And There Was None

Today’s Reading: Matthew 19:3-12, 21:12-17, 28-46 and 22:1-14; Mark 10:2-12, 11:15-19, 12:1-12; Luke 19:45-48, 20:9-19

Jesus went to the fig tree looking for fruit AND THERE WAS NONE.

In the morning, as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem, he was hungry, and he noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs, but there were only leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” And immediately the fig tree withered up. – Matthew 21:18-19

Jesus went to the Temple looking for fruit AND THERE WAS NONE.

Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!” – Matthew 21:12-13

Jesus considered divorce looking for fruit AND THERE WAS NONE.

“Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife?”

Jesus responded, “…’God made them male and female’ from the beginning of creation. ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.” – Mark 10:2b, 6-9

What is worse – to say you will NOT bear fruit but then bear fruit, or to say that you WILL bear fruit but then NOT bear fruit?

“But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.

“Which of the two obeyed his father?” – Matthew 21:28-31a

Jesus has purchased our salvation and prepared the way for us to bear fruit. He expects us to do what he has called us to do – bear fruit. If we do not make use of this salvation and bear fruit as he intended, what will his response be?

“Now listen to another story. A certain landowner planted a vineyard, built a wall around it, dug a pit for pressing out the grape juice, and built a lookout tower. Then he leased the vineyard to tenant farmers and moved to another country. At the time of the grape harvest, he sent his servants to collect his share of the crop. But the farmers grabbed his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. So the landowner sent a larger group of his servants to collect for him, but the results were the same.

“Finally, the owner sent his son, thinking, ‘Surely they will respect my son.’

“But when the tenant farmers saw his son coming, they said to one another, ‘Here comes the heir to this estate. Come on, let’s kill him and get the estate for ourselves!’ So they grabbed him, dragged him out of the vineyard, and murdered him.

“When the owner of the vineyard returns,” Jesus asked, “what do you think he will do to those farmers?”

The religious leaders replied, “He will put the wicked men to a horrible death and lease the vineyard to others who will give him his share of the crop after each harvest.”

Then Jesus asked them, “Didn’t you ever read this in Scriptures?
‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see.’

“I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on.” – Matthew 21:33-44

If we call ourselves Christians and create an appearance of being Christian, yet our lives do not produce fruit, we are wolves disguised as sheep.

“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” – Matthew 7:15-20

Producing fruit is not something I can do on my own. “Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” I have to allow God to make me into a good tree in order to produce good fruit. I go to God, just as I am, submitting who I am in order to be clothed with who He is.

“The Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a king who prepared a great wedding feast for his son…But when the king came in to meet the guests, he noticed a man who wasn’t wearing the proper clothes for a wedding. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how is it that you are here without wedding clothes?’ But the man had no reply. Then the king said to his aides, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are called, but few are chosen.” – Matthew 22:2,11-14

Am I wearing the “proper clothes” today? Am I clothed in the kind of real faith that produces spiritual fruit? Precious Lord, thank you for the gift of salvation and the opportunity to work in your vineyard today. Empty me of my own selfish tendencies, fill me with your Spirit and work through me to produce fruit for you today. Amen.

Pray with Confidence

Today’s Reading: Matthew 20:20-34 and 21:18-22; Mark 10:46-52 and 11:12-14,20-25

What is heavy on your heart? What are you praying for right now? What do you need to see God do? This morning’s study continues where we left off yesterday. Jesus taught us to pray – to bring our requests to God. Jesus also taught us how to pray – with SHAMELESS PERSISTENCE and CONFIDENT BOLDNESS. Jesus taught us to have faith when we pray.

Pray boldly…

Then the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus with her sons. She knelt respectfully to ask a favor. “What is your request?” he asked.

She replied, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”

But Jesus answered by saying to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?”

“Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!” – Matthew 20:20-22

What is your reaction to this confident boldness displayed by James and John? We can learn from their reaction to Jesus’ question when we look at their heart. They were willing to suffer for Christ and they longed to be as close to Jesus as possible, in life and in death.

Pray sacrificially with a heart that is willing to suffer for Christ…

Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup. But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or on my left. My father has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”

When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:23-28

We learn from Matthew 20 that God wants us to pray with confident boldness that comes a heart of faith – a heart that is willing to suffer for Christ and a heart that is humbly prepared to serve others.

Pray for opportunities to serve and not to be exalted or glorified…

As Jesus and the disciples left the town of Jericho, a large crowd followed behind. Two blind men were sitting beside the road. When they heard that Jesus was coming that way, they began shouting, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” – Matthew 20:29-30

Can you hear the passion in their voices? Can you hear the desperation and the desire to be healed?

Pray with passion…

“Be quiet!” the crowd yelled at them.

But they only shouted louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

When Jesus heard them, he stopped and called, “What do you want me to do for you?”

“Lord,” they said, “we want to see!” – Matthew 20:31-33

Jesus is giving these two men the opportunity to say specifically what they want him to do for them. He knows the desire of their heart and their physical need is obvious, but Jesus allows them the opportunity to define what they want him to do and why. It is in this moment that the crowd sees the faith of two men who desire nothing more than to see the face of Jesus.

Pray specifically. What are you asking Jesus to do for you today?

Jesus felt sorry for them and touched their eyes. Instantly they could see! Then they followed him. – Matthew 20:34

In the morning, as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem, he was hungry, and he noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs, but there were only leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” And immediately the fig tree withered up.

The disciples were amazed when they saw this and asked, “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” – Matthew 21:18-20

Pray confidently, knowing what Jesus is capable of accomplishing…

Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.” – Matthew 21:21-22

Perhaps these words of Jesus are hard to receive because you have not experienced the answer your heart desires when you pray. I have definitely been there. This reminder is good for me to hear. I pray God gives me the faith to…

Pray for anything. Pray in faith and without doubt. Pray with persistence and confidence.

Pray…

Pray with Persistence


Today’s Reading: Luke 18 and 11:1-13; Matthew 19:13-30; Mark 10:13-31

Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”

Jesus said, “This is how you should pray:
Father may your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come soon.
Give us each day the food we need,
and forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
And don’t let us yield to temptation.”

Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story: “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread…And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this – though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you KEEP KNOCKING long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your SHAMELESS PERSISTENCE.

“And so I tell you, KEEP ON asking, and you will receive what you ask for. KEEP ON seeking, and you will find. KEEP ON knocking, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” – Luke 11:1-10

Pray to God persistently…

One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him REPEATEDLY saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her CONSTANT REQUESTS!’”

Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?” – Luke 18:1-8

Pray to God humbly without self-righteousness and without the attitude that God owes me or that I am more righteous than someone else…

“Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week and I give you a tenth of my income.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful on me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Luke 18:10-14

Pray to God with a child’s heart…

“Let the little children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” – Luke 18:16-17

Pray to God with empty hands…

Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: “Good teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honor your father and mother.’”

The man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”

When Jesus heard his answer, he said, “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich.

When Jesus saw this, he said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God! In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

Those who heard this said, “Then who in the world can be saved?” – Luke 18:18-26

Pray in faith, knowing that nothing is impossible for God…

He replied, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.”

Peter said, “We’ve left our homes to follow you.”

“Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.” – Luke 18:27-30

Pray…

The Cost of Service

Today’s Reading: Luke 17

How much does this seat cost? How much does this search cost? How much does this life cost? For the last three days we have asked ourselves some tough questions. We have asked God to expose our heart regarding our priorities and the use of our resources. Today, we consider another tough question – How would you like that served?

That is one of my favorite questions because it is usually asked after I have ordered a delicious steak. “Medium, please.” Yum, my mouth is watering just thinking about having a deliciously prepared steak served up on a beautiful platter and placed in front of me. But today’s scripture is not about how I am served, but how I serve God.

SERVE GOD GENEROUSLY

Luke chapter 16 speaks strongly of how we should serve God generously with our time, resources and money. In Luke 17, Jesus calls us to serve God faithfully, as a servant would serve his master. To serve God faithfully requires obedient submission to Jesus and His commands. We serve God faithfully, not looking for applause or thanks but simply out of obedience and dedication to our Master.

SERVE GOD FAITHFULLY

“When a servant comes in from plowing or taking care of the sheep, does his master say, ‘Come in and eat with me’? No, he says, ‘Prepare my meal, put on your apron, and serve me while I eat. Then you can eat later.’ And does the master thank the servant for doing what he was told to do? Of course not. In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.’” – Luke 17:7-10

We know that God blesses His children, but do I serve Him in order to obtain those blessings or am I content in simply knowing that I have obeyed and knowing that my Master is pleased with my faithfulness?

SERVE GOD OBEDIENTLY

As he entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance, crying out, “Jesus, Master have mercy on us!”

He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy. – Luke 17:12-14

Jesus could have touched them and healed them immediately but instead, he gave them a command. Their response was immediate obedience. Before they even completed the task Jesus asked of them, they had received their healing.

SERVE GOD THANKFULLY

One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.” – Luke 17:15-19

SERVE GOD FOR HIS GLORY

When we take the time to thank God for all He is doing for us, we are taking the glory of the good in our lives and giving that glory to God. NO assuming God knows we are thankful. NO wondering if our blessings are circumstantial. God gets the credit. Not a result of my own doing or righteousness, but out of His grace and mercy, God gets the glory!

SERVE GOD PATIENTLY WAITING FOR HIS COMING

Then he said to his disciples, “The time is coming when the Son of Man returns, but you won’t see it. People will tell you, ‘Look, there is the Son of Man,’ or ‘Here he is,’ but don’t go out and follow them. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other, so it will be on the day when the Son of Man comes. But first the Son of Man must suffer terribly and be rejected by this generation.

“When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days, the people enjoyed banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat and the flood came and destroyed them all.

“And the world will be as it was in the days of Lot. People went about their daily business – eating and drinking, buying and selling, farming and building – until the morning Lot left Sodom. Then fire and burning sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. Yes, it will be ‘business as usual right up to the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day a person out on the deck of the roof must not go down into the house to pack. A person out in the field must not return home. Remember what happened to Lot’s wife! If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it. That night two people will be asleep in one bed; one will be taken, the other left. Two women will be grinding flour together at the mill; one will be taken, the other left.” – Luke 17:22-36

Lord, today may you be pleased with our service to You. May you find us generous, faithful, obedient, and thankful. To YOU be the glory for all the good things in our lives yesterday, today and tomorrow. As we patiently wait for your return, we will go about whatever business you daily call us to. We are Your servants and You are our Master. Our eyes are fixed on You. Thank you for Your grace and for Your mercy. We love You, precious Father! Amen.

The Cost of the Splurge

Today’s Reading: Luke 16

Then Jesus told this story to his disciples: “There was a certain rich man who had a manager handling his affairs. One day a report came that the manager was wasting his employer’s money. So the employer called him in and said, ‘What’s this I hear about you? Get your report in order because you are going to be fired.’” – Luke 16:1-2

Have you ever noticed how much time Jesus spends talking about money and the temptations of worldly riches verses building treasures in heaven? Here the lesson is about wasting money – money that does not even belong to us but to our Master. My natural tendency when I read this Scripture is to assume that God is not talking to me; after all, I don’t have that much money to waste. But this morning I know He is talking to me.

When the man realized that he would soon be out of a job and homeless, he decided it was time to make friends – fast! He went around to his customers and one by one reduced the debt they owed to the employer, creating a group of people who were grateful to him. Instead of being angry, the employer admired the shrewdness of the manager.

“And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light. Here’s the lesson: Use your worldly resources to benefit others and make friends. Then, when your earthly possessions are gone, they will welcome you to an eternal home.

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities. And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? And if you are not faithful with other people’s things, why should you be trusted with things of your own?

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. – Luke 16:8b-13

In our society, money = status. In Heaven, it will not. But how we use the resources God gives us here on earth will certainly impact our eternity. Jesus told this story:

“There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen and who lived each day in luxury. At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores.

“Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and his soul went to the place of the dead. There, in torment, he saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus at his side.

“The rich man shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.’

“But Abraham said to him, ‘Son, remember that during your lifetimes you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish. And besides, there is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there.’

“Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home. For I have five brothers, and I want to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment.’

“But Abraham said, ‘Moses and the prophets warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote.’

“The rich man replied, ‘No, Father Abraham! But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead.’” – Luke 16:19-31

As Americans, we fill our calendars with plans of how we will spend our time earning money and then enjoying our down time spending that money. We fill our time with golf outings, shopping trips and luxurious vacations. We stand in line at Starbucks or spend hours in front of our television, but do not have time to volunteer at a local nonprofit or on the church work day. We plan our retirement but are we considering the eternity of others?

What if we stopped SPENDING our time and started INVESTING it instead? What if we stopped STORING up our earthly treasures and started GIVING to the needs around us? What if we stopped FILLING our closets and started EMPTYING our arms of everything temporary we are holding onto so tightly? What if we entered Heaven’s gates with no regrets of how we lived our lives on earth?

Lord, open my ears so that I may hear YOU today. Show me ways in which I am wasting my money, my time, my resources, my life. May I live each moment directed by YOU, filling my time and using my resources for Heavenly gain and not earthly status or pleasures. Amen.

The Cost of the Search

Today’s Reading: Luke 15

Count the cost…NO ONE can be more important.

“If you want to be my disciples, you must hate everyone else by comparison – your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14:26

Count the cost…NOTHING can be more important.

“But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’

“Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him? And if he can’t, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away. So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.” –Luke 14:28-33

Count the cost…AM I PREPARED to leave the ninety-nine to rescue the one?

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over nine-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” – Luke 15:4-7

Count the cost…HOW HARD am I willing to search for the lost? Will I go out of my way?

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she will call her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.” – Luke 15:8-10

Count the cost…Will I REJOICE when the lost is found? Will I join Heaven’s celebration or am I too focused on myself to find joy in someone else’s salvation?

To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons.

“A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.

“When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say,

“Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’

“So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’

“But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

“The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

“His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’” – Luke 15:11-32

So we ask ourselves again, “How much does this cost?” How much will it cost me to search for the lost and bring them home? Am I willing to pay that price? Am I all in? Is my heart decision following my head decision so that I can rejoice in what God wants to accomplish today?

The Cost of the Seat

Today’s Reading: Luke 14:7-35

How much does this seat cost?

When we buy tickets for a concert or play or baseball game, we have a decision to make about what seats we will pay for. We can decide to purchase the premium seats or save money by choosing seats farther back. When we buy plane tickets, the same decision needs to be made. Are we willing to pay more for a seat at the front of the plane with extra room for our legs and elbows? We consider the price of each ticket and how many tickets we will be purchasing. We count the cost and make our decision.

Where are you going to sit?

Jesus noticed that all who had come to dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!

“Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Luke 14:7-11

Maybe this is where we developed the customary question, “Is this seat taken?” It has become a common courtesy to ask this question before sitting down in a seat. But our human nature is to think of ourselves first – to provide for our own needs, then care for others out of our excess. Jesus preaches a different kind of lifestyle – commitment to Jesus, thinking of God and how He would want us to care for others before our own concern for ourselves. Now, no one likes false humility either so I am guessing that Jesus is not encouraging us to pretend humility but to sincerely humble ourselves, thinking of others first.

Who are you going to sit with?

Jesus addresses the question of who we are choosing to sit with as well. Do we think of who will make us look good or who will make us feel better about ourselves? Or do we ask the question, “Who would you like for me to love on today, Jesus?”

Then he turned to the host. “When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,” he said, “don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” – Luke 14:12-14

Again, we cannot be focused on what we can gain from someone else but on what someone else can gain from God through us. God wants us responding to His Spirit and ministering to whoever He sends us to, not thinking of ourselves for own gain but seeing ourselves as tools God may want to use in any and every situation. But how often do we make excuses for our own selfishness? How often is our commitment to our own plans stronger than our commitment to God’s plans for us?

Will you accept the invitation to be seated?

Jesus replied with this story: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’ But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I now have a wife, so I can’t come.’

“The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’” – Luke 14:16-24

Are you willing to pay the price for this seat?

Commitment to God – fully devoted to Him. God calls us to COUNT THE COST before making the decision of whether or not to accept His invitation. It will require humility – it will require us to be more committed to Him than we are to our own plans. Today is a great day to renew our commitment. God, how would you like to use me today?

A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.

“But don’t begin until you COUNT THE COST. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’

“Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him? And if he can’t, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away. So you cannot become my disciple without GIVING UP EVERYTHING you own.

“Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? Flavorless salt is good neither for the soil nor for the manure pile. It is thrown away. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” – Luke 14:25-33

The Hired Hand

Today’s Reading: Matthew 18:12-14; John 10

It was the Festival of Dedication (Hanukkah) and Jesus was preaching about how he is the Good Shepherd. I was unfamiliar with the significance of this Festival and so I decided to read through the notes of my study Bible to see if there is a reason that Jesus chose to speak about sheep at this time. What I found was very interesting and good timing for where I am at in my spiritual journey. Isn’t God wonderful like that?!! He creates in us a desire to know more and then He faithfully guides us into an understanding of the Scripture that helps us take next steps in our faith walk with Him.

The Festival of Dedication commemorates the rededication of the Temple after it had been defiled by Antiochus IV. At this Festival, the priests would do some self-examination, considering their own commitment or dedication to the ministry to which they had been called. They would reflect on Ezekiel 34, so I went back and read Ezekiel 34. In that passage, the Lord was upset with the “shepherds” or leaders of Israel. He accused them of abandoning the flock and taking care of themselves first, leaving the sheep to starve.

God said, “I myself will search and find my sheep…I will find my sheep and rescue them…I will bring them back home…I will feed them…I will give them good pastureland…I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace…I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bandage the injured and strengthen the weak…You are my flock, the sheep of my pasture. You are my people, and I am your God. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 34:11-16,31

Most of us have a ministry of some sort, whether that is a full-time paid job or a volunteer position at Church or at a ministry in town. Many of us are also parents who have been given a ministry to our children. How are we caring for the sheep? Are we still putting forth our best effort? Are we concerned about those who are spiritually starving or wandering away? Have we become comfortable and begun to worry more about ourselves than about caring for the sheep? Are we feasting on what God provides without sharing the abundance of God with others? Perhaps today is our Festival of Dedication, a time to examine our service to God. Let’s consider this as we hear what Jesus has to say at this Festival long ago.

“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice…

“I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.” – John 10:1-13

After learning about the Festival of Dedication and after reading through Ezekiel 34, I see this passage differently today. I am the hired hand, given responsibility over some of the sheep by the Good Shepherd. Am I working only for the money or am I working to please the Shepherd? Do I run when things get tough or do I listen for the voice of the Shepherd, realizing that I, too, am under His care? Do I still care about the sheep or is my focus on myself, as it was for the leaders in Ezekiel 34?

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away! In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish.” – Matthew 18:12-14

God, strengthen my call this morning. Give me a fresh desire to serve you by serving others. Lord, I am listening for your voice, a voice I know so well because you are my Shepherd. What do you want me to do with this day you have given me? Help me to see all of your sheep through your eyes – that I would never abandon this responsibility that you have given me, that none would starve while in my care. Amen.

Do You Know Him?

Today’s Reading: Luke 13:10-17, 22-30, 14:1-6, 18:9-14

One Sabbath day as Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, he saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit. She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Dear woman, you are healed of your sickness!” Then he touched her, and instantly she could stand straight. How she praised God! – Luke 13:10-13

If you have ever pulled your back out or had back pain, you quickly empathize with this woman. 18 years of back pain, 18 years of looking at the ground when she walked. Yes, I imagine her response was absolutely to praise God! Can you picture it? She is standing tall with her arms lifted high above her head, thanking God for freedom and healing! SHE KNOWS! She knows the difference Jesus has made in her life and SHE KNOWS who is responsible!

You KNOW her pain and you probably KNOW this story, but do you KNOW the One who healed her? Not everyone knew God the way this woman did. Not everyone praised God for His faithfulness. Some were too caught up in rules and too distracted by the WHEN to focus on the WHO.

“There are six days of the week for working,” [the leader in charge of the synagogue] said to the crowd. “Come on those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath.”

But the Lord replied, “You hypocrites! Each of you works on the Sabbath day! Don’t you untie your ox or your donkey from its stall and lead it out for water? This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?” – Luke 13:14b-16

Jesus cared more about the one suffering than he did about the religious regulations and opinions of the religious leaders. He healed the woman on the Sabbath while teaching in the synagogue, right there for all to see. Shortly after this, on another Sabbath day, Jesus healed a man while he was eating dinner in the home of a leader of the Pharisees. Scripture says the people were watching him closely, but this did not keep him from touching the man with swollen arms and legs, healing him of his discomfort (Luke 14:1-6).

“Which of you doesn’t work on the Sabbath? If your son or your cow falls into a pit, don’t you rush to get him out?” – Luke 14:5b

DO YOU KNOW HIM?

Time and time again, Jesus showed who he was. The people had the choice to get to KNOW him, to focus on the man and see him as their Savior. We have that same choice. Jesus wants us to KNOW him – to have a personal relationship with him instead of a religion and set of rules.

Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?”

He replied, “Work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s Kingdom, for many will try to enter but will fail. When the master of the house has locked the door, it will be too late. You will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Lord, open the door for us!’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t KNOW you or where you come from.’ Then you will say, ‘But we ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ And he will reply, ‘I tell you, I don’t KNOW you or where you come from. Get away from me, all you who do evil.’” – Luke 13:24-27

It takes more than being actively involved in a church or giving your time and resources to a good cause. We were created to have a relationship with our Creator. We can be of great importance to the church and still miss out on the narrow door to God’s Kingdom.

But isn’t that why we do this? We get up every morning and find a quiet spot to get to KNOW our Savior. “My Morning Coffee” time is not about the caffeine, it is about waking up in God’s presence and getting to KNOW Him – humbly listening for Him to teach us and willing to obey what He commands.

“Some who seem least important now will be the greatest then, and some who are the greatest now will be least important then.” – Luke 13:30b

Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Luke 18:9-14

“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never KNEW you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’” – Matthew 7:21-23

DO YOU KNOW HIM?

Are you eager to know Him more? Let’s enjoy a second cup of morning coffee and ask God to help us know Him more, creating a desire in our heart to truly get to know Him.

The Pain & the Tears

Today’s Reading: John 9 & 11:1-44; Luke 11:33-36

THE PAIN

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?”

“It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” – John 9:1-5

Don’t we ask this same question all the time – Why has this happened? How could God allow this? Why is this person going through such a difficult time? Our hearts break when we watch those we love get sick; we fall to our knees when a diagnosis changes our lives forever. What did we do? Why has God allowed this suffering? We cannot see the road ahead of us through the pain and tears. What is ahead appears so dark; it is not a journey we want to walk and we beg God to take it away!

Jesus says – I am the light of the world. I will shine my light in the darkness that surrounds you. This has happened so the power of God can be seen in him – in you!

Then he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva and spread the mud over the blind man’s eyes. He told him, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam” (Siloam means “sent”). So the man went and washed and came back seeing. – John 9:6-7

Later, after the man had been questioned by the Pharisees, Jesus found him and asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

The man answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.”

“You have seen him,” Jesus said, and he worshiped Jesus.

Then Jesus told him, “I entered this world to render judgment – to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind.” – John 9:35-39

How often do we think our faith is strong until something tragic happens and then we realize we do not have enough faith to get us through this difficult time – we realize we are blind and we need Jesus, the Light of the World, to give us sight. We want to believe – Lord, help us to believe! Strengthen our faith and shine your light into our situation.

THE TEARS

Mary and Martha asked similar questions of Jesus when their brother died. They were grieving and begging Jesus to explain himself – to do something!

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.” – John 11:21-22

When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” – John 11:32

Before arriving, Jesus had told his disciples, “Lazarus’ sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this” (John 11:4). Later, at Lazarus’ grave, Jesus said, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?” So they rolled the stone aside. Then Jesus looked up to heaven and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. You always hear me, but I said it out loud for the sake of all these people standing here, so that they will believe you sent me.” Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in grave clothes, his face wrapped in a head cloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!” (John 11:40-44).

Why has this happened? So that we can see – so that we can see the Light of the World and believe, so that we can see the glory of God! Perhaps this prayer is for you today:

Heavenly Father, thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me but sometimes I need to remind myself that you are listening, that you love me and have not abandoned me. God, when I feel like darkness is closing in around me and my heart is breaking, please give me sight! Light of the World, wrap your arms around me so that I can see YOU in the midst of all that is happening around me. Show me your glory! Please do something so miraculous that it can only be explained as you and your power and to your glory! Help me to believe, give me the MIRACLE OF SIGHT today. Then fill me with your light, so that I can be radiant for you today. Amen.

“No one lights a lamp and then hides it or puts in under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house.

Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when it is bad, your body is filled with darkness. Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness. If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling you with light.” – Luke 11:33-36