Tag Archives: Luke

Pray for Knowledge of Christ’s Love

Earlier this week during my morning prayer time I read a wonderful passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. This passage is one of my favorite prayers in the Bible:

For this reason I kneel before the Father,from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19 (NIV).

At the time I thought about how this passage would be a great basis for a blog post reminding people how much God loves them, but the week got away from me and the post didn’t get written. Today, following the tragedies in Portland, Oregon (so close to my home) and in Connecticut, I realize that God’s timing is perfect because this passage holds the answer so many are looking for as to how someone could do such an evil thing as shoot strangers in a mall or kindergarteners in a school, not to mention their own mother.

Throughout scripture we are told that the heart of mankind is evil. The reason we are told God flooded the earth and saved only Noah and his family is because “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” Genesis 6:5 (NIV). Of one of the kings of Israel it is said, “He did evil because he had not set his heart on seeking the Lord.” 2 Chronicles 12:14 (NIV). As Jesus explained to His disciples, “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.'” Mark 7:22-23 (NIV).

But the heart that grasps the love of Christ is filled with the fullness of God. In such a heart evil thoughts are driven out by love and compassion. In this world we live in, and especially in the United States, people think they can live without God. Many don’t teach their children that God loves them, perhaps because they don’t know this wonderful truth themselves, and then we are surprised when children grow up to be murderers.

The problem that leads to such tragedies as we have seen this week is not that people have guns, it is that they do not have Christ. I realize that there are plenty of people who do not believe in or know God who do not go out and murder others, but I also know that those who commit such unspeakable acts cannot possibly know God’s love for them.

The love of Christ is kind of like a vaccine. We give vaccines to all our kids to prevent them from getting terrible diseases, even though not every kid would get the disease if the vaccine was not given. We need to vaccinate all our children against the evil that has the potential to take over their hearts, and that vaccine is the heart knowledge of the love of God that surpasses human knowledge.

As Christians, we need to pray not only for those who have suffered a great tragedy, but we need to pray every day—as Paul did for the Ephesians—for our children to have the power “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”

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What Is Christmas All About?

My favorite Christmas show ever is A Charlie Brown Christmas. I remember watching it every year on TV when I was a kid, and now I own it on DVD and watch it every year still. My favorite part is when Charlie Brown asks, “Can anyone tell me what Christmas is all about?” And Linus walks into the spotlight and tells Charlie Brown what he wants to know; what we all need to know.

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That the Blind Might See

My church is putting together an Advent devotional for this coming Advent season. I was asked to write two of the devotions for the booklet. I am really looking forward to seeing what the other contributors wrote. I always like reading through a devotional for Advent and I think it will be extra special this year because I know all of the people who are writing them.

I finished one of my two assigned devotions yesterday. It is based on Isaiah 35:3-7 and Luke 7:18-30. I was limited to 250 words for the devotion section and the assignment called for also including a thought to ponder or Challenge, and a prayer. It was really hard for me to only write 250 words. I had to go back and cut some, but the final devotion was 249 words. I decided I wanted to share what I wrote here, but add back in some of the thoughts I didn’t have room for.

Devotion

Isaiah gave us many prophecies of the first Advent of our Lord Jesus. Many of those prophecies serve also as a promise of Jesus coming into the life of each believer as well as of His Second Coming. Isaiah admonishes us to not be afraid because we know the Lord will bring forth His promised blessings of sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and youthful agility to the lame.

John the Baptist continued the prophetic message of Isaiah, but unlike Isaiah he saw the fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus. Not only did he hear his disciples’ recounting of the great healing work of Jesus, John saw it with his own eyes. What John witnessed was that the blind could see, the deaf could hear, the lame walked, the sick were made well, and the Good News was real.

Today Jesus continues to fulfill the prophecies about Him as He give spiritual sight to those who believe in Him and are baptized in His name. The Holy Spirit gives wisdom and hope to those who trust in Jesus as their promised savior.

But like the Pharisees and experts in the law, many people today reject God’s purpose in their lives because they have not believed in the saving grace of Jesus. They try to do what is right in their own eyes and by their own power. They try to live by the letter of the law, but they do not see the truth of God’s love and the wonder of His mercy. These people are spiritually blind.

We must not forget that we were once spiritually blind, too. Our place is not to judge, but to remember that Jesus came to give sight to such as these. He came to save the whole world if only they will believe. He came to remind us of our purpose, which is to be in relationship with our Creator. He came that we would have no need to fear.

Thought to ponder/challenge

Just as John the Baptist was a messenger paving the way for the first Advent of Jesus, we are called to share the Good News of how Jesus gives sight to the spiritually blind and purpose to everyone. “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Corinthians 3:6 (NIV). How will you share the Good News today?

Prayer

Heavenly Father, bring to final fulfillment Your promise to bring spiritual sight to all who are still blinded by this world and who reject Your purpose for their lives. Give us wisdom to be as John the Baptist, preparing Your way into the hearts and lives of those around us.

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Our Heresy Detector: God’s Word

At church we are in the middle of a sermon series on “What We Believe.” This morning our pastor talked about how important it is to hold onto Jesus and what we believe about Him based on the teaching of the Bible. In the children’s chat he used an illustration that has always been one of my favorites. He pulled out his wallet and offered a $1 bill to each of the kids up front, and then pointed out that when people work for financial institutions they learn how to spot counterfeit money not by studying various counterfeits, but by studying the real thing. In the same way, we need to study what the Bible says about God so that we can recognize teachings that are counterfeit or false. (Another word for false religious teaching is heresy.)

In the early church, there were three heresies about Jesus that were taught by some. It was to combat these false teachings that the various creeds of the church were written based on the Bible. The three most common creeds are the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Three heresies about Jesus that these creeds were written to refute were that:

  1. Jesus did not exist in the beginning but was created by God.
  2. Jesus was not God.
  3. Jesus did not rise in bodily form after His crucifixion.

Each of these heresies are still taught in some churches that claim to be Christian but that do not adhere to the truth of the Bible and the creeds written by the early church. Without a firm foundation in Scripture and knowledge of where the truth can be found in God’s Word, people can be easily fooled by these counterfeit claims. In his sermon, our pastor pointed out Bible passages that support the truth and refute these heretical teachings. He showed us how to use our greatest heresy detector, the Word of Almighty God. He suggested we underline some of the passages, and I was happy to find that I already had several of them underlined in my Bible.

Here are some of the verses that refute the teaching that Jesus did not exist in the beginning but was created by God:

  • In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
    He was with God in the beginning.
    Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. John 1:1-3 (NIV).
  • “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” John 8:58 (NIV). [This passage is important because "I am" is how God identified Himself to Moses from the burning bush.]
  • The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.
    For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17 (NIV).
  • [Jesus prayed,] “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” John 17:24 (NIV).

Here are some of the verses that refute the teaching that Jesus is not God:

  • John 8:58 is also appropriate here. There are actually a number of other “I am” statements by Jesus in the book of John that taken together attest to His divinity. (John 6:35, 8:12, 8:23, 10:7, 10:11, 11:25, 14:6, 15:1).
  • For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. Colossians 2:9-10 (NIV).
  • [Jesus said,] “I and the Father are one.”
    Again his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
    “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
    John 10:30-33 (NIV).

Here are some of the verses that refute the teaching that Jesus did not rise in bodily form:

  • A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” John 20:26-27 (NIV).
  • Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”
    So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.
    Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.
    This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. John 21:10-14 (NIV).
  • While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
    They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
    When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. Luke 24:36-43 (NIV).

Until Jesus returns as He has promised, there will always be false teachers offering a counterfeit Gospel. But as long as we study the truth as revealed in God’s Word and understand who God is, we will be able to detect these heresies and hold fast to Jesus.

One final note: In studying scripture to discern the truth it is important to be sure that the translation one is using is an accurate representation of the original. I am not one who believes that there is only one correct translation. I use several translations that I trust based on the quality of the translating committees. I even have a Greek-Hebrew Study Bible that I find very helpful.

The importance of knowing the quality of the translation you are using has become quite apparent to me lately as I have looked at The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures that is used by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Many of the scriptures that I have quoted above from the New International Version are rendered differently in this specialized translation. The Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the Trinity as well as the eternal existence of, the divinity of, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. The problem with their “translation” of the Bible is that it is not actually translated from the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts. The four of the five men who “translated” it did not speak or read either Hebrew or Greek and had only a high school education. Only one of the five had any training in Bible languages – two years of Greek and self-taught Hebrew – but he was not able to translate either language.

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Today I’m Gonna Love My Enemies

Yesterday was the final sermon in our pastor’s sermon series on the essential Jesus. We ended with the challenging, but important, finale to Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. . . . But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.” Matthew 7:24, 26 (NIV).

The preceding verses indicate that the foolish man is one who, on the judgment day, Jesus will say He never knew; but the wise man will enter into the kingdom of God.

Our pastor started the sermon by reviewing some of the teachings that we had learned about from the Sermon on the Mount over the past six weeks — the teachings that Jesus now tells us to put into practice. The one that jumped out at me is Jesus’ teaching in Luke 5:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Luke 5:43-48 (NIV)

When you put these two passages together, it becomes clear that it is not enough to agree in principle that loving one’s enemies is a good idea. Rather, we must actually do it. It isn’t easy, to be sure, but with Jesus’ help it is possible, for “with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26b (NIV).

But why would God command us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us? It doesn’t seem fair and it doesn’t seem logical to us. What good could possibly come from loving our enemies? On my way to taking my son to youth group last night I heard the perfect song to explain why God would give us such a command. The song is One Day Too Late by Skillet. My favorite verse is:

Today I’m gonna love my enemies
Reach out to somebody who needs me
Make a change, make the world a better place
‘Cause tomorrow could be one day too late

We never know what a difference we might make in the life of an “enemy” by treating them as we would want to be treated and praying for them. The commands of God are designed to make our lives and the world a better place. We can’t always expect change and reconciliation to start with the other person. And tomorrow might be one day too late.

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So Help Me God!

Have you ever found yourself running full tilt in the wrong direction? Maybe you were well aware it was the wrong direction, but just didn’t know how to change course.

Often people end up on the crazy train of drugs and alcohol, living the good life of one party after another. This is the wrong direction that is portrayed in this video set to the song Slow Down by Third Day.

Even if you’ve avoided or escaped the wrong direction of the party life, you may still be headed the wrong way. Maybe you don’t even realize it’s the wrong direction. Maybe it’s the direction the world has told you is the right way.

Are you on the busy treadmill of putting all your effort into climbing the corporate ladder and making more and more money? Have you be amassing material wealth and possessions, along with the credit card debt that goes with it?

Are you putting all your energy into doing all you can for your church, volunteering for multiple jobs and committees, trying to earn your way into God’s good graces? Have you been amassing guilt at not quite measuring up?

There are so many roads that we barrel down like our lives and happiness depend upon it. But they only lead us away from our God who loves us and who wants us to be in an intimate relationship with Him.

I think of the story of when Jesus was attending a dinner at the house of His friends Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Martha was upset because she was running full-steam ahead doing all of the work to prepare the dinner while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet listening to His every word. When Martha complained to Jesus, “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42 (NIV).

The treadmill of life will wear you down and separate you from God if you try to go it alone. But if you call on God to help you to slow down and find the right way, He will always answer.

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He Is Risen!

He Is Risen, Indeed!

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ” Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened. Luke 24:1-12 (NIV).

One of my favorite things about this account of the Resurrection of Jesus is that the first people to learn that He had risen were the women. At this time, the testimony of women was of no value. But God valued their witness and their testimony about this awesome event. This reminds me that He believes my testimony and witness of His glory is important, too.

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The First Communion

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day we celebrate the Last Supper and our Lord’s institution of the sacrament of Holy Communion. Since it is Thursday this is also Thankful Thursday and normally I would post a poem about something I’m thankful for. But all week I’ve been thinking about the song Communion by Third Day. I decided that I wanted to depart from my usual Thursday tradition and post this beautiful song instead. It is a reminder that Holy Communion is not just a piece of bread and a cup of wine. It is a reminder that our Lord’s body was broken and His blood was shed for each of us.

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Luke 22:19-20 (NIV).

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Palm Sunday Thoughts

Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. It is the day on which the people of Jerusalem welcomed Jesus into the city riding on a donkey. They waved palm branches and laid their coats on the ground beneath His feet. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord,” they cried out. They believed He was the promised Messiah.

But not everyone believed or was happy about Jesus’ arrival.

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
Luke 19:39-40 (NIV).

Palm Sunday is celebratory, but it doesn’t take long for the sentiment of the Pharisees to take hold among a larger group of people. In a mere five days the crowd will call for Jesus’ crucifixion following his joke of a trial before the Sanhedrin, Herod, and Pontius Pilate. The majority of the people will turn against Him, one of His closest twelve disciples will betray Him, and the other eleven disciples will desert and disown Him.

But coming back to our Palm Sunday celebration, one has to wonder why the people were so excited about Jesus’ arrival to the city. I believe it was in large part because they had heard many things about Him that fulfilled the prophecies of the promised Messiah, only a few of which included that:

  • He was born in Bethlehem:
    “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2 (NIV).
  • He was born of a virgin:
    “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14 (NIV).
  • He had healed many, giving hearing to the deaf and sight to the blind:
    “In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see.” Isaiah 29:18 (NIV).
  • He entered the city riding on a donkey:
    “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9 (NIV).

There was no Facebook, Twitter, or even Internet blogs during Biblical times, but news still spread about this man who could calm the storm, feed the hungry, and heal the sick and lame. The crowds that He drew all throughout His earthly ministry clearly indicate that news spread quite well if it was news worth hearing.

News had spread of this amazing prophet who was able to best even the Pharisees and Sadducees in a religious debate, who spent time with riff-raff and sinners, and who claimed to be able even to forgive sins without an animal sacrifice. He offered the common people freedom from servitude and burden of living under the thumb of the religious rulers of the day.

We celebrate Palm Sunday today because He makes the same offer even today. He offers freedom from the burden of legalism and forgiveness of our sins. And the truly amazing thing is that even if, in the midst of the confusion and agony of Holy Week to come, we desert or deny Him, He will redeem us.

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I Am Innocent in Christ

As I mentioned last week, I’ll be going to see Third Day in concert on May 6 and so am sharing some of my favorite songs of theirs for Music Monday between now and the concert. Today’s offering is from their Wire CD and is called Innocent.

From a purely musical standpoint, I love how this song starts slowly and quietly, then builds to the chorus: “I am innocent.” Mark Lee’s guitar work is awesome and Mac Powell’s voice is beautiful.

But I also love this song because of the message it brings. Innocent speaks to me because there was definitely a time in my life when I thought I was out of second chances. I was so lost and depressed. I felt I had no hope. My life had no meaning or purpose.

But then Christ came into my life and opened my eyes to the truth of His love and mercy. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, I am innocent in the eyes of God. I no longer have chains holding me back or keeping me down. He gave me a brand new life of faith and hope.

This song reminds me of a passage in Luke:

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
   because he has anointed me
   to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
   and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
   to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” [Isaiah 61:1-2]

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-21 (NIV).

Jesus came as a fulfillment of prophecy that had been written down hundreds of years before His birth. But more importantly, He came to free those who are in bondage to sin and pride, to give sight to those who are blinded to God’s truth.

Are you feeling hopeless today? Do you feel like you are out of second chances, like a dead person walking? Do you feel shame and guilt about the life you have lived thus far, and believe there is no way to escape your bondage? Set those feelings aside and seek the Lord. He has come to set you free today. He has come to open your eyes to see His love and mercy. He has come to declare you innocent because your debt has been paid.

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