Luke 23

Luke 23:8-12
When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies.

This is really a marvelous portion of scripture!

Oh the irony of this man Herod; this ruler, this man of pomp and ceremony, this man of great wealth and power begging for a miracle from Jesus, all for naught, when even the poorest beggar, by his poverty and humility, commanded the full attention and compassion of Jesus - receiving the miraculous display of power that Herod was denied.

They laughed at Him as one who had lost his power, yet it was the power of God's love that had delivered the Lord of Glory into their hands. They mocked him, considering Him nothing but a pitiful, deluded man, unable to see that God had become a man to give His life as a ransom for mankind.

How ridiculous is this man who summons Jesus to his courts in order to use Him for his own amusement but who is actually the one being used; created and exalted by God (along with Pilate) for no other reason but to fulfill the prophecy from Psalm 2:2 that says;
"The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed"

The one whom they cast from their presence arrayed in the garish and gaudy robes of the rulers of this world is the One who will one day return, clothed in splendor to judge and to rule and to reign over kings and kingdoms, princes and principalities.

From the Old Testament prophecies that foretold His coming, to the miraculous birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus, I marvel as I watch how God moved the chess pieces into place in order to orchestrate His redemptive plan for the human race.

When the world around me seems to be unraveling; when I see the wicked prospering and evil flourishing; whenever I find myself confused, challenged and questioning whether or not God knows what He's doing, may I remember that behind and over every small plan of men is the grand and sovereign plan of God.

Luke 22

Luke 22:34
Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

If there is a person in the Bible that I associate with most, that would be Peter. He and I have the same dilemma - we both love the Lord with all of our heart but somehow always end up with our foot in our mouth or egg on our face when we try to show it. Another reason that I connect with him is that his story of restoration and empowered ministry after so many failures gives me hope that, even after I have screwed things up so many times, I am not disqualified; but am forgiven and encouraged to forget the past, continue running the race and just keep on being about Kingdom business.

As much as I want to forget the past, I want to learn from it even more and I think that, as we look at some of the attitudes and actions that led to Peter's denial of The Lord, we can perhaps be forewarned and, therefore, forearmed against finding ourselves at the same bitter end.

A quick look at Peter's life as chronicled in the gospels shows a few character flaws that could lead him to no other condition than weeping bitterly at his failure.

When Jesus pointed out a weakness in Peter, he responded with argument and denial. Peter showed pride, proclaiming that the others may fall away, but that he never would. He also tried to take matters into his own hands and keep from happening the very thing that Jesus told him must come to pass and Peter not only followed Jesus from afar but found comfort and warmth at the fires of the enemy - all of which eventually and inexorably led to his tragic denial of the Lord he loved.

Notice that Peter didn't just wake up that pivotal morning and say, "You know what? Today, if anyone asks if I am a disciple of Jesus, I think I'll deny I even know him." Spiritual failure never happens like that does it? Moral and spiritual failure always results from a long list of seemingly small compromises that deaden our sensitivity to the voice of the Holy Spirit and which, small step by small step, lead us closer and closer (and eventually over) the edge of the cliff.

Again, while I rejoice that, in Christ, failure is not fatal, I need to be constantly checking my actions, my attitudes, my surrender, my relationships, my worship and my obedience to see whether or not my faith walk is in alignment with the Word and the will of God. The psalmist cries out, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24) and Paul, in 2 Corinthians 13:5, cautions believers to, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves..."

I thank God that we have the roadmap of the Scriptures and the compass of the Holy Spirit by which we can orient ourselves to the True North of the faith. May I be wise to constantly check my position and orientation so that only small corrections bring me back on course - before I find my experience and effectiveness (but not my faith, praise God!) dashed upon the rocks of disobedience, disappointment and disillusionment.

Luke 21

Luke 21:8
He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them.

Just the other night I watched a documentary on the Siege at Waco where, in 1993, four BATF agents and six Members of the Branch Davidian sect lost their life in the initial raid; and 76 others, including women and children, perished after a 51 day siege that ended in an inferno. Among those who died in the fire was David Koresh (born Vernon Howell), the charismatic leader of the cult and self-proclaimed Messiah.

What a tragedy. Not just in the loss of life, but in lost souls that sought hope, meaning and everlasting life in a false Messiah and a false gospel. I can scarce comprehend the spiritual condition of anyone who would be so empty and void inside as to surrender their rights, reason and, eventually, their life to the manipulations and machinations of a mere man. If only they could have known that all they sought and, sadly, all that eluded them was offered by God in Christ Jesus.

Yet, though most people we know would never seek these things to this extreme, anyone who seeks answers, fulfillment, significance, identity, hope, love, peace and life in anyone or anything other than Jesus Christ is following a false messiah as sure as those were of whom Jesus was referring in today's scripture and as sure as those were who ran to Waco, Texas.

And we need not look for someone on a soapbox, street corner or pulpit to find these false springs of hope. Symbolic "messiahs" come in the form of fame and fortune, drugs and alcohol, pride and possessions, lust and sex, self-righteousness and legalism. For those who seek to find or please God through any of these, and countless others, they (we?) run after a false messiah as well, for only the True Messiah can provide that which we seek.

When tempted to find what we seek in anything or anyone other that The Lord of Glory, let us heed Jesus' warning, even His command, to not follow them. Let us run only to Jesus, the One who promises to (and the only One who can) meet our physical and spiritual needs; to provide us His strength and victory; to free us from the guilt, shame and condemnation of sin; to make us new creations in Christ and who gives us abundant and everlasting life!

Luke 20

Luke 20:23-25
[Jesus] saw through their duplicity and said to them, "Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?"

"Caesar's," they replied.

He said to them, "Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's"

In response to the trap that the chief priests and the teachers of the law were trying to set for Him, Jesus' answer not only confounds them with the wisdom of God; He also sets forth a spiritual principle for all of us to follow.

Jesus points out that, since Caesar's image is on the denarius, then it proclaims his rightful authority over the "coin of the realm" and, in recognition of that authority, it is only right to give back to Caesar what He demands, in terms of tribute, as the proper response to the authority that his image represents.

Scripture tells us that God's image is stamped on His creation.

Psalm 19:1-4 says that "the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; not a sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world."

Romans 1:19-20 says, "...what may be known about God is plain to [mankind]. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - His eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse."

To merely observe the world around us is to see God's fingerprint. From the unending expanse of the cosmos to the unfathomable depths of the sea; as one observes the rising and setting of the sun and moon, giving us our days, months, years and the seasons that govern our lives; He is there. Throughout the human experience; the miracle of birth, the journey of life and the mystery of death, we can see His hand. The wonder, beauty, variety and perfection of the natural world - from flora and fauna to the birds in the air, the beasts of the field and the fish in the sea - God displays His power, His presence and His pre-eminence. Whether it is upon the heights of love, joy and laughter or in the depths of loss, tears and sorrow God is revealing Himself to us.

The image of God, imprinted on the world around us - and the authority that it represents - is as obvious as the image of Caesar on that coin. That being so, if the proper response to Caesar's image and authority is obedience and tribute, how much more is the Creator God worthy of these same things. As God displays His power and majesty around us, He is worthy to receive praise, honor, glory and obedience.

If we so readily recognize the need and wisdom behind being obedient in paying taxes, fees and fines as a proper response to earthly authority for all that they provide for our temporal existence, then God's love, grace and mercy implores us to maintain that very same attitude; not out of a sense of obligation or fear of penalty, but out of a deep sense of gratitude and worship unto the One who gives us both abundant and everlasting life, and who did so at the cost of the life of His one and only Son.

May we be more faithful in rendering unto God that which is God's than we are as we render unto Caesar what is Caesars.

Luke 19

Luke 19:28
When He had said this, He went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. And it came to pass, when He drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mountain called Olivet, that He sent two of His disciples, saying, “Go into the village opposite you, where as you enter you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Loose it and bring it here. And if anyone asks you, ‘Why are you loosing it?’ thus you shall say to him, ‘Because the Lord has need of it.’”

I chose the NKJV version of today's scripture verse because I like the old word verbiage used in describing the account of the disciples securing a colt for Jesus to ride as He enters Jerusalem.

It's important to recognize that Jesus asked His disciples to do this not simply because He was tired from walking and His were sore. As with everything concerning His mission on earth, in so instructing His disciples, Jesus was purposefully fulfilling a Messianic prophecy of Zechariah 9:9;

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you;
He is just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey.

This event is known as the Triumphal Entry, where Jesus enters Jerusalem amid pomp and circumstance and cries of "Hosanna!"; proclamations of His kingship and accolades of glory. Sadly, less than a week later, these same crowds were the ones who shouted, "Crucify him"! Crucify him!"

In order for Jesus to fulfill prophecy, to accomplish His mission and for Him to be rightfully acknowledged as King and Lord, something had to be "loosed", or released, to Him. In fact, Jesus could not enter Jerusalem until that colt was loosed unto Him, lest even one of the more than 300 Messianic prophecies goes unfulfilled.

I wonder if it is the same with many of us. Jesus wants to enter into our life and exercise His rightful authority over our circumstances, but in order to do so, we must release something; and He won't be able to bring His promised triumph and victory until we loose that which The Lord has need of.

What might that look like? Perhaps that means releasing our children to the consequences of their actions and allowing The Lord to chastise them in order to bring them to the point of realizing that they need His forgiveness and salvation. Maybe it means we need to loose our control of money and material possessions in order to walk in obedience to God's desire that we be kingdom stewards of His possessions. Or yet still, maybe there is the matter of secret sin that we covet which is keeping The Lord from bringing victory and freedom from bondage.

If this is so, than the invitation of Jesus echoes through time and implores you to, "Loose it unto me, for I have need of it"

If you can identify anything in your life that the Lord has need of; something that He is asking you to loose unto Him, I encourage you to confess and release it to Him so that power of the prophecy of the Servant King may be fulfilled in your life; so that you may join in the Messianic chorus: “Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is The King who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Hosanna in the highest!"

Luke 18

Luke 18:13
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

I have two awesome children who make me proud daily, not by what they do but because of who they are. I am most joyful over the fact that they run hard after God and are both so passionate for ministry and for souls.

I believe that one of the main reasons they are both so active in their church and their faith is because each of them attended The Master's Commission, an intensive 2 years discipleship and leadership development program, right out of high school. During these two years, they developed a deep relationship with God in prayer, learned to study His word, identified and developed their gifts and talents, learned leadership and discipleship skills and participated in community service and global outreach.

The very first event of the program is a three day outing out in the woods, away from everything familiar and distracting, to get the kids (young adults) alone with God. When I asked one of the leaders why they did this, he said it was, for many of the kids who have grown up in the church, "to get them lost so we can get them saved".

That need points out how important it is that we, as Christians, never forget how utterly lost we were when Christ found us and how eternally lost we would be without Him. It is so easy, after a few years of walking in the faith, to let self-righteousness creep in and cause us to judge or hold in contempt those outside of the faith who are as big of a mess as we were when God saved us. In fact, statistics show that after an average of only three short years, most Christians no longer have meaningful relationships with any non-Christian friends.

Now of course, this is not to say that God wants us walking through life crawling on our bellies through the mud crying out, "we are worms!" On the contrary, the word tells us that, "if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has gone and the new has come" (2 Cor 5:17). It tells us that we are precious, forgiven, cleansed and free from the guilt, shame and penalty of sin. Romans 8:1 reminds us that there is "now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" and in verse 37 of that same chapter we are reminded that we are "more than conquerors through Him who loved us".

The challenge for the faithful is to walk in light of the threefold dimension of sanctification. We must always remember who we were when God sanctified us at salvation; who we are as the process of taking hold of that sanctification is worked out in and through us by the Holy Spirit; and who we have been promised we will someday be when we are finally and fully glorified in Christ. To be out of balance in any one of these will harm our ability to fully appreciate, experience and be effective in our faith and in our mission.

1Corinthians 1: 26-31 puts it this way...
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

May I often remember who I was when I was separated from from God by my sin so that I can more fully appreciate who I am in Christ, and may that realization create in me a deep love and compassion for the lost, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude to God that manifests itself in worship, obedience, sacrifice and service - all for His good pleasure and glory.

Luke 17

Luke 17:17-19
Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

A quick survey of the Word provides a list of reasons to be grateful. God is thanked for his deliverance (Ps 35:18), for loving us and being faithful (Ps 52:9; 107:8), for hearing our cry (Ps 118:21), for safe arrival after a long journey (Acts 28:15), for other believers and for the testimony of their faith (Rom 1:8), for the gift of salvation that enables us not to sin (Rom 6:17), for delivering us from our tendency to sin (Rom 7:25), for the spiritual gift of being able to address God (1 Cor 14:18), for resurrection hope (1 Cor 15:57), for testimony, deliverance and victory in the midst of persecution (2 Cor 2:14), for the support of a colleague in ministry (2 Cor 8:16), for other believers (Phil 1:3; Col 1:3; 2 Tim 1:3; Philemon 4), for those who respond to God's Word (1 Thess 2:13), for being able to serve others for God (1 Tim 1:12) and for his attributes (Rev 4:9). Those are just a few of the options for thanksgiving.

Notice that this list does not include one item having to do with things, with possessions. The occasions for gratitude all have to do with relationships or circumstances in relationship to others. In illuminating this truth God reveals to us the things that are a precious and valuable to Him and, by virtue of our being "in Christ", things that we should hold in the same esteem and priority.

Perhaps the reason why God exalts relationships over possessions is because possessions cannot provide happiness and true joy. The average salary for Fortune 1000 CEO's is well over $500,000/year. The actor Marlon Brando is said to have collected a fee of $3.7 million plus $15 million in profit percentages for a mere 12 days work in the 1978 film Superman--a rate of $1.5 million a day. In the sports world, recent contract negotiations have ended with athletes collecting pay checks in the tens, and even hundreds of thousands of dollars for just a few years of performance. Many people in Western nations are showered with material blessing greater than that of 93% of the rest of the world. Yet an article in U.S. News & World Report on the wealthy reported, "Half of those considered successful by their peers are unhappy." Why is this so?

Maybe it is because success and meaning are being defined in the wrong places by the wrong things. Life's real blessings are not valued and appreciated, while things that cannot really bless are assigned value and worth they do not really possess. Often our families and friends and, more important, the God of life are underappreciated, taken advantage of or ignored,

A quick look at our calendar and checkbook will testify as to whether our priorities, values and those things for which we are to be truly grateful are in agreement with the heart of God. If not, then a re-assessment and a re-alignment is in order.

Luke 16

Luke 16:1-2
Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.'

Once again, we are confronted with the familiar theme of management. The true ramifications of being a manager became real to me several years ago.

Because of a financial setback, Annie and I were forced to become a one car family. Not only did we have a daily commute of sixty miles, this was during the years when the kids were young, so that car became the family workhorse; shuttling the kids to events and practices as well as taking the family on various outings and vacations.

The time came when the lease was up and we were required to return the car to the dealership. I'll never forget the look on the assessors face and his muffled, "Oh no!", as he read the odometer. Incredulously, he asked if we realized that we would be charged for every mile we racked up over the limit. He then proceeded to inspect the vehicle with a fine tooth comb and list every stain, every dent, every broken or damaged item on the car. Assigned to each check mark was a dollar sign.

As Annie and I helplessly watched this process, it fell on me like a ton of bricks - we NEVER owned that car. All the while that we had carelessly used and abused it as if it were ours, a day of reckoning was building to it's expensive climax; that day when we had to give an account for how we treated THEIR car - the car that they had entrusted us to care for. We had been weighed and measured and been found wanting; standing before the owner unable to give an account for our un-shrewd management and unable to pay the penalty.

As ambassadors of Christ we have been entrusted with nothing less than the gospel - the good news that God sent His one and only Son to free hopelessly lost sinners from the shame, guilt, stain and penalty of sin so that mankind may be reconciled to their Creator and delivered from death unto eternal life. Make no mistake about it, one day we will all stand before God and give an account for how we used every resource He's given us to declare that gospel and build the kingdom of God.

If your lease on life were to expire today, how would you fare?

Luke 15

Luke 13:31-32
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

The third parable in Luke 15 is called the Parable of the Lost (or sometimes, Prodigal) Son but I think that the context within which Jesus was teaching these parables lends some credence to my thought that this parable is more about the brother who stayed at home than it is about the brother that left home.

The fact that Jesus teaches these parables in response to the self righteousness of the Pharisees and their objections to His "welcoming" of sinners strongly suggests that these parables were meant to expose the callousness of their hearts towards the lost - a theme (and attack) he continues in the next chapter; to the point that the Pharisees reacted with sneers and anger.

In ending this third parable as He did, Jesus challenged the religious leaders of the day to capture the Father's heart for the lost and to recognize that the offerings that please the Lord are not works unto righteousness, but a humble and contrite heart (Psalm 51).

Our GROW group served at GraceFest last weekend and, at our last meeting, one of our members related a story of someone attending the event wearing an "inappropriate" T-shirt. Upon seeing this person, a woman proceeded to approach every security guard she could find in order to get this person thrown out of the concert. Wow! Instead of rejoicing that an apparently unsaved person was in her midst and seizing upon the opportunity to show the love and grace of Jesus she, like the Pharisees and the jealous brother in our parable, chose to walk in self-righteousness and judgement. Thankfully, he was not ejected and who knows, perhaps that night he even heard the gospel in a way that God did or will use to lead this person into the kingdom.

Every time I read this parable I am challenged anew to ask the Father to give me His heart of compassion and mercy for those lost and hurting people of the world - people that so desperately need the salvation, forgiveness, freedom and hope that He offers through Christ alone.

Luke 14

Luke 14:27
And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

I often chuckle when I hear a radio commercial that, after touting all of the benefits, bells and whistles of the product being advertised, concludes with the super fast talking guy reading off all of the requirements, conditions, warnings and hidden costs associated with the purchase. Their hope is that you will buy their merchandise without realizing the hidden costs.

I am so glad that Jesus didn't revert to these shyster tactics regarding the gospel and the cost of discipleship. He clearly, in plain talk, asks us to consider the cost of being a disciple before saying yes to the call. And make no mistake about that cost! He says it will cost us everything; even our life.

"But wait!", you may say, "The Bible clearly says that forgiveness, salvation and everlasting life are the free gift of God!"

Yes, salvation is the free gift of grace, but discipleship costs everything.

God offers us all of these things without cost because Jesus paid the price that was required to make them available free of charge; and he paid the very price for our salvation that is the cost of being His disciple. Life for a life.

The question, then, before each believer is; "Will I mock this unfathomable act of love and sacrifice by reaping the fruit of His work and callously exploiting it for my personal gain and comfort, displaying my gratitude with a life of selfishness, entitlement and frivolity - receiving everything and giving nothing; or will I allow myself to be so overwhelmed by such selflessness and sacrifice that I will, I MUST, respond in kind by laying down my life for the sake of others, for the Kingdom of God and for His glory?"

To do the former will cost me nothing but will also gain me nothing, in this life and the life to come.

To do the latter will cost me everything but will gain me everything (that matters) in this life and the next.

Matthew 16:26, 19:29-30; Philippians 3:8.

Choose wisely.