Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Letting the Light Work

Jesus was the master story-teller, and he did so by using parables. These were stories that used something familiar to teach a truth that was not so familiar. Here are two short parables that Jesus used to teach us what it means to be a true follower of Christ.

First, The Lamp, is a story about using the light to the greatest advantage. You don’t light a lamp and then put it under the bed. No, people put lamps on stands so that the light reaches further and lights the way (Luke 8:16-17). When God’s Word is in our hearts and we have committed our hearts to Jesus, then the light that comes out of our lives is an attractive light to the world around us.

We should not be surprised when those who do not know Christ do things that offend us, but we shouldn’t let that bother us. People who don’t know Christ often use profanity, they may drink too much or some other thing that irritates us. It’s not our job to try to change them—that’s how they talk and live. Our job is just let the light shine. If you really know Jesus, you will have something inside of you that is attractive. Use it; don’t hide it, but don’t put it in their face and blind them. Love them, support them and be a friend to them. If you do, they will come to you in their time of need.

The second little parable is about Family.  Jesus’ mother and siblings came to see him, but because there were so many people, they couldn’t get to him. When Jesus was told that his family wanted to see him, he responded, "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice” (Luke 8:19-21). Jesus was not teaching us to ignore our families but rather that the connection in the family of God is often closer than that of blood related families. Jesus’ earthly family was learning that they could not control Jesus, which they tried to do on several occasions. He was exerting independence and the priority of his calling.

Are you part of Jesus’ family? Is doing God’s will the most important thing in your life? If it is, then you will find a way to be intimately connected to Jesus. Our greatest need is to be connected to Jesus. Whatever has happened that has interfered with your relationship with Jesus—I urge you to resolve it and make Jesus the closest friend you have. When Jesus is your closest friend, your light will shine and when it does, you can expect the light to work. People will be attracted to Jesus by watching your life.

First and foremost we were made for connection with Jesus. When you are connected to him, you will function better, you will enjoy life and understand what life is all about. You will treat people better, and you, yourself will produce fruit. It’s the kind of fruit that makes you winsome and attractive.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

He Who is Forgiven Much, Loves Most

One of my all-time favorite stories about Jesus is this one (Luke 7:36-50). It is a story about forgiveness, and I love to talk about forgiveness because it is God’s wonderful gift to all of us. This story begins with a Pharisee named Simon who invites Jesus to eat with him.  Simon’s resentment of Jesus shows up in his refusal to give Jesus the common courtesies due any dinner guest. It was expected that the host would greet each of his guests with a kiss, wash their feet, and anoint each with oil, but none of these things were done for Jesus.

Simon’s house most likely had a patio where special meals were served that was visible to onlookers. The guests reclined at low tables with their feet extending away from the table. It wasn’t unusual for people to stop and observe the dinner in progress.

A woman came in without an invitation, and she came up behind Jesus and wept, letting her tears fall on Jesus' feet. The woman’s emotions exploded as she unleashed a stream of tears that mixed with the dirt from Jesus’ feet. With his feet so wet, she unloosed her hair and dried them. The resentment toward the intruding woman mounted because women were not supposed to loosen their hair in public.  In addition, she repeatedly kissed his feet and poured perfume on them. Completely uninhibited, she wept unashamedly and expressed her love for Jesus. The greater shock however was toward Jesus because he did not stop her.

She had come because of her gratitude. Somewhere she had encountered Jesus, and his words had gone straight to her heart. What a life-changing experiencing that had been—standing there listening to Jesus. She felt hope for the first time. As a result, she repented of her sinful life and found forgiveness. As the fragrance filled the whole room, so did the suspicion of Jesus. No one spoke out loud or even mumbled under their breath. Simon thought to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is--that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39).

First, we see grace in the life of Jesus as he reaches out to a sinner. Then we see grace in the life of a forgiven sinner. Jesus contrasts the woman who knows she has sinned with Simon who thinks he is a good person. The woman takes advantage of the opportunity to express gratitude for the grace of God that has come to her life. Simon did not feel that way. Imagine, sitting at his table was the King of Kings, and he never reached out to him. When you think about it, we shouldn’t be too hard on Simon because that is what many of us do. When we are seated at the same spiritual table with Jesus, we neglect the opportunity to reach out to him. We refuse to break open our lives and share our hearts and pour out our most treasured gifts with Him.

Jesus told a parable about two people with two debts, one enormous and the other much smaller. Both people had the same problem and that is they couldn’t repay the debts, so the lender canceled the debts of both. Jesus clearly connected the dots to Simon’s behavior, treating Jesus so rudely, while the woman had treated him so generously. The explanation was clear—she had been forgiven the most, so she loved much. How much have you been forgiven? How much do you love Jesus?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

When Things Don’t Work Out

When things don’t make sense, we have our toughest times. While John the Baptist was held in the Machaerus dungeon, his resentment seemed to be greater with Jesus than with Herod. He felt betrayed because no prison doors opened; he was brokenhearted, but no Messiah came to bind it up. Most of all, where was judgment for sinners? In bitter disappointment he asked, “Are you the one that is to come or are we to wait for another?” Jesus profoundly replied to John’s discouragement: “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me" (Luke 7:23). Jesus told John to not let his disappointment undermine his trust when he didn’t understand God’s ways.

We all face disappointment just like John did, and we sometimes feel like God has let us down. We find ourselves in our own dungeons fighting a battle with doubt. We, too, wonder like John, “Are you the one, Jesus?” (Luke 7:20). John was having a problem fitting all the pieces of life together. He pondered the words of Jesus that came from his disciples—words that described marvelous works that were utterly incredible. Who ever heard of giving sight to the blind, or causing the lame to walk, and beyond all imagination, stories of Jesus raising the dead? There was only one problem with this report of Jesus. It didn’t fit John’s description of the Messiah. This wasn’t the same idea John had of the Messiah. This part was what he wanted, but he wanted more—a Messiah that would hang the Romans out to dry and set his people free. John wanted the Messiah that would bring judgment to the proud and sinful—but this Messiah was different. Where was his axe? Where was his fiery judgment?

We all form notions of God that are incomplete. These notions are based on what others have told us and what we think God should do. Then disappointment settles in the way it did for John as we realize that God isn’t acting like he is supposed to. If God really loves us, why then is this happening to me? If God is really fair, why doesn’t he punish sin? We want God to be the way we imagine him to be, and when he isn’t, we wonder, “Is this really the Messiah?”

When Jesus responded to John’s question, he offered no explanation as to why fiery judg­ment had been withheld. There was no explanation as to why Herod and his like were permitted to continue and why the Romans were left unchecked. The biggest mystery is why Jesus, who opened blinded eyes and made the lame walk, never offered to free John. However, the one encouraging thing Jesus gave John was this, "Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me" (Luke 7: 23).

The disappointment John felt in Jesus is seen today in people. They are the people who stop attending church and believing in God as they once did because God didn’t stop the death of their loved one. They are those who are disappointed because they didn’t get the promotion or gain the coveted success they wanted. Where was Jesus when their marriage was falling apart? We live in a self-focused culture, and the church has catered to the meism of our times by trying to scratch every itch. These words of Jesus are for us today as much as they were for John. The message that Jesus sent was simply this: "John, you will be blessed if you do not fall away because of your disappoint­ment with the way I choose to work."  And John took heart and remained steadfast to the end.