Saturday, June 20, 2015

Bringing the ship of our minds safely to harbor

Under these circumstances, after so many thousands of people had gathered together that they were stepping on one another, He began saying to His disciples first of all, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops. (Luke 12:1-3 NASB)

The Pharisees plotted in secret, but Jesus took the offensive into the open. Beware, He told the crowds. The word translated as "beware" is prosechō and is the same word used to describe the action of bringing a ship into dry land safely. In this instance, it means "to hold". What Jesus was saying to His listeners was, "Pay attention and protect your mind. Hold it as a treasure." 

Commentators expound their views on the news; celebrities voice their opinions on talk shows; popular "religious" leaders pronounce their brand of faith in the media. They all speak as if their platform makes what they say worth hearing. They are paid to talk. They have to say words. Sometimes their words are worth hearing. Most times, they're not. 

It is as easy for leaders to make false assumptions and go in a wrong direction as it is for you and me. Our lives were never meant to be patterned after those around us. Our lives are to be patterned after Christ. We have an instruction manual already, and it's called the Bible. 

Jesus was not saying that we should ignore wise counsel or that all those in leadership positions (no matter what kind of leadership they have) are to be disdained. What Jesus was saying is that we should pay attention to what is being said before we embrace it. Don't just embrace words, look at actions. Don't just embrace actions. Judge them by the plumb line of Scripture.

When charismatic speakers deliver lovely words in a touching manner, it is easy to be drawn in to their rhetoric. If the words evoke emotion, it is not uncommon to assume that the emotion has come because their words are truth. If we want to walk in truth, we must judge everything by the standard of truth. 

What is truth? Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except through Me," He is truth. (John 14:6 NIV) If what a speaker says does not line up with what Jesus said, we must discard it, no matter how compelling the words may be. 

It sounds strict, doesn't it? Jesus was full of love and compassion for those of us, like me, who find sin so easy and obedience so hard. When it came to truth, however, He was deadly serious. So serious He died to give us His truth, His way, His life. He isn't being mean or trying to limit our access to the world. Jesus expects us to evaluate what we hear, what we see, and use the discernment God gives to decide if it is truth or not. 

The reason He was so firm about truth is so that we can guide the ship of our minds into the safe harbor of truth, avoiding all the dangers of false doctrine along the way.  Prosechō. Beware, lest we find ourselves docking where we never meant to be. 

Pursue truth. Hold it like a standard. Accept nothing less.

Coming attraction: a look at an 1841 list of causes of shipwreck and how to avoid shipwrecks in our lives.

Why do we come to Jesus?

Under these circumstances, after so many thousands of people had gathered together that they were stepping on one another, He began saying to His disciples first of all, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops. (Luke 12:1-3 NASB)

We begin Chapter 12 with an exciting verse. "Many thousands" of people had gathered together. There were so many people in one place, eager to see Jesus, that they were stepping on one another. Literally. Imagine that for a moment. People crowding together, all intent on one thing. Hearing from Jesus. They weren't there for the entertainment. They weren't there to be seen. (Well, maybe some of them were.) Most of the people were present for one reason. Jesus.

Luke prefaces that description of the crowd with three words, "under these circumstances". The "circumstances" were that Jesus had been invited to lunch by a Pharisee. Several other Pharisees and lawyers joined them. Jesus spoke hard truth to them and they didn't like it. After He left, they began to plot against Him. Destruction was afoot. Despite the fury of the religious leaders, now in open opposition to Jesus, the crowds still came to hear Him.

Why? Because they were hungry for something that their faith, as defined by the scribes and Pharisees, didn't give them. They wanted more than sacrifice. They wanted a way of life and a relationship with Almighty God. They wanted their lives to be clean and fresh and new in a way that only true repentance and the forgiveness of God, not an animal sacrifice, could give.

Despite the opposition of the leaders of their day, the people came to Jesus. We don't have to risk the displeasure or outright opposition of leaders in this country when we come to Jesus. Not yet, but one day we might. In countries around the world, our brothers and sisters in Christ risk their lives every day to worship Him. 

Why do people risk their lives for Jesus? Because He is worth it. Why did the crowds come in such large numbers despite the opposition of religious leaders? Certainly some came to see what all the fuss was about, but the main reason was that He is worth it. 

Are you frustrated with your life? Unhappy in relationships? Weary with the load you bear? Come to Jesus. Even if you've known Him for decades, the weight of this world can press in until you hardly know what to do. If that's where you are, bring your burdens to Jesus and leave them with Him. 

Centuries ago, Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah, the Shepherd God would send. He was talking about Jesus. Read these verses again and let them be like balm, giving you strength and helping you through.

Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.

He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power.

Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary. (Isaiah 40:11, 29, 31 NASB)

Friday, June 19, 2015

My morning confession: Tongue-taming

For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well.

But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. (James 3:2, 8-10 NASB)

Yep. Another detour. It's a morning confession. You may have thought that the post from yesterday, about not saying anything if you couldn't say something nice, was for you. It wasn't. It was for me. I read it several times, because I knew it was for me, but, before I could turn around, the day began to unfold.

So that I don't have to repent again for the many-ith time, all I will say is that I had repeated encounters with someone, and they did not go well. The first time, I managed to keep my cool but grumble to the Lord. The next time, I got tense. I was calm on the outside, but very upset on the inside, which is where God sees. That's the place that matters most. It went downhill from there. (You might not view this as downhill, but I do.) 

I grumbled all day long about the situation. I repented over and over again. Last night, as I reported in to my writing group with my daily word count, I realized that all the grumbling had severely affected my productivity. In my report, I wrote, "I need some time at the foot of the cross and an attitude adjustment." It was true. Finally, at the end of a long grumbly day, that's exactly where I went and what I received. After I dried my tears of repentance, I thought, "Why did I waste all that time grumbling when I could have left this at the cross?"

No one can tame the tongue except God, and it's quite a job. Maybe you're a little like me in this tongue problem, but let's take it to the cross and try to be done with it. No matter the situation, it is never the right thing to speak ill of someone. It is never the right thing to grumble to others about someone. It's never the right thing to hold onto our anger all day while we fret and fume. I know this from experience.

With all that said, I'm determined to be more faithful with the way I use my tongue today. I'm going to bless instead of grumble. I'm going to leave it at the cross, and I invite you to do the same. 

If we are disciples of Christ, we must do what He wants. Jesus is shockingly clear. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. That translates into praying for the most aggravating, irritating person in your life. Pray until you love them. I'm doing that now. In fact, let's do it together. 

Just think what God could do with our sacrifice if we stopped grumbling and loved the most unlovely people in our lives. It would take a miracle of tongue-taming, of course, so let's give our tongues to the only Tongue-Tamer, who can transform our words and, through them, change the world.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Think Before You Speak

plotting against Him to catch Him in something He might say. (Luke 11:54 NASB)

After nearly 160 blog posts on Luke 11, I expected to begin Luke 12 today. It's probably no surprise that, as I was reading Luke 11 one more time this morning to be sure we had gathered all the good, I found one more little nugget.

I read this last verse and could hear my mama saying, "Young lady, you need to watch what you say," and "Not everything that comes in your head needs to come out your mouth." Exactly. It's a shame that she had to tell me that so many times, but she did. If you've spent much time with me, you may think I haven't improved much. The sad thing is that, as blunt and opinionated as I am, I'm less vocal than I used to be. I am, however, like you, still a work in progress.  

The scribes/lawyers and Pharisees knew that the easiest way to discredit someone was to take something they said out of context and expose them to public ridicule. Since Jesus spoke daily to crowds of people, he said many words. Already, the scribes and Pharisees were unhappy (to put it mildly) about the words He had just said to them. (Admittedly, I might not have been happy if Jesus had told me that I carried the stench of death in my actions, either.) When anger became action, the scribes and Pharisees' first scheme was to catch Him in something He said. They were sure that they could destroy Him with His own words. 

The Pharisees and scribes understood something that I seem to forget sometimes. My words have great power. I can bless with them and I can curse with them. (James 3) Since I have a choice about the words I use and the way I say them, I need to choose wisely. Do I "speak curses" against others? I'd like to say that I never do that, but if I say negative things about others that cause people to adopt my same negative attitude, I have, in a way, spoken a curse against them. I have harmed them with my words.

If I spread the latest tidbit of news about someone or share a secret best kept, I have harmed them with my words. James wrote that the same tongue that blessed God in worship should not be used to curse (or harm) others in public, and I need to remember that.

My grandmother used to say, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." I would do well to remember her words, and so would we all. The Pharisees were right. The quickest way to discredit a man or woman of God is to catch them saying something intemperate and use those words against them. Let's be sure we think before we speak, temper our words with kindness, and say only those words we would be happy for Jesus, who knows every word we speak, to hear.

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless. (James 1:19-20, 26 NASB)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Choosing our direction

Now when He had spoken, a Pharisee asked Him to have lunch with him; and He went in, and reclined at the table.

Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering." When He left there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile and to question Him closely on many subjects, plotting against Him to catch Him in something He might say. (Luke 11:37, 52-54 NASB)

The trouble started in the most innocent of ways. Jesus had spoken to a crowd. One of the Pharisees was present and invited Jesus to have lunch with him. At that time, Jesus was wildly popular, gathering huge crowds everywhere He went. Having Jesus to lunch was a little like winning a prize, I imagine, and the Pharisee invited some of his friends to join him and meet Jesus.

From the start, there was conflict. The Pharisees were unhappy that Jesus did not obey the laws about ritual cleansing before meals. Jesus quickly explained that there was a difference between cleaning the outside of our bodies and allowing God to cleanse our hearts. The Pharisees had been so intent on obeying the rules of law (especially the manmade ones) that they had missed the Spirit of the law. They were like dead men walking, leaving the odor of death everywhere they went.

The lawyers present quickly complained. "You're talking about us, too." Jesus agreed. Yes, He was talking about them, too. The lawyers not only weighed people down with unnecessary rules that they did not follow themselves, but they had the key of knowledge that could have unlocked the kingdom of God. They had studied the Scriptures since childhood, knew the Messianic prophecies, yet refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. They actively prevented anyone else from knowing Him.

After Jesus left the luncheon, the Pharisees and lawyers began to be hostile. The wording implies that they weren't hostile while He was present. After He left, the enemy found a foothold and stirred up trouble. They seethed about the confrontation with Jesus, simmering like a pot of soup. Seething led to plotting. Plotting led to schemes, then, eventually, to murder. 

When God confronts us with our sin, we have two options. We can embrace His truth and allow Him to cleanse and change us or we can respond as the Pharisees did, with hostility and anger. Neither response is the end, however. When we respond with hostility and anger, rather than allowing Him to change us, it is only the beginning. Anger begets action. Action birthed in such inauspicious beginnings is never good, and it will take us places we never wanted to go. 

Our other option, the one I want to choose, is to embrace His truth and allow Him to change the broken parts of us. That response is not the end, either. When we allow God to change us, He makes us into something better. Someone more like Christ. That change, too, can allow Him to do things with us that we never imagined. 

Every day, we stand at a decision point that will bring us closer to Jesus or take us further away. We need to keep our goal in sight. If what we want is to spend eternity with our Savior, our goal should be to steadily draw closer to Him. Every decision we make should be made with that goal in mind, especially when our own sin is concerned. 

Let's do what the Pharisee did. Invite Christ to spend some time with us today so we can get to know Him better. If He shows us something about ourselves that we didn't want to know, (and He almost certainly will) let's embrace His truth and allow Him to make us what He meant us to be, then allow Him to do more than we ever imagined with our lives.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Being an open door to Christ

Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering." (Luke 11:52 NASB)

We come now to the last of the "woes" Jesus spoke to the Pharisees and the lawyers (or scribes). The lawyers were experts in the mosaic law. Like the Pharisees, they had spent their lives studying Scripture. They knew all the prophecies concerning the coming Messiah. They had every bit of information they needed (the key of knowledge) to recognize their Messiah. 

When Jesus arrived, He did not look like they expected. The scribes and Pharisees wanted a military king, like David. They wanted a Messiah who would chase out the Romans and restore Israel to its Davidic prominence and wealth. A suffering servant was not what they had in mind. Rather than embrace the Messiah God had sent, they rejected Him because He wasn't what they wanted. 

The lawyers had the key of knowledge that would have allowed them to accept their Savior and enter the kingdom of God, but they "took it away". They refused to use the key they had at their disposal. The lawyers were not quiet about Jesus. They spoke against Him at every opportunity and they twisted Scripture in such a way that they deceived the people. In refusing to use their key (knowledge) to recognize their Messiah, they also hindered others from entering the kingdom of God. It's clear that Jesus held them responsible for both errors. 

It is a tragedy to miss the kingdom of God because it doesn't look like what we expected. It is a much greater tragedy to prevent others from coming to Jesus because of our unbelief and our failure to understand God's plan.

When those of us who profess to be believers act in ways that are inconsistent with our faith, we can easily "take away the key of knowledge" from those who are unfamiliar with the things of God. What a tragedy for someone who doesn't know Jesus to look at my life and reject Him because of my choices! When I make it easy for someone to label me a hypocrite, or to see Christ as weak and ineffective because I fail to follow Him faithfully, I can hinder them from the kingdom. 

It is a question of holiness. My life should gradually become more like Christ's. If my life looks exactly like those of the rest of the world, what difference has Christ made in me? I must allow Him to mold and shape me into someone better than what I am without Him. I must be a living monument to His grace for all to see. 

When I refuse to be transformed, I hide the key of knowledge from those who look to me for evidence of Jesus. In so doing, I can prevent them from entering the kingdom of God, with eternal consequences. 

May we never turn others away from Jesus by our choices but live in such a way that all who will can find an open door to Christ in us.

Defining moments

Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and it was your fathers who killed them. So you are witnesses and approve the deeds of your fathers; because it was they who killed them, and you build their tombs. For this reason also the wisdom of God said, 'I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.' (Luke 11:47-51 NASB)

The section of Scripture today is a harsh denunciation of the scribes (lawyers) and their forefathers concerning their treatment of God's witnesses or prophets, as well as a prophetic word against them. The scribes were quick to enshrine the tombs of dead prophets, even though it was their forefathers who had killed the prophets. The honor they gave to the prophets was an honor in name only, however. 

From the beginning of time, God has sent His prophets to deliver His truth, knowing that the world would kill some and persecute others. Very few people would hear and obey the prophets. Even though His servants were treated shamefully, God continued to send people to deliver His Word and His warnings to a perishing world.

For a prophet, especially one willing to give his life for the Word of God, honor is not to be found in brick and mortar. To honor one committed to the Word of God, one has simply to obey the Word. "I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth." (3 John 1:4 NASB) The scribes' forefathers not only refused to obey the word of the Lord as given by the prophets, but also rejected the prophets, persecuted them, and even killed them. 

Jesus said that, although the scribes made a show of honoring the ancient prophets by building tombs (or mausoleums), they were no more committed to honoring the Word of God delivered by the prophets than their fathers had been. 

Jesus knew this to be true because of how they treated Him. He was God made flesh and dwelling among us, the beloved of the Father, sent for the redemption of the world. Despite His divinity and the truth He taught, Jesus was rejected by the ones who should have recognized Him, and He still is.

Even the scribe and Pharisees did not yet know that this was a prophetic word. Jesus knew that these men would be as faithless as their forefathers. Before the day was over, these men who took such offense against Jesus' words would be plotting to do exactly what their fathers had done to the prophets. Those plots would expand and deteriorate into murder before they were done.

What started as a luncheon and an opportunity to question the teacher in private was actually a defining moment for the scribes and Pharisees present that day. Jesus spoke truth to them. He knew their hearts and He told them what lay hidden within. They had the opportunity to accept truth or reject it, and they chose to reject it.

In rejecting His truth, they rejected Him and it put them on a path that led to destruction. These men would eventually kill Jesus and, in the murdering, would destroy their souls. 

Those defining moments come to us on a daily basis. We have opportunities to obey the Words of Christ every single day. Every obedience leads us closer to Him. Every act of rebellion leads us farther away. 

The problem I have is in recognizing my own rebellion. The Scribes viewed their interaction with Jesus as an argument. They simply disagreed. The problem was that they were disagreeing with God Himself. Sometimes, I have that problem. Maybe you do, too. Of course I don't call it an argument with God. I call it being practical.

I know that there are people in dire need in this world, yet those needs go unmet. I could do more, but I do not, even though God has called me to love my neighbor as myself. It seems like I'm being practical. There's only so much I can do, right? The problem is that I can do more, but I call doing a little enough. More requires sacrifice on my part, and who wants to do that? Apparently, not me. The closer I look at it, the more it looks like disobedience and it brings me to a decision point. Will I sacrifice to obey Christ or not?  

Every day, we encounter those decision points that are opportunities to draw closer to Christ by obedience or farther away by disobedience. Which will it be? Will we call doing a little enough? Maybe so, but will Christ be satisfied? The One who gave His all for a sin-riddled world expects no less from us. Decision points are no less than tiny defining moments that lead us where we will go. Let's be sure our decisions are ones that direct us to the life Christ died to give.