Saturday, October 26, 2013

Set the captives free (Luke 4:18)

"...He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives... (Luke 4:18 NASB)

He came to set the captives free. What a wonderful Savior! Captive is an interesting word. Of course, we immediately think of it as meaning a prisoner who cannot get free, but the Merriam-Webster online dictionary has an additional definition that is amazing.  It defines captive as "held under control of another but having the appearance of independence". Isn't that an incredibly accurate picture of the hold sin has on our lives?  It's like a sticky spider web. The more we struggle, the more enmeshed we become. There is good news, though! Today, Jesus saw our desperate, entangled situation, and came to break our chains and set us free. 

Today, pray that we would lead in our families by admitting our sin-captive state and allowing Jesus to set us free. Pray, too, that our children will recognize themselves as not only enmeshed by sin but also completely unable to set themselves free, and that they will cry out to Jesus for the freedom only He can bring. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

The 25th Anniversary

As members of a physician advisory council for an international ministry, we meet twice a year. We rarely ever all make it at the same time, but this year is the 25th anniversary of the council and many of us are here. Some of us have been a part since the beginning, others, like me, for less time. For more than a decade, I've joined in as we supported each other through the storms of life. We've laughed together, wept together, grieved together, rejoiced together. We've done a little work for the ministry, but I'm pretty sure the ministry has done far more for us. 

Because of a variety of responsibilities, I had missed the last two meetings, but when I walked into the crowded restaurant where we met Wednesday night, it felt like coming home. Time and distance melted away. I was in the presence of family. Dearly loved family. 

The time we have together is far too short for us to get caught up, but we've tried hard. Once again, we have borne each other's burdens and shared our joys. "I would love to have long enough to share all our God-stories," one friend said. She was right. Our busy practices, astute diagnoses, finances, stresses all fade in importance next to the  marvelous things we have seen God do in our lives and in our families. 

As I basked in the glow of love between close friends Wednesday night, I wondered if our arrival into heaven might look a little like that. A multitude of loved ones will be there, eager to hear the latest God-story and celebrate together the One we serve.  

It may take a while, but I hope to see you then!

The Five Pronged Plan (Luke 4:18)

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor...  (Luke 4:18 NASB)

The mission statement of Christ is so important that we are likely to spend several days here. Matthew Henry was a late 1600's theologian whose commentary on the entire Bible is still used today. He says about this first action out of the wilderness:"having defended himself against the devil’s assaults, he now begins to act offensively, and to make those attacks upon him, by his preaching and miracles, which he could not resist or repel." Jesus had defended himself successfully but the battle is not won with defense along. Defeating an enemy requires a strong and effective offense as well. 

We see here the offensive plan begin to unfold. What a plan is it! Jesus has come with an unlimited measure of the Holy Spirit (John 3:34) and has a five-pronged plan of attack. The first prong is to preach the gospel to the poor.  It is not likely Jesus meant only the poor in money. He is also poor who has mountains of money but is estranged from our Lord. Poverty of spirit involves not only meekness and humility, but also a repentant heart. 

Jesus came for sinners, of which I am chief. It's what the apostle Paul said, and it is true of me. It's probably true of you, too, isn't it? While we are still reveling in sin, we may be in pitiful shape spiritually, but that is not the same as being repentant. Jesus came to preach the gospel to the poor in spirit, but it requires recognition of the need for a Savior to actually accept Him. 

Today, we are acknowledging our own poverty of spirit and praying that God will bring such conviction upon our children and loved ones that the season of pleasure in sin and estrangement from Him would come to an end, replaced by poverty of spirit, and that true repentance leading to the transformation only Christ can bring will come. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Expectations (Luke 4:18)

"T he Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor..., (Luke 4:18 NASB)

Jesus was reading a passage from Isaiah 61. It is hard to comprehend this, but as He read, He was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah. Isn't that amazing? God did exactly what He said He would do, in exactly the way He said He would do it.  Isaiah had prophesied the Messiah would come, and that He would come proclaiming the good news. People may have expected a warrior and king like David, because that is what they understood of God's deliverance. God, however, was doing a totally different, and much better, thing. 

The problem with expectations is that they get in the way when we confront reality. Jesus was exactly Who God said He would be, but because He didn't arrive as they expected Him to arrive, didn't do what they expected Him to do, they didn't recognize Him. They didn't want to recognize Him, because they would have to give up the expectations to which they had clung for so many years - expectations of power and deliverance from foreign oppressors, expectations of wealth and military might. 

Sometimes our expectations get in the way of recognizing God at work in our lives, too, don't they?  We pray long and hard for something, expecting God to move in a powerful way, yet what happens is nothing like what we expected. Recently, I prayed for God to work in a situation. I was certain I knew the outcome. In fact, I could barely tolerate the idea of any other outcome but the one I wanted. Have you ever been there? Much to my surprise, God's plan was to change me in the situation, not change the situation. I nearly missed it, but God's sanctifying grace is patiently persistent with me, and in the end, it was my heart that was transformed. What He did was much better than what I expected. 

Today, look at the expectations you hold about what God is doing, will do, or should do in the lives of our loved ones and in your own life. Let's just lay those preconceived notions down and invite God to do whatever He wants to do, in whatever way He wants to do it. His word tells us He is not willing for any to perish. We know He desires that all come to repentance. Redemption for our loved ones is His will. Today, invite Him to accomplish His will in His way. It's the prayer that never fails. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Being safe

Airports are not the greatest place for eating when you are gluten intolerant. The restaurants in my section of the Dallas airport ranged from sandwiches to fried food to more sandwiches. I finally located a Mexican restaurant and decided to try my luck. The only seat was at the bar, but the menu looked promising, and the service was clearly fast. "I'm in luck!" I thought. I had no idea. 

The server/bartender asked for my order. The grilled chicken salad was my choice, no tortilla bowl. No flour tortilla strips. "I can't have wheat," I explained. With a knowing look, he asked, "Do you mean you can't have wheat or you can't have gluten?" I was surprised. I did not expect this from a bartender. "Gluten," I replied. "Oh, we have a very strict allergy policy here. I will have to talk to the manager about your order." My first thought was that they didn't allow people with allergies to eat there. Silly me!  

In a quick flash, the young lady who was manager stopped by my seat. "If you can give me twelve minutes," she said, "I can make sure you are safe." Safe. Isn't that an amazing word?  Protected from harm or danger, "not likely to be harmed or lost".  Of course, I had twelve minutes to be safe. 

I can't remember the last time someone said they would keep me safe, but it sounded wonderful to me, and I've pondered that whole issue of being kept safe all afternoon. As hard as I tried to protect my son, Ryan, I could not keep him safe from every hurt or every danger. I don't imagine any parent can. As careful as I am about prescribing medications, there is no way to eliminate all danger to my patients. Traffic signals, speed limits, even patrolmen are all designed to keep us safe.  Maybe a better term is safer. As a society, we have devised numerous ways to increase our safety, yet people still get sick, accidents still happen, people still die. We aren't really safe, are we?

There is One, however, who offers eternal safety, and He never fails. I was really grateful for my "safe" chicken salad today, and more than happy to wait, but eternal safety? Now, that really is something worth waiting for. 

The Mission Statement (Luke 4:17-19)

"And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord." (Luke 4:17-19 NASB)

Jesus was the man chosen to give the sermon this particular day. The selected passage was from Isaiah. They handled Him the scroll, He unrolled it to the passage He wanted, and He began to read. What He was reading was His mission statement for the next three years. He was saying, "This is why I'm anointed by God. This is what I was sent to do." Everything else He did would be directed by the words of this passage. 

A mission statement is a declaration of goals and objectives. For a business, it tells why it exists and how it intends to accomplish that goal. Mission statements are important because they clarify purpose and help to keep us on track. 

Jesus, in announcing His mission statement, made it clear to everyone that He knew why He was here and how He intended to accomplish that purpose:
Preach the gospel, release the captives, recover sight for the blind, set free the oppressed, proclaim the favorable year of The Lord. 

Do you have a mission statement for your life? Do you know your God-given purpose and how He intended you to fulfill it? Spend some time today pondering your purpose in life and how well you are accomplishing it.  

Pray today that we will clearly see our purpose for existence. Pray that our loved ones will begin to ask the hard questions of "Why am I here?" and "What are my life goals?" Pray that they are more interested in divine purpose than in personal pleasure. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Jesus and the Sabbath Routine (Luke 4:16)

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. (Luke 4:16 NASB)

Jesus went home to Nazareth and, just like He'd always done, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. He wasn't a "Christmas and Easter only" kind of guy. He had established a routine and He did not vary. On the Sabbath, He was at God's house, the house of prayer.  He would participate in corporate prayer as well as reading and studying the Torah. It appears that Jesus was likely a regular Torah reader at the synagogue. That is amazing, isn't it? Jesus not only went to church, he had regular duties at church. 

It's hard to participate in corporate prayer and Bible study if we aren't there. We would do well to emulate Him by regular attendance and active participation in our local church. Although we won't likely be the "Torah reader", we can certainly teach a class, hand out bulletins, work in a food closet, or serve as a smiling greeter. 

Pray today that we will be active participants in the body of Christ. Pray, too, that our loved ones will feel a restlessness on worship days that propels them back to the body of Christ. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Maggie tries to play ball and hold on

Maggie the Wonder Dog was pretty excited when I got home tonight.  Between multiple meetings and all the excitement with the cows, I'd had a busy weekend, and she'd had more time in the kitchen than she wanted.  She was ready to play.

After running in circles for a while, she grabbed her favorite ball and brought it to me.  I threw it and she ran as fast as she could to retrieve it.  Ball in her mouth, she hurried back to me, sat down at my feet, and put both paws over the ball.  I tried to get the ball to throw again, but she would not let it go. She finally got most of the ball in her mouth, ran to me as if she wanted to play, but still would not let the ball go.  It's not clear how she can have play time and hold on to the ball at the same time, but that is exactly what she expected.  It's not what happened, though.  I finally got tired of that hopeless game and wandered off.

We've gone back and forth all evening.  She wants to play.  She doesn't want to let the ball go.

I think she must be a lot like me.  I guess she's a lot like most of us, isn't it?  We want to be close with the Master, but we want to do it our way, and without letting go of anything.  It doesn't work too well for Maggie, and it doesn't work too well for us, either, does it?

I want to play with her and I will throw that ball as many times as she wants.  She can run to her heart's content.  It's never going to happen, though, until she lets go of the ball.

Why read? (Luke 4:15)

And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all. (Luke 4:15 NASB)

The synagogue was the center of local Jewish life. It was the place of assembly for prayer and study. Ezra (Nehemiah 8) had instituted regular reading of the Torah and that pattern continues today. There was a schedule of reading so that the entire Torah would be read aloud every year (some groups use a three-year rotation now). Any adult male could be invited to read the Torah. As I understand it, this was more than reading. It was reading with style - a kind of melodic chant or singing, so some men would be more adept than others. I would expect that Jesus, being The Word, would have been particularly adept and frequently chosen as reader. 

After the Torah reading, someone would give what we call a sermon. They would teach from the passage that had been read. Because they were teaching from the words of Moses, they sat in the Moses seat (a seat of honor) as they spoke. 

Why all this Torah reading? Israel had been taken captive and into exile as discipline for their sin. When the Babylonian exiles returned to Jerusalem, they never wanted to go into exile again. They wanted to ensure their own obedience, and requested that Ezra, the scribe, read the Torah aloud to them. After the reading, the Levites explained it to them. 

That first day, the people were so moved by the Word of God that they wept at the reading of it. All the people wept. I can't even imagine it. Everyone in "church" was so moved that they wept. Wow!  These people, at least for that time, were so sick of the consequences for their sin that they never wanted to disobey again. 

Oh what a difference it would make if we truly understood the price we have paid for our sin! It would break our hearts and ensure our obedience. It would drive us to the Word of God. 

Pray today for a glimpse of the price our sin has cost us and for our loved ones to have a sobering understand of what their life choices will cost them in the end. Pray for a "wake-up call" that propels them to Jesus. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Prayers in the House (Luke 4:15)

Part 2
And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all. (Luke 4:15 NASB) not touch any man on whom is the mark; and you shall start from My sanctuary." So they started with the elders who were before the temple. (Ezekiel 9:6 NASB)

Centuries before the arrival of Messiah, Ezekiel had a vision of the destruction of Jerusalem. In it, he saw a man dressed in linen (priestly garments) with a writing case (Lamb's Book of Life) at his side. (Ezekiel 9:1-6) The man in linen (Jesus, our Great High Priest) was instructed to go through the city (Jerusalem) and put a mark on every one of those "who sigh and groan over all the abominations being committed in its midst". The mark would protect them from destruction. He was to start at the temple, where the people who say they belong to God, have assembled. Judgement was coming, the vision said, and it would begin at the House of God.

The man in linen clearly marked all those who were His... He missed no one, because He had the writing case and could be assured of who was to receive His mark.  He began at the temple, where, we might presume, a preponderance of God's people would be gathered. Surely God's House of Prayer would be filled with people who sigh and groan over sin. Here is the sobering reality. It was not.

The temple, God's House of Prayer, was not full of people mourning both individual and corporate sin. It was filled with people, but they were doing something else, and the price for that "something else" was destruction.

Pause and consider.

What would we be found doing in the House of Prayer? Would our prayers of repentance be remarkable if the Man in Linen appeared?

Jesus started His ministry in the synagogues, where God's people were, because that is where He always starts. (Ezekiel 9, Revelation 7). He was looking for hearts that cared about sin and righteousness, and He still is.

Today, as we pray, let us spend time in prayer, confessing not only our own sin and that of our loved ones, but also that of our nation. Make sure that the heart God finds in us is a heart of humble and repentant prayer.