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Weekly Word

Entries in Ministry (3)

Tuesday
Aug192014

Greatness in God's Kingdom

Today we are going to be in Luke 9:46-50.  Here we are going to see some rivalry between the disciples of Jesus.  Throughout the Bible we run into different kinds of rivalries: between siblings, within marriages, between nations, and here among God’s leaders.  At the heart of rivalries is often the desire to have the attention or favor of a parent, or spouse, or even God himself.  There is nothing wrong with wanting favor.  However, when we want that favor at the expense of another it is wrong.  These situations can take on a whole life of their own, in which even siblings who are now adults continue to fight each other long after their parents are gone.

The disciples could not understand that the powerful workings of Christ were leading to a cross, rather than to the throne of Israel.  In their mind power means greatness and greatness means the throne.  This is the kind of worldly thinking that causes us to chafe against the ways of the Lord.  We need to change how we view greatness and lowliness in serving God.

Which Of Us Is The Greatest?

So let’s look at verses 46-48 to discover which of us is the greatest.  Somewhere along the road the disciples began to have strife with each other.  This strife developed into a dispute among them as to which of them was greatest.  Now the word “dispute” here is literally reasoning or a line of reasoning without reference to whether it is in one’s head or actually spoken to others.  The term “among” them also is general in nature.  Whether every single one of them thought they were the greatest or not, a spirit of self-promotion had come into the group and had lead to friction.  Apparently these disputes were not happening in front of Jesus because it says that he “perceived” their rivalry and the source of it.

Now if we were to answer the disciples we might piously state, “Knock it off!  Jesus is the greatest, period!”  However, the disciples are not thinking they are greater than Jesus.  They really are arguing over 2nd place.  Which of us will have the prestige of being the Right Hand of Jesus?  So Jesus goes to the heart of the matter.  In truth some will serve Christ greater than others.  In the coming Kingdom some will have greater positions of authority than others.  Who will it be?

Now we need to recognize up front that we pretty much always see things in our favor and this not righteous.  Let me describe a scenario for you.  So you are watching a sporting event in which you don’t care about either team.  However, you have two buddies who are each strong supporters of different teams.  As penalties and friction happen in the game you will see them arguing strongly against each other.  “That was a foul!  No it wasn’t!”  Of course when the situation is reversed the guy who thought it was a foul before will suddenly not see it as a foul now, simply because he doesn’t want it to be a foul.  Our sin nature infects the way that we think and tends to bring up thoughts and lines of reasoning that justify ourselves and condemn others.  This self-promotion over the top of others is not good.  In fact, it is contrary to the way of Jesus.  It is the source to their inability to understand the purpose of Jesus’ ministry.  Think about this truth.  Our thinking will tend to go against the way of Jesus and towards our own self-promotion, or greatness.  Such things lead to division and dissension among Christians, and is an open door to the work of the enemy.  If we want to follow Jesus we are going to have to drop the concern of our own promotion.

Now Jesus answers this by using a child as an object lesson.  In this situation the child represents someone who has zero status.  He may belong to Jesus, but he is low on the scale of greatness.  To receive this child can mean many things.  But, in this situation it probably focuses on ministry.  People were often coming to Jesus asking for help.  When he “received” them, he was allowing them not just to come to him, but also be healed.  Jesus equates ministering to those of zero status as the same as ministering to God Himself, who has the greatest status.  Notice that we don’t tend to think that way.  Wouldn’t you rather be the right hand man of the King rather than the right hand man of a pig farmer?  Doesn’t one seem like a position that is “greater” than the other?  Yet, Jesus is equating them.  This is a hard lesson to learn emotionally.  We may understand it intellectually, but our heart and desires resist this way to which Jesus points us.

Jesus then tells them that “He who is least among you all will be great.”  He is basically telling that if they want to be great they need to seek the lowest place.  His answer is really challenging our definitions.  The least, by their definition, would be great, by God’s definition.  The beauty of this answer is that Jesus tells them to quit seeking what they think is the “greatest place” and start seeking what they see as the “lowest place.”  It is a rebuke to humble their minds and hearts.  This is more than simply refraining from promoting yourself.  This is a radical 180 degree turn to actually demote their self.  In this world you will probably never see anyone ask for a demotion.  All of this hinges on changing our worldly reasoning and definitions about greatness.  John the Baptist understood this when he said to his disciples, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  Though John would be tested on this declaration when he was put in prison, He understood that It was not about him.  It was all about Jesus.  This is a principle we need to live by within our own life.  The thinking and actions of Jesus need to increase in my life and the old thinking and actions need to decrease.  Jesus must be promoted in my life and I must be demoted.  Seek the lowest place.

Before we leave this; notice that Jesus does use the word “greater” or even greatest.  He merely says great.  Greater and greatest are terms of comparison.  Whereas great is a term that simply describes one despite its relationship to others.  This attitude of comparison is something that we need to flee.  The disciples are not simply wanting to be great, but wanting to be greater than each other. In 2 Corinthians 10:12 Paul states, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves.  When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”  The disciples were being foolish and opening a door for the enemy in their lives.  In Christ all ministry is measured by our faith in God and faithfulness to what He gives us.  If he sends us a small child then we will minister unto that small child as if it were God himself.  We can be great because we do it out of love for Him and by His direction.  If we are given a task by the greatest one it is by definition a great task.

Our Desire For Greatness Squelches Ministry

In verses 49-50 we see that our desire for ministry can get in the way of ministry and even stop it.  Sometimes instead of trying to completely shut down ministry we can simply try to control it.  Jesus rebukes such activity.

When Jesus tells them to receive a small child in His name, John is remind of a man that they had not received.  He tells Jesus the situation and Jesus tells him that they had acted wrongly.  They had come upon a guy who was casting out demons in the name of Jesus.  They told him to stop because he wasn’t one of the 12.  Up to this point they are the only ones that Jesus had told to do this.  They were being territorial over this kind of ministry.  “Who do you think you are?”  It is most likely that this guy had seen the disciples themselves ministering and casting out demons in the name of Jesus and had decided to follow their example.

Now one thing we need to recognize is that this guy must have had faith in Jesus.  He is doing the same thing the disciples did.  Whereas in Acts 19 the 7 sons of Sceva, who are not believers in Jesus, tried casting out demons “by the name of Jesus that Paul preaches…”  The demon states that it knows who Paul and Jesus are but not them and proceeds to beat the guys up.  The ability to cast out the demons demonstrates that the guy had true believing faith in Jesus.  So why shut down a fellow believer who is only doing what Jesus told us to do?  There is no room for such rivalry in the Kingdom of God.  It is a wrong spirit and opens the door for the enemy to sow seeds of dissension and destruction.

Jesus states that “He who is not against us is for us.”  This man was not speaking against Jesus.  In fact, he was clearly promoting Jesus.  This statement is the Lord’s stand against cliques that develop within His kingdom.  Now a denomination is not the same thing as a clique.  But it can develop these kind of attitudes of superiority and rejection of others, based merely on their own reasoning and not the reasoning of Christ.

Walking humbly before God and our fellow man is not an easy thing for our flesh.  It runs counter to our sinful nature.  This is why we are told to daily crucify our sinful nature.  There is going to be friction, and we are going to have to continually die to our self, and humble ourselves before one another, and forgive each other. Greatness for the believer is about following Jesus who laid his life down for us.  It is about laying our lives down for each other.

Greatness Audio

Friday
May092014

Parable of the Soils

Today we will be looking at Luke 8:1-15 where the question is asked.  What is the condition of my heart?  It is good for us to be in the audience when God’s Word is being spoken.  However, even more important than being able to hear the Word of God is to be ready to receive it.  Our heart is even more important than our ears.  If a person is deaf then we can work around that obstacle to help them know God’s Word.  But we are in trouble when our hearts do not want to hear what God is saying.

Have you ever wondered why churches often worship in song before hearing the Word?  Music has a way of clearing our mind of everything but what is being sung about.  It is a way of preparing our heart to be in the right condition to receive God’s Word.  This is the issue in the parable we will see today.  Let’s look at these verses.

Jesus Ministered in Every City

When Jesus first began ministering, he was by himself.  But, he quickly drew together 12 disciples who would go with him wherever he went.  It was at this point that our text tells us Jesus purposefully set out to visit each city and village in Israel.  Whether in the synagogue or outside the city on its hills, Jesus went throughout all of Israel to share the good news that God’s Kingdom was at hand.  Jesus did heal people and cast out evil spirits.  But, his main objective was to call people to join the Kingdom of God that had arrived.  God had promised to send to Israel His Anointed King who would set up a kingdom that would never be destroyed.

Luke points out that this group of disciples was more than just the Twelve.  There were some women who also followed Jesus and three of them are mentioned by name.  Mary Magdalene is the most famous person on the list due to the great amount of speculation about her.  Jesus had cast out 7 evil spirits from Mary.  Apparently she was a woman of means because it is mentioned that she and the other two ladies supported Jesus and the Twelve from their finances.  Thus these three women are apparently significant donors.  Now let me just point out that the money is not used to build Jesus a big house or a fancy, beautiful horse, or simply living like a king.  Jesus and the Twelve were able to travel throughout all the cities of Israel without working a job because of the thankful giving of people like these three women.  This money would be used to help feed and shelter them all.  We are told that Judas, who was the treasurer, was dipping into the money.  However, he did so at the expense of his own soul.  To misappropriate finances that are donated to the Lord’s work is to bring judgment upon your own head.  It is at this point that Luke introduces this parable.

Jesus Often Told Parables

The parable is sometimes called the Parable of the Sower, but it is really about the soils more.  Thus this Parable of the Soils is about a sower who is casting seed.  It falls on 4 different types of soil.  In the end it will only be fruitful in the good soil.

We are not told where exactly Jesus is.  However, it is likely that he taught this parable many times throughout Israel.  So it is less important where he is.  When Jesus would tell a parable it was not obvious to the disciples and those listening what he was talking about.  Thus we have the disciples asking for better understanding.  Notice that Jesus tells them that it had been given to them to understand the parables; given to them by God.  Those who had left all to follow Jesus and who fully believed that he was the Anointed One would be the ones who were given understanding.  However, those who stayed a part of the crowd and did not truly believe would not understand.  They are not truly learners of Jesus.  They may hear him, but their hearts are not in the right place.  Jesus even quotes from Isaiah 6 a passage in which God is asking for someone to go speak to Israel for Him.  Of course, Isaiah responds, “Here am I, send me.”  What was the message?  God was going to pour out judgment upon Israel, yet He would keep a remnant.  The Word of God is sent to help the remnant to remain faithful and enter into God’s blessing.  Yet at the same time it is sent to be a testimony against those who do not believe.  The fact that they don’t understand it testifies that their heart is not in the right place.  These are spiritual matters that are explained when Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice.”  He doesn’t mean literally, but rather spiritually. 

Jesus ends the parable with the phrase, “He who has ears to hear let him hear.”  The book of Revelation has a similar statement in chapters 2 and 3 that are also given by Jesus.  “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  Notice in those chapters there are those who are to hear the message and be saved.  But there are also some who will hear it and continue on to judgment.  These were supposed to all be Christians.  It is good to be a part of God’s Church physically.  However, if your heart is not right, it still won’t do you any good.

The Spirit of God is always trying to teach us and open our understanding to what God is doing.  But I can be deaf and blind to it, not because I lack intelligence or the physical capabilities, but simply because I am not hungry for what God is trying to give me.

The Parable of the Soils Explained

Jesus first explains that the seed being sown is the Word of God.  1 Peter 1:23 says that we have been born again, “not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the Word of God, which abides forever.”  A seed contains the information to make something.  The thing made is directly related to the seed.  Thus God’s Word is the information and understanding to become a matured son of God.  Just as a seed is powerful and has life in it, so God’s Word is living and active.  It is the power of transforming a person.  Do I receive God’s Word like that?  Now, it is very common to critique speakers; and rightly so.  However, Jesus turns the tables on his hearers.  In critiquing speakers we fail to critique ourselves as hearers.  No matter how imperfect were those who spoke God’s Word to you, you will not have a valid excuse when you stand before God.  No matter how perfect the speaker, if your heart isn’t in the right place, you won’t receive what they have to say and most likely you will use all manner of excuses why you didn’t listen to them.  God’s Word is a seed.  The power is in the information rather than in the person giving it.

Jesus then explains that that the different types of soil are representative of the hearts of men.  It is not just about ear and brain, but also heart condition.  I can look fine on the outside, but inside I may not be as good of soil as I need to be.  Now the truth is not that 25% of us are good soil, but that our heart can be any one of these soils and probably has been all of them at sometime in our life.  But what am I right now?  Let’s look at these heart conditions.

The Soil by the Road-  This soil by the road has two problems.  One is that people keep trampling it so that it cannot grow and then the birds eat it.  Thus our two enemies in life are our negative interactions with people and the devil himself.  The actions of people can stomp out our ability to keep holding on to God’s Word.  It sounds nice until somebody stomps on your heart and then it is impractical.  The spiritual side is that the devil and his spirits are working to get that seed out of your life.  He may not remove it completely from your brain, but he can remove it from your heart.  He can even get you to so insulate your heart that it will never access the Word of God in faith ever again.  Such seed never grows because it is never given opportunity or time to grow.

Rocky Soil-  This is not just about rocks on the surface.  Many places have a thin layer of dirt but is mainly rocks and boulders underneath.  Thus Jesus says these hearts have enough dirt to cause quick growth but the ground cannot hold enough moisture to keep it growing.  The hot sun and lack of water will eventually kill the little growth.  It cannot grow enough roots to keep itself alive.  These are people who are not completely hard hearted.  But yet, they are not soft enough and the Word of God will never grow to maturity.  Instead it will die and never produce fruit.

The Thorny Soil- Here the problem is not depth of soil.  But there are other things growing in the soil.  To our thinking, God’s Word should be the strongest of all plants and choke out everything else.  But that is not how it is.  Jesus warns that the cares of this life can choke out what God cares about.  These cares are literally distractions whether trivial (entertainments) or serious (my job, finances, feeding the family).  My life purpose can be so fixated on the things of the flesh that spiritual concerns are choked out.  I never have any time for them.  Or, they aren’t as fun to do.  Either way, there may be some growth, but the cares of this world keep God’s Word from bringing forth fruit in our life.  We never become what God wants for us to become and do what He has for us to do.

The Good Soil-  Though it doesn’t need much explanation, by definition the good soil doesn’t have the problems of the other three.  We have fenced off the field so people don’t travel through it anymore.  We have removed the rocks and increased the soil depth.  We have taken the time to weed out those things that keep the good seed from growing.  Thus good soil is such because of the purposeful work of the owner of that soil.  What am I doing to prepare my heart to be good soil for the Word of God?  There are many pitfalls in this.  Notice that we often protect ourselves from people by walling ourselves off from them.  But the truth is we need to guard the Word of God in our heart, not our hurt and anger against them.  We need to actively resist the work of the enemy to steal God’s Word out of our heart.  Thus the good soil is the heart that is honest (about my own failings) and good (wanting to have God’s Word grow to maturity).  We remove the thorn bushes by actively letting go of the cares of this world and making God’s work the main pursuit of my life.  It is not easy to go from being all about what I want to do and experience in this life, to being about asking God, “What do you want me to do, Lord?”

Jesus said, “The ones that fell on the good ground are those who having heard the Word with an honest and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.”  Notice that he points out 3 things.  The condition of the heart is that it is honest and good.  But then we must “keep it.”  Keeping the Word is to literally “hold it down.”  How tightly do you hold to the Word of God?  The enemy wants to knock it out of your heart.  He does so in many schemes that involve other people, bad circumstances, and difficulty of life.  But, through it all we have to hold tightly to God’s Word.  Lastly, Jesus uses the word “patiently.”  We have to let God’s Word do its work over the long period of our life.  The human crop takes longer to grow than the plants of this world.  But if we trust God’s Word and hold it firmly, it will accomplish that for which it was sent.  So what soil are you today?  Take time to seriously work through these things.  Our lives depend upon it.

Parable of the Soils mp3

Tuesday
Feb052013

Serving For God’s Glory

Today we continue in 1 Peter chapter 4 and deal with verses 7-11.  This section does not speak about suffering per se.  However, it does answer the question.  What should we be doing?  Peter does so by first reminding them of where they are in relation to God’s plan and gives them some practical things upon which to focus.

The End Of All Things Is At Hand

Verse 7 begins with an ominous statement that the end of all things is at hand.  Thus we need to deal with what Peter meant by “The End.”  There are some that believe the apostles taught that Jesus was returning within a matter of months maybe years and thus Peter’s statement reflects his mistaken belief that the coming of Jesus was going to happen shortly.  However this flies in the face of what the Bible says.  Jesus himself had told the apostles in Acts 1:7 that it was not for them to know the times or the seasons which the Father had kept to himself.  Also, many of the parables of Jesus emphasized a long departure of the King which would lead to many of his “managers” abusing their positions.  It is inconsistent to read into this statement that Peter means the Judgment of the nations was going to happen within years.

Others believe that “the end” refers to Israel under the Law of Moses.  In fact they take most if not all of the end times language of the New Testament to refer to the Judgment of Israel.  It is true that the judgment of Israel, which had already begun, would soon receive a “nail in the coffin,” as the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD.  The problem is that this doesn’t fit the context.  Peter is writing to Christians who have already left Israel behind. They were a remnant sent out into the world as a judgment to Israel.  They were scattered throughout the area of modern Turkey.  The final point would be the use of the phrase “all things.”  It would really be stretching the context to make “all things” only mean all things pertaining to Israel.  They live in Gentile lands and their need to be sober and watchful in prayer is because of the coming judgment upon the nations.

The apostles taught that Jesus could come at any time and was ready to bring judgment, but that they did not know the time.  Believers were to simply live a life of readiness for the Lord’s coming.  Thus the Church age or the time of Grace to the Gentiles is characterized by a people who are warning of looming judgment and are ready at all times for it to come.  Israel’s judgment is a warning that emphasizes the message of the Church. 

When we look at history from God’s perspective we will recognize that it has a clear purpose and a distinct destiny.  A football field does not go on forever.  It has a goal or end point that enables a team to place.  God has not put mankind on an infinite field.  The history of mankind is headed somewhere and is revealed in God’s Word.  God is reasoning with man and the angels regarding his nature and the nature of good and evil.  We went from Innocence in the Garden to Rebellion and then Judgment at the Flood.  However, in Noah we see the Grace of God who then furthers that grace by creating a nation Israel who would teach mankind regarding Legalism.  At the cross all mankind, whether rebellious heathens or sanctimonious “followers of God,” are judged as wicked and in need of God’s grace.  We now live in a period of Grace in which God allows that reasoning or message to go out to the world and save whosoever will receive it.  Thus mankind has a purpose that gives it a specific limit or end.

Lastly, regarding the end we need to deal with the phrase “at hand.”  This phrase is more a phrase of process than it is of chronology.  In other words it does not necessarily mean it is about to happen in a matter of months or years.  It means that the plan of God that has reasoned with mankind throughout history had reached its final point.  Now Judgment was looming and a time of grace was given for men to make up their mind.  Jesus is ready to judge, but God refrains from sending him because he is making room for more to be saved.  From a standpoint of the plan of God nothing new needs to happen.  God’s witness of himself is completed and the Church gives it to all those who it can.  Judgment of this world system is the next thing on the agenda.  In that sense it is at hand and ready for the Father’s directive.

How Then Should Believers Live?

This important point of where we are in God’s economy is to let those who are suffering know that not only does their suffering have purpose, but it also has an end.  So what do we do in the mean time?  Simply they need to do what Jesus told them to do. 

First they need to be sober-minded and self controlled.  The two words used here speak to the same idea, but one focuses on the mind whereas the other includes actions.  The world is pursuing the desires of the flesh in an ever maddening rush.  Like a drunken person who has lost all inhibitions and awareness, the world plunges forward into its judgment.  Believers are not to be a part of this.  We are to have “right thinking” and calm purposeful actions that are informed by God himself and thus, reality.  This world threatens to spiritually inebriate Christians, but we must refuse its intoxication.  Temptations can cause us to throw off inhibitions and make dangerous choices, which lead to dangerous actions.  Jesus is coming to judge the world.  Will he find you being faithful when he comes?

We should also be people of prayer.  We don’t just pray soberly.  Rather it is our sobriety that leads us into prayer.  The more we live for the flesh the less we will pray for the right things and eventually the less we will pray at all.  Whether worship and praise, or intercession and petition, the believer who lives in a world that rejects God will find themselves turning to God more and more often.  Between the goodness of God and the heaviness of the world we should not lack motivation to come to God in prayer.

In verse 8 he calls us to be people who love each other.  This is to be above all things.  That does not necessarily mean more important.  But rather our love for one another is the overall atmosphere in which we do all that we do.  We are to love fervently.  The word translated fervently literally means to stretch out.  Much like a football player who wants to make a touchdown stretches out and leaps for the catch, so too must believers stretch themselves out in love.  You may think to yourself, “But I don’t want to get hurt.”  The real question is this: How badly do you want to catch the ball?  Jesus calls us to want to love each other so strongly that we are willing to stretch ourselves out and risk a broken rib here and there.  In fact because each of us are sinners saved by grace, we need love to cover our own sins.  Cover here does not mean to cover up by pretending it doesn’t exist.  Rather, love overlooks those minor faults that we all have and yet confronts those major faults that we all need to change.  Love enables us to remain in community even though our sins would tear us all apart. 

In verse 9 he brings up the issue of hospitality.  This word means to be a friend to strangers.  Though it is hospitable to have your friends over for dinner, true hospitality is when you invite someone you don’t know over for dinner.  Not only that, but we need to do so without that inner complaining that can ruin our spirit.

Lastly, Peter tells us to minister God’s gifts to each other.  Though this can be seen as still a part of love, Peter spends 2 verses fleshing this out in particular.  God has blessed you with certain gifts and abilities.  But they are not for you to spend on yourself.  Rather we are to manage them and administer them to one another.  You are a manager of God’s stuff in your life.  Are you a stingy manager?  Lazy? Lavish? Diligent?  What kind of manager am I of God’s things?  Just as the prophets of old had a serious calling, so we must see ourselves called to bless others through the gifts and abilities that he has and is supplying.  Do not merely trust in yourself, but lean upon God’s supply.  Yes, you may not be able to do it.  But God can through you if you will trust him.

When we minister his gifts to each other we will bring glory to God because we have properly reflected the heart of Jesus.  This really is our ultimate purpose.  So do we really need to do something different as we see the end times come closer and closer?  Not really. The instructions remain the same, because they have always been the instructions of what to do under the looming threat of the end.

Final Thoughts

In these last days we see, on the one hand, how God has lengthened the day of grace in order to save more people.  Peter speaks to this in 2 Peter 3:9 when he says, “The Lord is not slow concerning his promise.”  On the other hand, as we approach the end God will need to shorten it.  Due to the wickedness of mankind and the wrath of God being poured out, no flesh would survive.  This is seen in Matthew 24:22.  We can trust God’s perfect supervision of these end times.  Whether we are suffering or persecuted, God is in control.  He is bringing us to something good.  Instead of fear let us pray for boldness to be sober-minded and self controlled as we love one another.  Maranatha!

Serving God's Glory Audio