Questions Jesus Asked #97

Luke 13:6-9 –  Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

      8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'”  NIV

This parable appears to be Jesus’ follow-up to the idea that just because things are going well in your life doesn’t mean that you are better off spiritually than someone who is experiencing difficulties or suffering in theirs. This parable brings up the idea of fruitfulness in one’s life. Is one’s spiritual life producing spiritual fruit?  It, also, seems to indicate that although the Bible seems to indicate that God has great patience with His creation and His body of believers, that patience is not limitless. The property owner asked the gardener about the fig trees failure to produce fruit after three years. There is a clear expectation for growth and maturity that results in fruit production. After a reasonable time the property owner wanted to replace the fruitless tree with something that would bear fruit. His gardener pleaded for another year of quality care before they replace the tree.

Jesus talked to His first followers about fruitfulness on the night before His death. It’s recorded in John 15:1-8, and it’s setting is probably a vineyard on the way from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. Jesus knew that life was about to change very drastically for His followers; and that if they wanted to continue His mission and bear spiritual fruit, they needed to “abide” in Him. He gives them some good instruction in these few verses, Bruce Wilkerson does a great job of explaining this teaching in his short book, Secrets of the Vine.

God expects fruitfulness from our relationship with Him. I don’t think that fruitfulness is simply limited to one’s personal spiritual growth and maturity.  Spiritual gifts and fruits of the Spirit are meant to be used in the context of building up the Body of Christ so that together is may continue Jesus’ mission of seeking and saving those outside of God’s Forever Family. I tend to think that when individuals and congregations fail to produce fruit by continuing Jesus’ mission, God may not love them any less; but after a period of failure to thrive and produce fruit,  He withdraws His favor and resources and gives them to others who will continue that mission.

This raises some questions to consider: Is there spiritual fruit in my life?  Are there people seeking to know more about God and Jesus?  Are others being positively influenced by me?   Is my body of believers as concerned or more concerned about those outside of God’s Kingdom than those who are gathered for worship on Sunday? Are there steps that I can take that will help me become more spiritually fruitful?:

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Questions Jesus Asked #96

Luke 13:1-5 –  Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them — do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jeru­salem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”  NIV

Jesus asked these similar questions to confront the misconception that just because something bad happens to someone they must have done something terribly wrong.  The same goes with the converse idea that just because everything is going well for someone they must be in good relations with God. This is a common misconception among a lot of religious people. It was confronted by God in the Book of Job, one of the earliest Bible books written. The prologue to Job’s story begins by the writer making it very clear that Job was righteous before God and dearly loved by Him. Yet God allows Satan to cause suffering in Job’s life to display his faith. Job’s friends suffered with Him for a while, but then basically assumed that Job had sinned somehow and needed to confess and get back on the right path. It was no different in Jesus’ time, and it is largely not different today … unless I am the one who is suffering.

Jesus apparently had insight into the intent of the comments about the Galileans who had encountered the wrath of Pilate. Those who made the comment were evidently using the plight of these Galileans to tout their own righteousness. His questions were to remind those listening that the state of one’s personal relationship with God is not dependent on one’s life situation at any given moment because of a variety of factors.

One of the primary factors is that Satan still has power on earth, and people have free will to make choices. So having a life that is presently free from trouble doesn’t mean that one is more righteous than one who is presently suffering.  Our relationship with God is dependent on having made the decision to repent, meaning to turn around from self-direction to God-direction, seeking God’s forgiveness, and deciding to then follow the path of Jesus as our Lord (boss). It really doesn’t matter if our present life is better off than someone else’s.  If good things are happening in our life, then praise God! If we are suffering, then seek His help, strength, and healing.  Jesus seems to want us to focus on our own spiritual condition rather than comparing ourselves to others.

Some questions to consider:   Do I rate other people’s spiritual condition by their life circumstances?   When have you been surprised by the contrast between someone’s life circumstances and their spiritual condition?  In what ways do I rate my spiritual condition by my life circumstances? Are there areas in my life where I need to “repent” and follow Jesus’ path for me?

Questions Jesus Asked #95

After a break to pursue some other devotional topics last year, I have returned to share my thoughts on Questions Jesus Asked from the Gospels. I will pick up where I left off…

Luke 12:57-59 – “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59 I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” NIV

God has guidelines or commands in His Word and given each of us a conscience with the ability to judge between right and wrong or good or bad, but many of us like the limits spelled out specifically. Even then we tend to push and even exceed the limits. When we are caught in violation of these limits, we complain that we didn’t know or that someone else did the same thing without consequences, and life’s just not fair.

In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus is asked a question: (Matthew 22:36-40)

   “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

   Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” NIV

Jesus was instructing His followers to live by two guiding principles: love God and love others as you love yourself. In today’s question, Jesus tells His followers a specific way to live by these principles. Instead of trying to beat the system, sue someone, and clog up the judicial system, try to do what is right, come to agreement, and settle controversies as soon as possible. I’m sure that He would want us to use a little Holy Spirit guidance in the process. Admittedly, there may times when the court is necessary; but when this principle is used, generally life will be free from a lot less guilt and stress.

Some questions to consider: Are there areas in my life where I just do what I want to do without considering what is right?  What kinds of rewards to I get from this behavior?  What kinds of stresses has this caused in my life? What would it look like if I followed Jesus’ counsel to “consider what is right” before I acted?

The Kingdom of God is a Party

It was Wednesday, January 24 and we were on our way home from my nephew’s wedding via San Diego.  We were doing our morning walk in Mission Bay Park when we encountered a guy named, Mike, and his guinea pig, Chocolate.  As we approached Mike, he was sitting on a rock near the shore in Mission Bay Park. At first glance, I thought that he might have been living in his car because there were some towels and other things by a picnic table near him. He appeared to be somewhere in our age range.  As we got closer, I could see that he had something on the rock beside him. Moving closer still, it appeared to be some sort of animal.  I thought it might be a real small dog or a cat; but it turned out to be a guinea pig named Chocolate. Continue reading

Questions Jesus Asked #94

Luke 12:54-56 – He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?  NIV

Here Jesus is addressing the crowd about their inability to read the spiritual “signs of the times.”  He makes statements about the weather signs that they readily read to help determine what the next day will bring and how to plan to use it; but they fail to read the spiritual signs that are all around them.

Reading spiritual signs can fall into two extremes: 1.) Some people just don’t believe that such signs exist. By denying the existence of such signs, everything becomes coincidence or just random happenstance. 2.) Some people believe that everything or almost everything is a spiritual sign. For example, the number of bubbles in your Starbuck’s drink of choice might determine how “bubbly” your day will be!

The follower of Jesus has been given some pretty awesome help in determining the “signs of the times.” First, we have been given the Bible, God’s Word, which contains prophecy both fulfilled and yet to be fulfilled.  Understanding these passages can help us understand what is happening both in our individual lives and in our world. Secondly, God has given the Holy Spirit to every believer/follower of Jesus.  We are told that He will help us discern or learn what is from God  (John 14:16-18,26; 16:13-15).

A lot is happening in this world and in our individual worlds.  People often say, “What does this  (whatever is happening) mean?”  Some people offer their own interpretation of the signs of the times and offer their solutions. Others offer the politically correct or most popular interpretation of the happenings and their advice for adjusting to those signs.  How many seek the spiritual meaning of the signs of the times and seek to live in light of  what the Bible and the Holy Spirit seem to be saying?  How do many of us as Christ-followers respond to the signs of the times?

Some questions to consider:  What do I consider “signs of the times?”  What are some of the spiritual implications of these signs?  What do I use as my interpretive guide for these signs?  What would the Bible and Holy Spirit say about these signs?  How do I follow Jesus in light of these signs?

Questions Jesus Asked # 93

Luke 12:49-51 – (see also Matthew 10:34-35) –  “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.” NIV

Jesus has just completed a discourse to the crowd and then in application to His closest disciples that Warren Wiersbe sums up as “waiting, watching, and working.”  These are attitudes and actions that followers of Jesus need to have and exhibit for the long haul … to fulfill their purposes on this earth just as Jesus in this passage is waiting, watching, and working to accomplish His “baptism” or death on the cross and subsequent resurrection.  To get through that last phase involved opposition or “warring” … spiritual warfare.

Jesus was saying that just as He had opposition, His followers would face opposition.  It would take various forms from downright martyrdom to just ignoring the Gospel message or actively trying to discredit it and make believers into some sort of mentally unbalanced people (sound familiar?)

Just as He was encouraging His followers to be prepared to wait, watch, and work, they need to be prepared to face various types of opposition. Opposition will come in some form, so be prepared to deal with it. So the question is: “How do we prepare to face various types of opposition or spiritual warfare?”  Well, we certainly don’t go to the world for our playbook! A few passages come to mind …

First the example of Jesus: The Gospels indicated that He offered no resistance, and stood silent before His accusers until He was asked directly if He was the Christ or Messiah.  He then responded with the truth which He continued to speak even to Pilate at the appropriate times.  He knew His purpose, and He knew He had to face the cross in order to conquer death.

Then the words of Paul to the Ephesian believers about preparing for spiritual warfare:  “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:10-18 – NIV)

       Then the words of Peter to followers of Jesus:  “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.   17 It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:15-17 – NIV)

So as followers of Jesus today who are waiting, watching, and working for the Kingdom until Jesus returns, how do we face opposition or (spiritual warring) in light of Jesus’ example and Paul and Peter’s words to believers?

Some questions to consider:  How do I react when confronted with spiritual opposition?  Is the opposition to me and/or my personality or Jesus?  Have I spiritually prepared myself for opposition by putting on spiritual armor?  Am I prepared to respond with “gentleness and respect” in the face of opposition?  Do I engage followers of the enemy to vanquish them or help convert them?

Questions Jesus Asked #92

Luke 12:13-15 – Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

      14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”  15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” NIV

As this passage begins (Luke 12:1), it indicates that Jesus is addressing a crowd of “many thousands.” He speaks of such topics as hypocrisy, holding God in reverence, acknowledging Him as Messiah, and the promise of the Holy Spirit. He is interrupted by a man who wants Him to settle a family dispute.

Jesus’ response in the form of a question: “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”; caused me to wonder a little because the Bible seems to indicate that in the end He is the ultimate judge.  So I turned to Warren Wiersbe’s Bible Exposition Commentary for a little insight.

“At this point, a man in the crowd interrupted Jesus and asked Him to solve a family problem. Rabbis were expected to help settle legal matters, but Jesus refused to get involved. Why? Because He knew that no answer He gave would solve the real problem, which was covetousness in the hearts of the two brothers. (The “you” in Luke 12:14 is plural.) As long as both men were greedy, no settlement would be satisfactory. Their greatest need was to have their hearts changed. Like too many people today, they wanted Jesus to serve them but not to save them.”   (from The Bible Exposition Commentary)

Jesus knew that the brothers’ attitudes and greedy desires were at the heart of the matter.  Instead of addressing these issues in their life, they wanted to drag Him into their dispute.  Chances are that even if Jesus did what the brother requested, one or both of the brothers would not be satisfied.  Again instead of simply addressing the surface issue requested, Jesus used a question to address their heart issues.

If the relationship between the brothers had been amicable, and they were familiar with the property laws in the Old Testament, this settlement should have been no problem. However, Jesus realized that there were deeper relational and spiritual issues that needed to be handled by these two brothers.  He indicated that they needed to deal with the greed that took precedence over relationships. He renounced the idea that “he who dies with most toys wins.”  Life is about more than things and the accumulation of things.

Often in our relationship with God, we address our physical needs more often than our spiritual, emotional, and relational needs.  We may sing, “Change my heart, O God” with the congregation; but inside we’re praying more about our wants and desires … many times based more upon what others have than what we need to survive. To build upon what Wiersbe says … we want Jesus to serve our desires and not transform us to be like Him.

Some questions to consider:  In what areas of my life am I more concerned about things than relationships … either with God or with others?  What portion of my prayer life  has to do with my desires for things, and what portion has to do with God changing me to be more like Jesus?  What is one desire or attitude that I need God’s help to change?