Saturday, 30 June 2012

How can He eat with ‘them?’

And when the scribes and Pharisees saw Him eating with the tax collectors and sinners, they said to His disciples, "How is it that He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?"  When Jesus heard it, He said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance." – Mark 2.16-17

A lot of religious people love nothing more than to look for reasons to be critical of others, especially those who don’t do things the way they do or who pose a threat to their religiosity.

Levi (Matthew) was a tax collector who had just been saved. When Jesus went to his house for dinner a bunch of ‘tax collectors and sinners’ came to dinner as well.

Remember, these ‘tax collectors and sinners’ were not nice people. These were the people that all the religious people loved to hate. I don’t know if the religious guys were not a little of jealous of Jesus going to dinner there, but they chose to be critical of Him anyway. They asked the disciples ‘Why does He eat and drink with those people?’

I wonder if they were embarrassed when He heard them and answered the question Himself. ‘Those who are well don’t need a doctor. Those who are sick need the doctor.’

Jesus’ point was clear. He was going to spend time with those who needed Him and most and realised that they needed Him. He was not going to be put off from serving those who others considered the ‘wrong kind of people.’

We need to be careful that we don’t separate ourselves from the world so much that we miss the people in it. We need to be the ones who a reaching out to those who ‘need the doctor.’ We can get caught up trying to minister to a certain level of ‘acceptable’ people and turn aside from ‘those kind of people.’

A friend told me here once that if we wanted to reach the real people of Ireland we were going to need to be willing to ‘get our hands dirty.’ We need to be sure that we reach out to the less than lovely in the worlds eyes because apparently these people were worth Jesus time and worth the criticism He knew He would receive.

Let’s be sure that while we reach out we extend our hands to those who ‘need the doctor.’

Friday, 29 June 2012


And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen. – Matthew 28.18-20

As Jesus approached the very end of His earthly ministry He had a last minute instruction for the disciples. This was His farewell address, His parting remarks, the last they would hear from Him.

His final message can be wrapped up in one word – go.

Go and do what? ‘Go into all the world and make disciples of all the nations, baptising and teaching them.’ It really is a pretty simple command. The last teaching that Jesus gave us was to go and take His message to others.

It is an awesome task. He could have chosen any way to get His message out, but He chose us. He chose us to make disciples by teaching the things He taught, and to baptise them.

Every time I look at this I get convicted. I realise the responsibility that I have and I wonder how the work would get done if everyone did only what I do to bring for the discipling and teaching.

We do no good if we sit here, read this, and mourn about our failures of the past. We do well, if instead, we take the reminder to heart and set about the task of doing the job with a renewed vigour and a new vigilance.

And we take comfort in that task. Jesus told the disciples, and by extension us today, that He would be with us always. May each of us take the charge to heart today to carry out the words of our Master’s farewell address.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

He is not here

He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. – Matthew 28.6

While the story of the crucifixion stirs me in one way, the story of the resurrection stirs me in quite another. This was the changing moment for all of history. From now on nothing would be the same.

Imagine how you would have felt if you have been one the disciples. Despite all the times Jesus had talked about His death and resurrection now He had actually died. Plus the disciples had to deal with the fact that they had abandoned Him. Peter had denied Him. We only have the record of John and Mary being at the cross. I can’t imagine how it was trying to sleep that Passover weekend. They had all apparently missed the part where Jesus said He would rise from the dead – in fact the only ones who were concerned about that were the authorities who had extra guards placed at the grave.

When the Sabbath was over it was time for the difficult task of properly sorting out Jesus’ body. The women set out to the task early on Sunday morning. The bulk of the work had been done at His burial when they wrapped His body in the grave clothes, but there was some final work to be accomplished.

As they approached the tomb they knew something was not right. The entrance stone was rolled away and an angel sat at the opening.

‘Don’t be afraid. I know you are looking for the crucified Jesus. He is not here, for He is risen.’ In another account the angel continues with the phrase ‘just as He said.’

There is so much packed into the words ‘He is risen.’ Death was well and truly beaten. Unlike any other religious leader in history there is no place to go see the grave where Jesus was buried. Because Jesus was risen His followers can rest in the fact that we too have nothing to fear in death. Death has lost its sting; the grave has lost its victory!

No matter how dark the day, no matter how bad the news, no matter how discouraging the events we still have ‘He is not here – He is risen’ to encourage us along our way.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

For me

Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified. – Matthew 27.30-31

As many times as I have read the various accounts of the crucifixion it is still an even that I cannot get through without being moved. There are many things we could look at, but let’s just look at the things mentioned in these verses.

They spat on Him
They took a reed and struck Him on the head.
They mocked Him.
They stripped off the robe of mockery and His put own clothes on Him.
They led Him away to be crucified.

Think about this for a minute – this was not a mere mortal of victim of false arrest. This was God Himself allowing all these things to happen to Him. That alone would stop us in our tracks.

But let’s take it further and ask ourselves why. Why would God do all of this?

The stunning truth is that He did it for me. He took the punishment that my sins deserved. I could never pay the price, ever, no matter how hard I tried. There was no reason or cause for God to go through this except for the fact that He loved me. He could have called armies of angels at any time, but He didn’t. He carried on – for me.

They spat on Him – for me
They took a reed and struck Him on the head – for me
They mocked Him – for me
They stripped off the robe of mockery and His put own clothes on Him – for me
They led Him away to be crucified – for me

He did all this for me. What do I do for Him?

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

They fled

But all this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled." Then all the disciples forsook Him and fled. – Matthew 26.56

There are a lot of sad passages of scripture. There are a lot of places where the theological truth is sad or tragic.

However when it comes to pure human emotion I think it is difficult to think of words any sadder than, ‘All the disciples forsook Him and fled.’

I am not one of those people who likes to be alone a lot. I like it in small doses and for short periods of time, but I hate it for long periods.

And that is just basic loneliness. It is not that peculiar loneliness that comes with being left alone and abandoned.

Just think about this from a human viewpoint. For three years Jesus lived day and night with these twelve men. He poured His life into them. They were His closest friends and companions. And yet, during the time of His greatest need they forsook Him and fled. No one was there for Him for the arrest and trial and conviction. They all ran.

That’s just terribly sad, isn’t it? Any yet, it gives us comfort at the times when we feel alone and abandoned. Hebrews tells us that Jesus is our High Priest who feels our difficulties because he faced the things we face. He knows what it is like to have your friends turn on you and run away.

What comfort to know that when I go to Jesus when alone and betrayed He really, truly understands how it feels.

Monday, 25 June 2012

This has to happen

Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?" – Matthew 25.53-54

How the disciples must have wondered when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus. He had told them it would happen, but it must have been too much for them when they did.

I don’t think we can properly imagine the full extent of the trauma of this event. It was at least very late at night. The disciples were tired – we know that because they kept falling asleep. We all know that tiredness plays into emotions.

Judas had been away plotting his betrayal of Jesus. Jesus finished His prayer and came back for the disciples. After the prayer Judas brought the officials to the garden. It was there that Judas infamously betrayed Him with a kiss.

The kiss was a signal for the soldiers who came forward to arrest Him. When they did the disciples reacted. Peter grabbed a sword and cut off a servant’s ear. I think this is a natural and expected reaction. Jesus was the Messiah – He had to be defended.

Jesus’ reaction was telling. We know from another account that He reached down, picked up the ear, and reattached it. Then He said – ‘Put away your sword, those who live by the sword will die by the sword.’

‘Don’t you know’ Jesus continued, ‘That if I wanted I could call down 12 legions (72,000) angels to come to my assistance? But then the scriptures would not be fulfilled, this must happen.’

I think how often things that God does in my life and ministry don’t make any sense to me. I can’t figure these things out any more than the disciples could figure out what was going on then. If they had taken things into their own hands they would have messed up everything. When I insist on taking things in my own hands today I chance doing the same.

I don’t know what must happen. I really don’t have a clue. So I need to be careful about taking things like this into my own hands.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Watch and pray

Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, "What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." – Matthew 26.40-41

This is sad, but so human. Jesus was approaching His final hours when He asked the disciples to stay back and watch for Him while He went apart to pray. Twice He came back and found them asleep. The second time He woke them with the words ‘Couldn’t you even watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray for while the spirit may be willing the flesh is weak.’

I find here a warning and an admonition for us all. In their spirits the disciples were more than willing to do whatever Jesus asked them to do. They had proclaimed that several times through His ministry. But here, before He is even gone, He finds that their flesh was weak and they literally fell asleep on the job.

I am challenged by this because I find the same flaw in my life. I determine to do something for the Lord or to take on a task or a ministry or even just to deal with areas of my life where I battle. I have every desire and determination to carry through. But then, somehow, I find myself falling asleep on the job. I find myself failing to carry through. Or I find myself just messing it up.

I think Jesus give us a hint here on how to avoid that in two simple yet profound words – watch and pray. I need to be always on guard to the attacks and tools and devices of my enemies. I face the world around me. I face the devil in the spiritual realm. And worst of all I face my flesh. If I am not vigilant in keeping watch I will fail because my flesh is weak.

We all know that our flesh is weak. We may sense it is various ways or particular temptations, but we know it to be true. We know that if we do not watch out and pray for strength we will fail – every time.

Whatever we are facing today and whatever task we face let us take Jesus words to watch and pray to heart so that we, instead of being like the disciples, do not fall asleep on the job.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Not my will

He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will." – Matthew 26.39 

I realise that I don’t know everything about Christians who disagree with me on various issues, but sometimes I really don’t understand.

There are some churches and preachers who try to tell us that if a Christian really wants something and prays with enough faith that God is bound to give it to them. They tell us that if we don’t get what we pray for it is because we are not trusting God enough.

A few years ago I was praying with some believers here about a perceived need. This was in a decent, Bible believing church. When it came my turn to pray I asked the Lord to provide this particular need in the way were praying and said ‘If it is your will.’

A young preacher challenged me and said that was a weak prayer. He said, ‘We need to have the faith to say ‘Lord, give it to us and give it to us now!’’

What made it worse was that the pastor backed him up!

There are several passages of scripture we could go to that point out problems with this teaching, but I think it can be settled just by this one incident and by looking at Jesus’ simple prayer.

Jesus knew what was coming next. He knew that He was about to be arrested, scourged, mocked, tried and convicted, and finally nailed to the cross.

He left the disciples in the garden and went apart to pray. He asked God if it were possible to spare Him the suffering, but still, if not, that God’s will be done. We went back to find the disciples sleeping. Jesus came back and prayed again, ‘Father, if this can’t be accomplished without this, your will be done.’

When I look at this I see Jesus, God in the flesh, who willingly made Himself obedient, praying to God the Father. He asked God to spare Him the suffering if there was any other way, but still was willing to accept God’s will.

It’s pretty simple – if Jesus prayed according to the will of God, shouldn’t we pray the same way?

Am I missing something here?

Friday, 22 June 2012

The Lord’s Table

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom." – Matthew 26.26-29

Despite everything Jesus had said the disciples still could not comprehend everything that was about to happen. They gathered for the Passover meal as usual, but when they were nearly done Jesus did something different and something that must have been very mysterious to them.

Jesus took the Passover bread, blessed and broke it, and said ‘Take this, eat it, it is my body.’ He took the cup and gave thanks, gave it to the disciples, and said ‘All of you drink from this cup; it is my blood of the new covenant which is shed for many for the remission of sins.’ He then said ‘I won’t drink of the fruit of the vine until we drink it together in the Father’s kingdom.’

We now know the context of this event, but at the time the disciples were surely mystified. They had heard a reference to eating Jesus’ body and drinking His blood earlier (John 6) and Jesus explained then that He was speaking spiritually and not physically, but still it could hot have made real sense to them.

Despite all of that they did what He said, they simply did as Jesus told them.

We have the blessing of seeing the Lord’s Table in a historical context. Paul explained it in I Corinthians. In the bread and cup we have a remembrance of the death of Christ. We remember the sacrifice He made for us. It is one thing that all believers have in common. The observance of the Table is our opportunity to be linked to all believers in history and with other believers today.

The Table is a chance for us the share in the ‘fellowship of His suffering.’

I trust that we never take the observance of the Table as a ritual or routine. I trust as often as we do it we remember the Lord’s death and the redemption it provided for us. And I look forward to the day when we will share the Table with Jesus in the kingdom.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

A memorial

When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me. For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.  - Matthew 26.10-13

This passage has always intrigued me. I have often thought about it because it is about a woman whom Jesus says ‘this event will be told for a memorial.’ It also contains the phrase ‘the poor you will always have with’ so that it almost sounds like they are really no big deal.

While Jesus was speaking to the disciples when a woman came in, broke an expensive jar of ointment, and poured it on His head while we was reclining at the table. After all Jesus talk about taking care of the poor the disciples were either appalled, or tried to make a point. ‘We could have sold that, taken the money, and fed the poor!’

Jesus told them that the poor will always be there, but that this woman that her anointing was for His burial and that whenever this was spoken of it would be for a memorial for her.

What does this mean? Why is her act worthy of a memorial?

This was, first of all, a unique moment. Jesus was in the last days of his earthly ministry. Secondly, it is in no way making light of the importance of taking care of the poor. Jesus had just addressed that issue. It is merely a statement that in their lives they would be plenty of opportunities to take care of the poor. I am not sure, but it sounds like Jesus might have known that this was not really the problem.

But back to the point, the poor were not the issue here. The issue was that the woman came in and a great personal sacrifice anointed Jesus with extremely expensive oil. This was not the normal oil used for medicinal or cleansing purposes. It was only used in acts of devotion. Ultimately this was an act of sacrificial devotion.

I think the memorial is this. It was not complicated. She simply loved Jesus and ministered to Him. The challenge is simple. Are we willing to make the same kind of sacrifice for Jesus in our devotion to Him?

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

‘I was thirsty…’

Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;  I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.' "Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.– Matthew 25.34-40

It is amazing how often Jesus talked about our spiritual work being carried out in a very real and practical manner.

Here he illustrated the truth with the illustration of a king and his servants. The time has some for rewards and the king tells them to come and get there blessings. He then tells them why they are being blessed. ‘You fed me when I was hungry, gave me a drink when I was thirsty, took me in as a stranger, clothed me when I was naked and visited me when I was sick and in prison.’

They knew what they had never done any of those things – ‘When did we do all of this?’

Jesus answer is powerful – ‘you did these things every time you did it to the most needy of my brethren.’

The lesson is pretty clear – we show how we really feel about Jesus by the way we treat the poor and needy. I am challenged every time I need this because this is real life. We all come across people who are needy. We all see opportunities to help. And far too often we all walk on by.

The challenging thing here is to examine our hearts when we come across these situations. Are our hearts even moved or do we even see these souls? I know we have to be wise and careful and use discretion but it is so much easier just to write the people off and move on our way.

The next time we see the hungry or thirsty or poorly clothed or homeless or ill, or even just that stranger with a need perhaps we ought to take time to consider Jesus words here. It hard to imagine how it would be wrong to help.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

You don’t know

Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. – Matthew 24.42

As far back as my mind can remember in my Christian life people have been trying to figure out when the Lord is coming back. I have watched people try to read newspapers headlines and breaking news from television and chats on discussion boards and all the websites to try and use the news to figure out when the Lord is coming back.

In the past I have found myself caught up in all that. I loved all the novels and films and speculation. No one actually tried to pin down the ‘day or the hour’ because the Bible says that no man can know what, but there were plenty of guesses as to the year!

Even today there are newspaper eschatologists out there who tell all about this is a part of the mark of the beast and this country or that country are Gog or Magog or who the Antichrist might be. Bar codes, electronic scanners, chips in credit cards, credit cards security codes, and many other thing. have been indications of the mark of the beast. The Soviet Union, Germany, the EU, Iraq, and Iran have all been interpreted to be Gog and/or Magog. Everyone from Ronald Reagan to various EU leaders to Barack Obama have been identified as Antichist.

I guess all that is okay, as long as we don’t take it too seriously.

The Bible puts a different perspective on things. Jesus put it simply – ‘Keep watching, because you don’t know when I am coming.’ When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians he said ‘I don’t need to tell you about the times and seasons of Jesus coming’ before he went on to tell them how to live while they were waiting.

In fact, whenever we read about the Lord’s return the focus in not on the when, but on the how we should live.

I don’t know when Jesus is coming back. I have stopped trying to guess. All I do know is that it could be today and that every day brings us one day closer. Therefore I need to live in vigilant expectation so that my life will glorify Him to the very end.

Monday, 18 June 2012

My words shall never pass away

Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. – Matthew 24.35

We have often heard the words ‘nothing lasts forever’ and in a general sense that is true. As I look around our sitting room I quickly realise that all of the stuff I see around me will not be around too long. I would guess that most of them will be well gone in a hundred years or so. But eventually it will all be gone.

We live in a land of ancient civilisations. There is a Neolithic stricture at Brú na Bóinne the predates the pyramids of Egypt. There are many castles and other structures that date to the 9th or 10th centuries. We might thing that these things will last forever.

But eventually it will all be gone. Everything, no matter how enduring will one day be God. Jesus put it this way – ‘Heaven and earth will pass away.’

Something however will never pass away. It seems like the thing we would hold important is the thing that is most enduring. So often it is the opposite. We live in a day when we are often so consumed with immediate gratification that we do whatever it takes to get whatever we want as soon as we want it no matter how temporary.

Jesus tells us the one thing that will never pass away is His words. It’s sad we too often approach the eternal things with such a casual and careless attitude. The word of God should be the one thing that consumes us. It should be the one thing that we can’t get through the day without. It ought to be more precious to us than our daily bread, or our daily exercise, or our daily entertainment, or anything else.

Everything that we put so much emphasis on will one day be gone. Doesn’t it make sense that the most eternal thing of all should be A1 on our priority list?

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Clean on the outside

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. – Matthew 23.25-28

I remember the early days of life in Ireland. We did a lot of visiting in what we might call ‘working class’ parts of Dublin. Everyone we visited would, of course, offer us a cuppa tea. The mugs often looked great on the outside and we quietly sat and drank our tea. But, far too often, when we got to the bottom of the cup there was a thick, dark brown stain. I discovered later that a lot of folks were satisfied with a quick cold water rinse to clean the inside, but they would rub the outside clean with a tea towel and everything looked okay till you got to the bottom of the cup. That lovely looking cuppa wasn't quite so lovely when you got to the bottom of the cup.

Here Jesus uses an illustration a lot like that. The Jews had a very careful dish washing ritual to make sure that the tableware they used was properly cleaned. The scribes and Pharisees Jesus was talking to understood when He said that they ritually clean the outside of the dishes, but the inside is filthy with extortion and self-indulgence. He tells them that they are like beautifully white washed sepulchres, but the inside is still full of dead man’s bones and all uncleanness. On the outside everything looks righteous, but the inside is anything but.

The externalism mentioned yesterday can engender this kind of thinking. I have encountered many believers whose focus in Christianity it to get the outside behaviour right. They teach and preach about what Christians can and cannot do, where they can and cannot go, and what they can and cannot wear.

When this is the focus it is easy to get our eyes off of what is really important. We can begin to think, like these Pharisees, that if we clean up properly on the outside everything will be okay.

But it’s not okay. If you have every finished a cup of tea like described above you know what I mean.

We are what we are in our hearts, not on the surface. Our outsides might match up well with certain rules and standards, but how do our inside match up with God’s standards for righteousness?

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Externalism and the weightier matters

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. – Matthew 23.23

The scribes and Pharisees were the best at doing all of the religious stuff right. They knew all about the right tithes to pay and how to pay them. They had all the rituals down. They were the most religious of the religious. They knew all about the fine points and paid close attention to them.

All that was well and good, Jesus even told them to keep it up. But they forgot what Jesus called the ‘weightier matters of the law.’ While knowing and keeping the finer parts of tithing they had forgotten about justice and mercy and faith. One commentator uses the term ‘externalists’ to describe this kind of person. I think we all probably know something about externalism in our walk with the Lord.

This of course reminds us of the classic lines from Micah – ‘He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?’

Justice is the ability to judge wisely and make the right decisions. Mercy is the willingness to show compassion. Faith, here in the context of fidelity, goes hand in hand with humility. It only comes when we are humble enough to be faithful no matter what our circumstances and situations tell us.

Externalism is tempting. It is easy to do things like tithing without changing our character. When we are doing we can rationalise judging others for not doing. Shaping character is harder. It requires a real heart change instead of just doing.

Do the right externals, but let’s not forget the weightier matters. Remember the words of Micah. What does the Lord require of us but to do justly, love mercy, and if I may parrowphrase, walk in faithful humility before our God?

Friday, 15 June 2012

Exalted humility and humble exaltation

But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. – Matthew 23.11-12

Jesus must have really wanted us to grasp this concept of humility. He repeats it over and over in a variety of ways. Here He spelled it out very clearly – whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

We all know people on both extremes. Most of us fall somewhere in between. The particular comment here is to the Pharisees who exalt themselves above others and will one day be abased and brought low. Those regular people who keep themselves humble will one day be lifted up.

I think there is an applicable principle here as well.

We are all level in God’s eyes. When we get to heaven there will be no great ones and no less than great ones. Those who lift themselves up or allow themselves to be lifted up today will one day be brought down. Those who serve humbly and quietly and meekly today will one day be lifted up to the same level.

We are all level in His sight. One day we are going to see and live that truth in a practical and real way. Let’s focus on that equality here and now. It may change how we all see each other.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Loving the best places

They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, 'Rabbi, Rabbi.' But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. – Matthew 23.6-10

It is interesting to look at the charges against the Pharisees and see how we compare or contrast to them. There are two particular charges here against them. First, they love the place of prominence, and second, they love to be called by the right titles.

It is just a part of our nature to want the best seats. If we go to a sporting event or a show we try to get the best seats we can afford. The best seats are called that, well, because they are the best.

These guys were no different, they wanted the best and most prominent seats in church, they wanted to be seen and acknowledged. At the feast they wanted to be sure that they got the seats closest to the food.

In Luke 14 Jesus tells a parable about a wedding guest who goes the best place at the table and is told he has to move to the foot. He speaks of how much better it is the take the worst seat and be invited to move up. The instruction is pretty simple – don’t be puffed up and insist on the best.

Not only do they want the best seats, they want the best titles. They want to be called rabbi or father or teacher or doctor or reverend anything like it. They love the acclaim that titles bring.

But Jesus says not to be bothered or distracted by that. He says we are all brothers. Only God is our Father. He is the only One who is revered. He is the Teacher. He is the Rabbi. While I don’t know that this is an absolute ban on titles it is obvious that these titles are not something that we need to put a claim on or insist on.

The lesson here is humility. We don’t need to be concerned with the best seat or the best title. We just need to serve God in humility and be concerned about glorifying Him.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Not lifting a finger

Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. – Matthew 23.1-4

It is easy for us 2000 years on to sit in judgement on the Pharisees. Their sins and their problems are so obvious to us that we wonder how they missed them. Here Jesus addresses another one if their hypocrisies. They made all kinds of rules and regulations for the people to follow, but then they would ignore those things for themselves.

These were the kind of guy you still might see around today. These are some of the religious guys who go by doctor, or reverend, or bishop, or whatever other title they might come up with. They get to be religious megastars who preach and pontificate about how everyone else ought to life while all the time living false hypocritical lives.

It is easy to stand in judgement of them. But instead of doing that I think we ought to examine our own lives to see if we do the same kind of things. Paul warns about this at the beginning of Romans 2 where he condemns those who judge the sinners in chapter one while carrying on in their own sin.

But the crux of the matter is at the end of the passage. While these guys were loading on burdens while carrying on with their own sins they were doing nothing to lift the burdens of those they condemned. They were more concerned with condemning than helping.

I can do the same thing myself. I can so busy looking at the sin in this world that I forget that these people are heavily burdened under the load of sin.

Instead of just condemning and carrying on it seems that we ought to be doing something about their sin burden. That ‘something’ is simply loving them and sharing Christ with them to show them had to lose that terrible burden.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

On these two commandments

On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets." – Matthew 22.40

The topic of the law and our relationship to it comes up over and over again in our theological discussions. Folks try to decide if we are bound by it, and if we are what parts are binding and what parts are not. Jesus made the whole Law thing very simple. The Pharisees tried to trick Him and asked Him ‘Which is the greatest commandment.’ They must have figured that they really had Him over a barrel.

But Jesus answered them in a way they could not handle – ‘Love the Lord you God with all your heart and all your soul and all your might and love your neighbour as yourself.’

Now just think about that for a second. If we loved God with all of our heart and soul and might we would only want to please Him. If we loved our neighbour as ourselves we would never do anything to hurt them.

We tend to think of commandments as grievous or burdensome. Jesus Himself said they are not. All we have to do is love God supremely and love those around us as ourselves. If we do that we never have to worry about breaking the rest.

Monday, 11 June 2012

To Caesar

Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, "Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money." So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?" They said to Him, "Caesar's." And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." – Matthew 22.17-21

There has always been a debate and a conflict in the relationship between God and government, or as we normally put it, between church and state. How much do we give God and how much do we give the state? Do we have to pay taxes and obey the law? How do we deal with two such powerful authorities? What do we do when they come into conflict with each other?

The Pharisees thought they could trip Jesus up with this question so they asked Him ‘So what do you think, should we pay our taxes to Caesar or not. If He said yes they could claim that He was not true to His people and they would turn against Him. If He said no the Roman authorities would be disturbed and might arrest Him.

Jesus gave an answer which was perfect in its simplicity and settled the matter once and for all. ‘Give Caesar what he is due and give God what He is due.’

It answers more than just the question of taxes. We have to learn how to live with both authorities. We have responsibilities to both. The epistles will tell more about this later. Jesus told the Pharisees that yes; we have to pay taxes and everything else that is due Caesar We find out later that we owe the state our obedience to their laws and submission to their authority and our prayers.

But while we are doing that we are to give God His due, which is simply put, everything. God is due our thanks, our worship, our prayers, our devotion, our resources, and our very lives.

What do we do when we are these two come into conflict? We owe God everything so we can’t go against Him. When Daniel was told that a law had been passed forbidding him to pray to God he knew that he could not obey. He respected the government leaders and accepting the penalty for breaking the law. He honoured God and the state, even when he could not obey them.

The answer pretty simple and Jesus nailed it. We give Caesar what is due, in other words we are to be good citizens. But above and beyond we give God His due and that has no limits.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Greatness though service

Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." – Matthew 20.26-28

If we did a poll on what constitutes greatness I am sure we would have a wide variety of answers. Being great might be the guy who has the most stuff. Being great might be the guy who is on top of the business or political world.

God has a different route to greatness. Jesus sets the pattern. He did not come to be served. Jesus came to serve to the point where He would give His life as a ransom for many.

Greatness is not what we think of as greatness. The truly great are those who serve. Though this flies in the face of what we see around God says it is true. It is up to us to choose which kind of greatness we want to pursue. We can get caught up in the game that says that we can achieve some kind of greatness though human acclaim or we can pursue greatness God’s way.

We ought to constantly on the lookout for ways to serve instead of looking for ways to make ourselves ‘great.’ What ways can you and I find to be great in God’s eyes today.?

Saturday, 9 June 2012


Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. And He said to her, "What do you wish?" She said to Him, "Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom." – Matthew 20.20-21

One of things that I enjoy is seeing the humanity of the people Jesus used. We read their names and we think that these were Jesus’ disciples. Surely we can’t even hope to be as good and godly and spiritual as they were.

But here we find out that these guys and their families were a lot like us. Even though they had been following Jesus for quite a while now it appears that they still have not heard a whole lot about what He was really taking about.

While Jesus was teaching on the coming kingdom James and John’s mom came to see Him. They must have figured that Messiah was there to set up His earthly kingdom and she wanted to be sure that they had a good part in that kingdom.

It must have been hard to understand that Messiah was not coming in the way that they thought He would come. They were under the thumb of Roman rule; they had suffered under a succession of foreign powers. They were looking for Messiah to come, set up His kingdom, and give them freedom and their own nation.

This mother was watching out for her boys. Is someone was going to help rule in this new kingdom it might as well be her sons, right?

But she, like everyone else, had it wrong. ‘You don’t know what you are asking’ Jesus said. He went on to tell this mother and her boys that they had to be willing to ‘drink the cup and me baptised with this baptism’ that He was going to drink and be baptised with.

They rashly responded ‘Yes, we are willing.’ You can almost sense the fervour and excitement.

Then Jesus said ‘You will indeed do that, but only God knows who is going to serve in His kingdom.’

I will say more later about the qualities of a true leader. The problem here though is this attitude of trying to be on top. James and John were right there with their mother when this encounter happened. They knew what was going on. Even after all Jesus teaching they still were more concerned with their own ambitions then they were with Jesus’ teachings.

We need to learn from their example. We need to simply follow Jesus and be willing to accept His role for us in His kingdom.

Friday, 8 June 2012

First and last

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.  - Matthew 19.29-30

I am a competitor. I like to win and I don’t like to lose. I don’t like to play games where I am probably going to lose. Not only do I not like to lose, I don’t even like to finish second.

When it comes to life I think we can all be caught in the same trap. Everyone wants to finish first and we seem to all be caught up in a mad pursuit of it. We want the biggest and the best and the latest and the most recent of everything.

Here Jesus is talking about discipleship when He gives us a new vision of what it means to be first.

Jesus tells us here that those who are going to be first in heaven are those who are willing to give up what they have here. He tells us that those who are first here on earth will be last in eternity and those who are last here will be first then.

He is speaking of course of the two courses of life people can choose. One group chooses to pursue the things of this world. The other chooses to pursue things of eternal value. This is especially tragic when it involves the eternal soul. Those who have no time for God now because they are so busy trying to get to the top will have nothing but despair and hopelessness in eternity. Even if they everything they want now they will have nothing when this life is over.

Then there are those who are not too concerned about getting ahead here. Instead of setting their affection of things here on earth they seek the things above. These are the ones that Jesus says will one day be first.

As we look around today lets be sure that we see people in a different light. Earthly gain and earthly success are no indication of gain and success in eternity.

The first will be last and the last will be first. What an amazing thought.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

The God of the impossible

And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?" But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." – Matthew 19.24-26

These thoughts are a follow on to yesterday’s passage. The rich young ruler could not follow Christ because he was not willing to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor. As he walked away Jesus sais ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle then it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.’

This shocked the disciples, if that were the case ‘who then can be saved?’

Jesus put it simply – ‘If it were up to men this would be impossible, but with God all things are possible.’

I find this encouraging for all those, not just the rich, who seem like the impossible cases for salvation. We all know people like that. We all probably have close friends and family who seem like they will never get saved.

The truth is that if it depended on us none of these people would ever get saved. We can know all the tools and techniques and tactics at our disposal and yet there are impossible cases in man’s eyes. No matter how smart we are or how skilled we are it is not us who are going to win men over to Christ.

But no case is impossible for God. Everyone who comes to Jesus does so only because God is at work. When you think of that friend or co-worker or family member who seems like a lost cause for salvation remember that no case is impossible for God and He is the One who is responsible for anyone who is saved.

Keep praying and loving and sharing. No case is too hard for God.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Possessions and salvation

Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus said to His disciples, "Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." – Matthew 19.21-24

The great desire for wealth and possessions, in fact any kind of distraction that we see today is nothing new. It goes back to the very beginning and has been the cause of ruin of many and man throughout history.

Here we have the case of a rich young ruler coming to Jesus to ask Him what needs to be done to get into the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus said that all he had to do was to keep the commandments. That’s a pretty simple response to which the man said ‘I have done all that since I was young.’

Now Jesus knew the man’s heart and history so He tested the man’s application of keeping the commandments.

‘Okay’ Jesus said, ‘if you want to prove you are perfect go and sell everything you have and give it to the poor. If you do that you will have treasure in heaven so then come and follow me.’

The man turned and walked away sadly. The reason? He had great possessions.

Possessions are not necessarily bad. They can be used for good. The problem is that for this man the possessions were more important to him than following Jesus. He simply had too much to give up.

It doesn’t have to be possessions. It can be anything that distracts us from God. What this man was focused on was more important to him than dealing with his eternity.

It is easy to look at this guy and condemn him for his worldly attitude. And, we have to say, with good reason. It is tough for people to give up what they have to follow Christ. It reminds me of the recent passage about taking up our cross to follow Christ. If we are going to follow Christ we need to be willing to leave it all behind.

I will have more on this tomorrow, but for today perhaps we need to consider what keeps us from following Christ. It may be riches for some people, but it may be any other idols in our lives.

We need to keep our eyes and affections not on the things of this world, but the one to come as we follow Christ,

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Are a bunch of kids worth it?

Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven." And He laid His hands on them and departed from there. – Matthew 19.13-15

Children and teens have always been a part of our ministry. We worked with kids in the churches we went to in the States. Mary and I both taught in Christian school. Our first ministry in Ireland was with teens and children.

In our own church plant for many years our biggest ministry and the one with the most ‘results’ has always been our Kids’ Klub and the Teen Time (which Jay and Holly have taken over). No matter what else has happened the Lord has always prospered those ministries.

Even today, fifteen years into our ministry, our Kids’ Klub Kamp and Colour Clash are the highlights of our year in so many ways.

At one point in our ministry I heard a second hand report about someone questioning our ministry here. The question was supposedly asked, ‘Are a bunch of kids really worth the trouble and the expense?’

Now, I don’t know for sure if the question was truly asked, but if it was I sure know the answer.

Look what happened when some children were brought to Jesus for prayer. The disciples tried to stop them. Of course Jesus didn’t have time to deal with a bunch of kids. He was a busy man; he had adults to deal with! The disciples rebuked the parents for daring to bring their children to Jesus.

But that was not what Jesus thought.

‘Let these little children come to me. Don’t stop them; for this is the kind of people who make up the kingdom of God.’

Jesus had time for these children. They were just like the kids we see everywhere we go today. Jesus thought they were well worth His time.

Are a bunch of kids really worth it?

Monday, 4 June 2012

God’s plan for the home

And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and female,'  and said, For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate." – Matthew 19.4-6

Marriage is under full scale assault today. The world has taken God’s institution and warped, corrupted, perverted, and made light of it. Huge percentages of the population in the west are simply ignoring marriage. Politicians are now debating who should be allowed to get married. Marriages are being put off and postponed only because couples are choosing to live together and have children before they get married. I guess that is all we can expect from a world that more and more is forgetting God.

It is all getting very complicated and very ugly.

But God’s plan is very simple. God made man and woman. The man is supposed to leave his parents and be joined to his wife. Man and wife are to become one flesh. Their union is to last the rest of their lives. I like the phrase ‘holy matrimony’ for that is what it is supposed to be – a state of holiness which pictures God’s relationship to His people.

I can’t fix the world’s corruption of marriage. I can’t fix all the corruptions of this holy institution. I can’t fix the light way it is treated by people. I can’t fix the light way Christians can sometimes view marriage so lightly. None of that is my job.

I can, however, apply these truths to my life. I can make sure that I treat my marriage the way God wanted it to be. For more than thirty-four years my life has not been my own. Since the 21st of January 1978 I have no longer been my own. My life changed at that moment when David Allen said ‘I now pronounce you man and wife.’ When we entered marriage we were young and brash and foolish, but we did make a very clear and conscious decision. This was for real, this was for good, and this was permanent. We decided then than no matter what happened divorce would never be a topic of discussion.

Two becoming one is a challenge. You take two diverse and divergent personalities with their preferences and personalities and ‘persnicketinesses’ and you try to mould and shaper them into a new oneness while still staying individuals.

But that is God’s plan and His plan is perfect. It is what works in His strength and with His help. It is a plan which, even apart from God, brings hope and commitment and stability.

One man, one woman, choosing to love each other and joining together in a marriage which is to last a lifetime.

It is hard to come up with a better plan because this is our God’s plan.

Sunday, 3 June 2012


Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. – Matthew 18.21-22

Do you ever get tired of forgiving someone for the same old thing over and over again? It can really get frustrating at times.

I think we all have problems forgiving at times. Sometimes the hurt and the pain can be so bad that we just don’t seem to be able to get over it. The lack of forgiveness can grow to be all consuming to the point of bitterness. How do we learn to forgive in a 'seventy times seven' manner?

This passage is followed by the servant who was forgiven for a massive debt could not forgive the guy who owed him a pittance.

The lesson is pretty clear though. When we consider our lives and all that Jesus forgives us of how can we not forgive others? When I hold a grudge or refuse to let go of an offence I am ignoring all that Jesus forgave me of. We can use an excuse like ‘You don’t know what he did to me? I can’t forgive him,’ if we want. But it just won’t wash.

When I consider all of my offences before a righteous and holy God; when I consider my offences toward His holiness even as His child I cannot help but be overwhelmed by His goodness and His marvellous forgiveness.

Do you remember Jesus words on the cross as He looked out over the multitude who had taken part in His crucifixion? He could have called down the wrath of God and no one could have blamed Him. But He didn’t – He said ‘Father, forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing.’

With that kind of forgiveness what right have we to not forgive? Like the servant later in the passage we have been forgiven an unpayable debt on the cross. And still we take offence against others and won’t let it go.

How often are we to forgive? Seven times? No, seventy times seven and beyond.  Jesus is our example of forgiveness. No matter what the offence we must follow His example.

Here is just a little note that is related but not a part of the passage here. It may be a bit pragmatic, but not only is forgiveness the right thing to do; it is also the best thing for us. The person who needs forgiveness is never going to be hurt by our refusal to forgive – we are the one who always has to carry the burden. Let it go – you will never be sorry.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Two or three

"Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them."  - Matthew 18.19-20

The context of this passage is dealing with church discipline. Here Jesus tells the disciples that if even two or three of them agree in the manner of church discipline He will be there with them.

But I think it is clear that though this is the context, Jesus states a fact that is universal. ‘If two or three of you agree concerning anything  it will be done. Where two or three are gathered together I am in their midst.’

Jesus does not limit the statement to just this setting. Jesus simply is telling the disciples, and us, that anytime even two or three of us get together He is there with us so they have His authority to act in church discipline.

In this ministry I have had to be reminded over and over about the importance of just a handful of people. Our church never has been big, even in its best days, but the Lord is not in any way bound by ‘many or few.’ While we would of course like to see more people saved and more families in the church we can take encouragement in the fact that Jesus is there even in the midst of just two or three. I need to keep that in mind when there is ‘just’ a handful gathered together.

Jesus is not only there when there are two or three hundred or two or three thousand. When even two or three are gathered together in His name He is in our midst. Let’s never forget that He is there too.

Friday, 1 June 2012

The way to deal with issues

"Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.  - Matthew 18.15-17

There are few things that do more damage to the body of Christ than interpersonal conflicts. If these are not handled properly the results can be disastrous. Testimonies can be ruined, churches can split, bitterness can develop, lawsuits may ensue, and more. Sadly, not even Christians are exempt from physical violence.

Like everything else God has a plan. If we follow it we are going to solve a lot of our problems. We don’t need to go back over it because it is very clear in the passage.

Our problem is not knowing it, but doing it. Why don’t we do it? The excuses are many. We don’t like confrontation. We fear rejection. We remember the mote/plank illustration on judging others. We don’t feel worthy to approach someone. They might get angry. Someone’s feeling might be hurt.

For all the ‘good excuses’ the instruction is still there.

God tells us how to avoid trouble. Do we trust Him enough to obey Him?