Sunday, April 27, 2014



Editorial Note:
I will continue the lessons on “strategy & planning,” but it takes more work to get it straight, so I’ll come back to it later.  

Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble;
(2 Peter 1:5–10)

Giving all diligence        (NKJV)
Make Every Effort           (NIV)
Do your best           (New Century)

Jesus showed 12 men how to live.  He taught them with words and by his example to live a peculiar kind of life.  After Jesus had ascended into heaven, he left the future of this lifestyle in the hands of those 11 men.  Teaching people how to live in harmony with God and His will – this is the lifestyle Jesus showed his followers.  He did not found a religion, or “plant” a church.  He did not hand out rules, or take up collections.  What he did was to teach a lifestyle of giving, love and work – or “sacrifice,” for short.

This message of “lifestyle,” as I’m calling it here, was called “the way” by Jesus and his followers.  They were learning to live according to “the way.”  They were learning to “make level paths” for their feet (Hebrews 12.13), and Paul called our lifestyle “the path of peace.” 

Living this lifestyle isn’t easy, but it’s excellent.  It can be heartbreaking, but it’s also the only way to live with contentment or “peace,” as it is usually called in the bible.  Our lifestyle is one of giving, forgiving, generosity and love.  None of us is like this naturally, but we can become more and more like Jesus every day.  To change from our natural state (selfish) to spiritual maturity (teleios) requires growth.  Like growing stronger muscles, we must exercise to grow. 

Truly devoted disciples of Jesus are different than today’s regular “Christians,” because we are people who seek to grow.  We are people who work, who exercise, who train.  Comparing us to the modern Christian is like comparing professional baseball players to folks in a softball league.  It’s approximately the same game, but then again most softball league guys do more “12-ounce curls” than they do hours in the gym. 

To put it bluntly: modern Christians are lazy.  
They have been taught that going to church and being “good” is what it means to be a Christian.  In one denomination’s hymnal I noticed recently they have removed all the songs that have anything to do with “work.”  These days “work” is a bad word.  And if ‘work’ is bad, you can forget about the idea of sacrifice (by anyone but Jesus or a few modern professionals). 

Jesus called his disciples to abandon one’s job and family (Matthew 4.22, 19.29, Mark 1.20, 10.29) to follow Jesus, but today’s Christians are reluctant to give up as little as a family meal or holiday in service to God.  (We will sacrifice them for work or school – but never for the lost or needy)

But then of course we teachers and preachers are always careful to add: “we must be willing to leave these things, but we don’t HAVE to do so every time.” 
          Well, that’s true … but doesn't it seem like some sacrifice would be seen once in a while?

What about you?  Seriously, stop and think for a moment about your own spiritual situation.  Are you getting stronger daily?  Are you sacrificing more today than this time last year?  Are you giving more?  Are you forgiving more?  Are you more committed to understanding God’s word?  Are you becoming wiser? 

If not, maybe it’s because you've quit trying.  Some of us get discouraged and are tempted to quit.  If this is you, let me encourage you to make your time of discouragement be brief. 

Some of us find it easier to rationalize that we need to make money, or have fun, or do family stuff or meet others’ expectations in some way.  If that’s you … then let me encourage you to re-think your situation. 

To be blunt: if you’re spending more time on social media, TV, or other recreational activities than you are in hard work for God … you are lazy.  Churches are full of “good” people whose laziness renders them completely useless.

“Why do you call me ‘Lord’ & do not do what I say?
(Luke 6:46)

Everyone quits

People who know me have heard me say this many times.  I say it because that’s the world I know.  People like the idea of going to heaven when they die.  We like the idea of having a life of peace and contentment as is promised in the New Testament. 

But very few like to work, sacrifice or struggle.  And when we fail (as we all do), most people refuse to keep getting back up time after time and jumping back into the game. 

In life, as in football, the trick is to be difficult to knock down (but understand that it will happen).  The more you have the ball, the more you’ll get knocked down.  Some people get scared and quit, and most people will never play – it’s easier to be a spectator.  And a spectator’s idea of suffering is bad seats or cold or rainy weather.  That’s pathetic!  How can you remotely consider yourself a follower of one who lived an entire life of sacrifice, then died on the cross? 

If you fall, or if you quit – it’s not the end of the world. 
Get back up, and get back in the game. 

God’s grace is sufficient for you. 

One step at a time

If you've been down and out of service, here’s how to get back: one step at a time.  Whether it’s a child learning for the first time or a professional recovering from an injury, we get back to our full-strength by working just a little bit at a time.  If you go too fast, you’ll re-injure yourself or get discouraged.  If you go too slowly, you’ll miss the fun of the challenge and the joy of seeing God working in your life and discouragement will overwhelm you. 

So … decide to get (back) to work today, right now.  Ask for God’s help – He will be thrilled to have you come home to the family business!  Then, one step at a time, get your rehab going.  Patience and persistence is the order of the day. 

Oh, and: be prepared to fail.  You will.  But don’t let that be the end of you.  Just know it’s coming, and then be ready to get yourself back up again. 

Get to work – it’s good for you, and good for God’s kingdom. 

Finally: be aware that by doing this you’ll be weird. 
You will be different than other “Christians,” who are reluctant to break a spiritual sweat.  They will question you and they will try to derail you, just as they did Jesus and all his disciples.  Expect them to give you grief – your “friends” and family are some of Satan’s best tools to derail you.

These are people who give “left-overs,” while we are people who give our first-fruits. 
They give 10% - we’re working & growing to give 100%. 
They won’t sacrifice any of their comforts, will always conform to social convention, and will be rule-followers all the days of their lives. 

WE are people who are people who fear God first and only.  We love and worship God with ALL our hearts, ALL our souls, ALL our strength, and ALL our spirit … and we love our neighbors just as much as we love our own selves!  Yes … JUST AS MUCH! And that’s why we’re compelled to “leave the 99” and go after the one lost lamb (as did Jesus) – because we don’t put ourselves or anything or anyone ahead of seeking and saving the lost, binding up the wounded, and caring for God’s sheep.

To normal Christians who say those words but don’t live them, we will appear extreme and odd.  That’s a good thing – but it hurts, so be ready for their criticism.

Jesus left his village, his job and his mom and family – to serve God 
He sacrificed his life to save us 

The best we can give is so little – 
how can we not give our best?

“If anyone wishes to come after me, he must:
  • Deny himself, &
  • Take up his cross daily &
  • Follow me
 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, he is the one who will save it.
 For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?
For whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory”(Luke 9:23–26)

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Don’t you know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?
We have been buried with him through baptism into death,
So that:
…as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father,
…so we too might walk in newness of life!  
(Romans 6:3–4)

The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus form the core of what we call the “gospel,” or (more accurately) the “Good News.” 

So … what is the “good news” of these events? 
In a word: hope

Paul said that when we are dunked into the water of baptism, we are being “buried with him” (Jesus).  We are re-enacting the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus! 

This is the moment we are “reborn,” according to Jesus (John 3:3-8).  This moment is the beginning of a “new life,” when we become “new creatures,” creatures who are clothed with Christ. 

Some say baptism is nothing but a symbol.  Others treat baptism as if it’s magic.  Sadly many “Christians” see baptism as merely the removal of sins for salvation. 

Baptism is so much more! 

Baptism is when we get what kids call a “do-over.”  Being born again means we get a second chance!  And this time, we are freed from our old masters and can submit only to God and Jesus. Baptism is the gospel re-enacted. 

Those who have not "obeyed the gospel" are without hope (2 Thessalonians 1:8), but those of us who have shared in the gospel - we have the greatest gifts (grace) - freedom & hope!  

Continuing Paul’s message above:
If we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him……in order that:
Our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin!  Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over him. For the death that he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life that he lives, he lives to God.
Even so:
consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
 Therefore don’t let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its desires, and…
…don’t go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness;
Present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.
For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.
(Romans 6:5–14)
[Note: the Greek word often translated “lust” means really “desire.”  Since “lust” is usually limited to sexual desire in our culture, I change it to “desire” in my bibles, and encourage you to do the same.  Desire for food produces gluttony, desire for others’ things is envy, etc.  All sin comes from “desire,” so consider changing it in your bible]

Remember our lessons on perspective?  Here’s another case where a simple change in perspective makes a huge difference: 

Most people today see themselves as constantly struggling to “overcome” sin, as if it takes great strength, patience and self-discipline. 

But this is not the way Paul taught us to see it.  He said to consider yourselves dead to sin.”  Once we’re baptized we are no longer slaves of our old master (sin).  In other words, we are more than just “guilt-free,” now we are also freed from having to obey our bodies!  We are emancipated!  We don’t have to be beaten down by our old boss-man, getting us to work, worry and feel guilty.  Now we can overcome.  Now we have a chance.

Or in other words:
Your body cannot boss you around anymore, if you want to resist. 

This parallels the exodus.  Remember that in 1 Corinthians 10 Paul wrote that they were led to freedom from their old master (Pharaoh), baptized (in the Red Sea), and then after a time in the wilderness, to a “promised land.” 

We have been freed from our old master and now can move on to our own promised land (heaven) after some time in the wilderness (this life). 

Part of the “good news” is that we no longer have to let sin reign in our bodies. 
  • We no longer have to be lazy in service to God. 
  • We no longer have to eat every single time we crave food. 
  • We no longer have to buy something every time we want it. 
  • We no longer have to be slaves to our own selfishness – but are now free to love others.
  • We no longer have to be victims of our own weaknesses, for God has welcomed into His Kingdom, so that now He is the only Lord we need! 

The day Jesus hung on the cross was the ugliest day in history.  And the hours that he was in the grave were surely some of the most hopeless.  Judas committed suicide and Peter must have come pretty close.  Doubt must have been heavy on their souls. 

But then it was Sunday! 
He is risen!  Death has become life!  Doubt has become strengthened faith!  And now just as Jesus has overcome death, so we can overcome sin! 

We participated in what the world calls “Easter” when we were born again in the waters of baptism.  And every time we repent of sin that again creeps into our lives, we can go forward with confidence because God has promised it, and He is faithful. 

Satan will continue to whisper doubt in our ears, telling us we cannot succeed.  He wants us to return to is rule, and expects that we will.  He lays a lead blanket of guilt on our shoulders and reminds us that we cannot possibly succeed.  But remember this: Satan is a liar. 

God’s truth is simple: you and I can be freed from sin and death.  Jesus led the way.

Be of good cheer all you who are truly born-again disciples of Jesus, for we alone enjoy the hope of the resurrection.  And even when we fail, we can repent.  For as long as you’re alive, there is hope (Ecclesiastes 9.4)!

You have already been raised with Christ, so now walk in your new life, and renew it day by day.  

I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.
But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;
Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Therefore, my beloved brethren:
Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.
(1 Corinthians 15:51–58)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Easter Week

“Our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  And, all ate the same spiritual food and all drank the same spiritual drink (for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them, and the rock was Christ). Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.
Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved.
Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.’”  (1 Corinthians 10:1–7)

Paul reminded the church in Corinth about the events of the Exodus.  First, that God had rescued them, fed them and took care of them.  In spite of all this, they turned to idolatry.  Specifically, he’s writing about the matter of the golden calf.  What many people miss is that although they made the calf, they were actually praising Yahweh (Exodus 32.5). 

Today instead of a calf plus God, we have a bunny and Jesus.  Just as they “stood up to play,” so we have Easter egg hunts and other hand-me-downs from our forefathers and their pagan rituals, but so long as we cloak it in Jesus’ name, everything seems OK. 

I’m not so sure this is right.  Maybe the whole “Easter season” with its origins deep in Paganism and practices borrowed from Roman Catholic inventions – maybe it’s OK.  And since I no longer face pressure from family to disobey scripture and put on fancy clothes (1 Timothy 2.9), or encourage kids to chase pagan fertility symbols, it’s certainly easy for me to be judgmental.  So I’ll limit myself to a few lines of caution, and suggest that you consider celebrating the Passover instead.  It is around this time of year, and if you feel the need to celebrate a holiday, why involve paganism, when you can simply enjoy a festival invented by God?  And Passover is of double importance to Christians, because we weren't merely rescued from human slavery, but from slavery to sin! 

Either way, I intend to obey Paul who wrote this to the church in Rome:
“One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.”  (Romans 14:5)

On the other hand, “this” week is important.  Events of the final days of Jesus’ life are among the few things to be found in all four Gospels, and each one goes into an unusual amount of detail about this last week of Jesus life. 

I’ve developed the habit of remembering this last week of Jesus’ life in my own way.  I try to spend each day remembering where Jesus was and what he was doing and/or teaching on each of these final days.  In some places the chronology is speculative, but in parts where it isn't clear from scripture, it must not be important to the story, so I’m hopeful you’ll allow me a bit of leeway.  

I hope you’ll join me in remembering this season as it is found in the bible, instead of the way it is celebrated in our culture.  But if you can’t give up bunnies, chocolate, fancy clothes and religious nonsense, then at least don’t neglect the real messages of this important time in Jesus’ ministry on earth. 

Good Morning, Jericho!

This morning (called “Palm Sunday” by Catholics), Jesus apparently woke up in a bed in Jericho.  Jericho is in a deep valley near where the Jordan River empties into the Dead Sea.  It’s below sea level there, it’s a desert very much like today’s Coachella Valley near the northern edge of the Salton Sea.  It’s a desert oasis filled with Date Palms grown by sweet spring water (made sweet by the prophet Elisha - 2 Kings 2.19-22).  It’s also the ancient city that Joshua defeated when the walls came down, and where one of Jesus’ ancestors lived – a gentile hooker named Rahab. 

Jesus has been traveling south from Galilee down this valley next to the Jordan to arrive in Jerusalem for Passover.  His popularity has grown and there are many thousands of pilgrims already making the same journey.  Now knowing Jesus is among the throngs traveling together makes for quite an event.  Everyone knows that a big “show-down” is coming when he arrives.  Some believe he is the promised messiah, others that he is preceding the Messiah, and others think he is a false Messiah.  But everyone knows that Jesus is opposed by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem (the Sanhedrin), who view Jesus as a false Messiah and a threat to their fragile peace with Rome. 

So last night Jesus and many thousands of his followers and other pilgrims made it to Jericho.  The crowd was so big that it was hard to get a glimpse of Jesus.  One short man named Zaccheus went so far as to climb a tree just to see him (an undignified thing for a wealthy, powerful man like Zach).  The result, however, was that Jesus recognized him, and proclaimed him to be saved and stayed that night in Zach’s house.   

This morning Jesus left Jericho (Matthew 20.29) to travel up the steep, barren road up to Jerusalem, which is high in the hills above the Jordan valley.  This road is the one Jesus used in his story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10.30), known for being desolate and rough.  But today there were many thousands of Jesus’ disciples and pilgrims all making the climb together. 

They came to the top of the hill opposite Jerusalem, where there was a village called Bethany.  This is where Jesus will stay tonight, and each of his nights leading up to his execution.  And apparently he was staying at the home of Lazarus (the man he had raised from the dead in Luke 11) and his sisters, Mary and Martha (John 12). 

Bethany is also where our Lord told his disciples to get the donkey that he would ride down the pathway through the Olive grove on the western slope of the hill leading to the gate on the East side of Jerusalem. 

This is the sight of “The Triumphal Entry” – and what a scene it must have been! 

For as Jesus was riding down the hill toward the Kidron Valley with the thousands who followed with him from Galilee … they could see the temple mount on the other side of the valley, were many thousands more would be waiting in great anticipation of the arrival of this man.  Two great throngs of people on either side of the valley, all cheering and shouting and filled with expectations that this new “Moses” would lead them to freedom from the Romans, and build the final Jewish kingdom that would rule forever! 

an idea of Jesus' view descending Mt. of Olives - where trees are by the dome would have been tens of thousands of people. 
As our Lord heard these shouts of praise and apparent acceptance of his title as God’s Anointed, do you suppose he swelled with joy and pride?  No – he did not.  Instead, he wept and was sorrowful (Luke 19.41).  He wept because he knew the people (as we usually do) had misunderstood prophecy about this day and they didn’t know that soon the physical temple and physical Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Romans.  They had accepted Jesus as Messiah, but for the wrong reasons.  They didn’t know that he had come to introduce the spiritual kingdom of Israel and the spiritual temple.  (Something people misunderstand to this day, and expect a physical temple to be built in Jerusalem)

I’m fascinated by Jesus’ behavior. 

- On one hand, you’d think that Jesus could finally feel a bit of joy at his acceptance by the throngs after years of doubt and criticism. 
- Or maybe this was his chance to set everyone straight and tell them they were wrong and teach a lesson on the truth about the kind of Messiah he would be and the kind of kingdom he was establishing. 
- Or maybe he should be angry with the leaders of the Jews and use this as a good time to wipe them out.  After all, he knew they were going to kill him and continue to mislead the people for years to come. 

But instead Jesus was hurting for his people who were like sheep without a shepherd: ignorant of their impending and inevitable destruction.  In one of the most intense moments of all of human history, Jesus was thinking about the people; not himself, not the enemy, not his appetites or festivals or the rules or any of that; he was so loving he could not help himself!

Today has been a long day, to begin a rough week.  As he lay down tonight to sleep in Bethany, I wonder how confused the 12 must have been!  By this time, maybe they had grown comfortable with confusion, and learned to just “roll with it.”  Surely at least Peter expected this was about to be a big show-down kind of moment. 

Throughout Jerusalem and the villages around it, the dinner conversations must have been remarkable as people reflected on the events of this extraordinary day, and leading up to the Passover, when Moses led them from Egypt.

In the next few days, if we follow Matthew’s accounts, we’ll see that he saw this as a week of preparation.  Not only preparation for the Passover, but also for Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and the kingdom to come.  Over and over Jesus will tell them (and us)  to “get ready.” 

So what lessons apply to you?  How do you handle confusing times, or days when it seems like everything’s turning around, or when everything seems to be coming to a conclusion? 

Consider spending this week with Jesus, and learn how to live and lead as he did.   

“You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. 
But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all.  
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  (Mark 10:42–45)