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To Seek and to Save, #87

9 “And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.””

Luke 19:9-10 (context, vv. 1-10)

The Jewish people regarded salvation simply as being a child of Abraham. Faith was not necessary, but being saved was simply genealogical. It was the exclusive privilege of every Jewish man and woman. It was the sole position of anyone who was descended from Abraham.

There were exceptions however. If an Israelite lived outside of the Law, they forfeited their salvation. If they cooperated with the Gentiles, or if they committed some heinous crime, they couldn’t be a true Israelite. You were saved, just because you had descended from Abraham.

Zacchaeus couldn’t be saved. He had essentially had renounced his salvation when he cooperated with the Romans as a tax-collector. He had made the choice of a living his life outside of what was acceptable to the religious norms. In short he chose to be damned. He had decided to walk the highway to hell, but that was his decision.

When Jesus called up the tree to Zacchaeus, and invited himself to dinner, Jesus was committing a forbidden act. You must understand that Zacchaeus was unclean, a sinner, and any contact with was regarded as a grossly evil action. In short, Jesus had allied himself with an unclean man. Thus Jesus must be unclean as well.

The “righteous” Jew would never ever have anything to do with Zacchaeus. That is why they had such an issue with Jesus’ decision to eat with him. And that’s why Zacchaeus was thrilled to have such an eminent teacher as his guest.

Jesus was seeking to save the lost.

Zacchaeus invited all of his “evil” friends to come and come to join in the feast. It’s funny, when it came to “evangelism,” he did all the work!

Zacchaeus would prove himself as a “child of Abraham” by his amazing repentance. The presence of Jesus in his home sparked life in his heart. Zachaeus’ repentance was remarkable and truly spontaneous. And probably more astonishing was Jesus declaring that Zacchaeus was now a true child of Abraham.

When we finally decide we can mingle with the lost, just like Jesus did, we can expect to see miraculous things. We won’t contaminate ourselves–it doesn’t work that way. When we reach out, we can count on the “Jesus” who now lives inside of us to touch the outcast. He wants to, and all he needs is for us to find the lost, and be with them.

I must implore you to “seek and save” those who are outside the norm. Ask Jesus to lead you to them–and quit worrying about what other Christians might say and think.

“The church is not a select circle of the immaculate, but a home where the outcast may come in. It is not a palace with gate attendants and challenging sentinels along the entrance-ways holding off at arm’s-length the stranger, but rather a hospital where the broken-hearted may be healed, and where all the weary and troubled may find rest and take counsel together.”

   James H. Aughey

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Mary Knows Best, #73

“The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha! You are worried and upset about so many things, 42 but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is best, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:41-42, (context vv. 38-42)

I grew up in America’s rural dairyland–the great state of Wisconsin, with its cheese and bratwurst. Our high-school classes included Agronomy and Animal husbandry. We were taught how to judge cows, pigs, sheep and chickens. I know the differences between a holstein and a brown swiss. To this day, I know what to look for if you need to buy or breed farm animals. Amazing, huh?

I remember our field trips to visit the different farms. I remember once seeing a cow who had a plexiglass “window” that you could see into a cow’s four stomachs, and watch hay as it was being digested. Useful stuff.

The sisters both loved Jesus, of that, I have no doubt. But Martha did the work, and Mary only sat and listened. It was Jesus who understood what was going on. He discerned the frustration of Martha, and knew the eagerness of Mary. Jesus saw inside. He understood them both completely.

He understands your heart, and mine. His sees us as clearly as one would look through a window pane, and he knows everything there is to know. And yet–he will never condemn you. His love for you is limitless, and forever; it won’t ever change, even on your worst days.

One thing means one thing. Not two things, or three. One thing.

One thing have I desired of the LORD, that I will seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in His temple.”

Psalm 27:4

“When Jesus heard these things, he said to him, “You still lack one thing…come, follow Me.” 

Luke 18:22

“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” 

Philippians 3:13-14

We must discern what is best. We must look, decide, and judge what needs to take precedence over other things. How and what we decide determines everything. We each get to pick, and to choose, and then we get to live with the consequences. The repercussions of our decision reverberate throughout our whole life, and into the lives of others.

“The one thing needful evidently is that which Mary chose — that good part which should not be taken away from her. Very clearly this was to sit at Jesus’ feet, and hear his word.”

CH Spurgeon

Our decisions determine our destiny. You and I will make a choice. Will you work, or will you sit? You must decide what you should do. I strongly suggest that you decide wisely.

Will you decide to sit at his feet today?

“The way to get the revival is to begin at the Master’s feet; you must go there with Mary, and afterwards you may work with Martha.”

CH Spurgeon

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Sin Always Means Death, #68

“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”

John 8:24, (context, vv. 21-30)

Death is defined in a very basic sense, as the cessation of life. You’ll simply stop breathing, and your heart will no longer beat. You’ll be brain dead in a matter of minutes. And perhaps it’s then you’ll suddenly realize that you really do have an expiration date. (Will it be a burial, or a cremation?)

I don’t want to sound morbid. That really isn’t my intention. I know I can be blunt–but please, don’t dismiss this ghoulishness as the prattlings of a really weird person. I sometimes think we really need a jolt; it teaches us to take life a wee bit carefully. Our days are numbered–whether we like it or not.

“Teach us how short our lives are
    so that we can become wise.”

Psalm 90:12

The words of Jesus can be somewhat stark and terribly pointed— It’s silly I know, but there’s something here that feels like you’ve got a pebble in your shoe. It annoys you, but you’ll try pretend its not a real problem, you’ll survive, you’ll do just about anything but sit down and shake it out, or else you’ll learn to walk funny. But he’s now speaking truth to us, and his words are crystal clear, they cut us like a scalpel.

There’s a militancy in verse 24, something that’s granite hard, and it doesn’t flex like we want it to. Spiritual honesty has never come easy to humans, and to be honest, we’ll choose varying intoxicants over what is real. “Truth. You can’t handle the truth”, is a line from a movie that somehow got stuck in my brain.

Experience has taught me that truth is almost always negative when it’s first encountered.

“Unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” can be chilling, and if we’re really, really honest it might feel like a steel-toed boot in our solar plexus. It somehow takes the breath right out of us. When Jesus rebukes the Pharisees, they begin to suffocate. They can’t handle what he’s saying, so of course they fall back, they resort to their carnal specialties–accusation and slander.

Believing–that seems like it’s the critical component. I think that Jesus spoke this truth with real compassion. He’s not like us. He’s not fighting back. He simply declares what’s true–and believe it or not, he desperately wants them to believe him. He loves each one of these religious rascals, and because of that–truth has to be plainly spoken–he wants to save their souls.

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”

C.S. Lewis

   

 

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The Whole Truth, #65

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:31-32, (context, vv. 31-47)

There’re several ideas in these two verses which absolutely have to be considered. They can’t be ignored, they’re essentially bedrock. I’m convinced the most astonishing things about God’s Word is that it’s alive. It’s far more than stark dark letters of black ink on white pages. It really breathes and moves in each of us who want to follow Jesus.

The Bible is alive–it has a heartbeat. It simply wants us to get out our spiritual stethoscope and listen.

We sometimes get confused about the word “abide.” It seems like a tricky word, and of course we’ll insist on complicating it, but if he is calling us to follow Jesus – the Word made flesh–means we’ll abide, (to live in, to dwell in, to make your home there) –in that Word. Disciples sometimes won’t do this out of fear of man, or they can’t because of unconfessed sin, or politics, or religion, or philosophy. They’ll become confused about this, and it’s painfully obviously to all.

Imagine, you find a lost wallet in the parking lot. Now what?

You open it to find ten 100 dollar bills! I’m convinced at that certain moment, the Spirit will speak what’s true. You really can rationalize it–possibly this is definitely God’s gift to me (!), or maybe we might look for the driver’s license in order to return this lost wallet to its owner. But it’s a moment of truth, and all of heaven is standing on tiptoe to see what you will do next.

The truth will set you free.” Keeping the money, and ditching the wallet seems like a fine idea at the time, but it’s essentially a seductive trap. If you rationalize this, at this at this point, you’ll fail his test. Your freedom is at stake. What’s true, and what the Spirit is saying, is well on its way of being discarded. (A thousand dollars after all would truly be a blessing? Maybe I’ll tithe off it?)

And maybe the Holy Spirit wants to see what’s really in our hearts, and just maybe a minor angel planted it there, just to show everyone what see what we will do. And maybe it was accidentally dropped, which is probably the case. But what are you going to do? The longer you wait, the trickier it seems to get.

Are you abiding in the words of Jesus? He’s calling you to follow him–and he wants you to become intimate with the real truth, which is really him in the flesh. Disciples who are living out the life of Jesus will act like him. As “abiders” we’ll insist on making his decisions, and becoming truthful people–even if it seems like a disaster.

“Where I found truth, there found I my God, who is the truth itself.”

Augustine

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Jesus Knew Who He Was, #61

“So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, 

“You know me, and you know where I come from. But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you do not know. 29 I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.”

John 7:28-29 (context, vv. 25-31)

Jesus was sure of himself–he fully understood his identity. There was not an iota of self-doubt or awkwardness. He was sure and steady, not at all like us. He spoke like a man who is totally confident about who he was. He walked out an awareness of who he was, and what he must speak.

Jesus had concrete knowledge of who he was, and now is proclaiming it to the people and priests. No one could stop him, he was like a spiritual locomotive. He spoke with total love, wisdom and authority. He spoke as a man who was not bound by religious definitions or ritual.

The temple was the special place were people met God–and God met people. And it’s in this certain place that Jesus now speaks to the crowds.

The issue here is one of identity, Jesus reveals who he really is, but also declares the awesome gap that exists between God and man. “Him you do not know” is the terrible analysis of our heart condition. We are separated and we’re walking in the dark. Romans 3:10-12 explains it like this,

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11  no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”

“He sent me,” explains the concentrated effort of God to get our attention. It seems that the Father has gone to extraordinary effort to bring us home to him. Jesus is God’s greatest effort. Jesus Christ was sent to find us, and return us to God.

“Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God because He said so.”

C.S. Lewis

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Seeing the Inside, #59

“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

John 7:24 (context vv. 14-24)

We need to admit that what we see isn’t always the way things really are. Some of our issues come from basic human ignorance, and yet, we need to admit there can be a satanic element. He darkens our perception, so we can’t see reality.

Judging “by appearances” is a thread in our DNA. We see the outside, and we imagine the insides. We’re limited by our failure to see the interior, and our vision is never clear. I suppose this is how it works, we can’t see the inside of things (1 Cor. 13:12.)

“It is the unseen and the spiritual in people that determines the outward and the actual.”

-Oswald Chambers

We must admit our vision is often deceitful. Jesus tells the Pharisees that their analysis isn’t real, they aren’t making holy decisions. They won’t accept him, they rather debate instead believe. The Pharisees’ never could understand Jesus.

But Jesus suggests that there is a real discernment that must be used, but it’ll require bypassing what seems real, or at least what everyone thinks is real. Discerning the difference isn’t always easy, as people are never what they seem. A beggar sleeping under the overpass can have the heart of a king.

Making distinctions is necessary, but typically we evaluate superficially–we see the outside, and the interior goes unseen. With this shallow assessment, the Pharisees’ can’t see beyond anything Jesus taught. They had already decided.

We must have the gift of discernment; the world is confusing and we’ve lost our north star. We’re to be a people of perception, and we need to understand the times and seasons. We must learn prayer, and pray hard. God’s gift of discernment is always given to us for intercession, and never ever for fault-finding.

Me, on a good day.

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The World’s Hate, #57

“The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.”

John 7:7 (context, vv. 1-8.)

Forty years of following Jesus has taught me many things. Lumped up in my top-ten is the hard lesson, “people dislike truth.” We are all fallen, and the fig leaves we find don’t cover much–they’re always wilting. And yet we avoid the light, and make up things that are really illusions (or delusions.) We find a mask and wield it to prevent the truth from penetrating our hearts.

Darkness is everywhere it seems. We see it in politics, religion and the media. We see it in our self, and others. It’s grim and sad and proud. And it’s disturbing that it actually turns into a solid hatred. And as believers, and part of the Church, we catch levels of flack from different levels of darkness.

“If you belonged to the world, the world would treat you with affection and would love you as its own. But because you are not of the world [no longer one with it], but I have chosen (selected) you out of the world, the world hates (detests) you.”

John 15:19, Amplified

Jesus knows every heart, He evaluates and can’t find anything good. “The works are evil,” and every place He looks it is night, spiritual darkness. When you’re dark spiritually, you’re in a very bad place–you are still lost in your sins (Luke 19:10.) I’m sorry, but I am telling the truth.

The world system still hates Jesus, and we’re despised by association. We must be aware. As believers, we’ll never fit in. Much of persecution is satanic, the devil originates much of it. There are countries today that blast believers with dark attacks. I’ve read that more Christians have been killed in the last century than all the others, combined.

“Princes, kings, and other rulers of the world have used all their strength and cunning against the Church, yet it continues to endure and hold its own.”

-John Foxe, “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs 

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Foxes Have Holes, #55

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Matthew 8:20 (context, vv. 18-22)

A scribe wants to become a disciple–but he really hasn’t the slightest of what following means. This passage (vv. 18-22) is radical. We find a perspective that stretches and corrects our understanding of life itself. We’re forced to see things from a completely different point of view.

“I wonder if this man thought, ‘Well, now, I am a scribe. If I join that company, I shall be a leader. I perceive that they are only fishermen, the bulk of them; and if I come in amongst them, I shall be a great acquisition to that little band. I shall no doubt be the secretary.’ Perhaps he may have thought that there was something to be made out of such a position; there was one who thought so.” 

-Charles Spurgeon

We find something disturbing here. Jesus and the twelve are living day-to-day without the security of a home. They are homeless. And if we seriously think about the ramifications of following, we are left with this strange idea of a radical renunciation. The Lord Jesus makes it very clear that this is His plan for everyone who asks permission to follow.

“Jesus didn’t tell the man “No, you can’t follow Me.” But He told him the truth, without painting a glamorized version of what it was like to follow Him. This is the opposite of techniques used by many evangelists today, but Jesus wanted the man to know what it would really be like.”

-David Guzik

Sometimes we try hard to understand exactly what this means in the 21st century. But we can never reduce or minimize scripture. If we discover that something grates us the wrong way, that typically means that the scripture has special meaning for us. I have learned that the truth is almost always negative when we first hear it–and I don’t know why this is so.

“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien

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A Really Hard Reality, #53

30 “They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them,” 

“The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 

32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.”

Mark 9:30-32

There are no illusions found in these verses. This passage is painfully practical, and whenever I read it I’m forced to take another slug of reality–Jesus will die. Evil men will kill Him. I don’t want to see His ministry end like this. Deep inside, I want to His ministry to continue. I need to hear more parables, and see more miracles.

But thinking squarely isn’t always my best point. I sometimes like illusions. They seem like necessary padding for the stark rigors of living. They’re nice to have around. But I do know that gripping reality is needed. It’s harsh and rude, and some of us avoid it like vampires dodge picnics.

The disciples must get real and extend their thinking about the Kingdom. They’ve been witnesses to all those supernatural things that the Messiah is doing. It’s all been very good. But now they must think deeper, and even more redemptively. Jesus will-must die, and He will rise. Why?

The Holy Spirit is always pouring love on us. I know that all that He does is done by love. Whether it’s touching a leper or feeding 5000, it’s love that is Jesus’ reason and clearest motive. Easily seen in these amazing miracles, and somewhat harder to picture when it comes as betrayal and murder. (God help us adjust.)

Jesus will (must) die. That is His accurate prediction. The disciples must clear the decks and assimilate this fresh information. They’re needed to grab this and make it part of their understanding. They are now witnesses, completely and wholly grasping the deepest realities of the Kingdom.

The gospel of the Kingdom up to this point is indeed a wonder. Teachings and healings, miracles and resurrections are becoming the norm. We all want to see them continue. We are shocked when Jesus takes this morbid perspective! How perfectly awful. (NOT the way to win disciples!)

The death of Jesus Christ, and His resurrection, is the next necessary miracle. It is needed to redeem and ‘heal’ the entire world. Oh yes, Jesus touched a leper, forgave the whore and raised the dead–but these are miracles that primarily touched individuals. He intends to kick it up a notch.

Jesus is going to die for us all. Isn’t that outrageous?

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Mustard Seed, #52

“For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Matthew 17:20-21, (context, vv. 14-21)

Ever wonder how cool it would be to read minds? On this certain day Peter’s brain has been a real doozy. He’s been chosen to follow Jesus with both James and John (they don’t know where or why, they just follow.)

And what a day it turned out to be! They see Jesus turn into light, and meet Moses and Elijah. But then they heard the Voice. It was the voice that scrambled them. We know for certain of how hearing that altered him, (2 Peter 1:17-18.)

Coming off the mountain they’re sworn to secrecy. They can tell no one what just happened! How curious is Peter now?

They round an outcrop of rocks and slide right into a crowd—and then a man, on his knees pleading for help, mercy or both. Things are pretty desperate for the man, for sure, but Jesus is apparently frustrated by the whole scene, (v. 17.) A slender rebuke is truly necessary here.

But what a crazy spiritual day for Peter. From those wonderful mountain peaks of spiritual beauty to a crowd of very stressed people. But that’s the walk of a disciple who is becoming like his Master. It’s always a bit interesting when the Spirit teaches us. Following Jesus was never meant to bore a person.

Obviously this passage deals with both the nature and uses of faith. Issues of “quality” are considered, and the subject of proportions comes up. “A little goes a long way” might be homespun spirituality to some, but it’s a truism of simple spirituality. I suppose there is an economy and coherency to what needs to be understood.

I tend to see Jesus grieved by the satanic system that destroys fallen humans. Perhaps this was another painful reminder for Him. In the past He used the metaphor of sheep without a Shepherd faced by wolves. This seems to be His take.

Just a wee bit of consideration–turning to Him in my humble rendition of belief somehow moves His heart. Mountains are stumbling for the exits, and faith does really impossible things! I have walked with God 35+ years–I really have seen the Holy Spirit do the astonishing over and over.

“No faith is required to do the possible; actually only a morsel of this atom-powered stuff is needed to do the impossible, for a piece as large as a mustard seed will do more than we have ever dreamed of.”

–Leonard Ravenhill

    

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