- 2017Jan 11
We are ten days into the new year and I thought it was time to post a devotional blog, focusing on a passage of Scripture. Spending my morning in Matthew’s eighth chapter, I was struck at the difference between how this chapter begins and how it ends. Look at this with me:
Matthew 8:1 – “When He came down from the mountain, great crowds followed Him.”
Matthew 8:34 – “And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.”
Although these two verses took place at different moments and in different areas, the polarized responses to Jesus by the people in these two verses captures my thinking. One moment, they are chasing Him down, enraptured by the wisdom He shared in His sermon from the hillside (chapters 5-7). They long to be with Him and to hear more. Then, inexplicably, the chapter ends with people begging Him to leave their presence. Humanity is revealed as desiring Jesus passionately in one moment, then outrightly rejecting Jesus the next moment.
So, what happened in between verses 1 & 34? What activity do the verses in between reveal? Observe what the Holy Spirit moved Matthew to write down in these verses:
Jesus touched and healed an unclean leper. In doing so, He broke a religious rule that forbids anyone from touching an unclean leper. (8:1-4)
He exalted the faith of Gentile military man over the blood-ties of Jewish brethren. He affirmed the Roman officer’s faith, and then taught that many who were not Jews by race would be in the eternal Kingdom, while many who are Jews by race would be excluded from the eternal Kingdom. Jesus affirmed a Gentile while exposing the presumption of His Jewish brethren. This was a huge no-no among the Jews. (8:5-13)
He healed scores of people from their sicknesses while delivering many others from demonic possession. There was no real scandal about this work, but it would not have been nice, neat, nor religiously tidy. There would have been sights, smells and sounds associated with the multiple deliverances. Demons don’t go quietly, and people who are miraculously healed do not typically give a quaint, quiet nod of thanks. This would have been gloriously dramatic! (8:14-17)
He refused those who presumed to casually follow Him, citing that discipleship was an issue that must trump all lesser loyalties. Jesus reveals that discipleship is not casual, but costly. This is still an unpopular message. (8:18-22)
He mightily displayed His full authority over nature by causing a storm with a word from His mouth. This was the climax of the chapter. The One who defied social and religious expectations, who went for the least, the sick and the demonized, who commanded that nobody approach Him with casual follow-ship…was the same One who successfully commanded nature to sit down and shut up. (8:23-27)
What ultimately led to the people evicting Jesus from their town was that He showed compassion to the two town bullies of Gadara who were notorious problems for others. In delivering them, He also allowed for His plan to cause a financial hardship for some pig-herders. The deliverance of the two men costs the townspeople something and they were so displeased that they asked Jesus to leave. While Jesus was treasuring souls, the townsfolk were treasuring swine. (8:28-33)
So, after Jesus does repeated miraculous works of power and authority, the strongest desire of some was to distance themselves from Him. In the end, He was too much Savior for them to be comfortable with. This still happens today, unfortunately. When Jesus was just talking, the crowds ran after Him in big numbers. However, when He started messing with the system, breaking religious taboos, calling people to costly discipleship, entering into loud and messy ministry, pouring into the lives of Gentiles, lepers and demon-possessed people, the people asked Him to move on to somewhere else. There is something to think about in all of this.
Jesus is the Truth and the Word, therefore preaching will always be important. Yet, Jesus is also the Light and the Life and the Way. Because of this we need to anticipate spiritual heat, spiritual breath and spiritual movement. As Paul once testified that he did not come in word alone, but in demonstration of power, we should expect no less in our own lives and churches. Jesus is determined to move. When He does, please do not ask Him to move on.
By the way, Jesus never went back to that region. He went there once, expelled demons, was asked to leave…and He did. When Jesus walks in, honor what He comes to do. If we do not, He is not above walking out. Where He is welcome, He will work!
- 2016Nov 01
When the Church is sifted at the end of this age, what will remain will be a smaller, yet more powerful band of believers who live in allegiance to unedited, Apostolic truth as given in Scripture, coupled with an abiding in the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. The visible church is wide today. As the end of the age continues to come about, the width will shrink but the depth will increase. I am totally convinced that we will see this, and it will not take a lengthy amount of time to occur before our eyes. This change will take place in the American Church as a result of the catalyst of opposition against biblical Christianity. Trouble for us will breed triumph in us.
Persecution against biblically loyal Christianity will serve to separate the true Church from those who are living on some level as casual professors of faith in Jesus Christ. Those who cling to the traditions of men, which are sourced in the adding to & removing from Scripture, will find that what they prioritized as the substance of their relationship with Jesus Christ will not be sufficient for them to endure what is hurled at them as this age comes to a close. Traditionalists will likely outlast by only a narrow margin those who attached themselves to trendy, americanized, secularized Christianity which was based upon a self-help, feel good message. This cost-you-nothing portrayal of Christianity smiles with a silky-smooth mouth yet has no actual teeth of Truth – it is a biteless belief system. Denominational traditions will be proven as having no enduring power; when persecution hits a region nobody asks if one is a Presbyterian or Pentecostal, Baptist or Brethren, a Mennonite or a Methodist – we find out quickly that our unity is found in Christ himself, and our hope is secured through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Additionally, modern trends which are enthroned in baseless church-growth movements will not be able to survive even the first hour of unbridled persecution against the people of God. Any and all who seek shelter in these two inadequate cisterns of traditions and trends will crumble when fierce opposition is unleashed against believers in our nation. In case you are wondering, Scripture indeed says that violent opposition against Christians everywhere on the planet will be unleashed at the end of this age. We are seeing the labor pains of this occurring now and the full delivery will not be stopped. If it failed to come to pass as God has promised and as the Son of God precisely prophesied, then God could not be God and Jesus could not be Lord. Yet we need not worry: purifying fire will come.
In the end, those who are truly born of God will endure and overcome – this is the testimony of inspired biblical prophecy. These overcomers are the same people who are currently convinced about the claims of Christ upon their lives, and those who will later become convinced as they surrender to the unseen King. If they do not posses proper convictions presently, then it is unlikely that they will have those necessary convictions when the stakes for remaining loyal to Jesus are dramatically raised in America. The coming events against the followers of Jesus will facilitate a purified and powerful Church which operates upon the same two pillars as the first century Church: the Word of God and the manifest power of the Holy Spirit. Everything else will be forcefully taken away or easily abandoned, leaving us only these two enduring essentials. I recommend for all of us not to wait until persecution truly begins to hit the American Church before we abandon ourselves to these two pillars. Nothing less than the empowering Holy Spirit and the everlasting truth of God’s Word will suffice.
And nothing more than these two things is necessary.
- 2016Oct 18
When reading the bible over the course of many years, we expect to be occasionally pierced by the words of Scripture. When God’s truth pierces us, we are to respond. Some, like a child getting her first shots at the doctor’s office, squirm and pull away from the syringe filled with the medicine they need. Others, not enjoying the pain at all, will endure the prick of the needle and receive the medicine, knowing that they need it to do its work inside of them. Coming across a familiar passage of Scripture this morning, I found myself at the crossroads of a decision: turn the page and move on to something with a little less sting, or tarry there for a bit, letting the truth of what I was reading pierce me a little, so that its medicine could be injected into my life anew. Here are the verses which found me this morning:
“How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” – James 3:5-6
Be careful – these words are not describing someone else. These words are written about you. They are written about me. These words come from the Great Physician’s book on spiritual health. That sting you feel is from the needle on the syringe in His merciful hand. He wants to inoculate us from a sickness in our mouths.
Words are being thrown about these days at a volume I have never witnessed before. Social media, for me, is mostly a one-way forum of communication. Please forgive me but I use social media as a virtual pulpit, not as a forum for two-way dialogue. I say/write/post as much as I feel is beneficial, and I almost never read the posts of others unless I know that the one posting is offering up something to help us in our journeys with Jesus. That’s right, I just don’t spend time reading the incessant drivel that clogs up social media. Most of it is completely without substance, and some of it actually serves to sour the soul. If that were not my approach to social media prior to this calendar year, it certainly would have become that during the election season here in America. The piles of verbal manure being shoveled out about politics is overwhelming. People are venting, stirring up intentional strife, alienating those who dare to disagree and, quite frankly, sacrificing relationships with people upon the altar of their own political views. It is not that I don’t believe that we should have an opinion, or even express that opinion in a constructive manner. But that is not what is happening. We have somehow fabricated brass knuckles that are tailored to fit our tongues. It’s a slugfest. What is more alarming to me is that so much of it is coming from those who profess Jesus Christ as Lord, even daring to forge His signature of affirmation on their personal slant. This discouraging dialogue is debilitating, defiant and destructive.
It’s also boring.
How should we apply the words above from the Book of James? Here is one way to respond to the pin-prick of what is written there: stop lighting fires. Cease and desist from your own verbal arson. I mean, James is pretty clear: we have the potential to be so careless with our words that the result is that we ignite Hell’s fires with what we have said (maybe it is no coincidence that a struck match immediately smells like sulfur). Truthfully, I am not always the most intuitive man in the room, but I can deduce a few things from James chapter three – my mouth can be used for something delightful or something destructive. I can speak with the enlightening fire of Heaven or the scorching fire of Hell. Every time I speak, who stands up and shouts,“Amen!”– holy angels or fallen ones? We are certainly entitled to formulate opinions on any issue. But we may not have permission to communicate that opinion. God may actually want you to hold your tongue from time to time. He is omnipotent and omnipresent, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that He is committed to using that strength and presence to douse the flames that we light with our words. Sometimes, God will just let things burn – flaming things that you or I ignited with our thoughtless words. People get hurt. Relationships crash and burn. Regret ascends to the throne. And, by the way, haven’t we all boldly declared things with fire and fury, only to change our minds shortly after we opened our mouths?
So here is my counsel to myself and to you:
Keep it to yourself.
Assume that fewer people actually care what you have to say.
Talk to God about it all that you can, and do so often without fear of being ignored or misunderstood by Him.
On social media, divorce your typing fingers from your inflamed tongue. They should have never been married.
Then…use that beautiful mouth and the vocabulary God has given you to praise Him, to bless others, to speak appropriate truth in abundant love, and to pray with all your might that you do not spend another day as a verbal arsonist.
Your world will be a better place.