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?

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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?

Questions Jesus Asked #91

Luke 12:4-9  -see Matt.  10:28-33 (missed it)

      “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7 Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. 8 I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. 9 But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.”  NIV

This rhetorical question about the worth of five sparrows is in the midst of Jesus’ teaching of whose opinion we should value the most. Should we be most concerned with those who can affect us physically right here and right now, or should we be most concerned with the opinion of the One who controls our eternal destiny?

This brings to mind the first four verses of Psalm 14 and Psalm 53 which begin:

      The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”  (Psalms 14:1; 53:1 – NIV)

As in Jesus’ day, we live in a time when people question whether or not God cares about His creation and what happens on earth.  Many people even doubt His existence, and conclude if God doesn’t care and may not even exist, why should we be concerned about what He has said or what He thinks?

Jesus’ question about the least of creatures and God’s concern for them is a way of  asserting to His listeners that just as God cares for the lowliest of His creation, He cares for each of us. If God cares for each of us, then He wants the best for each of us, and that best is found in following Jesus (acknowledging Him).  When we acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah sent from heaven to pay the price for our sins (confessing our sins and need for a Savior) and accept Him as the one we want to follow (Lord); then He acknowledges us as part of His forever family (Kingdom).

However, if we live as if God doesn’t exist and if Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection didn’t happen or didn’t matter, we have undervalued our eternal worth and sold ourselves short in eternity.  We didn’t accept the free gift of salvation that Jesus offered to us.

Questions to Consider: When it comes to whose opinion carries most weight in my life, is it other people’s opinions, my opinion, or God’s opinion that matters most?  Are there areas in my life where I act as if God doesn’t exist?  In what ways have I acknowledged Jesus before others?  In what ways have I disowned Him before others?  Are there steps I need to take in order to take better advantage of God’s purpose for me?

Questions Jesus Asked #90

Luke 11:11-13 – see # 8. Matthew 7:9-12 – same question; but refers to Holy Spirit

      “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”  NIV

Jesus uses the illustration of earthly fathers desiring to give good gifts to their children as a comparison to our Heavenly Father desiring to give good gifts to His children in both the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) and the Sermon on the Plain (Luke chapter 11). In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew), He simply speaks of the “good gifts” (Matt. 7:10) that God wants to give to those who ask Him. In the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 11:13), the good gift is specified as the Holy Spirit. Continue reading

Merry Christmas! He’s a much bigger gift that you could ever imagine!

tempe-n-bearHave you ever gotten a gift for Christmas for which you hoped but never imagined that you would really get it? Surprise! You got it, and it was so much bigger and better than you could have ever imagined.

The other night my friend, Bill, told me that his granddaughter had won a 94 inch FAO Schwartz teddy bear at a local department store.  He showed me this picture of his granddaughter with the bear.  Look at the size of the gift and the size of the child!  Now, I’m not sure of what she was thinking when her parents told her that she had be given a giant teddy bear; but this bear was a whole lot larger than any teddy bear that she had ever seen.  What does a little girl do with a giant teddy bear?  My answer: she loves it as she begins to realize just how big it really is. Continue reading

God’s Interruptions – part 2

In my Advent devotion, I encountered this thought: “When we surrender to God’s interruptions, we can rest in the knowledge that He always has a higher purpose for our lives.”  God reminded me of another Christmas interruption …

To the best of my recollection, it was just after noon on December 23.  I was just winding down my day at the church office.  Since our congregation didn’t do a Christmas Eve Service, I didn’t have to prepare for that. We did an evening Candle and Carol Service earlier in the week. The poinsettias from the poinsettia display had been delivered to the shut-ins, and gifts had been distributed from the Deacon Fund.  I was hoping to have a good handle on my next Sunday message before I left.  My plans to have a “relaxing” Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with Bev and other family members was about to happen.  Then the phone rang …

Bev took the call. It was Joan, the Director of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. She needed some help. Their organization and the Salvation Army had distributed all their Christmas baskets, and she had just discovered three families that really needed help for Christmas.  Could our congregation help? I don’t recall if Bev placed her on hold and asked me the question or just responded, “Yes.”  At any rate how could we turn down Joan? She had helped so many people that we had referred to her.

So here is a list of three “families” who needed food and any other help we could give them before Christmas.  I knew that it was going to be my job to deliver whatever we could put together. I was not happy about the situation … why couldn’t people have planned ahead and put their name in for a basket?  Why did they have to interrupt my well planned day? I groused to God and to Bev; but I knew what Jesus would do, and I was supposed to be one of His followers. I would do it, but I wouldn’t be happy about it!

Fortunately, there was food in the church’s food pantry which could be supplemented with gift cards provided by the Deacon Fund that still had money in it even after all it had done already for Christmas.  I think there were still some poinsettias from the display.  So we gathered all that God had provided, and I set out to find three families in different parts of South Bend in the days before a GPS.

It’s been quite a few years since this happened; but I remember two of the three situations distinctly.  One family was an elderly man and woman of color.  He had kidney failure, and she was his caregiver, who helped him do peritoneal dialysis at home each night. The second family that I remember had a child with serious health condition, and the prognosis didn’t look good.  The third family was in a similar situation of need.  At each home, I got a warm grateful reception, and an opportunity to bring Good News and express God’s care for them in a tangible way and through my prayers for them.

It was such a moving experience that it was all I could do to contain my tears of repentance and joy until I was in my car after the last stop and headed home for a warm supper. Once again God had interrupted my day to express His love to people who were struggling, and I had become both blessing and blessed.

God’s Interruptions – part 1

During Advent in addition to my regular devotional reading, I like to read Scripture and thoughts that focus me on Jesus’ first coming to earth as a baby in Bethlehem and also on His anticipated coming again in full power and glory.  Advent is meant to be a time of preparation … not just to celebrate Christmas or the festival of His first coming but to help individuals and the church prepare for His Second Advent.

In yesterday’s devotion, I encountered this thought: “When we surrender to God’s interruptions, we can rest in the knowledge that He always has a higher purpose for our lives.”

According to my personality profile, by nature I am a highly structured person. I plan things out and work the plan. I get annoyed at interruptions, and yet if I am willing to accept it, God wants to interrupt my life for His higher purpose. As we approach Christmas, I’d like to share a couple of interruptions from years past where God interrupted, and I paid attention long enough to be a blessings and to be blessed. Continue reading