because it’s so familiar. There’s not a whole lot I could say about it that you haven’t heard before, assuming you’re familiar with it at all. For all that you’re about to read that you’ve heard before, I apologize.

First, the very fact that the son is asking for his “share” of the estate would've been totally shocking to Jesus’ first audience. It’s hard to overestimate just how blatantly disrespectful this would've been seen. He was basically wishing his father was dead. And as soon as he got his inheritance, he turned it into cash and left home, effectively saying to his entire family “You’re dead to me now.”

He went off to a “far country” and used up all his money in “wild living.” There’s some debate as to whether or not his brother was exaggerating when he accused him of using it on “prostitutes.” I tend to think that it's a fairly reasonable assumption that he did.

I know I said this last year when we discussed the Fall of humanity, but it bears repeating: Sin will take you further than you want to go and end up costing you more than you’re willing to pay. The Enemy of our souls will always present his “package” as a great deal, and it starts out sweet and ends up with the most bitter of aftertastes. The writer of Hebrews put it best when he called it “the passing pleasures of sin.” The pleasures soon go away and leave behind the bad consequences.

Once the money ran out, he sank to what he thought was the bottom, then sank a little more. Just remember this is a supposedly Jewish kid, and this was a Jewish audience listening. For the boy to get to the point of feeding pigs would be the lowest of the low. That is, until you realize that he was in such bad shape that the “food” that the pigs were eating was starting to look pretty good. That’s where you end up when you step outside of the Father’s house.

I love the phrase “when he came to his senses,” don’t you? It took him reaching rock bottom to realize just how good he had it back in the father’s house. Even the lowest servants in that house had it better than he had it now. So he rehearsed his little speech, got up, and walked back home.

Notice that the father noticed him “a long way off,” which seems to indicate he was looking for his boy. Day after day he was working outside, scanning the horizon for the son he had lost. When he saw him, he ran out to meet his son. What better image could Jesus present as to how God responds to sinners who have come to their senses?

Here’s where I have a couple of questions. This story has had several titles, including “The Prodigal Son” or “The Lost Son.” These aren’t necessarily wrong, but I have a slight quibble with both of them. The word prodigal can mean “wasteful” or have other bad connotations. But it could also mean “lavish” or “yielding abundantly.” In that case, you could also call this the story about “The Prodigal Father.” When we come home, he spares absolutely no expense to demonstrate how happy he is about that. Each of these three stories has a celebration when what was lost was found. His heart is to forgive, to restore, and to redeem. In the end, all of his enemies will be destroyed. But his preferred method of destroying his enemies is to turn them into his adopted children and co-heirs.

The trivial objection I have to the other title is that this is not a story of one lost son. I might call it “The Story of Two Lost Sons.” Look carefully at the mind-set presented by the elder son. The entire household is having a lavish party to celebrate the return, and he refuses to participate. The father comes out to plead with him, and the son displays an incredibly self-righteous, disrespectful attitude. Please notice that the returnee is called “this son of yours,” not “my brother.” This is meant to unerringly mirror the thoughts of the Pharisees.

So are the portrayals of either son hitting home to you? Have you been “feeding the pigs,” trying to tell yourself that you’re really not that bad off? If you have questions about that, see here. Or is the picture of the elder brother a little closer to the truth than is comfortable? What do you think?

And finally, here's a video of my favorite song about this story...

Lord Jesus, once again I’m reminded that apart from you there’s nothing good inside me. I need your mercy just as much now as I ever have. Whenever the spirit of the elder brother starts to come back up, please squelch it as only your grace can.

[July 13]--Leaving No Corner Unswept

Luke 15:8-10

Here we have the second of three stories which Jesus presented to illustrate the Father's determination to reclaim the lost. We looked at the shepherd’s search yesterday. Why would the Master tell another story that basically says the same thing? Why not merely skip ahead to the longest—and to most people, the most poignant—of the parables, the one about the lost son? I think he wants to highlight some different facets of his redeeming love, and also repeat some things for emphasis.

First, this story points out the effort to find what was lost. I’m sure the shepherd put a lot of time and energy into finding his lost sheep, but the story about the coin really brings it out in stark detail. Houses, especially one-rooms like hers, didn’t have windows and only had a dirt floor. That would explain why she’d have to light a lamp and sweep the house. This would likely make it an all-day affair.

Why would she put forth so much effort over one little coin? The sheep likely had sentimental value, but why the fuss over this? The coin was a drachma, which was about a day’s wages. Being poor, the woman could ill afford to let it go. But even more than that, some people say that this was part of a ten-coin set. Some have also theorized that it was her dowry, which would have been extra precious to her. In any case, it’s obvious that this one coin was incredibly valuable to her, and she wasn’t going to stop until she found it.

As I mentioned yesterday, God has been searching for lost sinners since the Fall of our first parents. The Bible is a record of God seeking the people who have run away from him. One of the biggest fallacies I’ve ever heard is that the Bible is a record of “man’s search for God.” Nonsense! Our first parents hid from him, and we’ve been hiding ever since. Some might object to this, saying “But what about all the religions out there? Aren’t they an expression of our search for God?” No. They’re still a way for us to hide from the true, living God. All the rituals, all the ceremonies, all the rules and regulations and myths which man has invented are just a way to avoid the One who created us and who will one day judge us.

All this reminds me of a story I once heard. A pastor was talking to a young girl and wanted to know if she had received Christ. He asked her “Little girl, have you found Jesus?” She answered “Mister, I didn’t know he was lost!” That brings it home, doesn’t it? Jesus wasn’t the one who was lost. We were.

My friend, unless God sought you out and hunted you down, you’d never come to him! The same goes for me. But thank the Lord, he turned on the lights in our dark world, swept out the corners, and was determined to find me. And when we’re found, there’s cause for celebration. We’ll go into this more tomorrow, but it’s worth noting now: In each of these stories, once the lost item (sheep, coin or son) is found, there’s a party to be thrown. In the first story Jesus said there’s rejoicing “in heaven.” Here he says there’s “rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God.” All this over one person who’s claimed by the King? Really? He said it. You read it.

I don’t know about you, but the one thing that comes to my mind in answer to all this: Gratitude. I was lost in the darkness and dirt. It took a lot to find me and claim me. From before the beginning of time, my redemption was meticulously planned out. And just at the right time, he pulled me out of my own mess, cleansed me, claimed me, and now considers me one of his “crown jewels.” Wow.

What else can I say, but thank you. And as always, I’m yours.

[July 12]--None Left Behind

Luke 15:3-7

I think God has a real heart for outcasts, and right now I’m not talking about the lost sheep in today’s story. I’m talking about shepherds. You might not be aware of this, but shepherds were not highly respected in the ancient Middle East. They were dirty, they were uncouth, and they were considered a very “low” occupation. But in spite of this, or maybe partially because of it, God held them to a place of honor. Of course, the two greatest leaders in the O.T., namely Moses and David, started out in the fields.

But the real kicker is the fact that God compares himself to a shepherd multiple times in Scripture. Of course you’re probably familiar with David’s 23rd Psalm, famous the world over. But the Psalms call God’s people “sheep” at least eight times besides there. The prophets also repeatedly quote God as dealing with his people as a shepherd, such as here. Ezekiel in particular predicted that, in stark contrast to the false shepherds (bad leaders) who'd come before, the Lord himself would come and be the good shepherd who'd be what they'd been waiting for. And the imagery just continues into the N.T. One of my favorite passages in John is where Jesus calls himself the “Good Shepherd,” obviously claiming that he’s fulfilling Ezekiel’s promises.

Why do I bring this up? Just to remind you that when God’s word calls us sheep who need a shepherd, it’s not a compliment. Quite frankly, sheep are just about the stupidest domesticated animal we have. As I mentioned in January, there’s a reason why they need constant oversight and protection. They tend to wander away from the herd and into situations they can’t get themselves out of, like off a cliff or into a brier patch. My favorite anecdote is that they’ve been known to drown because they literally are too stupid to come in from the rain. And they have no natural defenses against predators, so they’re an easy mark.

That’s why they--and we--need Someone greater than ourselves to rescue us, the point of today’s story. With many Middle Eastern shepherds, their animals weren’t just a source of meat or wool. The sheep weren’t numbered—they were named. The shepherd would regularly have a headcount so that he would quickly know who was missing. And just like the story says, the moment he realizes that one is missing, he'd spring into action, leaving the rest to go find it. Can you imagine him, calling the sheep’s name, frantically searching for this animal like it was a lost child?

Oh, what a beautiful image when he finds it! He puts it on his shoulders and carries it all the way home. When he makes it there, he calls his buddies and tells them there’s going to be a celebration.

By the way, this parable really illustrates the limits of such stories to teach us. Parables are not allegories, and they have one—or at the most a couple or three—points to make. They’re not meant to teach a comprehensive view of God or anything else. For example, does the Lord really leave behind (or neglect) some of his established children in order to go after that one who’s missing? Really? I don’t think so. The story mentions this in order to hit home just how important that lost sheep is to its owner, and how important the lost are to God.

There are two more things I’d like to bring to your notice regarding this passage. One, it presents a wonderful image of the lengths our Savior God will go to in order to bring us back to himself. That shepherd went all over the countryside, and he wasn’t going to quit until he brought that sheep home on his shoulders. This is a pattern that goes back all the way to the Fall of our first parents, as recorded in Genesis. They disobeyed his express command, and he didn’t wait for them to come to him to confess. No, he sought them out and chased them down with his indefatigable desire to redeem and restore.

I’d also like to remind you that our Shepherd had to do a lot more than just find us and carry us home on his shoulders, as he himself reminds us in John's Gospel. No, our Shepherd laid down his life for us. It cost him his very blood to bring us into his fold. Aren’t you glad he did?

Lord Jesus, even though I’m one of your sheep and I belong to you, I still tend to wander away from you. Please bring me back when I need it, and do whatever it takes to keep me close by your side.

[July 11]--Sinners Welcome!

Luke 15:1-2

I love how the Bible, and of course Christ’s message, is perfectly balanced. We’ve just spent much of the last few chapters expressing the “negative” side of his message: You’ve got to repent, there’s no fence-sitting, you’ve got to surrender everything, Jesus really isn’t looking for half-hearted followers, etc. The entire fifteenth chapter, which we’ll discuss over the next three days, is filled to the brim with illustrations of God’s love, forgiveness, mercy, and overwhelming desire to see people come to salvation. If all you had was the material from the last few days, you’d get the impression that Jesus is perfectly willing to let people walk right into Hell. It almost seems like his attitude is “Oh well (sigh), if you really want to come, then here are the hoops you need to jump through first. I’m going to put up as many barriers as I can in order to keep just as few people from coming in as possible. The less people who find out about this and respond to it, the happier I’ll be.”

That’s why we need the whole Bible, not just bits and pieces of it. This chapter, like I intimated, is the perfect balance to what’s come before. The God that we worship is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” He “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth..” He “[takes] no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.”

This chapter brings that home to us in personal way. When we’re talking about people “perishing,” we’re not just talking about some number on a list. We’re talking about a real, live, breathing person. This person had hopes, dreams, and fears. He/she was made in God’s image. Sin has marred that image and damaged it but not destroyed it. And if nothing changes, then the only lasting effect of that image will be to make the end more tragic. When Jesus saw a crowd, he didn’t a see a blob or a mass or a name on a list. He saw each individual person. And each individual person was someone who desperately needed him.

When the Pharisees and teachers of the law saw the people around Jesus, they saw nothing more than a collection of sinners. That means that, as far as they were concerned, the sin in each person’s life defined him. That person is an “adulterer” or a “tax collector” or a “thief” or a “drunkard.” Their sins were all the religious leaders needed to know about each person.

And of course while they called all these people “sinners,” they certainly would never include themselves under that label! Sins are what other people do!

So Jesus was eating with “sinners,” which meant to in that culture that he was associating with them on an intimate basis. It meant that he was accepting them, which was partially true. He could never accept or excuse their sinful behavior, and eventually they'd have to make a choice to abandon their old way of doing things in favor of his way. The standards about things like “repentance” were not nullified.

But to Jesus, their sins, as bad and as unacceptable as they were, didn’t tell the whole story about the person. This person is created in God’s image, and is infinitely precious. He’s redeemable.

So for the rest of the chapter we see three stories, each one telling us something a little different about God’s attitude towards sinners. In the meantime, this chapter has two main messages to two different types of people. There are only two types in the end: Those who know they desperately need a Savior, and those who don’t know. If you know you need One and haven’t received him yet, then you know what to do. Or if not, read this.

If you are saved, then maybe you’ve forgotten what he’s saved you from. Maybe you were saved at an early age and didn’t get involved in a sinful lifestyle, or maybe he got a hold of you later in life after you got a taste of what life on the outside is really like. If you’ve been his for a while, then maybe he’s had some time to clean your life up somewhat. But it took just as much blood to redeem you as it took anyone else. Don’t forget.

Lord Jesus, anytime I start to get self-righteous and look down upon anyone else, squelch it. Take that thought out to the desert and bury it with a stake in its heart. Whatever it takes, please.

[July 10]--Unconditional Surrender

Luke 14:25-33

This seems to be a theme that echoes through the Gospels (at least the Synoptics), and maybe you’ve never noticed it before. Our Lord seems to be intent on driving away potential followers. He’s perfectly willing to welcome “seekers” who are curious. He certainly has nothing shameful to hide from the public. But in the end everyone has to make a choice as to whether or not to follow him, and fence-sitters will have to decide if it’s worth it or not.

When I read this and similar passages from the Gospels, it strikes me that Jesus’ approach is the polar opposite of Satan’s. The Enemy of our souls presents the “good side” up front. Like the stereotypical used-car salesman, he'll say anything to get you in the door. When I was a salesman, we had nothing but contempt for a “smooth operator” who wouldn’t hesitate to make promises he couldn’t keep. It’s only when you’ve been taken in and “bought” his deal that you become aware of the “fine print.”

Not so our Savior. You could accuse him of many things, but no one could claim that he presented too rosy a picture of what he offered. Let’s take a closer look at what he’s saying here.

I mentioned before the book Hard Sayings of Jesus by F.F. Bruce, and vs. 26 definitely qualifies for the list. How can this make any sense? This is God in the flesh, right? He’s the One who gave us the Ten Commandments, which includes the directive to honor our parents. He’s the One who invented marriage and family. The way you understand it is, wait for it. . . context. There’s that magical word again. It opens so many locked doors and solves so many mysteries for us. When he tells us to “hate” our parents and other relatives, in the very next breath he tells us to have the very same attitude towards our own lives. Now, my life is valuable to me. It’s a wonderful gift from God, and I’m grateful for it. I certainly wouldn’t throw it away or even risk it unnecessarily. But if my Lord tells me to give it up for him, I should do so with a smile on my face. My parents are even dearer to me, and my wife is “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones.” But if it ever came down to a choice of loyalties or priorities, then the incredible and self-sacrificing love I show towards them should look like “hate” in comparison to my love and devotion to my Savior. Make sense?

Do you have any unfinished projects around the house? Don’t they just grate on your nerves? One of my weaknesses is a tendency to start something and slack off when it gets boring. But think about how embarrassing it'd be if my projects were all facing the street. Imagine if my front lawn was half-mowed and stayed that way for weeks. Wouldn’t that be more humiliating the longer it stood out front? What’s Jesus’ point here? “Don’t start something you can’t finish.” Count up the cost--do a cost/benefit analysis--of being a follower of mine before you sign on the dotted line.

It’s not just an issue of just saying a prayer and being baptized. There’s a little word—“repentance”—which is packed with so much meaning. Salvation is completely free in the sense that you can’t do anything to earn it. Christ paid for all my sins on the cross, and there’s absolutely nothing I could add to that. But receiving salvation is a “package deal,” and part of the package is committing myself to him. It certainly doesn’t mean that I won’t stumble, but it does mean that from now on, I'm committed to doing things his way and not my own. And this commitment--if it's real--will result in a changed life.

The second parable he gives—the one about the two kings—actually gives the flip-side of all this. If you’re really listening to what Jesus is saying, you might respond with “You know what? I've done this cost/benefit analysis you want me to do, Jesus, and quite frankly I don’t think it’s worth it. All this talk about hating my own life and carrying crosses, for some mysterious reason, doesn’t appeal to me. I think I’ll go back to watching TV, thanks oh so much.”

What’s Jesus trying to tell you here? You might think you’re the “king” of your own little “castle.” You have a life. You have interests. You think you can handle anything that comes your way. You can’t. There’s Someone else coming, and he has claims on you. Don’t fight him. That’s a battle you’re going to lose. Instead, plead with him now and come to terms. If you wait until he’s at the door and you’re under siege (an illustration of the Final Judgment), then it’s too late. Make peace with him now!

There’s only one option here. Surrender. Unconditionally. Now. I promise you this. If you give up “everything” for him, you won’t really lose anything worth having. You’re probably sick of it if you’ve been reading the blog for a while, but here goes: No one in the history of mankind has ever done things God’s way who regretted it in the end.

And if you haven't surrendered your life to Christ or aren't sure how to do it, please read this.

I think your word is pretty clear, isn’t it Lord? If I am going to call you that, then there’s no question about who’s in charge. You are. I’m not.

[July 09]--Real Women’s Lib

Luke 13:10-17

Politically conservative Christians tend to be pretty skeptical of feminism, at least in its modern form. They have no problem with equality before the law (with voting rights, for example), and they certainly have zero tolerance for physical abuse or for treating women anything less than the image-bearers that they are. But they have some real issues with some aspects of the modern feminist movement, especially with its proclivities for pretending that men and women are the same. And many of them--including myself—have a strong distaste for the atmosphere of victimhood which pervades much of it and seems to forget that women are just as much sinners as the guys are. They aren’t exempt from having a sinful nature, but you wouldn’t know it from some of the literature that sees all men as horrible brutes and all women as angelic victims.

Having said all that, I think it’s time to take a closer look at how Jesus viewed and treated women. Please keep in mind, however, that Christ didn’t come to set up a political liberation movement. His every step was directed by the Father’s comprehensive plan, and nothing was allowed to distract from that. He came to redeem us, both men and women, from bondage to sin and its effects. Everything else was secondary at best.

So let’s get it out there: Jesus was a lover of women. The sad thing is that when I say that, I have to qualify and explain it, otherwise you’ll walk away thinking that Keith is “rediscovering” the “historical” Jesus as some type of “playa.” The reason you instinctively react thus is because we’ve abused the word “love” so badly. A guy who sleeps with a different woman every night—heck, a guy who fails in any way to stick to God’s plan—does not truly love women. He’s using them.

So when I say that Jesus loved women, I mean he truly loved them. He cared about them. He cared about what they thought. He cared about their hopes, their dreams, their fears, and about who they were as a person. This is stark contrast to his peers. The Jewish state was pretty liberated compared to its pagan neighbors, but that doesn’t say much. The ultra-traditional view of women as second-class citizens was pretty universal at this time.

But he didn’t see them that way. He inspired the passage in Genesis we cited above. He created man and woman in his own image, and thus both are of equal intrinsic value and worth in his eyes. Every woman is an image-bearer and thus is deserving of respect, dignity, and honor. And that’s how he treated them.

He had no problem speaking to them in public and employing them as his emissaries to those who didn’t know about him. He also had no problem teaching them, another big no-no among rabbis. He honored them when they devoted themselves to him, and one in particular he promised would be forever famous the world over as far as the Good News is spread. And of course, as we noted before, he chose women to be the first witnesses of his resurrection.

That’s why today’s passage seemed like a good springboard for all this. Women have been oppressed by unjust laws and unfair treatment for as long as history’s been recorded. But then our Savior, a true lover of women, came along and now offers them true liberation. He offers them a place in his Kingdom in which there’s “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus.” The worst oppressor of women has never been a male chauvinist pig, however. Like all other political and social oppression, that's just a symptom of the disease. It’s always been their own sinful nature which cripples women far worse than anything this poor lady suffered. But the Man who said “Woman, you are set free!” is the same One who offers his hand today. And if he sets you free, you’re free indeed. That should inspire both joy and gratitude.

Today’s message is mainly for the ladies, but there’s some thoughts for the guys too. Do you see women the same way our Lord does? Do you see them as precious bearers of his image, or as a potential sex object? Do you honor and value them like he does? Do you treat them the way he does? Do I?

Lord Jesus, every woman I cross is either a precious lost soul for whom you died or a sister in my family. May I see them and treat them as I should, as you do.

[July 08]--When Bad Things Happen to Bad People

Luke 13:1-9

I guess I have a slightly sick sense of humor. Every time I read passages like today’s, I end up thinking “. . .and then Jesus went on to write a book called How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

For a thought experiment, let’s put this in a modern context in order to thoroughly appreciate just how shocking this was. Right after September 11, there were people—on the political left and on the religious right—who said some pretty shocking things. People on the extreme Left said we deserved this attack because of our foreign policy in the Middle East. Others on the Religious Right said America deserved this, or at least New York City did, because of its abortion policies or attitude towards homosexuality. And of course most American people were disgusted by such statements.

So let’s do a thought experiment for a moment. Let me paraphrase Luke 13:1-5. “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the thousands who had died at the hands of Muslim extremists in the Twin Towers. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these New Yorkers were worse sinners than all the other Americans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen hundred who died when Hurricane Katrina landed—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Louisiana? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish!’” Can you imagine the response?

What was Jesus’ point here? There are those—again, from all types of persuasions—who try to attach some deeper meaning to deadly disasters, both natural and man-made. “It must have happened for a reason. There must be a reason why they were killed and I wasn’t.” And from there it’s a short leap to believe that you’re somehow morally better than those who were killed.

Jesus’ response to that line of thinking? Nonsense. You’re not any less deserving than they were, nor any more deserving. Since the Fall of mankind, we’re all under the death penalty. All of us are sinners, and the penalty for sin is death (both physical and spiritual). If the hammer hasn’t fallen on me yet, then that’s not a testimony to my clean living. For some mysterious reason, God has chosen to withhold what I deserve. . .for the moment.

That’s the reason why he gave the parable of the fig tree right after that little word of sunshine. Both Israel as a nation and each individual soul were under God’s wrath for disobedience. The Lord, since he’s not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance, gives each of us a certain amount of time to return to him. But there will come a time when the sands in the hourglass run out. If by that time I haven’t repented (turned away from doing things my way and submitted to doing things God’s way), then I’ll finally get what I deserve.

So what’s the point to this? When I hear about someone killed in a terrorist attack or in a car accident, what should be my response? Well, that’s not the cue to start a discussion on whether or not there’s a direct correlation between those people’s sins and what happened to them. Maybe there was, and maybe there wasn’t. But the question I need to ask myself is “What about me? Am I right with God? If that happened to me (which it very well could have), then where would I be right now?”

If you’re reading this and haven’t submitted your life to Christ yet, then you know what you ought to do. If not, or you're not sure if you have or haven't, then please read this.

If you are saved, then you’re not completely off the hook either. Incidents as big as Sept. 11 and as small as a car wreck should remind each of us that we have a short time here. There’s only a short time to let our loved ones know about this. But there’s another emotion that this should produce: Gratitude. Our loving God chose to snatch you out of that mess, redeem you, adopt you, and cleanse you. He didn’t have to do that, you know.

Father God, may each death around me spur me on to serve you better. Please give me your compassion for the lost and a deep desire to see them come into your family. Whatever it takes.

[July 07]--Open Your Eyes!

Luke 12:54-59

I remember a story told to me in American History class back in high school. My teacher was talking about the time just prior to the fall of the stock market and the coming of the Great Depression in 1929. She told us a story (possibly apocryphal) about Rockefeller who was having his shoes shined. The incredibly wealthy businessman overheard the shoe-shiner bragging about some stocks he was investing in. Rockefeller immediately realized that the market was getting overextended if a shoe-shiner was able to buy stocks, and quickly liquidated his stock holdings in order to prepare for the coming downturn. By doing this he saved most of his money and weathered the approaching economic storm.

I thought about that story today as I read the passage above. Why was Jesus condemning his listeners? How should we respond? Should we be on the lookout for the “End Times” and stock up on food, guns, and ammo for the coming Apocalypse?

Our Lord was rebuking them for not seeing the obvious signs around them. Their weather prediction was pretty rudimentary, but they knew some of the basics just because of observation. They knew that if X happens, then likely Y is about to occur. They might not know why this was true, but they knew that it was true.

What were they seeing? Every day they were seeing miracles up to their armpits. They saw blind people receiving their sight again. They saw deaf people hearing again. They saw the crippled standing up and jumping for joy. They saw 5,000 men being fed with a few loaves and fish. They likely heard about the raising of the dead.

More than this, they saw peoples’ lives being changed. They saw tax collectors leaving behind their booths with money piled up in order to follow this Teacher. They saw people controlled by demons released from bondage. They saw former “ladies of the evening” abandoning their lifestyle in favor of sexual purity. They even saw some measure of reconciliation and unity within the ranks of the apostles: Among the Twelve were a former tax collector (a collaborator) and a former Zealot (who outside of this settings would've gladly knifed him in a heartbeat).

With all these signs around them, with most people it was like talking to them with headphones on. Have you ever done that? You’re talking to someone and they smile and nod. That’s what most of these people did. They weren’t really opposed to Jesus, but they weren’t about to give up their lifestyle in order to follow him.

In this context, vss. 58-59 make a little more sense. Right now is the time for reconciliation. Not with your brother-in-law whom you can’t stand, but your Creator. You’ve been given all the signs you need in order to recognize that you need to submit to the Savior. Right now, you and he are still talking, so to speak. But a court date is approaching, and the outcome of that is sure. You’ve already been condemned and judged guilty, and once you step into the courtroom it’s too late to “hash it out” beforehand.

So is this a call to be on the lookout for the End Times? Is it time to stock up and bunker down? I don’t think so. What is it? It’s a perfect time to do one of two things. If you haven’t received Christ, then now’s the only time you can do it. Yesterday’s gone. Tomorrow will be here, but maybe you won’t be here to see it. If you haven't received Christ yet--or if you're not sure if you have or not--please go here.

And if you are a follower of Christ, then make sure that you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. John gives us some really good counsel: “And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.” Whether he comes in a thousand years or within the next minute, that’s good advice.

Lord Jesus, please open my eyes to what you want to show me. Am I missing opportunities or warnings you’ve placed in front of me? Is there something more I should be doing?

[July 06]--Jesus: Divider of Families?

Luke 12:49-53

I have a book called Hard Sayings of Jesus, which has been a great source over the years concerning--as the title indicates--statements by our Savior which are troublesome. Not surprisingly, today’s passage is listed.

I mean, the Bible tells us pretty plainly that God invented the family. As you might've noticed, he created marriage (and by extension the family) before he created government or the church. It’s the pillar of society, and no society can survive along with its dissolution. The Lord considered honoring one’s parents important enough to include in his Top Ten Commands. In fact, it’s the first commandment among the Ten that deals with our relationship with other people, before murder or theft or adultery. So why does it seem like Jesus is in favor of breaking them up?

I think we need to distinguish between intent and effect. It’s not his intent in the least to break up families. He loves them. He created them. They are (or are supposed to be) a great source of strength, comfort, and encouragement in this harsh world. No matter how badly the world outside treats us, the family should be our refuge from all that mess. And it is (or should be) the primary source of teaching we have about God and his word.

Regrettably, that’s not the effect of his coming. What he's referring to is the result of some people in a family—but not all—coming to a saving knowledge of Christ. A child gets saved, and watches in agony as his parents reject not only his Savior but their own son. A wife receives Christ and is constantly burdened with the knowledge that if nothing else changes, her beloved husband will be separated from her into eternal darkness.

But what’s the alternative? Without God’s intervention, all of us would be lost. If he just left us to our own devices, we would be all united. Just like the builders of the Tower of Babel, we’d be perfectly united in rebellion against our Creator, all of us under his righteous anger. Unity is a neutral term. Unity in a good cause is a good thing. But there’s such a thing as being united in a bad cause as well, and in that case dissent is necessary. At one time Germany was very united under its Fuehrer. According to Revelation, one day pretty much all of humanity will be united in serving the Anti-Christ.

But didn't the angels pronounce "peace on earth" when Jesus was born? Well, sort of. The NIV translates what they proclaimed as "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." The peace that Jesus offers is only in effect when we're submitting to him. In the family, church, etc., where he has final authority, where he's the undisputed King, there is perfect peace. But the only time he's going to bring real peace on the whole earth is when he returns in power and glory and completely crushes all rebellion and rebels. When every knee bows before him (whether willingly or no), there will be perfect universal peace. But not till then.

So that’s the result of Jesus’ first coming. And it’s very regrettable that families are divided over this. By the way, if you think it’s bad here, you’ve seen nothing unless you’ve stepped outside America’s borders. In most of the world, family ties are considered so much more important than any silly ideas you have in your head about truth or questioning what you’ve been told. The prospect of being cut off from your family is one of the biggest hurdles many face before becoming a follower of Jesus. Family is everything. Ostracism is the nicest thing that happens to you, but what commonly happens is that your former family attempts to kill you. So when Jesus warns us that in some situations “a man's enemies will be the members of his own household,” he isn’t just talking about not being invited to the family reunions.

So what can we learn from this? Well, let me speak for myself first of all. I was raised in a Christian home. My parents, however imperfectly, tried to model Christ in front of me and see that I was taught God’s word. I was in church every Sunday morning (and most evenings), along with Monday night visitation, Wednesday night fellowship, choir, etc. And this was because of the encouragement of my parents. If this describes you, if you were raised in a Christian home, then you need to stop right now and thank God for that incredible blessing. You can’t imagine the heartbreak that the Lord has spared you.

If, however, today’s passage applies to you, then please take heart. Your Savior knows very well what it’s like to have family members misunderstand and reject you. His own brothers didn’t believe in him. The people in the town he grew up in? They tried to throw him off a cliff. So he knows. He’s watching. He’s taking account of your faithfulness, and will someday dry every tear from your eyes. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, some of the division in your family will end. Maybe some of your physical relatives will become your siblings in Christ. Don’t stop praying, and don’t give up.

Father God, I thank you so much that no matter what type of “bio” family we have, you are our Father and we have millions of siblings all over the world. It is soooo good to be adopted into your family.

[July 05]--Of Hypocrites and Sparrows

Luke 12:1-12

You might have heard this phrase before applied to various contexts, and it certainly applies to today’s passage: “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” That actually summarizes pretty neatly the Bible’s approach to people in different circumstances. Within these twelve short verses we see a plethora of good instructions, along with a lot of what I call “tension” passages--those in which two opposite Biblical truths are held in tension in order to provide the perfect balance for us.

At this point in Jesus’ ministry, the crowds were multiplying and supposedly he was more popular than ever before. It was at this juncture that the Master decided to warn the disciples about hypocrisy. Apparently when more people are paying attention to you--and are applauding you--is a great time to fall into this trap. I’ll insert a short reminder here that “hypocrite” is from a Greek word meaning “mask.” When you’re unknown, you don’t have to worry about wearing a mask, but once your name starts getting “out there,” that popularity becomes more important than truth-telling. So be on your guard.

And what’s a good motivation for guarding against hypocrisy? Because there will come a day in which the mask is removed for everyone to see what it’s hiding: “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” You might fool the crowds for now, but you won’t forever. One way or another, you’ll be exposed.

Why do people become hypocrites? Because they’re afraid of what people might do to them or say about them. But the worst they could ever do would be to kill your body, while God could do much worse. This is not a warning about losing your salvation (since the Bible doesn’t teach that you can lose it), but it’s a warning to us to set our priorities correctly. Don’t be afraid of people; fear God instead (in the right sense).

By the way, this passage is a great reason to know your Bible comprehensively and not just bits and pieces. Matthew 10:29 records where Jesus used a similar but slightly different phrase: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.” Apparently merchants selling little birds commonly had “sales” going on. If you bought two sparrows, it cost you a penny. If you bought four sparrows for two pennies, he would “throw in” one as a bonus. The poor lone sparrow, not even worth half a penny, was certainly not remembered. Except by the Father. He sees all. He knows all. And even the forgotten sparrow is not beneath his notice.

Please note that this is meant as both an encouragement and a warning. If you’re doing “shady” things that wouldn’t stand the harsh light of day, be assured of this: “You may be sure that your sin will find you out.” And if you’re faithfully serving the Lord, trying (however imperfectly) to do what’s right and you’re not getting the recognition you deserve, be assured of this: The God who even remembers the “leftover sparrow” has not forgotten you either.

And of course the real acid test of hypocrisy/truthfulness comes when the name of Christ falls in popularity (as it inevitably does) and it becomes the smartest thing in the world to keep quiet or even disown the name. We’re saved by grace through faith, not by proclaiming ourselves as Christians. But one way you can tell if you are saved is by openly and unashamedly associating with the name of Jesus when it costs you to do so. If you can’t do that, then maybe you need to reexamine whether or not you really belong to him.

If you do this—stand up and be counted a follower of Christ when it’s not popular—then you have a special promise. When you’re brought before authorities or other hostiles, you won’t need to worry about what to say, because he’ll put the words in your mouth. Please note the exact phrasing here: “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities. . .” not “When you’re responsible for a sermon or a Bible study and didn’t take the time to prepare beforehand. . .” Any preachers or teachers out there who try to claim promises like this are out of luck. Not that I’ve ever done anything like that, of course. . .

Lord Jesus, am I hiding behind a mask? Please create in me a pure heart, oh God, before it becomes necessary to bring everything out to the light of day. Please.

[July 04]--Prayer During A Sojourn

Jeremiah 29:4-7

Today I decided to take a one-day break from Luke in order to present some thoughts pertinent to our celebration of the 4th. I’m going to do my best to keep my personal politics out of the blog, since that’s not its purpose. As such, I’m going to be pretty generic here and stick to what I think is reasonable for any Bible-believing Christian.

First, I think it’s pretty ironic that a country that was so heavily influenced by Christianity and the Bible (which it was) would start out the way it did. What’s the official name for today? Independence Day. We began this nation by telling Mother England “You can’t tell us what to do!” The first official document we produced in doing this was entitled a “Declaration of Independence.”

For any believer, this should strike you as odd or at least ironic. The entire Bible is a Declaration of Dependence. We’re going to depend on God and on each other. The Founding Fathers who were Christians (and there were a lot of them) saw absolutely no contradiction here. They were declaring independence from a government they considered tyrannical, but they fully intended to immediately set up another government in its place. They weren’t anarchists or radical individualists. The last sentence in the Declaration denies this notion: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” When they were declaring in-dependence from Great Britain, they were at the same time declaring dependence on their Creator and on each other.

Now please don’t misunderstand me here. I love this country. I’m extremely grateful for the way the Lord has used it to bless me and my family and the entire world. Yes, I think this nation has done far more good to the world than harm overall. I love the freedoms we enjoy, such as the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to have a voice in how we’re governed, etc. I know that those freedoms did not come for free: They were bought and paid for by the blood of quite a few men (and some women). And this country has more opportunities for material wealth and prosperity than any other in the history of mankind. We're incredibly wealthy here. Our poor have obesity problems.

Of course none of this means it’s perfect. We still have problems with racism, but we certainly don’t have the monopoly on that in the world. There’s still a lot of poverty here, and we need to deal with it in a biblical way. And our entertainment culture, to put it as mildly as I can, is a cesspool. And of course our culture is moving from 1) Full acceptance of homosexual behavior (which is bad enough) to 2) Complete intolerance of those who even disagree with the homosexual lifestyle. But I’d like to address a problem which is ingrained in this nation which is almost unique and was woven into the very fabric of its origins.

I think the churches in every nation and in every society are in danger of picking up too much from the surrounding culture. If we were in another country, I’d be sounding the alarm on some other way in which the church has picked up the atmosphere surrounding it. In this setting I think the church has imbibed way too much of the spirit of independence. Again, our very nation started out by saying to the Mother Country “You can’t tell me what to do!” and I think that’s carried over into how we “do church.” It’s gone way over the line from a healthy skepticism regarding human government into an unhealthy radical individualism in the church. It’s a religion of “Jesus and me.” It’s a religion of “Jesus is my best buddy.” It’s a religion of “I don’t care what the Bible says, I’m doing this my way.” To the degree that this thinking has infected our church, it has to be fought tooth and nail.

That’s a major problem I see. Maybe you see others. Christians of different political stripes tend to see our country through the prism of their own biases. Some think we’re relying too much on military solutions to our international problems. Others see us relying too little. Some think taxes are way too high, others see them as too low because the “rich” aren’t paying their fair share. Some think the government interferes way too much in our personal lives, while others favor a lot more regulation and oversight.

But can we agree on a few basics here? This is our country. No, it’s not our ultimate home. But it’s where our Father's placed us for the time being, and I think we need to be grateful for the way he’s blessed us here. I think one word provides a good balance here: sojourn. It’s a short trip on our way to a final destination. In a way, we should look at it like the prophet Jeremiah told his people to view Babylon. I know we're in this country by choice, and America is a lot better than Babylon. But the point still stands: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

I firmly believe that all the other problems we have: racism, sexual immorality, political corruption, etc., are symptoms of a much deadlier disease. That disease is a church which doesn't spread the Message of Jesus as far as it can, and which doesn't live out the Message of Jesus in our daily lives. And it also stems from a neglect of prayer for our nation's leaders (which is commanded of us, btw).

Pray for your nation today. In between the fireworks and hotdogs. Pray for it. Pray that God will prosper it and bless it. But also pray that she will come back to her God. Pray that the believers within her will be revived out of their slumber, and a lot more of the lost within her will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Will you join me in that today?

Father God, thank you so much for the multiple and incredible ways in which you’ve blessed this land, and blessed us through it. Please guide her back onto your path. Please wake up the church within her. Whatever I need to do to help that, by your grace I’ll do it.

[July 03]--The Queen and Nineveh

Luke 11:29-32

There seems to be a paradox at work here regarding Jesus’ reaction to people following him. We know from other passages that he desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. He’s not willing that anyone perish but that all come to repentance. But his reaction when the crowds start to increase? He calls them a “wicked generation” and refuses to give them what they apparently want: A flashy sign. Doesn’t he know that that’s what the people want? Won’t that bring them to faith? Doesn’t he want as many people following him as possible?

I don’t know all the ins and outs of this issue, but I do know this: He’s looking for quality over quantity of disciples. It does no one any good if they fool themselves into thinking they’re following Christ and are saved when they’re not. That’s why you see him seemingly driving people away from him even when they look like good candidates. My point? We dare not water down the demands of repentance when presenting the Good News of salvation. If you’re new to my thoughts on this subject, they’re here.

As always, instead of giving people what they want, he gives them what they need at this juncture: A stern warning. He points them to two main examples, and again we see an emphasis on God’s extension of grace to Gentiles.

The first is the “Queen of the South,” which is another name for the Queen of Sheba. Her encounter with Solomon is recorded here, but you might be familiar with the story already. She heard of the famous King Solomon, and came from a great distance (probably modern day Yemen) to meet him face-to-face. She wanted to see what she could learn from him.

The second example is even more dramatic. It’s difficult to express just how evil and wicked the Ninevites were. This was the capital of Assyria, one of the cruelest, bloodiest, most horrible empires in world history. God condemned Jonah for refusing to go to them, but his actions were entirely understandable. He went to them under extreme duress, preached a message of pure judgment (“Forty days and Nineveh will fall!”). There was (as far as we know) not one word of grace in his sermons, but they listened and—in godly fear and hope—repented and turned to the Lord. And God heard them and forgave.

What’s Jesus’ point? On Judgment Day, when the books are opened and people stand before the Throne, the Queen and those Ninevites will accuse those people who rejected Jesus’ message. The Queen never heard the entirety of God’s revelation, but she heard enough to believe. The Ninevites heard even less than she did, and they also believed. If those Gentiles responded so positively to so little, you have even less excuse. Oh and by the way, if anyone ever tries to tell you that the book of Jonah is not literally true, I think I'd trust Jesus to be a little bit better interpreter than those jokers. Apparently he considered the story to be literally true, since these people will one day be called as prosecution witnesses in God's court.

And one reason you have even less excuse is not just because of the completeness of the message; it’s also the person who’s presenting it to you. King Solomon was an incredible monarch, one of the great kings of Israel. He built the original temple, and more importantly was the author of some of God’s word. Jonah was great prophet, sent by the Lord on a very important mission. He has a book of the Bible named after him.

But now there’s Someone who’s much greater than Solomon or Jonah. He’s not an earthly king, he’s the King of kings. He’s not just a prophet; he’s the One the prophets were talking about. And if those people in the past considered God’s message to be so important, how shall anyone escape if they neglect a message from God’s Son?

This is a theme that runs throughout Scripture. R.C. Sproul says the Scripture passage that frightens him the most is “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” When I think about all the Bible studies, translations, commentaries, sermons, etc. that we have, it scares me a little too. And maybe more than a little.

Lord Jesus, you truly are greater than Jonah or Solomon. Am I listening to you better than those pagans? What are you asking from me?

[July 02]--Jesus and Beelzebub

Luke 11:14-23

When it comes to the “spiritual warfare” movement, I try to find a biblical balance between extremes. Some Christians (particularly of the Charismatic or Pentecostal persuasion) see demonic activity under every rock and in every shadow. If my car breaks down, it’s because it’s possessed by an evil spirit. If I’m sick, it’s because I have demon on my back. Others, as characterized by my own denominational background, tend to regard any treatment of this subject as crazy talk, and act as if all demonic activity stopped right after the Bible was completed.

The Bible, as always, presents us with a corrective to both parties. Yes, there’s spiritual warfare which goes on “behind the scenes” and of which we’re completely unaware. There are angelic and demonic forces which influence the world in which we live. But that’s not our main concern. It certainly isn’t the main concern of the N.T. Once you get out of the Gospels and Acts, there’s very little mention of what we'd call “spiritual warfare.” What’s the main focus of the Epistles of Paul, John, Peter, etc.? Simple, mundane things like loving and obeying Christ. Focusing on him and what he told us to do. Telling others about him and helping them to grow closer to him. There’s very little--and absolutely no commands--on facing down Satan and his minions, except through such mundane means as sharing the Good News with the lost, keeping in close communion with the Savior through prayer and the word, helping each other obey the Savior, etc. That’s how you hurt the Enemy. There’s not one word about us seeking “power encounters.”

Having said all that, today’s passage provides us with some good “behind the curtain” information. The first words of Jesus here have the distinction of being quoted by Lincoln. He was referring to America when he quoted Christ, making the point that a nation can’t stand for very long if it’s divided as ours was, and he was absolutely correct. Was he misusing Scripture by taking it out of context? I don’t think so, since the main principle still stands. And of course the same principle applies to any organization, including and especially a church.

Jesus’ argument was that if his power was coming from Satan, then Satan has a problem. Christ’s ministry was working against his interests. Christ was releasing people from Satanic bondage, not binding them further. This wouldn’t make any sense.

The second part of his defense was the exorcisms by disciples of the Pharisees. If Jesus’ actions were powered by Satan, then those others were illegitimate as well. In fact, if these are the same ones mentioned in Acts chapter 19, then Jesus’ exorcisms are far more legitimate.

By the way, it’s interesting to note that Jesus uses the same exact phrase (“finger of God”) that Pharaoh’s magicians used when confronted by the miracles done through Moses. I think the Master used this deliberately, since that was another time in which Satan’s power and God’s power collided in a real “power encounter,” with similar results.

Then Jesus comes to a very meaningful analogy for us. In case you didn’t figure it out, Satan is the “strong man” who guards his possessions. And Christ wasn’t kidding when he used this term for the Enemy of our souls. He’s far stronger than you and me, and in any direct confrontation between him and me, there’s no contest. Peter calls him a “roaring lion,” and there’s a special term for a fight between a lion and a man: lunch.

But the good news is that we aren’t meant to face this Enemy, at least not in our own strength. The “stronger” one is not me. It’s the Lord Jesus Christ. In a sense, this is what he came to do. He’s invaded Satan’s “house,” and he’s attacked, taken away the “armor,” and is in the process of taking and dividing up the “spoils.”

That’s you and me, by the way. We belonged to our own Enemy, and now Jesus has come to claim us as his own. With every soul who trusts in and submits to Christ, Satan’s kingdom shrinks.

So how do we apply this? Well, there’s one in the last verse. There’s a world war going on all around us, and there’s no Switzerland here. There’s no neutral territory and no neutral souls. As C.S. Lewis put it, every square inch of this universe is claimed by the Enemy and counterclaimed by Christ. Two questions—both for me and for you: Which side are you on? Which side are you helping most?

Lord Jesus, I belong to you. I know it and you know it, but my actions don’t show it all the time. I want my banner flying in the breeze, not folded up in a box. And with your help, it will.

[July 01]--Two Sisters

Luke 10:38-42

I mentioned this before, but the more I think about it, the more I like Aristotle’s way of looking at things. For those unfamiliar with him, he was a major Greek philosopher. His main paradigm was the “Golden Mean.” This means that you should find the proper balance between extremes.

Of course, the main reason I like this philosophy is because it fits in well with how Scripture says we’re supposed to approach life. Like Solomon said, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. . .” There’s a time to step out and speak boldly, and there’s a time to be silent. There’s a time to weep and a time to laugh. There’s a time to mourn and a time to dance. Every (legitimate) activity has its appropriate setting.

I think that’s the main lesson for today, with a slight caveat. What Aristotle missed (as near as I can tell) was the concept of priorities. Yes, there’s a time for everything, but not everything is equally important. There are times in which we need to push aside X because Y is so much more necessary.

That brings us to today’s passage. We’ve seen this family before, since Lazarus and his sisters play such a huge role in John chapter 11 (here if you don’t know it). Lazarus’s resurrection is probably the most spectacular miracle outside of Jesus’ own rising from the dead. But most of the time they were just a wonderful family with whom Jesus could hang out. As a bonus, they lived close by Jerusalem, which made it convenient to stay with them on his visits there.

On one of his frequent visits, he and his followers stayed for a meal. Do you know anyone like Martha? My wife has some of Martha’s spirit in her, and that’s nothing but a compliment. If guests are coming over, then there are things that need to be done. The food has to be prepared and served. Spots have to be reserved for everyone. And of course there’s the cleaning! What woman hasn’t worried about the cleanliness of her home when guests arrive?

Again, this is not a problem in itself. Some people are natural servants, and in this respect they imitate our Master better than the rest of us who have to be prodded to do anything. I’m not just referring to a home: In every church there are “Marthas” who do about 80% of the menial service. People rarely think about them until something happens to them and the service stops. Then they’re sorely missed when the coffeepot isn’t washed or the chairs aren’t put out or the AC isn’t turned on before the worship service. Someday when we stand before our Lord and the books are opened and everything is laid bare, these people will finally get the recognition they should've gotten on earth, and the applause will be done by nail-scarred hands. Quite frankly, I need to be bit more like them than I presently am.

But here’s where the point about priorities kicks in. Here’s the lesson I get from her sister Mary: When Jesus is talking, it’s time to sit down, be quiet, and listen. There are people who are so busy doing that they neglect listening to the Savior. That’s what I mean by the third paragraph. Yes, practical service is really important, but spending time alone with the Lord (at least daily), as Jesus himself said here, is “better.” Yes, it needs to be a higher priority than doing, even doing things for him.

If this isn’t your tendency, if you’re like me and actually have to be prodded to do the menial tasks, then this really isn’t meant for you. But if you listen very closely and hear the Master saying “We need to talk for a few minutes,” then you know what you need to do, don’t you?

Lord Jesus, all of us probably need to listen to you more and talk less. Whatever’s distracting us, please push it aside. Whatever it takes.