Thursday, June 18, 2009


As the Israelites stood on the east bank of the Jordan River, preparing to cross over and enter the land of Canaan, Moses addressed them,

See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? (Deuteronomy 4:5-8)

I am impressed that the nations would look at Israel with admiration and notice their wisdom and understanding. How could Israel ensure that the neighboring nations would look at them this way? By keeping the laws God gave them! If they were faithful and kept God’s laws the nations would be impressed and in awe of them. I noticed that it is the wisdom of God’s laws and God’s understanding that would come through to the nations.

This was the way of the old covenant. If Israel was faithful to the covenant they would have a good reputation among the peoples surrounding them. Consider, it is also the way of the new covenant! If the church of Christ lives according to the commands of God the nations will see and will know that God sent Jesus into this world. What are the commands the church is to follow? Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30, 31). Jesus prayed for us, …that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17:21). The world will look at the church and see that we are one, that we are united, when we love one another. This is the most powerful apologetic in the world and will convince the world that Jesus was sent by the Father.

If Israel failed to keep God’s commands God would bring judgment upon them. The LORD will scatter you among the peoples, and only a few of you will survive among the nations to which the LORD will drive you (Deuteronomy 4:27). If we do not love one another the world will not believe and our message will lack power and conviction and will sound like foolishness to them. Let us learn to love one another and be one, even as Jesus and the Father were one!

Monday, June 15, 2009


Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:29-32)

I don’t even know how to approach writing a blog on this passage. I have lots of ideas and illustrations but every one of them seems to be condemning and judgmental. I know of a church by personal experience (I was there) that illustrates what I would like to say. It was in the mid-60s in Southern California and the Jesus People were having a huge impact among the hippies. One Sunday morning a group of Jesus People showed up at this church with quite a few hippies. It was their intention to attend the morning service and bring their hippy friends to church with them. Many of them were barefoot. None were dressed in “church clothes.” Some were dirty. Most were long-haired and bearded (at least the men!). Are you getting the picture? They were denied entrance to this church on the grounds that they were barefoot and dirty.

What about churches that hesitate to bring in other ethnic groups? They have a different culture. They tend to be in gangs. Their girls often get pregnant in high school. Should we allow them to be around our youth? If they started coming in larger numbers then our whole church would be fundamentally changed and we like it just the way it is! (Yes, I have a number of illustrations of situations like this as well!)

What about poor people? What about people who have drinking problems or drug problems? What about gay people? What about people who have been in trouble with the law or who have been in prison? If you get very many of these people in your church things will be really different and your church will dramatically change. You would have to make big adjustments in your programs and ministries because such people bring all kinds of problems with them. You would have to find a way to actually deal with these people!

And THEN your church would be the kind of church Jesus would feel comfortable attending.

He came to heal the sick, not babysit the healthy!

Saturday, June 13, 2009


While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him. (Luke 5:12, 13)

I have often thought about this passage and I have preached on it a number of times. Obviously, it impresses me deeply. I am impressed with the faith of the leper. Instead of moving away from Jesus while crying out, “Unclean! Unclean!” as the law required, he approached Jesus. He could have been stoned to death for this breach of the law. What faith it must have taken for him to come and fall on his face at Jesus’ feet! Of course, desperation can produce very courageous acts of faith. Perhaps that is what is so missing in our society today…desperation. So few people whom I meet are even aware that they have a need! Desperate? No! The people who respond to the gospel are those who know they are in need and the more they are in touch with the greatness of their need, the more faith they demonstrate!

There are many instances of such faith in the gospels. What really strikes me here is Jesus’ actions. Of course, touching a leper rendered a person unclean. It was against the traditions of the elders to touch a leper. Jesus reaches out and touches this man with love and compassion. But there is more to it. The leper is lying prostrate at the feet of Jesus. Jesus wouldn’t be able to just reach out his hand and touch him. Jesus would have had to stoop down to the ground to touch this poor man! What a picture! The Son of God stooping to touch the unclean! Doesn’t this ring a bell in your mind? Isn’t this the very thing Jesus did for all of us? Didn’t he leave behind the glories of heaven and humble himself to become a man and the servant of men? Didn’t he stoop to reach down and touch us with his love, grace, and mercy? And wasn’t his power great enough to drive the sin and death from our souls?

I am supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus. So are all who are his followers! Will we learn from this the importance of being willing to stoop to touch those who are suffering all around us? This is what is lacking in our proclamation of the gospel; the willingness to stoop and identify with the downtrodden and suffering! And we don’t have nearly as far to stoop as Jesus did!

Thursday, June 11, 2009


In Luke 5 Jesus gets into Peter’s boat and sits in it while teaching the crowds along the shore. Following the teaching he asks Peter to take the boat out and catch some fish. Peter, the fisherman, responds, Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets (Luke 5:5). Obeying Jesus, they put down the nets and caught so many fish that the nets began to break. They called their partners to bring out their boat and they put the catch into both boats! There were so many fish that the boats began to sink!

Peter was overwhelmed by this sign of Jesus’ sovereignty and fell to his knees saying, Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man! (Luke 5:8) Jesus responded, Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men. At that point they pulled their boats up on shore and followed Jesus.

I hear many pastors saying that we live in a time of “small things.” In other words, in spite of all of our efforts to share the gospel with people who are like sheep without a shepherd, we don’t see huge results. I guess I often feel like Peter when he told Jesus they had been fishing hard all night and hadn’t caught a thing. “Lord, I’ve been preaching your gospel and sharing your love with people day after day and I’m not seeing much happen.” Jesus simply asks me to keep putting down my nets. Just keep fishing. Just obey. He wants me to obey him just like Peter and the others did. Just as Jesus brought the fish into their nets so he will bring the lost to hear and respond to the good news of salvation. Perhaps the day will come when the catch will be so great that we won’t know what to do with all the people who are coming to faith in Christ!

Peter left fishing to become one who caught men. He left his boat behind and followed Jesus. He was among the disciples who went from town to town and village to village preaching the kingdom. They met with various degrees of success but never did their following grow over about 120 people. That is, until the Day of Pentecost! Isn’t the day of Pentecost very similar to the day Peter put his nets back into the Sea of Galilee and struggled to pull them into the boat? Over 3,000 believed his message that day and were baptized! I believe that day will come! All we have to do is pull our boats up on shore and follow Jesus!

Sunday, June 07, 2009


May I make a few observations about the temptation of Christ as it is recorded in Luke 4? When I read this passage a couple of evenings ago I saw some things I hadn’t thought about before and was reminded of other things I noticed in the past. I think Christians would benefit from considering the experience of Jesus in the wilderness. Some have said that this wasn’t really a temptation because Jesus was God and he was incapable of sinning. Others say that he had to be able to sin or it wouldn’t be real temptation. I don’t know how to split these hairs but I do know that Jesus knew real temptation because the scriptures assure me that he has experienced every struggle that I have experienced.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil (Luke 4:1, 2) Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit. There seems to be a false idea out there that if we walk as closely to the Lord as possible and remain filled with the Holy Spirit we will not experience temptation; that temptation waits until we are weak and vulnerable spiritually. Apparently that is not the case. Jesus was full of the Spirit when he was approached by the Enemy.

And don’t make the mistake of thinking that the Holy Spirit leads us away from temptation. It is very clear that in this case the Spirit led Jesus in the desert as he was tempted. Some versions translate the text as saying that the Spirit led Jesus into the desert in order to be tempted by the devil. Temptation is part of God’s will for our lives. He wants us to learn to be completely dependent on the Spirit when we are tempted. I don’t mean to say that we should seek out temptation; rather, God draws us closer to himself through temptation. And in no way does this contradict the prayer we were taught to pray saying, Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil!

Did you notice that Jesus was tempted by the devil for forty days? The temptations that are recorded in the gospels are only a sampling of the temptations Jesus encountered during the forty days in the wilderness. It makes me wonder where Satan may have taken Jesus and what he might have shown him in an effort to make him sin.

Do you think there is a connection between Jesus’ fasting and temptation? I mean, did his fasting increase his communion with the Spirit and strengthen his resistance to the Enemy? Did the devil think Jesus was weakened in his ability to withstand temptation because he was hungry? Does this say anything about whether or not we should engage in a regular schedule of fasting? This is something 21st century American Christians know very little about and I’m not sure I have all the answers. But if Jesus fasted, shouldn’t we? Jesus said that when the bridegroom was taken from his attendants then his attendants would fast.

Why is it important for us to memorize scripture or at least know it very well so we can recall portions of it? Jesus answered the temptations of the devil with scripture. The word of God is living and powerful and able to rightly discern spiritual truth. I fully believe that the more time we spend in the Bible, the better we know the word of God, the better we will be able to take a firm stand when we face temptation.

Finally, verse 13 says, When the devil had finished all this tempting he left him until an opportune time. We should make no mistake about the fact that the temptation of Jesus was not limited to these forty days in the desert. Satan fully planned to return and tempt Jesus again when the time was right. Jesus’ life was most likely filled with visits from the Enemy who tempted him many times hoping to destroy God’s plan for the redemption of his people!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


Luke 3:9
The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

Those of you who know us know that last year we moved into the San Joaquin Valley, the central valley of California. The area in which we live is known as “almond country.” We are literally surrounded by thousands and thousands of acres of almond trees. This past winter a local grower purchased several hundreds of acres of land very near our home that was previously used for field crops, originally cotton. The land was prepared with a great deal of deep plowing. Then deep furrows were drawn in the soil leaving eight to twelve inch ridges into which the grower planted about 110 almond saplings per acre. We watched this whole process taking place. He put in sprinkling systems for irrigation, fertilized and sprayed the saplings, and protected them with plastic tubes. There were many workers involved in the planting of these fields. The grower made a huge investment of his resources to get the field ready and planted and he did it all for one purpose. In a couple of years these saplings will grow into fruit-bearing almond trees and he will reap a huge harvest.

Also near our home was a fully mature ranch of almond trees. They had been producing almonds for over twenty years! This grower had many rich harvests and had made a great deal of money from these trees. One day I drove by this ranch and I saw a huge bulldozer out in the orchard and he was pushing the trees over. Hundreds of trees lay on their sides with their large root systems exposed to the air. In another part of the ranch there were workers with chain saws cutting up the trees. And in yet another area there were huge wood chippers receiving what had been pushed over and cut up. Being an almond country novice I had to ask the guys in church why that orchard was being destroyed. You already know the answer. They said, “It was no longer producing enough nuts to be profitable!”

When John was baptizing in the Jordan River there were crowds coming out to be baptized. He was unwilling to let them think that all they needed to do was submit to baptism in order to have right standing with God. He said, You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance…The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire! (Luke 3:7-9) John proceeded to tell the people what repentance looked like. The man with two tunics should share with him who has none. The tax collectors should not collect more than they were required to. Soldiers should not extort money or accuse people falsely. They were to repent from their sins and begin to live righteously.

Repentance. We don’t hear much about repentance anymore. I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps it is an unpleasant thought. Perhaps pastors think it will turn people away from their churches. Perhaps we are afraid people will think we’re being too judgmental. Repentance must be preached because people must produce fruit in keeping with repentance. If they don’t produce good fruit God’s bulldozer will do its work and they will be uprooted and thrown into the wood chipper! If we claim to preach the whole gospel of Christ we will preach repentance and the necessity of bearing its fruit.