Good Desires (Part Two)

img_11742 Chronicles 17:1-19

The Lord God has given people desires or longings. As we live in this world, we develop other desires according to our circumstances, abilities, etc. These desires can be either holy or wicked. In this article, we think again about the good desires that Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, had.

Jehoshaphat had a desire to seek the Lord (17:3-6). Notice how this godly desire worked out in his life.

  • He followed the good example of David. It is not clear if the text should be translated like the NIV does to refer to Jehoshaphat, or as the ESV does to refer to David (“because he walked in the earlier ways of David”). Regardless, Jehoshaphat sought the Lord like David did (cf. Psalm 27:8; etc.), and so he rejected the Baals. There were many false gods worshiped in Palestine with the title of Baal (“Master”). Each one was believed to be in control of some part of nature or some place. Baal worship was the attempt to gain the favor of these so-called gods, so that a person could have a happy, prosperous life. (Hopefully, that does not describe your motivation for worshiping the living God!) Worship of the Lord emphasizes his glory and goodness in redeeming his people from sin to eternal salvation. In true worship, we are not trying to buy something from God, but we are celebrating what he freely does. We need to remember Jehoshaphat’s rejection of Baal worship when we come to the next chapter.
  • His heart was devoted or “lifted up” to the Lord. In contrast, others might lift their hearts up to other gods, human wisdom or selfish ambition. But Jehoshaphat gave his heart or inner person to the Lord and his ways. (You simply can’t give your heart to the Lord and not to the Lord’s ways. True spirituality is according to God’s word.) The principle of the first great command was operating in his heart (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). When he realized that God was his covenant Lord, he gave himself to the Lord’s lordship over him. For Jehoshaphat, this required him to structure his life around the reality of God and his relationship to him, as mediated through the law covenant (Deuteronomy 4:23-24). For us, it means confessing that “Jesus is Lord”. Christ is the ultimate loyalty for the Christian, because God the Father has made him the ultimate Lord over everything. By his death and resurrection, Christ earned absolute lordship, and he exercises it (Romans 14:9-10; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Ephesians 1:19b-23). Sip on that strong coffee for a while! Yes, that is spiritual caffeine that will really wake you up!

Comment: Some people might say that evangelical Christians are professional liars, because we say, “Jesus is Lord,” while we live contradictory to our confession. My friends, we should not try to answer that accusation with words but with lives that are devoted to Christ’s lordship. How are our lives saying that Jesus has set us free to live for God? But first, do you confess that “Jesus is Lord”? Listen to Romans 10:8-13. But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

  • His devoted heart produced godly action. He worshiped according to the law covenant, and not according to the ways of false religion, like the practices of Israel invented by Jeroboam I (cf. 1 Ki 12), or the polytheistic practices of the Canaanites. He did his best to remove the religious perversions of Asherah (the goddess associated with Baal or even with God in false religious practice). The high places had sacred stones that were supposed to contain the Baals. We must worship the Lord in his way, which he has clearly revealed in the Bible.

This weekend, think about the way you worshiped. First, did you gather with other believers? Second, did your worship conform to the pattern set forth in the New Testament Scriptures? How do you know that it did? Third, what good results came from your worship? Did it transform you and others?

Grace and peace, David

Good Desires (Part One)

dscn08032 Chronicles 17:1-19

Today we start a series of articles about “When Desires Clash”. We can see a serious clash of desires in the life of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. Jehoshaphat was one of the better kings of the southern kingdom of Judah. (There were no godly kings in the northern kingdom of Israel.) He did many things that were pleasing to the Lord, because he loved the Lord. His good actions came from a good heart, since all our words and actions spring from the inner person of our hearts. But his life was also marred by various failures that occurred when he gave in to evil desires. In other words, Jehoshaphat was a lot like you and me. At times I imagine what it would be like if churches advertised that they were not perfect. The slogan could be: “Welcome to Messy Community Church, where it’s okay to admit that you are having spiritual and personal problems. But here by God’s grace, we also want you to see real change – to become increasingly like the Lord Jesus.”

All of us have desires. We have good, God-given desires, such as hunger, thirst, sex, dominion, safety, and comfort. We also have desires such as longings for wealth, prestige, and so forth. All our desires seek satisfaction, and our lives are formed very much by what wants we pursue. In the story of Jehoshaphat, we encounter a good man, who struggled with evil desires, like we all do. Most of his life, he gave himself to the good desire to love the Lord God. But there were other times, when evil desires worked against the ruling desire of his heart. In other words, his life was messy, and we can learn from the messiness of his life.

The Chronicler records the story of Jehoshaphat more extensively than the writer of Kings, and he presents it in four parts: his early reforms, his near fatal alliance with Ahab, his correction and recommitment, and his leadership in a time of national crisis. May God give us grace to really learn and change, as we read about God’s work in Jehoshaphat’s life. Today we will look at one of Jehoshaphat’s good desires. He had a good desire to strengthen his kingdom (17:1-2, 12-19).

Jehoshaphat understood his situation and what needed to be done. His kingdom had weakened during the later years of his father Asa, while the northern kingdom of Israel had been strengthening under Omri and Ahab. He made best use of his resources to counteract the growing threat from Ahab. As a national leader, he had to use do this by building up his military.

In a similar way, what do you do in spiritual warfare (cf. Ephesians 6:11; 1 Peter 2:11)? Fleshly means are ineffectual and misconstrue the enemy. Yet the problem of the American church for forty years has been that of trying to win a spiritual struggle with this-worldly methods. The result has been a poor imitation of the world that hasn’t helped but seriously complicated the crisis. We need to return to the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16-17).

Jehoshaphat continued with his plan, as the Lord prospered it. When we read history in the Bible, we must maintain a proper sense of time. From a literary perspective, time is compressed to present key points. But in actual life, what Jehoshaphat did occurred over many years. He could not build a strong military force with adequate defensive capabilities in weeks or months. It was a long-term program.

In our culture, we expect and demand instant results. If something doesn’t work quickly, we wrongly assume that it will not work at all. Oh, someone might tritely say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” But the attitude of perseverance to accomplish spiritual goals is strangely lacking. Christ’s plan is clearly, concisely stated in places like Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 24:44-47. We need to persevere in his plan. There is no other way to build a local church, and it requires huge investments of our time into the lives of people in order for them to become followers of Christ. Only rarely do we see anyone turn from sin to trust in Christ quickly, and even in those times, God was already at work in their lives. Jesus has sent us into the world, so we ought to seek to make disciples where he has placed us. You and I must maintain a constant missional perspective. Let’s pray and reach out to people that they might become fully committed followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Grace and peace, David

Following a Good Example (Part Two)

img_36972 Timothy 3:10

You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness… (ESV).

In this verse, the apostle Paul encouraged his friend and coworker Timothy to keep on following the example or pattern that he had lived before Timothy. As we have said, Paul stressed the importance of each item. It has been too easy for Christians to concentrate on either teaching or conduct, while ignoring the others. Many churches have focused on teaching, which is important, so much that they have created the impression that what a church exists for is to cram everyone’s heads full of ideas. Perhaps this has been in overreaction to the neglect of doctrine by others. Many other churches have overemphasized conduct, perhaps again in overreaction against the “teaching” churches. The result has been a group that grades everyone by the rules or “standards” they keep. However, as we realize that both teaching and conduct are important, let us not forget five other examples that Paul set for his friend and for all other believers to whom he ministered.

  • “My aim in life” – Paul reminded Timothy about his purpose. The apostle lived according to the purpose to which God called him. This affected how he lived in many ways. It infused him with a missionary attitude (Romans 15:20-21), helped him live with a clear conscience (Acts 24:16), and caused him to be devoted to knowing Christ (Philippians 3:12-14). When Paul discovered God’s purpose for him, it helped him to simplify his life by pursuing what the Lord wanted him to do.
  • “My faith” – This probably refers to his life of faith, the example he set by trusting God for what was needed for his life and ministry. The Christian way of life is a life of dependence on God. This can become difficult when God’s ways fail to match up with our opinions about how God should act for us. It helps us to remember God’s purposes (Romans 8:28-30), but it still is hard for us to humble ourselves before God and to wait upon him and so to cast all our anxieties upon him, because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:6-7).
  • “My patience” – Paul spoke of his pattern of patience. He had to learn to wait calmly for God to act. His patience developed from his earliest days as a Christian, when he went away to think from the Scriptures about what he had learned from meeting the Risen Jesus on the Damascus road. It developed when he had to leave Jerusalem to spend a few years in Tarsus. It grew when he and Barnabas were thrown out of town after town on their first missionary journey. His patience increased as the Holy Spirit took time to lead him to Europe on his second missionary journey. And what can we say about the many years that Paul was a prisoner? His life was a pattern of waiting calmly.
  • “My love” – Paul taught and modeled love. Two of the greatest passages about love in the Bible (Romans 12:9-21; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13) were written by Paul. His love for God and his people caused him to press on through many difficulties. He loved people like the Corinthian and Galatian believers who frustrated him. He loved his own people of Israel and was willing to give himself for him that they might be saved (Romans 9;1-3; 10:1). He demonstrated love by constantly praying for people and remembering them in his letters. Timothy had seen that Paul was a man who loved God and others.
  • “My steadfastness” – His friend also knew about the example of endurance that Paul set. All we need to do is to read Luke’s account of Paul in Acts to know that Paul persisted in the face of the greatest difficulties. His own words about his sufferings for Jesus the Messiah (2 Corinthians 6:3-10; 11:16-12:10) provide us a model of perseverance in suffering for Christ. Please don’t complain about your problems until after you seriously reflect on Paul’s faithfulness to the Lord in the most trying circumstances.

The point of his pattern is not to shame us, but to motivate us to live for the glory of the Lord. Paul did all of these things by trusting God the Father to help him by the Holy Spirit, who made Christ’s power known in him. We are to live in conformity with this pattern.

Grace and peace, David

This Man Welcomes Sinners (Part Two)

img_3663Luke 15:1-10

In this section we read an encounter of Jesus with the Pharisees about the nature of God’s love and mercy toward people. The Pharisees (the Jewish religious leaders of that time) were of the opinion that God loves good people and certainly not people far away from God. In their mind they could not imagine that the Holy One of Israel would want to be with people that lived rebellious lives against him. They assumed that God loved nice religious people like them, or rather like they thought they were. For this reason, Jesus talks about what God’s love accomplishes when he finds sinners.

Jesus told them how the lost sinner who is found by the Lord is repentant. The Pharisees looked on the outward condition of people, and all that they could see was how those following Christ used to be: tax collectors, thieves, drunkards, prostitutes, irreligious, etc. In this they were not unlike other people. You know how it is. People do not believe that anyone can really have his or her way of life change. But Jesus told people not to concentrate on the outward appearance to the neglect of the inner person of the heart (Matthew 23:25-26). True change begins from the inside out. Proper outward actions are spiritually meaningless unless they flow out from a clean heart.

When Jesus finds a sinner, he gives that person a new heart, a heart that continues to repent (cf. Acts 3:26; 5:31; 11:18), a heart that wants to fellowship with the Holy God.

Notice the phrase “one sinner who repents” (15:7, 10). To repent means to have a change of mind about God, sin, oneself, Jesus Christ and the way of salvation. The Spirit of God sets the saved sinner free from bondage to sin (what is called total depravity or radical corruption). The Spirit teaches the mind with the truth that is in Jesus, gives the emotions godly desires, and sets the will free from bondage to sin and Satan. Have you repented? Is there an ongoing change of mind in you regarding God, sin, yourself, Christ and the way of salvation?

After telling them how God changes sinners by his grace, the Lord Jesus told them about the correct attitude they ought to have about the salvation of sinners. Joy is the proper response to the repentance of sinners.

The Pharisees and the law experts muttered about what was happening. They could not believe that a respectable rabbi like Jesus would welcome sinners into his fellowship and actually eat with them!  Extending a welcome of grace to the unworthy was unthinkable. It was like they were saying, “If the lost sheep wants to be found, it will find its way back to the fold. If the lost coin wants to be found, it will roll back where the woman can find it.” Every such opinion, of course, is utter nonsense. Sinners do not seek God (Romans 3:11), because all unsaved sinners are dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1). Though the Pharisees and teachers of the law should have understood the first of the doctrines of grace, their problem went much deeper. They did not see their own need of grace. They could not imagine that they might be a lost sheep or a lost coin. The Pharisees and teachers of the law, like many in our day, believed in conditional love, conditional grace, and ultimately, a conditional God. In the views of such people, sinners can only receive God’s love if they first measure up and change their lives by becoming very religious.

But Jesus must tell what God’s attitude toward repentant sinners really is. God gladly, happily, and joyfully receives sinners. Jesus says that God rejoices like a shepherd who has found his lost sheep, though he had ninety-nine others. Jesus says that God rejoices like a woman who has found her lost coin, though she had nine others.

Christians, brothers and sisters, are we imitating our Father’s welcoming love? Do we extend a welcome sinners to receive God’s love now? Or do we expect others to “measure up” first?

You might think that you are the worst of sinners. Your life perhaps has been godless, greedy, profane and blasphemous, dishonest, intoxicated again and again with drugs and alcohol, rude, self-seeking, unkind, heartless, violent or sexually immoral. The world may have tired of you, or your family may have cast you off. Whatever you are, wherever you are, listen to this word about Jesus, intended as a criticism, but gloriously true nonetheless: “This man welcomes sinners!”

Grace and peace, David

This Man Welcomes Sinners (Part One)

img_3617Luke 15:1-10

One of the leaders of the First Great Awakening, which is one of the three greatest revivals in western history, said, “The corruption of our nature by the fall, and our recovery through Jesus Christ, are the two leading truths in the Christian religion…” (Romaine, The Life of Faith, p. 20). Every Christian believes these two truths, although some believers may understand them better than others. However, every unbeliever rejects both of these Biblical truths, because he or she thinks that there is good in human nature, especially his or her own nature. “I’m a nice guy when you really get to know me!” Since he or she thinks that people are basically okay, the opinion persists that if we do just a few good things and are religious that God will accept us wonderful humans. Since God will accept us on our own merits, why would we need Jesus?

Now the Lord Jesus Christ had more than a few conflicts with people who had this opinion; namely, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. They thought that they were “so-o good!” And for that reason, they believed that God would certainly accept people like them. On the other hand, they could never believe that the Holy God would accept “sinners”—or even want to! Jesus understood what his opponents were saying, and as God’s spokesman (Hebrews 1:1-3), in Luke 15 he told them three parables, or stories to illustrate his teachings and to correct their wrong views. In two articles, we will consider the first two of these parables. There are three points that we should learn from these parables, and we’ll focus on the first one in this article: God is involved in seeking lost sinners (Luke 15:3-6, 8-9).

The Pharisees thought that contact with sinners was reprehensible and disgusting. They were afraid of contaminating themselves by contact with sinners. “They might defile me and God might be less likely to accept me.” Therefore, they went to great lengths to keep themselves “pure”, according to their own ideas of what spiritual purity was.

However, Jesus taught that far from avoiding sinners, God pursues sinners. God seeks sinners! Though the idea of a woman looking for her lost coin probably made sense to them, the concept of a shepherd leaving ninety-nine sheep to search for one lost one was probably more difficult. Why risk the ninety-nine for the sake of one?

Perhaps you have never thought about how God went seeking you. God, enjoying heaven’s glory, dared to take human form to seek and to save. But more than that, he seeks the sinners he has died to save. When most of us are coming to faith in Christ, we never think or imagine that Christ is actually seeking us. Listen to the testimony of Charles Spurgeon. “When I was coming to Christ, I thought I was doing it all myself, and though I sought the Lord earnestly, I had no idea the Lord was seeking me. I do not think the new convert is at first aware of it… One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher’s sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me, ‘How did you come to be a Christian?’ I sought the Lord. ‘But how did you come to seek the Lord?’ The truth flashed across my mind in a moment – I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, ‘I ascribe my change wholly to God” (Spurgeon, The Early Years, pp. 164-165, his emphasis).

As we grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, and study the Scriptures, we come to a better and fuller understanding of his true glory. Then we learn that he was seeking us and that he loved us first. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19 ESV).

As I look back at the events leading to my conversion, I can now see that the Lord was seeking me, one of his lost sheep. He did this through the messages of a young man at Wednesday night prayer meetings, the questions of my girlfriend and my dormitory supervisor, the sermons of my pastor, a statement by my aunt, and a growing sense of despair. And then, suddenly, when all seemed dark, God turned the lights on, and I heard the message of hope and salvation (Isaiah 55:6-7)! He tenderly sought me long before I ever looked for him. God seeks sinners!

Grace and peace, David

The Wise Estimator (Part Two)

dscn0043Luke 14:25-33

Jesus states the necessary attitude found in all those following him. Whoever would follow Christ must love him above all others. First, we must grasp the meaning of hate in this context. The Lord definitely is not teaching that we must cultivate a malicious spirit toward others (and ourselves!), if we are to follow him. That would be contrary to his teaching in many places (Matthew 5:43-45; 22:37-40; John 13:34-35). In addition, a comparison with Matthew 10:37 shows that hate has the meaning of “love less” here. Think of the example of Jacob and his wives. And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years. And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren. (Genesis 29:30-31 KJV). Instead, the Christ is teaching that our love for him must surpass our love for anyone else. If required, we must reject others and even our own lives to follow him.

Our Lord “only meant that those who follow him must love him with a deeper love even than their nearest and dearest connections or their own lives. He did not mean that it is an essential part of Christianity to quarrel with our relatives and friends. But he did mean that if the claims of our relatives and the claims of Christ come into collision, the claims of relatives must give way. We must choose rather to displease those we love most upon earth than to displease him who died for us on the cross.” [Ryle]

It is often the case that fathers do not want their sons to get involved with new ideas in religion and that mothers do not want their daughters to turn away from a liberated, party-filled lifestyle. Jesus was not talking lightly when he said that a man’s enemies would be those of his own household. You must be willing to offend your family rather than offend Christ. On the other hand, the Lord has often used such a committed testimony for the salvation of one’s family.

Whoever would follow Christ must carry the cross. Please read carefully, because I don’t want to unnecessarily offend anyone. For hundreds of years, Christians have basically considered the cross as a symbol: something to be worn as jewelry to make a statement about one’s faith. It is pretty and polite. But Jesus is not talking about any such thing. Whether you wear a cross or not is a matter of Christian liberty. But don’t let a piece of jewelry interfere with your understanding of the cross.

  • Many have wrongly considered that cross equals a person’s personal troubles, such as, “That’s the cross I have to bear,” or “We all have our own cross to carry.” Neither Jesus nor his original hearers would have ever thought of the cross in such a manner.
  • If you were living in first century Palestine and heard Jesus talk about carrying the cross, only one thing would come into mind. The cross was the way that the Romans executed people, especially Jewish people. As the crowds walked with Jesus along the roads, it would not have been unusual for them to see a number of their fellow Jews hanging upon crosses. The cross was the instrument of death. “Come, carry your cross, and be ready to die to self.” The meaning is clearly one of radical self-denial.

Whoever would follow Christ must value Christ above anything. At this point we could enter a lengthy discussion about the Biblical teaching of personal property, work, our enjoyment of material blessings, and the practice of giving to meet the needs of others. To briefly summarize, the Lord is not demanding that we absolutely give up all our possessions. Instead, the real question is not, as many have pointed out, “Do I have such and such?” but “Does anything have me?” Now that could easily sound like I have just left you off the hook. Someone might be saying in his or her heart, “Whew! That was a close call! I just want to live in comfort and to enjoy all my stuff and….” And may I interrupt to dare to suggest that something in this world has hooked you tight!

Have you ever fished? Sometimes when you attempt to set the hook, the fish swallows the hook. You have really caught a fish, and that fish has a serious problem. Sometimes you can use a “dehooker” and the fish will survive and can be set free. But other times it is all over for that fish! You are a little fish that has swallowed a barbed and snelled hook and you can’t get yourself loose! And only the Lord Jesus Christ can take that hook of the love of possessions or other people or your life out of you. If you will not ask Jesus Christ to take that hook out of your soul, at the end of your life it will be ripped out, and you will die… forever.

The point of each of these three statements is that we must realize the surpassing greatness of knowing the Lord Jesus Christ and consider all things rubbish that we might have gain Christ (Philippians 3:7-9). I can’t show you’re the glory of God in the face of Christ, and you can’t show it to yourself. But I know One who can, and I advise you to get down on your knees and to cry out to him, saying, “Lord, have mercy on me! Show me your glory and exceeding goodness that I might trust in you!” Until that happens, you cannot follow him.

Jesus gave a challenge to those thinking of following him. Consider the contractor.

  • Anyone who wants to build, whether developer, architect, contractor or owner, must first sit down and estimate the cost of construction. If you don’t, you will look very foolish when you cannot complete your great construction project.
  • People do not need to build towers; it is an optional matter. But a wise person first sits down and estimates the cost. Jesus is saying, “Sit down and figure out if you can afford to follow me. It might cost you everything you hold dear in this life.”

Consider the king.

  • When leaders of nations are attacked, like the USA was on September 11, 2001, they must decide quickly how they are going to respond. Leaders must seriously ask, “Do we have sufficient soldiers and resources to repel the attacker and then to win the war?” If not, they will begin negotiations quickly.
  • The king who is being invaded must do something. He cannot pretend that the attacking forces will disappear. So Jesus is saying, “Sit down and consider whether or not you can refuse my claims and demands on you.”

Have you estimated the cost?

Grace and peace, David

The Wise Estimator (Part One)

img_3172Luke 14:25-33

My first experience in contracting was as a “go fer”. You know, “Dave, go for this, and Dave, go for that”. In between running from construction site to construction site, I would sometimes work as a laborer. One day as I was nailing on some sheathing, the foreman came up to me and said, “Erl (the owner of the company) wants to see you in the office after work.” All that I could think of was, “I’m going to get laid off. I can tell things are slowing down, and I’m the most recent one hired.” So bracing myself with prayer, I drove to the office on Green Island Ave, in Latham, New York. “Lord, what am I going to do? You know our needs! How will I provide for Sharon and Kyle?” As I walked with trepidation into the office, expecting bad news, Erl asked in his usual straight to the point manner, “How would you like to estimate for me?” I was quick to reply, “I’d be glad to, but I don’t know anything about estimating buildings.” His simple answer was, “That’s no problem; I’ll teach you.” So began my career as a construction estimator!

Sometime later as I was reading through Luke, I “found” verses 28-30, which became my “life’s verses” as an estimator. I have had farmers tell me that they had a real-life understanding about what Jesus meant in passages like Luke 9:62. I think I have a similar appreciation for 14:28-30. I could tell you many stories about construction estimating. But the main point of this passage is not about estimating the cost of buildings or preparing proper strategy for a war. Instead, Jesus is confronting the crowds following him about the true cost of discipleship, of following Christ.

Let us not mistake what Jesus is talking about. He is talking about eternal life, for to be saved in the teaching of Jesus is to be a disciple or follower of Christ (Matthew 28:19). But in this passage the Lord Jesus is not talking about how to be saved, which is by turning from one’s sin to trust in Him, but about the character of those who truly turn from their sins to be saved by faith in Christ alone.

The Lord Jesus made solemn statement about following him. First, think about the form of this solemn statement.

  • It is a conditional statement in the general form, “If anyone does not… he/she cannot be my disciple.”
  • This conditional statement is repeated three times. When anyone repeats in this way, he is obviously and deliberately making a point. Jesus is clearly saying that some people cannot be his followers. This bothers people, and it ought to! But Jesus seeks true followers, who will receive eternal life, not false followers, to whom he will say those most terrible words, “Depart from me. I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23).

This was a shocking statement in Jesus’ time and it still is in ours. People are impressed by numbers. If the crowds are present, people think that something is successful. But one thing that you learn as you study the Bible is that the Lord is not afraid to “thin the ranks”. God is not impressed by crowds of people or by anything else he created. He wants quality before quantity. A graphic example is the size of Gideon’s army. The Lord reduced it from 32,000 to 10,000 to 300.

We must watch out for a trap of the enemy at this point. The evil one will attempt to use this to lessen our zeal and to draw us into inactivity. He will whisper, “That’s right! Just minister to the few you have. Build them into strong converts. Most large churches are terribly shallow anyway. Don’t be like them!” The trap is that the evil one wants us to think that the choice is between, on the one hand, large and zealous and, on the other, small and spiritual. But the truth is that we ought to be both zealous and spiritual and let God take care of the results.

The Lord Jesus Christ wants us to understand that no one can follow him unless he or she truly repents. A deep change of mind about God, Christ, oneself, sin, and salvation is required! Until this happens, a person cannot really follow Christ. Oh, we might be religious, attend church, read our Bibles, but have we truly become followers of Jesus Christ? Are we pursuing Him?

“Hark, Ten Thousand Harps and Voices”: (second verse)

Jesus, hail! Whose glory brightens all above and gives it worth;
Lord of life, Thy smile enlightens, cheers and charms Thy saints on earth:
When we think of love like Thine, Lord, we own it love divine.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Amen!

Do you have this view of the Lord Jesus?

Grace and peace, David

Christ’s Story of the Great Banquet

img_3539Luke 14:15-24

In the Gospel of Luke, we see often Jesus as the great teacher, sent from God to tell us about salvation. Since he was sent on this mission and was faithful to it, he never missed an opportunity to speak for the glory of God his Father. Many times he happily joined in opportunities to share meals with people. Meals are an excellent opportunity to get to know others and to talk about life with them.

The occasion in our text was Christ’s attendance at a meal offered by a Pharisee (14:1-14). When someone at the meal heard Jesus recommend the attitudes of humility and generosity towards other at meals, a man was moved to make the remark recorded in 14:15, which means, “How happy are the people who will enjoy the feast of eternal life and salvation!” Jesus takes that opportunity to teach that salvation comes from an invitation from God. The Lord used a story to make known the truth that in his goodness, God seeks the happiness of people (14:16-17).

  • God’s goodness is seen in the preparations for the banquet. It was a great banquet. This is an illustration of the happiness and satisfaction that God desires for those who seek him (Psalm 23:5; Isaiah 25:6-9; Matthew 22:2; Revelation 3:20). Many were invited as guests. No small, polite dinner party was intended. God invites many to come to him!
  • God’s goodness is seen in telling people that the feast was prepared. Think of the long (from a human point of view) preparations that God made for the banquet of salvation. Thousands of years of human history had passed from Adam to Jesus the Messiah. The servant is Christ; he is the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 42:1; etc.). His great word is “Come!” (cf. Matthew 11:28).

We must view God as good and generous, or we have never understood him. His goodness and generosity must influence our attitudes and actions if we claim that he is our Father.

Yet, out of dislike for God, people make excuses to refuse God’s generosity (14:18-20). Observe the character of the human heart. People do not want God to provide them with joy – not really. Yes, people get upset if they think that God is judging them or making their lives unpleasant. But people do not want God’s joy, because it involves God, and God is holy and righteous and the Judge. Behind people’s excuses to come to Bible studies, small groups, etc. is a lack of desire, a lack of desire for God. So people invent excuses, in order that they can avoid God and his blessings. Here are two:

  • People turn from God to property and possessions. The first two excuses are transparently false; they are the excuses of liars or foolish people. Who would buy a field without looking at it? Who would buy five yoke of oxen without checking them out before the purchase? Even if such unlikely events had happened, both could wait to check on their purchases later. They could check them out after the banquet.
  • People turn from God to people. This excuse is of someone plainly disinterested and desperate to find any way out. There was nothing hindering him from bringing his wife, especially considering the generosity of the host of the banquet.

Let us notice that none of the three gave a simple refusal. Each had “some reason of his own why he ought to be held excused… Each differs from the other, and each has its own plausibility; but all arrive at the same result – ‘We have other things to attend to, more pressing just now’” (John Brown). Through the cares of this world and the desire to be rich and to enjoy the passing pleasures of this world, many refuse to accept God’s invitation. But all other preferences must go in the face of God’s invitation. What is your response? “Infidelity and immorality, no doubt, slay their thousands. But decent, plausible, smooth-spoken excuses slay their tens of thousands” (Ryle, his emphasis).

According to the freeness of his grace, God extends the invitation to many (14:21-24).

Since God is the overflowing fountain of goodness, he continues to seek people. Like the host in the parable, God seeks out the disadvantaged and those despised and rejected by other people. God is like the host of the banquet. He is “very big-hearted and generous. He loves to make people happy, especially those down and out” (Hendriksen). In one sense these were the common people of Israel, the “rabble who don’t understand the law”, to use the words of the Pharisees. In another sense they are all who the world deems “misfits”.  God invited all these people purely out of grace (cf. 14:14). They were not bringing anything to the banquet; instead, the feast was for their enjoyment.

Like the host in the parable, God seeks out a “full house”.  In one sense these are the Gentiles, the people of all nations. They were not near the banqueting house, but they are brought near. They would have to be “compelled” with many arguments, because they would not believe that the God of Israel would be generous to them. In another sense, they are any far removed and out of the way. The servant was not to take “no” for an answer (cf. 2 Cor 5:20).

God’s purpose will not fail. The Lord will have a full banqueting house. There will not be empty seats at the table. Everyone who serves the Lord should desire to see his or her Master’s table filled. I would like to see my neighbors in heaven, glorifying God and enjoying his glory, wouldn’t you?

However, since God is just, he gives people what they want. If people refuse God and eternal joy, God will not give it to them. People can and will have justice if they so desire. I did not say that people like the alternative, but they would rather have the alternative of justice than turn from their sins and idols to God. The Lord threatens terrible things to those who refuse to be joyful with him. The Lord is saying in this parable to all who refuse his gospel invitation, “Since you will not receive fullness of joy, my joy freely offered to you, you will receive the opposite, eternal misery.” There is no second chance. “Only one life will soon be past…” Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment… (Heb 9:27 NIV).

There is a great central lesson to this parable. “Accept God’s gracious invitation to eternal happiness. Accept it now!”

Grace and peace, David

One Another

img_3141When the Lord gives us the new birth from above, he calls us individually to himself. However, he does not save us to be individuals, but to belong to his people, his new family. In this way, our lives are forever intertwined, not only with the Triune God, but with each other!

The idea of “one another” is at the core of the true Christian way of life. We are to express this partnership in many ways. Today, I decided to provide a list of the twenty-seven various kinds of one another relationships everyone who follows Jesus should be developing with others. The actions listed below make up a very significant part of what it means to follow Christ. To neglect these actions is to miss what the Christian life really is!

  • Love one another (Jn 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; Rm 13:8; 1 Th 3:12; 4:9; Heb 13:1; 1 Pt 1:22; 4:8; 1 Jn 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11, 12; 2 Jn 1:5)
  • Encourage one another (Rm 1:12; 1 Th 4:18; 5:11; Heb 3:13; 10:25)
  • Be devoted to one another (Rm 12:10)
  • Honor one another (Rm 12:10)
  • Live in harmony with one another (Rm 12:16; 1 Pt 3:8)
  • Instruct (admonish) one another (Rm 15:14; Col 3:16)
  • Greet one another with a holy/loving kiss (Rm 16:16; 1 Cor 16:20; 2 Cor 13:12; 1 Pt 5:14)
  • Agree with one another (1 Cor 1:10; Ph 4:2)
  • Serve one another (Gal 5:13)
  • Bear with one another (Eph 4:2; Col 3:13)
  • Be kind to one another (Eph 4:32; 1 Th 5:15)
  • Be compassionate to one another (Eph 4:32)
  • Forgive one another (Eph 4:32; Col 3:13)
  • Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19)
  • Submit to one another (Eph 5:21)
  • Spur on one another (Heb 10:24)
  • Offer hospitality to one another (1 Pt 4:9)
  • Clothe yourself with humility toward one another (1 Pt 5:5)
  • Wait for one another (1 Cor 11:33)
  • Have equal concern for one another (1 Cor 12:25)
  • Build up one another (Rm 14:19; 1 Th 5:11)
  • Confess your sins to one another (Js 5:16)
  • Pray for one another (Js 5:16)
  • Think the same thing with one another (Rm 15:5)
  • Accept one another (Rm 15:7)
  • Bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2)
  • Consider one another better than oneself (Ph 2:3)

Comments on the above list:

  • Some of these “one another” imperatives and exhortations can be done in large public gathering, but only in a very limited sense.
  • Most of these require you to be an active part of a small group or accountability group or one on one situations in order to fulfill the expectations. You cannot do these alone!
  • As you can see, the practice of these one another imperatives and exhortations will transform our church experiences. They will become much more than sitting in a big room with others. We will share a rich and joyful experience of life.

Grace and peace, David

Prayer in a Broken World

img_1175Psalm 10:12-18

David began the twin psalms (nine and ten) with praise as he thought about God’s rule over a broken world. We have seen that in psalm ten, he focused more on human hardships in a broken world than on God’s rule. The Spirit led David to sing about both aspects of reality. This perspective is beneficial for us to have. It makes our worship times real. We do not have to suppose that all of life is beautiful and happy in order to worship the Lord God. This realism guides us to pray.

When we read today’s text, it is important to remember the covenant under which David lived and worshiped. He lived under the law or old covenant. It was a ministry of death and condemnation (2 Corinthians 3:6-9). The law, though graciously given to provide Israel with access to the true God, did not and could not provide grace for the disobedient. So then, as David wrote about the wicked and the evil that they brought on others, he prayed for God to exercise justice on the wicked (10:15). We do not live under the law covenant, but we are in Christ. We have a better covenant and a mission that includes prayer for the salvation of the wicked. With that in mind, let’s consider the other requests that David presents to the Lord.

  • David prayed for God’s involvement. Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted (10:12; ESV for each verse quoted). This is bold language to use the Holy God, but he understood that he could talk to the Lord of all in a personal manner. David wanted God to act in power (lift up your hand) and compassion (forget not the afflicted).
  • David expressed his frustration about the attitude of the wicked. Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”? (10:13) Since David knew the glory of the majestic God, he questioned the way the wicked thought and behaved. We, too, see the heartlessness, cruelty, and malice in the world, and we can express surprise about the cockiness of the enemies of God and his people. One of their ruling motives is their lack of sense regarding eternity and the judgment to come. They refuse to consider it; they do not wish to think on it. This means that we ought to pray, because they will not.
  • David confessed God’s great attributes. But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless (10:14). He knew that God was not far off, though he has said that earlier (10:1). The Lord God did see with purpose. He was not a mere spectator, but watching for the time and place to act. He knew that his God was worthy of his trust and the faith of those in need. We ought always to strive to confess how God’s character and abilities apply to the situations for which we are praying.
  • David worshiped the Lord for his coming victory. The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land (10:16). Although David saw the present distress, he remembered that a better day was coming. The truth that the Lord rules over all had not changed, even when God seemed to stand far away. God would act for his people against the nations invading their land. In the old covenant, the people and their land were closely connected. For this reason, this is an important expression of faith by the psalmist.
  • David reassured himself and those who listen to his song. O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more (10:17-18). He concluded his prayer in a hope-filled manner. God would act for the good of his afflicted people. Strength does rise “as we wait upon the Lord”!

One day the terror will end, the afflicted will be rescued, the fatherless will find eternal rest in the Father’s house. Until then, we must pray. “Lord, protect your people whom you love from those who act wickedly and who cause terror in this broken world.”

Grace and peace, David