Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Prayer in the Life of Our Savior

Lately, while reading the Gospel of Luke, it became apparent to me how important prayer was in the life of our Savior. Unfortunately, I (like many Christians) do not spend enough time in prayer. Consider the following passages from Luke and be encouraged towards a focused and consistent prayer time.

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." (Luke 3:21-22)
It was only as Jesus was praying at His baptism that the Spirit descended on Him like a dove and began revealing God's purpose for His life. Do you ever struggle to know God's will for your life? Spend more time in prayer.

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.  (Luke 5:15-16)
As Jesus got busier and became more popular, He continued to carve time out of His busy schedule to get alone and pray. You aren't busier than Jesus, are you? The truth is we can all find time to pray if we are willing to carve it out.

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles...  (Luke 6:12-13)
Jesus had an incredibly important decision to make. He couldn't pour Himself endlessly into hundreds of people. He needed to choose twelve of His disciples whom He could personally disciple. These men would begin the new Israel (the church) after His death. They would change the world! But whom should He choose? Jesus spent the entire night asking His Heavenly Father that exact question. Have you ever spent an entire night in prayer? Have you ever spent even an hour in prayer?

Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”  (Luke 9:18)
Jesus included His disciples in His private prayer life. He allowed them to learn by participating in prayer with Him. On this occasion it led to an extremely important discussion. On another occasion it was only as His disciples heard Jesus pray that they were drawn to ask Him to teach them how to pray. The teaching that followed gave us the Lord's Prayer. (Luke 11:1) How often do you set aside time to pray with those closest to you? With your family or your close friends?

About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.  (Luke 9:28-30)
Jesus climbs a mountain to pray! I have a hard time rolling out bed to pray, and He climbed a mountain! Notice that Jesus is praying when He is transfigured. He isn't preaching or reading the Bible, but praying. Certainly this indicates how important and transforming prayer can be in the life of the believer.

On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.” He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  (Luke 22:40-42)
In Jesus' darkest hour He turned to nothing else but prayer. Surely if it was enough to comfort Jesus and steel His nerves for what lay ahead, then the ability to make our requests known to God is enough to help us through our troubles.

When you consider all of these passages together, it is clear how significant prayer was in the life of Jesus. My earnest hope is that it would be as central in your life and mine. Set aside some extra time today to spend in prayer with the Lord. If you don't yet know what to pray, start with the Lord's Prayer. (Luke 11:2-4)

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Don't Miss Your Moment

It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph.
Mark 15:42-45

Over two thousand years later Pilate is still known for this one event in his life more than anything else. It's what he is known for on earth, and it is certainly what he is known for in heaven. Jesus was crucified under his watch. The crowd may have cried out "His blood be on us and on our children" and Pilate may have washed his hands of the situation, but invariably his memory is linked with the crucifixion of Jesus (Matt. 27:24-25). Yet, as this event played out in Pilate's life, it passed him by without gaining his full attention. He had to be told that Jesus was already dead. How sad to think that the most important moment in a person's life, their big kingdom moment, could come and go without their ever noticing the significance of it. 

I believe one reason Pilate did not take more notice was because he was not focused on the things of God or the advancing kingdom of God. It is clear from Mark 15:15 that Pilate was firmly entrenched in the ways of the world and maintaining his prestige in the world. This verse tells us that the whole reason Pilate crucified Jesus was to please the crowd before him. How much evil in our world has occurred because of cow-towing like this! How our Lord must hate it when we live to please men more than to please our God. Had Pilate been in tune with the things of God, had he been anxiously awaiting the Messiah, he would have paid more notice.

Are you in danger of letting the most important kingdom event in your life pass you by without taking full notice? Don't be caught off guard. Don't be surprised and end up on the wrong side of your big moment with the Lord. Stay in tune with Him and seek after Him every day. Choose to live your life wholly to please Him and no one else. Develop a posture of anxious waiting for the return of the Messiah and work to advance His kingdom until He comes.

Father, open our eyes today to the kingdom moments you place before us and enable us to seize them and make the most of them for Your glory. In Jesus' name, Amen.

For further reading...
  • Mark 14:32-15:47- Read the full crucifixion narrative in Mark.
  • Matt. 27:24-25- Some additional details from Matthew.
  • Luke 23:1-25- Luke includes the detail that Pilate tried to avoid the responsibility for Jesus' fate altogether by sending Him to Herod. Pilate tried to pass the buck, so to speak.
  • Luke 18:18-25- This is another example of someone who messed up their big kingdom moment. Jesus said the same two words to this man that He said to His twelve disciples: "Follow me." This man walked away.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Don't be afraid to give!

"Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

"And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."
Luke 12:15-21 & 29-34

When this passage is considered in light of Matthew 6:19-24, it is clear that there are two ways money can be invested. Money can be stored up for yourself (in other words here on this earth) or it can be stored up in heaven. No single dollar can be stored up in both places. Sure you can hedge your bets and invest a percentage in either place, but no single dollar can be invested fully in this world and in the kingdom of God at the same time. We must choose. 

In the passage above the rich man is called a fool because he loses all of his profit windfall. He stored it up for himself out of a desire to take life easy, but he did so in a foolish way because he could not guarantee  he would live long enough to enjoy it. When his life ended sooner than he thought it would, he lost all the benefit of those funds. Had he given the windfall to the Lord in some way, perhaps to feed the poor or to support the temple or to support Jesus and His disciples' ministry, then it would have been stored up in treasure for him in heaven and he would have gained an eternal reward.

At this point in this post my well-conditioned American response of financial fear crops up. (Isn't it amazing that the residents of one of the wealthiest nations in recent history have been trained to live in constant fear of poverty and to make financial decisions based on this fear!?) At this point I begin to think "What if I give too much of my money away and then I need it? I won't have it then. I could be in big trouble." Of course, Jesus knows our hearts and in the next passage He immediately addresses this fear. He begins to speak of the ravens and the lilies of the field and how God cares for them even though they do not store up treasure for themselves. Jesus tells us to seek God's kingdom first and He promises that God will provide for our basic needs like food, drink, and clothing. Then He says, "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor." For Christians giving is an act of faith. When we give sacrificially it shows that we believe God's promise to give us a kingdom inheritance in heaven. It shows that we believe God will take care of our basic needs here on earth. And lastly it shows that we are willing to stand on those promises. Subsequently, when we do not give sacrificially it reveals our lack of faith.

This passage calls Christians to give sacrificially- dare I say even dangerously by the world's standards- because of our great faith in our great God. Will you give? Do you trust God? If so, then I urge you to take Jesus' words seriously. Sell some of your possessions and give to the poor.

For further consideration...
  • Proverbs 10:2213:2215:6- Some passages of Scripture teach that God will bless the righteous person with worldly wealth. How do we balance this with Jesus' words above? How much should we keep and how much should we give away? 
  • Luke 12:13-34- Read the full passage in context. What do you think this has to say about retirement?
  • Matthew 6:19-24- It is an either/or scenario. You either invest your money in the kingdom of God or in yourself. The same dollar can't be invested both places.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Yes and No

But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.
Matthew 5:37 (NKJV)

I am convinced that we are too willing to compromise on the truth. Too often our word is no good. Either we deal in half truths or we make statements or even commitments that we later go back on. This is not how Jesus lived. He spoke the truth even when it hurt people, even when it made them mad, even when it got Him killed. Moreover He stood by his statements and commitments. He didn't back down. One small example of this is found in Matthew 16:1-4. Jesus had already told the Pharisees that they would not be given a sign in Matthew 12:38-40. In this passage He sticks to His statement and repeats His conviction that the only sign they would receive was the sign of Jonah. How refreshing! Jesus was a man of His word. 

How often do you practice subtle deception and justify it by claiming that what you said wasn't really a lie? Just because a statement is in the same general area as truth doesn't make it true enough to come out of a Christian's mouth. How often do you fail to stick to or live up to your words? How often do you make excuses to back out of commitments? Reflect Christ in this as in all ways. "Let you 'yes' be 'yes' and your 'no' be 'no'," Christians. Anything other than this originates from the evil one.

For further reading...
  • Matthew 5:33-37- In context, this passage is about taking oaths. I think that makes the point even stronger when it comes to our financial commitments as oaths would have been commonly used in reference to these.
  • Matthew 12:38-40 & 16:1-4- Read how Jesus stuck to His word.
  • Matthew 5-7 & Matthew 15:1-20- Some examples of Jesus speaking unpopular truths.