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Monthly Archives: July 2015

We Will Get Exactly What the Thief Got

There is a rumor going around that when Christians die, they go into a state sometimes called “soul sleep”, almost a sci-fi type suspended animation thing. The idea undoubtedly comes from Paul’s description of believers’ death as “sleep” in 1 Corinthians 11, 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4. Jehovah’s Witnesses teach soul sleep, along with Seventh Day Adventists.

But make no mistake…it’s not true. When Paul speaks of the believer’s sleep, he is surely just describing what the body looks like.

And here’s how we know this: After the Lord received wonderful moral support from the famous “thief on the cross”, and this was followed by the man’s plea to “remember me when you come into your kingdom,” consider what Jesus promised him…

“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43 (ESV)

Not, “I’ll see you in a couple thousand years” but…today. I’m not sure what the JW’s say to this clear teaching. Maybe they think that only the thief makes it to heaven right away and the rest of us poor lunks have to wait. If so, that’s some serious one-on-one time that Mr. Thief gets with the Lord.

But we know they are wrong, not only because of the passage in Luke, but also in light of Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians 5…

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 (ESV)

Here Paul refers to death as being “away from the body” and says that when we are in that situation, we are “at home with the Lord.” No suspended animation, no soul sleep, just Jesus.

This means that one moment after we die, because of God’s glorious grace, we will be with Him. We will, in the famous words of President Ronald Reagan, “slip the surly bonds of earth…to touch the face of God.”

For Monday, August 3rd: Luke 24

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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An Oft Overlooked Prayer

The question of what we should pray for is an interesting one. I once wrote about asking for “personal, selfish things” and that article seems to have garnered a good bit of interest. But I do think we fall into praying ruts, which is one reason I  pray through the Lord’s Prayer most every day. I try to make it thoughtful, not rote, making each petition my own and seeking the Lord through it.

Our praying ruts can be especially dangerous if they leave out a prayer that Jesus teaches us to pray in His famous prayer: “Lead us not into temptation.” And it’s interesting that the Lord tells his disciples to especially pray this prayer as the hour or trial came upon them:

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Luke 22:39-40 (ESV)

It was such a significant prayer that Jesus reiterated it a little later, when he found the boys dozing:

And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Luke 22:45-46 (ESV)

Jesus knew that a very difficult hour was coming upon them, and therefore He knew what they needed to be praying for, help in keeping their commitment to Him and to His cause. “Lord, keep us from temptation and sin!” And we can surmise why the Lord kept reminding His disciples to pray this way: wasn’t it this basic prayer that Jesus Himself prayed as He sweat great drops of blood in the Garden? “Not My will, but Thine be done.”

It’s a good lesson for you and me. What is the temptation that you struggle with? Is it a sharp temper toward your little ones when you come home at the end of a hard day? Then let that car ride home be a time that you pray not to enter into temptation. Is it the “all-you-can-eat” buffet that the gang from work is heading to tomorrow? Pray today for strength tomorrow to order a salad off the menu.

This kind of prayer is powerful. And if I’m not mistaken, we often overlook it. So take some time and think through your particular struggles, and ask the Lord to keep you from temptation.

The Father graciously answered His Son, to our eternal benefit, and He will come to our aid as well.

For tomorrow, Friday, July 31st: Luke 23

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The Sin You Thought Wasn’t a Problem…is a Problem

FearWhen we think about godly living, most of us think of some sins as obvious. Drunkenness, for instance, is something we want to avoid. Scripture makes that pretty clear:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, Ephesians 5:18 (ESV)

Among believers, at least in North America, there is a healthy stigma with being drunk, and so most of us are careful to avoid consuming too much alcohol. But there are other significant sins that do not have such stigma, and it probably wouldn’t be such a bad thing if they did.

Consider Jesus’ words of warning about being ready for the last days:

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” Luke 21:34 (ESV)

When it comes to what Jesus is warning us against, it almost looks like one of these things doesn’t belong. According to a Greek dictionary, the word translated dissipation refers to “unbridled indulgence in a drinking party”, so it’s very similar to drunkenness. And then we have this phrase, “cares of this life.” We might perhaps better translate this, “the cares of daily life.”

The Cares of Daily Life

Come on, is it really that bad to be weighed down with the cares of daily life? Apparently, yes, for Jesus is saying that our hearts can be weighed down with worries about car repairs, clothing, and the health of our pets as much as they can be weighed down with alcohol. How does this work? Well, alcohol puts a person out of commission to serve God, and…so do the cares of this life. Our little fears throughout the day distract us, keeping us from focusing on Christ and His Kingdom. And the effect is that we are not prepared for His return.

So it’s funny that we Christians can talk about our worrying like it’s nothing: “I’m such a worrier,” we say. “Oh, yeah, me too,” our friend replies. (I know wherein I speak – I’ve said this sort of thing way too many times.) But how many people do you know who come to church laughing and yucking it up about their “big ol’ hangover” from Saturday night? Not too many I would guess.

So what to do with our worries?

1. Stop…and realize that it’s a sin to worry. Then begin to take it as seriously as you would a developing habit of bar-hopping on the weekends. By the way, I’m not advocating putting yourself on a guilt trip – that definitely won’t help – but I am saying that sometimes we have sins in our life that we don’t think of as sinful. The first step toward eating less, in other words, is to call yourself a glutton. And as long as we keep laughing about our “cares of daily life” habit, we will never take worry seriously enough to defeat it.

2. The second step is equally important: Prayer. Devote yourself to prayer over the items on your worry list, then wait for the peace of God to come and guard your heart. (See Philippians 4:6, 7) Much has been written about this, so enough said.

3. Finally, keep the cross always in front of you. It’s Calvary that tells us that, yes, our sin is bad, but it’s also forgiven by the God who loves us so much that He died for us. If He cared so much for us to walk in the way of the cross, will He not care enough for us to handle everything else. Romans 8:32 comes to mind…

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32 (ESV)

Or, as Tim Keller wrote in The Reason for God:

“The fact that Jesus had to die for me humbled me out of my pride. The fact that Jesus was glad to die for me assured me out of my fear.”

For tomorrow, Thursday, July 30th: Luke 22

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The “Airtight Argument” for God

The Sadducees were a group of Jews who believed in God but also believed that there was no afterlife; one day they came plotting to make Jesus look foolish with an “airtight argument” for their position:

“Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. And the second and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. Afterward the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.” Luke 20:28-33 (ESV)

Strange law, huh? But aside from that, in their desire to prove Jesus wrong about the resurrection, it surely seemed like they had Him right where they wanted. And yet, of course, they were wrong – Jesus explained to their dismay that people weren’t actually married in heaven. Instead, they are like angels. Now, that’s fascinating in itself and worthy of a blog or two. (Diane and I, by the way, are planning to be best friends on the other side.)

But the idea of refuting Jesus is also fascinating. How many people today are convinced they can prove the Bible or Christianity wrong? They come up with this or that argument that purports to show how foolish we are to follow a 2,000 year long dead carpenter from Nazareth. And some say that they will only believe if we ourselves can come up with an “airtight argument” to prove God is real and Christianity is true.

And this is where I so appreciate Tim Keller’s idea:

“When God decided to send salvation he didn’t send an airtight argument; he sent an airtight person. He didn’t send an abstract principle; he sent a human being.”

And along those lines, historian Philip Schaff writes about this airtight person:

“This Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander, Caesar, Mohammed, and Napoleon; without science and learning, He shed more light on things human and divine than all philosophers and scholars combined; without the eloquence of schools, He spoke such words of life as were never spoken before or since and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet; without writing a single line, He set more pens in motion, and furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions, learned volumes, works of art, and songs of praise, than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times.”

Again, God didn’t sent an airtight argument. He sent an airtight person. And when people wonder about the Bible or the resurrection or what have you, point them to this incredible person of Jesus Christ. Just as he answered the Sadducees 2 millenia ago, He is the ultimate answer to every question we have.

 

For Wednesday, July 29th: Luke 21

 

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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What Made Jesus Weep

One of the hardest things we have to do as followers of Christ is keep the reality of eternity ever before us. Heaven seems so glorious…yet so far away, and Hell seems so impossibly horrendous that it is hard to think sustained thoughts about either destination.

And since we have a hard time reckoning with the reality of eternity, we naturally have difficulty generating a concern for the plight of the lost. Oh, it hits us sometimes with force, but for the most part we are perfunctory about it – we know we need to share the gospel. We know we need to be faithful witnesses. We need to love the lost more dearly, but too often our hearts are cold.

Enter Luke 19.

It begins with the story of Zacchaeus, a short, rich man who was desperately lost, but who nevertheless had an interest in Jesus. Jesus knows about this, and invites himself over for lunch, and before the day is done, the Lord declares that we will be meeting the tax collector in heaven:

“Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.” Luke 19:9 (ESV)

And then Jesus gives us deep insight into his mission and purpose:

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10 (ESV)

We may have a hard time generating a heart for the lost, but Jesus did not as it was His very mission and purpose. And this same heart is displayed clearly when He finally returns to Jerusalem and surveys the crowd…

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it… Luke 19:41 (ESV)

Jesus loves the individuals (Zacchaeus), and He loves the multitudes, and so, as in all things, He provides a wonderful example. But Jesus’ example here (and elsewhere) can put us under the pile, making us feel guilty for not measuring up to His high standard…which of course, we don’t.

And of course, we never do. We fall short in our heart for the lost, and we fall short in everything else, but here is where we remember that our hope is not in Jesus as an example to us, but a substitute. As Christians we are “in Christ”, and our ultimate hope is that He is our righteousness. Our record is spotty, but His is perfect, and because we are in Him, not only does our sin go on Him at the cross, but His righteousness becomes ours, as Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21…

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)

And here’s the wonderful thing, knowing that Christ’s perfect standard of righteousness substitutes for our sinful record fills us with a peace and joy that ultimately leads us to live more righteously, to serve more wholeheartedly, and especially, in the case of the lost, to love more dearly.

This is the message of Jesus, and that is the reason we call it…good news.

 

For tomorrow, Tuesday, July 28th: Luke 20

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Do You Have a Little Faith…or a Lot?

As Christians, we know that we are called to have faith, certainly a faith that saves. (Ephesians 2:8, 9) But Scripture also seems to speak of a type of faith beyond that, the faith we are called to “exercise” daily, a faith that “moves mountains.” (Matthew 17:20) In this area, some Christians apparently have more faith than others. More than once Jesus described the disciples as having “little faith.”

So…how do you know if you are exercising this kind of faith? And more importantly, exactly how much faith do you have? A little…or a lot? Is there a way that you can tell?

To answer this I’ve been drawn to the story that Jesus tells at the beginning of Luke chapter 18. It’s a parable about prayer, and we know this, because Jesus tells us at the outset…

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. Luke 18:1 (ESV)

And thus begins the story of the widow and the judge. She needs help against her enemies, and her only hope is this judge who could care less about God, or her or anyone else for that matter. So of course, the judge doesn’t help her, at first. And then, because of her persistence, he gives in “so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.'” (Luke 18:5 ESV)

Jesus then makes the point…

And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.

So far so good. We understand that Jesus is not saying that God is like the judge. In fact, He is the opposite. So if the judge answers the widow, how much more will God come to the aid of His people.

But what we find almost out of place is the note that comes at the end of the story:

Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:1-8 (ESV)

Wait, we wonder, when did this become a parable about faith? We were led to believe at the outset that it was all about prayer. Ah, and there’s the answer to our first question about exercising faith. It is a parable about prayer, but that makes it a parable about faith also…because the way to know if you are exercising faith is by looking at your prayer life.

This is why Jesus can ask this question at the end, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith?” Or, to put it another way, “Will He find people…praying?” Because if people are praying persistently to a good and loving God…it will be the foremost sign that they have faith.

Faith and prayer are inseparable in the Scriptures. So the Psalmist said…

And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:10 (ESV)

Do you see it? The ones who trust God…are the ones who seek Him.

The writer of Hebrews pulls it altogether for us:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6 (ESV)

This is the way to measure your faith – look and see how much you seek God, in other words, how much you pray. And therefore, do you want to be a person of great faith?

Then be a person of great prayer.

 

For Monday, July 27th: Luke 19

 

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Fresh Insight from the 10 Lepers Story

True confessions: the ten lepers story from Luke 17 has always been a bit of a yawner to me. Of course, it’s the classic text for a Thanksgiving sermon, but the application has always seemed so humdrum: BE SURE TO SAY THANK YOU TO GOD. Now, of course, that’s really important to do – Momma said so, and moreover, true believers do it instinctively, but it still doesn’t seem like such a fresh application. Surely there must be something more here. And there is.

A Review

But first, a very brief review: On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus gets met by ten lepers who beg Him to have mercy on them. The Lord tells them to make a trip to the priests, and as they are going (that’s worth writing about on another day), they are cleansed. But when the cleansing happens, only one comes back to say thank you. Cue mom – be sure to say thank you, especially to God. Now, as I said, that is an excellent application; it just doesn’t have much preaching pop, if you know what I mean.

Until you take a look at the story that comes immediately before the account of the 10 lepers:

“Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'” Luke 17:7-10 (ESV)

Who is the Master here?

Now, take note of Jesus’ pointed question in the center of the story: “Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?” Aha, now we’re getting somewhere. Because the expected answer…is no. He is the master – he should not need to thank someone for doing what they were supposed to do anyway. And the master in this parable is clearly God. So, you see, I think Luke wants to help us see something.

There are many people in the world who see God as their servant. In fact, countless numbers initially come to him because they think he will serve them. He will answer their prayers and hold their hand through trouble and in general make a tough life less difficult. He is their servant. Is this what the 9 lepers were thinking? We can’t know, but maybe. Jesus healed them – that’s what they heard he would do, and so that’s what he was supposed to do, right? Or as Heinrich Heine once said, “God will forgive me. It’s His job.”

But these two stories provide a needed correction. He is the master; we are the unworthy servants, not the other way around. We serve God; He is not here to serve us.

A Reversal

Until, that is, we come to the life of the Lord Jesus. And this is where our world and all we understand about God is turned upside down. Because in Jesus’ life, we see God incarnate, the Master, becoming the servant. We see the one who should have had his feet washed…washing the feet of others. And we see the utter humiliation of the God of the Universe as he offers the ultimate service by dying for you and me. It’s enough to make you stare in wonder, and say…

Thank you.

 

For tomorrow, Friday, July 24th: Luke 18

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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