Saturday, March 15, 2014

Better than we were (Luke 6:17,18)

  Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place; and there was a large crowd of His disciples, and a great throng of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were being cured. (Luke 6:17, 18 NASB)

Can't you just imagine this level place? Jesus and the apostles were surrounded by a large crowd of disciples as well as a great throng of people who came to listen and be healed. Everyone on the same level place, both servants and those being served. Followers and seekers. No one better. No one less. 

There was a progression to their encounters with Jesus. Apostles had once been disciples. Disciples had once been seekers. That's how it should be for us, too. We were never intended to stay the same as when we came to Jesus. We are supposed to come to Him, allow Him to heal our hurts and make us disciples. Over time, we should grow in maturity as disciples. We may not become apostles, but we should certainly be better than we were. 

Where are you in the crowd around Jesus? Are you in the throng of seekers? Are you in need of healing? Have you moved to discipleship? Are you growing in discipleship?  

Today, pray that we and our loved ones would come to Jesus as we are and allow Him to change us into what we were meant to become. 
Link for last night's Lenten devotional:

Friday, March 14, 2014

Lenten series #9:The Sure-Fire Formula For Success

Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given it to you, just as I spoke to Moses. No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:3, 5-9 NASB)

"Every place on which the sole of your foot treads" was the promise God gave Joshua. That promise brought with it the unspoken assumption that Joshua, too, would be a "walker".  He was about to begin his walk with God in an entirely new way. 

After Moses' death, his faithful assistant Joshua was appointed by God as the next leader of the wandering children of Israel. They were about to enter the Promised Land and Joshua had many difficult battles ahead. When God called him, Joshua had a pretty good idea of the task ahead of him, and he must have been terribly frightened of what was to come. God told Joshua three times in these six verses, "Be strong and courageous."  Courage and strength in his actions and leadership were not automatic. They were a choice Joshua would have to make on a daily basis and we would do well to make that same choice today. 

What is amazing about these verses is that God gave a very specific "recipe for success".  If Joshua did what God said, he would prosper. These instructions are worth understanding. 
1) Be very careful to obey all the law. He was not to pick and choose what best suited him. He was to obey everything God said. 
2) Meditate on the law day and night. Don't let it depart from your mouth. Joshua could not obey the law if he didn't know the law. Studying God's word was like insurance against failure. 

These two very simple rules would be just as effective in our lives as they were in Joshua's. Study Scripture so you know what God says, then do it. Every single time. How simple is that?  The most amazing thing about this whole formula for success is that it comes with an astounding promise from God. 

"I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you...the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

If that doesn't make you want to study and obey, I can't imagine what would! 

Level ground (Luke 6:17)

Jesus came down with them and stood on a level place; and there was a large crowd of His disciples, and a great throng of people from all Judeaand Judea and the costal region of Tyre and Sidon (Luke 6:17 NASB)

A level place. 

I'm not sure where I heard the phrase first, but "The ground is level at the foot of the cross" is a phrase that has meant so much to me. I don't know if it derives from this verse, but it is certainly similar. The phrase is used to mean that no one is more important than another when we come to Christ. 

When Jesus came down from the mountain with his newly appointment apostle messengers, their first introduction/opportunity for service was on a "level ground".  Not one of the new apostles could position themselves or be positioned higher than another. Peter, James, and John were no "higher" than Judas. None of them were "higher" than the crowd. 

As we look at those around us, both in and out of the church, we would do well to remember this level ground. How easy it is for those who have been polished a bit by years of faith in Christ to consider themselves "higher" in the faith than those new to the faith. We must remember that we serve on a level place that puts us no higher than the one who has just come to Jesus with all his rough edges still sharp and prickly. In the hierarchy of Christ, the first is last, the last is first, and all serve on level ground. 

What an amazing concept! Not only are we no higher than another, but no one is higher than we are.  What is even more amazing is that Jesus, God made flesh and dwelling among us, positioned Himself on level ground, too. Once again, He demonstrated the position of humility. It is one we would do well to emulate. 

Where do you see yourself? Do you consider yourself higher or lower than those around you? Sadly, seeing yourself a bit higher in the faith than some around you is a matter of pride, and particularly heinous to our Lord. How easy that sin is, and how quickly we must repent. How quickly I must repent. 

In matters of service, the ground is also level, as it was on that particular day for Jesus and His new apostles. If we love others as we love ourselves and treat them accordingly, we will have done exactly right. 

Today, pray that we would view our loved ones and those around us through the eyes of Christ and recognize that we are all on level ground before Him. One of the glorious things about level ground is that the path to Christ is shorter and easier than if a climb to a lofty height was required. Pray that our loved ones will make those few short steps to repentance and transformation. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Lenten series part 8: bought with a price

"...and the priest shall offer them up in smoke on the altar, on the offerings by fire to the Lord. Thus the priest shall make atonement for him in regard to his sin which he has committed, and he will be forgiven." (Leviticus 4:35 NASB)

The children of Israel had lived under Egyptian rule and according to Egyptian law for four hundred years. They were accustomed to being slaves, but none of the current Hebrews (other than Moses) had any experience in administration, govenment, or law. God had chosen them to be a nation under God alone. They were not to have a king. Instead, God would be their king and their judge. His plan was for them to police themselves by obeying a clear set of rules.

The law God gave Moses for the people was specific in many areas. There were very clear laws for dealing with intentional sin as well as unintentional sin. All sin, however, was dealt with by a blood offering. An animal would be sacrificed. The blood, fat, kidneys, and liver all belonged to God and were to be offered as a burnt offering. (They were burned completely on the altar) Everything else was taken outside the camp and burned. Through the process, the priest would make atonement for (or cover over) the one who had sinned and he would be forgiven. (Leviticus 4)

Just as in the Garden of Eden, sin was covered over by the blood that was shed, and always resulted in the death of the sacrificial animal. The problem with this plan was that one sacrifice only covered one event of sin. There was always more sin so that more sacrifice was always required. It was a never-ending process. What was needed was a perfect sacrifice that would be a once-and-for-all payment for sin. No animal would be sufficient for this great a payment. Ultimately, only the Spotless Lamb of God (Jesus) would do. 

The reason Jesus became a man and came to earth was so that He could live a perfect life and become the perfect offering for the sin of the world. He would be the final, complete payment for sin. His blood would be the atonement that brought forgiveness. It was a horrible thing to do. It was a dreadful thing to experience. It was a shameful thing that we needed it. It was an astounding thing that our God willingly and freely provided what we could not do for ourselves. 

The blood of Jesus. It is the only thing that can wash away our sin, and, as such, it is the most valuable gift ever given. It is a treasure beyond compare. This payment for our sin is the reason for the birth of Christ as well as the death and resurrection of Christ. 

As we journey through the Lenten season, let us be ever mindful that it was MY sin that required the blood of Jesus to purchase forgiveness. It was YOUR sin for which Jesus died. It was OUR sin for which atonement was purchased with our Lord's lifeblood. That understanding is vital and should influence how we live our lives. It should cause us to live grateful for what was purchased at such a great price and yet freely given to us who were so undeserving. 

During this season of Lent, live grateful. Live free. Live as one who has been redeemed. 

Apostles and Disciples: the betrayer (Luke 6:13,16)

And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles: Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. (Luke 6:13, 16 NASB)

The first Judas listed is Judas the son of James. He is also called Thaddaeus as well as Jude and Jude Thaddaeus. Although there is some variation in translation of his name, it is clear he is not Judas Iscariot. Not much is written in Scripture about this first Judas, but he is thought to be the apostle later regarded as Saint Jude. 

The next disciple is not my favorite. Judas Iscariot. Jesus spent all night in prayer, He had divine input for His decision, yet still He selected Judas Iscariot as one of the apostles. Did He know what was to come? Did He know that Judas was a thief and a betrayer? Probably so. Certainly God the Father knew.  Regardless, he was chosen as an apostle. That decision tells us two things. Judas Iscariot was in the larger crowd of disciples following Jesus and in the smaller group of disciples who had been close followers. We don't know what weakness with which he had struggled, nor what mistakes he had made in the past. Was he doomed to betray Christ by the selection as an apostle? No. He had the same advantage of constant contact with Jesus as the other eleven men. He heard the same lessons, enjoyed the same close communion as all the others. His path of sin was one he chose and continued on to its deadly conclusion. 

Jesus confined Himself to flesh and came to earth with the understanding that He would be the spotless Lamb of God slain for the redemption of the world. He knew about the cross and He came anyway. He knew that He would be betrayed and He likely knew that Judas might be the source of that betrayal, but he certainly knew there was that risk. In fact, however, all twelve of the men were at risk of becoming betrayers. In a moment of anger or frustration or passion, all of us are at risk of betraying Christ. 

It saddens me to write this, but Luke could just as easily have put my name in that last spot of apostles. Leanna was chosen to be an apostle, yet she betrayed Jesus. He could have put your name. Every one of us has failed Christ in some way. More truthfully, we have failed Him in many ways, yet He still forgives and washes us white as snow by that precious blood He shed. 

Today, let's take stock of our propensity for sin, for betrayal. What is it that draws us away from our Lord? 

Pray today that we and our loved ones will willingly relinquish those things that draw us from Jesus and threaten to make us betray the One who loves us most. 

Link to last night's Lenten devotional:

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lenten series #7: Moses part 2

and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, "Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?" Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank. But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them." (Numbers 20:10-12 NASB)

To refresh your memory about the events in this passage, Moses and the children of Israel were at Meribah for the second time, and they were once again complaining about the lack of water. Previously, God had told Moses to take the rod, strike the rock, and he had done just that. Water had poured forth. This time, God told Moses that he and Aaron were to assemble the people, and he was to speak to the rock. Water would come forth. Moses was obviously frustrated with the people and their incessant complaining. Surprisingly, the most humble man on earth had a prideful moment. Instead of speaking to the rock, he spoke to the people. He took partial credit for providing the water. (Shall WE bring forth water...). After those two blunders, he still did not speak to the rock. He hit the rock, not once but twice. After decades of faithful service, he made a series of horrid blunders in the space of just a few minutes. He didn't believe God and he didn't obey God, and to make matters worse, his disobedience was done in the full view of the entire nation of Israel. 

God couldn't overlook it, but He waited until He had Moses and Aaron alone to give them their consequences. They would not be leading the children of Israel into the Promised Land. Here's the hardest part. Aaron died before long, and Moses still had to lead and deal with the children of Israel, but he no longer had the help of his brother. He was responsible for them to the borders of the Promised Land. All the way, Moses continued to meet with God face to face, he continued to obey, and he continued to lead. There is no indication that he spent time being angry, pouting, or rebelling further. He did not grumble or complain. He accepted the decision of God and got back on the path of obedience. 

I've had my share of faith blunders, and you probably have, too. When those are public blunders that result in significant consequence from God, the "natural" response is to be angry, defensive, and even to take a step back from service. It is much harder (and rare) to accept consequences with grace, learn from our mistakes, and continue serving God without a moment's hesitation. 

Perhaps we could learn from Moses. When he experienced discipline for his mistake, he accepted it with grace and kept right on serving. He didn't lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land. Instead, he entered his own Promised Land in Heaven where his new home was waiting just for him. How about that? Only a loving Father would discipline His children by giving them something better than they would have had! 

What is your response to discipline? What changes are needed?

Unlikely Apostles: part 2 (Luke 6:13,15)

And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles: and Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot; (Luke 6:13, 15 NASB)

We looked at the first six of the disciples-turned-apostles yesterday. Today, we have another four men for our study. 

We have recently looked at the conversion and calling of Matthew. He was a tax collector for the Roman government. Those Jews who worked as tax collectors were considered traitors to Israel, friends of Rome, and extortionists towards their own people. It was a lucrative job, but when Jesus called Matthew, he was out the door and on his way to a fresh start with his Messiah. Everything he had ever done was washed away by the mercy and grace of Jesus. 

Thomas is best known as the "doubter" because of his doubts about the risen Christ, but he was also the disciple who spoke up after Lazarus died. When they learned that Lazarus had died, Jesus headed toward Bethany. The other disciples were hesitant because of a previous  attempt at stoning Jesus when they were in Judea. Thomas, however, said, "No. Let's go with Him and die with Him if we need to." (John 11:16). Thomas's doubts did not stop Jesus from using him to evangelize the world. After Jesus returned to heaven, Thomas made his way to India, where he took the Good News and evangelized for years. 

Little is known about James the son of Alphaeus    He's not quoted in Scripture and no daring exploits are recorded. Traditional thinking is that he was crucified in Egypt, where he was preaching the gospel. 

Simon the Zealot also has little mention in scripture, but we know that he was both called and persevered to the end with Jesus. 

These four men were called to a deeper walk with Christ and to become His messengers to a perishing world. Matthew had piled up sin for years, but none of that mattered when he allowed Jesus to transform him. Thomas's questions didn't matter when he found his answers in Christ alone. The quiet, behind the scenes servants, James and Simon the Zealot were no less used of God because they were not as flamboyant and well-known as some of the other apostles. In fact, they were called to serve, and that's exactly what they did.  

We, too, are called to serve our Risen Savior. Neither the sin of our past, our doubts, nor our quiet, unobtrusive manner should keep us or our loved ones from being servants in the Kingdom of God. 

What is it that holds you back from the call of Christ in your life? Let it go. 

Pray today that we and our loved ones will allow Christ to remove everything that keeps us from following Him with all our hearts, and that we can be useful in His Kingdom. 
Heres the link to last night's Lenten devotional.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lenten series # 6: Moses

"The child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter and he became her son. And she named him Moses, and said, "Because I drew him out of the water." Now it came about in those days, when Moses had grown up, that he went out to his brethren and looked on their hard labors; and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. So he looked this way and that, and when he saw there was no one around, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand." (Exodus 2:10-12 NASB)

The Pharaoh in Egypt was killing all the Hebrew babies, but Moses' parents took one look at him and loved him. They were desperate to protect him. After three months, it was no longer possible to hide him, but his mother had a very unusual plan. She put the baby in a floating basket and put it in the reeds at the edge of the Nile, then she set his sister nearby to see what happened. Amazingly, Pharaoh's daughter found him and decided to adopt him. In an even more amazing twist to the story, she hired his own mother as Moses's wet nurse. When he was weaned he became her son, he lived as a prince, and grew up in the palace, where he was trained in the leadership expected of Pharaoh's grandson.  

When Moses was grown, he saw an Egyptian beating one of the Hebrew workers. Pharaoh's daughter might have pretended he was her son, but it is clear Moses knew about his Hebrew heritage. He saw the man beaten and was enraged. In fact, it was a rage that resulted in the murder of the Egyptian. In an attempt to hide his crime, Moses buried the Egyptian in the sand, but his crime was discovered, and he ran for his life. 

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, Moses went from being a Hebrew baby in a basket to an exalted prince of Egypt to a fugitive murderer. Here is where the story takes another twist. He fled to the wilderness of Midian, where he became a shepherd. 

Forty years later, he saw a burning bush, God called to him, and he approached the bush. When he realized that it was God calling, he was afraid and hid his face. In that instant, God's plan began to come together. The years of training in administration and leadership in Egypt, followed by the years as a shepherd in the wilderness were not wasted. They were part of the essential preparation for the most important job Moses would ever undertake. He was to lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt and to the promised land. 

Over the course of the next forty years, Moses walked with God. In fact, he became a friend of God, so much that he met face to face with Him. Afterwards, his face shone so much that, instead of hiding his face from God, he had to cover his face with a veil and hide it from the people. (Exodus 34:34) Being in the presence of God left a change in Moses that everyone could see. His experiences caused another change, too. Instead of the angry, vengeful young man, Moses became the most humble man on earth (Numbers 12:3).  That humble man led millions of Hebrews to freedom from slavery as he walked with God. 

Remember the people in Sodom? Those people weren't humble. They were filled with pride, arrogance, and selfishness, and it ultimately led to their destruction. Moses, on the other hand, left his world a different place because of his humility and his faithfulness to God. Despite his rocky start and his immense sin, our God of second chances gave Moses a fresh start and the opportunity to change the world, and Moses ultimately embraced it.

Perhaps you, too, have made mistakes and have had a rough start to your life thus far.  In the shortest time imaginable, you can answer the call of God and He can begin to unfold your second chance.  He can reveal His plan to use all the mistakes in your past to make a difference in your future. No matter how far you have run, how low you have sunk, how long you have been mired in sin, our Lord can deliver, cleanse, and transform. We can't do it on our own. That's why we needed Jesus. He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we can ask or think. The most amazing thing is that He can use people like you and me to accomplish that work!  


Unlikely Apostles (Luke 6:13)

And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles: Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James and John; and Philip and Bartholomew; (Luke 6:13, 14 NASB)

In any school, the pupils are generally sorted out (if not literally, at least in the mind of the teacher) according to academic prowess. Some students are the A students.  They learn and remember everything the teacher tells them. They study the text book. They excel on the tests. Then, there are the D students who may try, but have little success. Perhaps they don't try as hard as they could, or maybe they are overwhelmed by the amount of material and just can't absorb it all.  Perhaps they simply don't understand. Regardless, when test time comes, they do poorly. Most students fall somewhere in between. Unfortunately, there are also the F students, who simply fail to comprehend, fail to remember, and fail the tests. Sometimes their failure is an academic issue but sometimes it is due to an absolute refusal to do the work. 

If I were picking disciples to become apostles, I'd have picked all A students. I'd have wanted the class leaders, the most literate, the best speakers. I'd have picked mature, even-tempered men and the hardiest of those men who could work without tiring. It's a good thing I wasn't in charge of apostles, because the qualifications Jesus used were much different, but exactly perfect. 

Simon, Andrew, James, and John, as well as Philip, were all from Bethsaida. Simon, Andrew, James, and John were all fishermen. As fishermen, they were likely rough, uncultured men who were probably not well educated in rabbinical teaching. They had likely left the synagogue school at an early age to work in the family fishing business. We know that Andrew brought Simon Peter to Jesus, but he is usually mentioned after Peter, suggesting he had a subordinate role to his brother. We also know that Peter was armed with a sword and was impulsive and ready to fight. According to the events in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter pulled out his sword and cut off the ear of one of the men who had come to arrest Jesus. These were hardy men, but they certainly weren't even-tempered or cultured, polished men. 

These men weren't what most of us would consider the brightest or the best, yet they were exactly the kind of men God chose to be the closest support and friends for His Own Son, Jesus. As always, we look at their outside and think, "No way!" but God sees their hearts. 

The frightened betrayal of Peter the night of Jesus's trial was washed away by the forgiveness of the risen Savior, never to return. Before the end of their lives, these men would literally carry the gospel around the world. Every one of these men died a martyr's death. In the end, they would choose brutal death rather than deny their Lord. It turned out that Jesus made good choices that day he called out His apostles. It's no wonder. He had spent the entire night before praying about it. 

Common, ordinary men were called to do extraordinary things in the name of Jesus. It wasn't the commonness or the ordinariness that made the difference. It was Jesus. When called by Jesus, you and I, ordinary though we may be, can also do extraordinary things for Him. With the help of His Spirit, we can take the Good News of a Risen Savior to the world around us. We can leave the world a different place. 

The question is not CAN we, the question is WILL we. 

Pray today that we, and our loved ones, will be willing to surrender our gifts and talents as well as our "ordinariness" to Jesus and allow Him to use us as He sees fit. 

The link for last night's Lenten devotional is here:

Monday, March 10, 2014

Lenten series #5: Abraham

Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father's house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed." So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him... (Genesis 12:1-4 NASB)

Terah had two sons, Abram and Haran. After the death of his son Haran, Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, along with Sarai, Abram's wife, and left Ur of the Chaldeans, where they were living. His plan was to move to Canaan (later known as the Promised Land). They made it as far as Haran, where they settled. 

After Terah died at the age of 205 years, God spoke to Abram. "Start walking, Abram, and I will show you where to go.  I'm going to make you a great nation, bless you, and bless everyone who blesses you." Those weren't the exact words, but you get the idea. Abram was 75 years old, but he didn't whine or complain. There was not one word about how stiff he felt in the morning, his fading eyesight, or his elderly wife. He loaded up his family, his household, and his possessions and headed out. 

Along the way, Abram had many adventures, considerable difficulties, and a few foolish decisions with consequences that persist to this date. The most important part of his journey, however, was that the God who called him to the journey accompanied him on that journey. Even better, the God who accompanied him also spoke to him personally. 

There came a day when his nephew Lot had moved to Sodom. Sodom and Gomorrah were extremely wicked and God had decided to destroy the cities. He sent two angels to tell Abram, who pled for the city, asking God to spare it if just ten righteous men could be found there. Ultimately, there were not ten righteous men, and both Sodom and Gommorah were destroyed. 

The wickedness leading to their downfall is often presumed to have been sexual sin. According to the prophet Ezekiel, however, that was not the case. 

"Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it."(Ezekiel 16:49, 50 NASB)

The sins of Sodom were:
Refusal to help the poor and needy when they had abundance 
Haughty attitude

They were prideful, arrogant and selfish people who would not help those in need despite having abundance of their own. They were haughty toward God and did whatever they wanted. Those in need had cried out to God, He searched for even ten righteous men in the town, there were none, and it was destroyed. There is nothing here that is specifically about sexual sin. The sin was arrogance and selfishness. Wow. That puts things in a different light, doesn't it?

Ten righteous men in one city could have changed the course of history for that city and all who lived there, but they were nowhere to be found. It always makes me wonder what Lot had been doing all those years. 

What a contrast between Noah, who walked with God and was the instrument of redemption for mankind, and Lot who failed to be salt and light in his city and ran for his life rather than try to save a single soul there. What a difference between Lot and his uncle Abram, who pled with God for the lives of a city full of strangers! 

Noah and Abram had something in common that Lot lacked. They both walked with God. Because of that relationship with the Almighty, they both left the world a much better place. Lot, however, stood by while his portion of the world was utterly destroyed. 

Walking with God. Two men in one family faced the choice, but only one man embraced the journey. 

What about you? Are you walking your own path or embracing the walk with God? If you asked Noah or Abram, they'd tell you that walking with God was worth every difficulty they encountered along the way. As we move through this Lenten season, spend some time pondering your walk with God. Is it all it could be?  Is it all it should be?  If not, what are you going to do about it?

Apostles and Disciples: the choice (Luke 6:13)

And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles: (Luke 6:13 NASB)

The Greek word translated as disciple here is mathētēs. It literally means "learner" and can also mean one who follows the teaching of another. The word translated as apostles is apostolos and it literally means "one sent forth" or a messenger or delegate. Jesus had "a great multitude" of disciples by this time. Many people were following Him, listening to His teachings, and taking them to heart. 

Of all those people, Jesus picked only twelve to be apostles. What He needed were men with the commitment, understanding, and stamina to go throughout Israel and teach His truth, carry His message. He needed men He could trust, men who would not let Him down. 

I would not have picked the group He picked, but Jesus had help choosing. Remember, He had just spent the entire night praying about His choice. The twelve men He selected would be His messengers to take the Good News of Christ throughout the world. These men had the toughest job, but the sweetest reward. They had the closest contact with Jesus. They knew Him best. 

Just before Jesus returned to Heaven, He gathered these friends together and gave them their final marching orders. I think those are our final instructions, too. 
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19, 20 NASB)

There were two kinds of followers surrounding Jesus. Some were learners and some were messengers, taking the good news of Christ to all they saw. Which are you?

Pray today for a willingness to become a messenger of Jesus. Pray, too, for the words to share Christ with loved ones in a way they can understand and embrace. 
Here's the link to last night's Lenten devotional in case you missed it:

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Lenten series #4: Noah

Enoch walked with God, and then he was not. Everyone must have been so surprised! His son Methuselah and his grandson Lamech might have searched and searched. They might have searched, but perhaps they knew their dad and grandad and the depth of his friendship with God so well that they were not at all surprised. You might wonder what kind of legacy a man like Enoch left. His grandson had a son born after Enoch went to heaven, and his name is likely familiar to you. Noah. He probably heard the stories about his grandaddy so many times, he could tell them himself! Genesis 6 tells us about the legacy of Enoch. It doesn't call it his legacy, but that's what it is. You're going to love it!

"But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord... Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. (Genesis 6:8, 9 NASB)

There are those beautiful words again. He walked with God.  

Noah knew God so intimately (because of all that time he spent walking with Him), that when God said, "Build a boat. I'm sending a flood," Noah did not waste a minute asking, "What is a flood?" Scripture tells us that God told Noah to build an ark and he did. Just like that. Noah was so accustomed to doing what God said that he didn't hesitate. He started sawing planks. 

Noah was walking and obeying during a very difficult time on earth. Mankind was wicked, every intent of every thought was evil, and God was sick of it. In fact, He was sorry He had made man. God's plan was to take the one man left on earth who walked with Him, and just start over. 

Noah built the ark, loaded the animals and his family, and waited. That was exactly what God had told him to do. Then, he had to wait for seven days before the rain started. God had warned him about the rain delay, but it still must have been a long week, and there must have been at least a little second-guessing. Regardless, Noah stayed right where God told him to be. 

The rains finally came, the flood rose, and every living thing on the earth died except those who had taken shelter in the ark. All those people who laughed at Noah had an extra week to move to safety and not one person chose life. Not one person chose the protection God had provided. When the flood finally started, the door to the ark was already closed. 

There is still great news in this very sad story! Because of Noah's walk of faith with God, mankind was given a second chance. The earth was renewed, and abundance was restored. Noah was so grateful for surviving that he offered a sacrifice of animals, a blood sacrifice, on an altar to God. When God smelled the aroma, He acknowledged that man is evil from the youth up and promised never to destroy the earth with a flood again. Those beautiful rainbows are a reminder of His promise. 

Once again, we see the response of our Righteous God to the sin of mankind. He once again tempered judgement with mercy. Once again, He offered a second chance. The faith walk of just one single man became the instrument of redemption in the hands of God.

Perhaps you feel as if you are a tiny light in a world of darkness. Noah probably felt that, too. He wasn't building that ark in an attempt to save the world. He was building the ark because God told him to build it. There was a plan, but God was in charge of that. All Noah had to do was build. All Noah did was obey, and that's what you and I need to do, too.  

Noah is not the traditional Lenten character, but perhaps he should be. His walk of faith was in stark contrast to the evil in the world around him. His is a story of God's response to the sin of mankind, and shows us that God cannot ignore the wickedness of man. It turned out that the ark was only a temporary fix for our sin problem. More was needed, and eventually God would have to provide the "fix" Himself in the form of His Son. 

Persevering prayer (Luke 6:12)

It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. (Luke 6:12 NASB)

Jesus had just encountered the scribes and Pharisees. He had bested them in verbal sparring, quietly defying them when he healed the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath, and they had left the synagogue in a rage. They were plotting against Him before they were out the door. Things were heating up and the journey to the Cross was underway. 

Jesus did not waste time talking to earthly friends or family about the next step. He went to a mountain, found a quiet place, and engaged the source of all wisdom, God Himself. He went to pray, and He prayed the entire night. The Greek word translated "spent the whole night" is dianyktereuō and literally means "the entire night".  He needed wisdom, and He continued in prayer until He had the answers He needed. 

This kind of persevering prayer involves more than talking all night. It mostly involves listening. Jesus took His concerns to His Father, but He certainly listened, too. This kind of prayer is a two-way conversation with the Most High God and is the very sweetest kind of prayer. 

Sadly, our society is so rushed that most people find it difficult to be still long enough to hear what God has to say in response to what they have prayed. How satisfying is that? Not very. When your heart is burdened about a decision, why would you ask God what to do, but not stay to listen to His answer? That is not only disrespectful to God, but also foolish indeed.  

We will see that Jesus was about to make a major decision that would affect The rest of His ministry and the future of His church. He needed to be sure. When He left the mountain, He knew exactly what to do. How? He lingered until He heard. 

When you pray, do you stop after you have had your say, or linger to hear God's response? If you are not accustomed to listening for that still small voice, why not try it today. You will not likely hear an audible voice, but perhaps you will remember a Scripture reference or the very action you should take will come to mind. Regardless of how it happens, the answer you seek will come, and you will recognize it, if you are willing to be still long enough to hear. 

Today, pray for the longing in our hearts to become listening prayers with the willingness to be still and not just know He is God, but hear Him answer. Pray that our loved ones would cease striving and turn the the Only One with the answers they seek. 

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