Monday, September 28, 2009


“A lot of professors give talks titled ‘The Last Lecture.’ Professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. And while they speak, audiences can’t help but mull the same question: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy? When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give such a lecture, he didn’t have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer.”

The above quote comes from the dust cover of the book, “The Last Lecture,” which has become a best-seller for Randy Pausch who has since passed away. This theme of “last words” has become rather popular in lectures, books, articles, and even music. A country band, The Trailer Choir, recently had a hit song that contained these lyrics:

what if the moment came and
you knew your life was down to minutes
ladders flame was all you had to see
and you found a pen and torn up piece of paper
and a note was all you could leave
what would you say?

We pay attention to the last words people say. Often, they are poignant, meaningful, and significant. When we come to Joshua 23, Joshua is nearing the very end of his life. He summons the elders, leaders, judges, and officials of all Israel and begins to give them his last charge. He says basically two things. First he says, “You yourselves have seen everything the LORD your God has done to all these nations for your sake; it was the LORD your God who fought for you. Remember how I have allotted as an inheritance for your tribes all the land of the nations…(Joshua 23:3, 4). Second he says, “Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left” (Joshua 23:6). Two things: remember and obey.

We can find great value and significance in the last words of Joshua. Remember and obey. Remember all the things God has done for us in our lives. Remember the blessings. Remember the answered prayer. Remember the guidance. Remember the protection, the grace, the love, the comfort, the hope, the strength. Remember! Do not forget that it was the Lord our God who has done all of these things for us.

And obey. God has graciously given us his word. All that he requires of us is recorded in the Bible. We need to remain strong and not turn aside to follow after our own wisdom or desires. We must obey the word God has given to us and walk in the way of Jesus Christ who obeyed his Father perfectly.

Joshua’s last words to his people: Remember and obey!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Mark 8:34

Jesus is in the process of revealing himself to his followers. They are progressively coming to an understanding of who Jesus is and what he is going to do. And now he is going to make clear to his disciples and to the crowd what it means to follow him. Now that they have heard the truth they need to know what it requires of them. This is really important stuff! If you have ever wondered what it really means to be a Christian, a true follower of Jesus, this is it in Jesus’ own words!

Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself.” What does it mean to deny yourself? It does not mean that we are supposed to deny ourselves things that we like. Jesus is not talking about giving up something for Lent! He is not talking about denying ourselves desserts or red meat. We have to recognize that before we are born again everything is about us! Every interest we have is related to ourselves. Before we become followers of Christ we only pursue the things that please us! Now Jesus is saying that if anyone wants to become his follower then he will have to say no to that self. We must willingly and intentionally say goodbye to that old self. We must walk away from our old sinful paths and follow Jesus’ path. It means we have to give up any reliance on what we are and depend on God alone for our salvation. What else are we going to do? Will we try to reform ourselves? Will we try to be good? Will we try to do good deeds that might make God happy with us? We have to deny all of these things!

Jesus says that if anyone wants to be his follower he must take up his cross. This is the picture of the condemned man being forced to carry his cross to the place of his execution. Not a very pleasant picture! But Jesus is saying that if we want to follow him then we have to consider ourselves as dead. Our old lives are over. We no longer live to serve ourselves. We give up going after the things we want. Taking up the cross means accepting the mockery and hatred of this world because we are following the way of Christ. It means clinging to the ways of love and weakness rather than the ways of selfishness and power. It means sacrificing our own goals and comforts for the sake of advancing the kingdom of God.

Finally, Jesus says that if we want to be his disciples we have to follow him. We look nowhere else for salvation. We trust Christ and Christ alone. We willingly follow in his footsteps. That means we do the same things Jesus did. We love the unlovely. We minister to the hurting. We reach out to the rejected. We pursue justice for the abused. We help the downtrodden feel significant. That’s what it means to follow Christ! We obey his commands without question. We don’t hesitate to follow in his way.

The disciples have been following Jesus for awhile already. Now Jesus speaks clearly, not in parables. He pulls away the veil that has partially hidden who he is and what he is doing. He makes it completely clear what it means to follow him. The disciples now understand that they have to follow Jesus to the very end without question or hesitation. Now there can be no doubts about who they are following or what he requires of them!

Monday, September 21, 2009


Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” Mark 8:29, 31-33

The confession of the disciples only brings them part way to understanding who Jesus was and what he was doing in the world. Now Jesus asks them to believe something that is so radical that it will shake them to the very core of their being! They are being asked to turn around and go completely against the flow of the expectations of almost every single Jew alive! If they were going to follow Jesus they would need to know the truth about the Messiah. They were going to have to accept as true and believe something that they could make no sense of. That is called faith! We are also called to believe and accept things that we cannot explain! That is why so many people think Christians are crazy! The truth Jesus told them was that he was going to be executed. He made it clear that these things must happen. He must suffer. He must die. And he must rise again. The elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law were going to reject their own Messiah and participate in his execution! This was God’s perfect plan for the Messiah. Jesus was speaking clearly. For the first time his truth was not veiled.

All this proved to be just too much for Peter. It just didn’t register! It made no sense at all! Peter knew Jesus was the Messiah. He was the one who had answered the question correctly. And everyone knew the Messiah was not going to be killed! He was going to bring victory over Rome! He was going to restore the kingdom of Israel to its former glory! He was going to lead them out of poverty to wealth! So Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. “Jesus, we can’t have any more of this kind of talk. People will not want to follow you if they hear these things. You are heading in the wrong direction! You don’t have to suffer and die!” Jesus stepped away and turned on Peter and the rest of the disciples who were apparently with Peter. Jesus rebuked Peter. Peter had become the instrument of temptation. In the wilderness temptations Satan had tempted Jesus to abandon his mission. Now Satan was trying to use Peter to do the same thing. What Jesus says to Peter makes my blood run cold. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” When I look at all the things some churches are doing in the name of God and when I see all the things that are being called “churches” and when I see what some pastors are doing in the name of God and Christianity I tremble. I can hear the words of Jesus, “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men!”

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Who do people say I am?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ." Mark 8:27-29

As Jesus and the disciples traveled among the villages around Caesarea Philippi the Lord asked them a leading question. “Who do people say I am?” This was an easy question to answer and it appears the disciples were anxious to chip in with their answers. “Some say John the Baptist.” “Others think you are Elijah.” “Some others think you are one of the prophets.” Clearly, the people thought Jesus was somebody great but they were wrong about him. They had superstitions. Their misunderstanding of the prophecies in scripture led them astray. The people were unclear about who Jesus was. And we should take careful note that it is misunderstanding about who Jesus was that opens the door to all kinds of heresies and error.

But then Jesus turns to his disciples and asks them the key question. “What about you? Who do you say I am?” This time the disciples don’t step all over each other trying to answer Jesus’ question. Peter, the one who seems to have become the spokesman for the disciples, answers the question. “You are the Christ.” Peter speaks for the group and professes that Jesus is the Messiah. Matthew’s account (16:17ff) says that Jesus blesses Peter for this answer. “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” Try and imagine how the disciples must have felt at this moment! Finally! All their questions were answered! They thought everything was clear!

Can we put ourselves into the position of the disciples? Can we hear Jesus asking us the key question? “What about you? Who do you say I am?” He wants to hear the same answer from us. He wants us to be bold and to answer the question clearly. A true follower of Jesus is willing to say what is true even if it flies in the face of popular opinion. The Lord Jesus wants us to take a clear stand for him and make the simple profession of faith, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” The kingdom of God is made up of people who have been courageous and bold. Think of them all! Joseph, Moses, Caleb, Nathan, Daniel, Stephen, Peter, Paul. All of them took a stand for God and for the truth even though it put their lives at risk! Many have made the good confession and paid for it with their lives! Will we take a clear stand for Christ in a world that makes a mockery of those who believe in absolute truth? Jesus wanted his disciples to make a commitment to him and he wants us to make that commitment too! Jesus asks us the question. He wants us to say it so that the people around us know what we believe. This is our testimony! This is our witness for Christ in our world! This is how we make an impact on the lives of the people we care about.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


So the LORD gave Israel all the land he had sworn to give their forefathers, and they took possession of it and settled there. The LORD gave them rest on every side, just as he had sworn to their forefathers. Not one of their enemies withstood them; the LORD handed all their enemies over to them. Not one of all the LORD’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled. Joshua 21:43-45

God made a covenant and gave promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He promised them the land. He promised them rest and peace. He promised them victory over their enemies. And after hundreds of years, the promises, every one of them, were fulfilled. God proved himself to be faithful to his covenant. His faithfulness did not depend on the faithfulness of the Israel. Israel was not faithful. They broke covenant many times. Yet God is a God of his word and even the failure of his people could not hinder his fulfillment of the covenant.

What an encouraging truth this is for us! God has made covenant with us. His Son became one of us and announced the covenant to us. He brought the kingdom to us and proclaimed the good news that we could have citizenship in that kingdom. We would have possession of that kingdom. His body would be broken and his blood would be shed, yet he would rise from the grave in victory over all of our enemies. No enemy would be able to stand against the citizens of the kingdom of heaven because God’s Spirit would live within us and would win the victory. Whoever would repent and believe the good news would receive the blessings of the covenant.

And here we are today, recipients of the covenant. We had no hand in making the covenant any more than Abraham participated in the covenant God made with him. God sealed his covenant with us with the blood of his Son and conquered the enemies of sin and death when he raised Jesus from the dead. He gave us his Spirit. He gave us his promises. He will be with us always, even until the end of the world. Those who trust in Christ will have abundant and eternal life. He will always be present among us when we gather in his name. He will continue the work of righteousness in us which he began when we first believed. Jesus will never lose one person whom the Father has entrusted to him. Jesus will build his church and the gates of hell will not overcome it. Whoever trusts in Christ will live even though he dies.

We could go on and on. What assurance we have in our God who always keeps every one of his promises. What promises are dearest to you? What does it mean to you to be able to be confident that those promises cannot fail? How should we, as children of the covenant, respond to our faithful Heavenly Father? I look forward to gathering with my brothers and sisters for worship in the morning.

Friday, September 18, 2009


“For a long time now—to this very day—you have not deserted your brothers but have carried out the mission the LORD your God gave you.” Joshua 22:3

These are the words I read today that stopped me in my tracks! I thought to myself, “That is exactly what I would like to hear from the Lord someday!” I would love to hear him say that I have faithfully served him and my brothers and have carried out the mission he gave me.

Joshua originally said these words to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. Although they had been granted lands on the east side of the Jordan River, they were commanded by God through Moses to cross over the Jordan and help their brothers conquer their territories. This is the mission they were given and this is the mission they faithfully executed until all was accomplished. Joshua speaks these words to them as they are finally being dismissed to return home across the Jordan.

I have been given a mission too. I’m not speaking of a calling. I have a calling too; to serve the Lord and the Church as a pastor. The mission is broader. The mission is to make disciples. It is to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God. It is to make the name of God famous. It is to serve my brothers as the hands and feet of Jesus. This is the mission every Christian has. It is a God-honoring, God-glorifying mission. It is not the kind of mission from which one retires (even though the two and a half tribes of Israel were released from the mission). It is a life-mission.

This mission is the thing that gives my days direction. This mission is what makes every encounter with a friend or neighbor significant. This mission gives meaning to every appointment and contact. This mission is the reason I am working with brothers and sisters to plant a church here in Shafter, CA.

Our mission is not to get a lot of people. It is not to build a beautiful campus. It is not to run many programs. The mission is simple: focus on magnifying the name of God in our community no matter how much work it takes or how much it costs.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful beyond belief to hear our Lord say, “You have carried out the mission I gave you!”

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, 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.” Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with men is possible with God.” Luke 18:24-27

Jesus says it is hard for rich people to enter the kingdom of God. He does not say rich people will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Rich people may enter the kingdom but not by their own efforts. The path into the kingdom of heaven is a hard path for rich people to take. Why?

This passage is found in the midst of a series of episodes that have to do with the kingdom. Who can enter the kingdom of heaven? How can one enter the kingdom of heaven? It immediately follows the episode of Jesus calling the infants and little children to come to him and be blessed. Then he says that the only way a person can come into the kingdom is to receive it in the same way these babies and toddlers received his blessing. There was nothing they could do to earn Jesus’ blessing and there was nothing they could offer to merit it. Who can enter? Those whom Jesus calls and blesses by his grace and mercy. How can they enter? By receiving Christ’s blessing.

The passage does not say that Jesus will not call or bless rich people. It simply says that it will be very difficult for rich people to enter the kingdom because they cannot do anything to earn Jesus’ blessing and they cannot offer anything to merit it.

Rich people usually do not know what it means to be in need. They have what they need as well as what they want. Their material wealth makes it hard for them to be aware of their spiritual need. Their physical comforts disguise their spiritual lack. In order to enter the kingdom of heaven they have to be made aware of their need and that can be a very painful process.

Many rich people do not know what it means to be wrong. They are accustomed to being agreed with. They are used to having their own way. Many of them almost live above the law and it has little effect on them. They often think they are good people and they are wealthy because they are good people and God has blessed them. It is hard for such people to recognize that they are sinners who need forgiveness and deliverance.

Rich people buy what they want and what they think they need. Anything can be bought! But the kingdom of heaven cannot be bought. Their wealth cannot buy a place in the kingdom. It would be very difficult for a person who is used to buying everything to be told that they cannot buy their way into God’s kingdom.

Rich people are not automatically bad people any more than poor people are automatically good people. Poor people are a discussion for another time. But rich people are not automatically good or blessed people. The people listening to Jesus made that mistake. “Who then can be saved?” In other words, if rich people have a hard time entering the kingdom, what hope do common folks like us have? Jesus’ listeners seemed to assume that rich people had a way of getting into the kingdom.

Rich people do have a way of entering the kingdom. It’s the same way any of us enter the kingdom. (And many rich people would disdain taking the same road as common folk!) Entrance into the kingdom of God depends on a miracle! It is a miracle that is impossible for men to perform but it is possible for God to perform it. God blesses people with his grace and mercy in the same way that Jesus blessed the babies and toddlers. He reaches into a person’s life and changes his heart! He gives him new life, new values, and new goals.

The rich man must have new life, new values, and new goals. If the rich man in the story had new life, new values, and new goals, he would have gladly sold all he had and given it to the poor. Jesus was showing him that all his law-keeping had not changed his heart. It had not given him new life, new values, or new goals. This is very difficult for a rich man who loves his wealth. It will be painful for him to change. He will enter the kingdom of God the same way anyone enters it; but he will have a much harder time learning to adjust to the life, values, and goals of citizenship in that kingdom!

Monday, September 14, 2009


In 1990 I went to India for my first time. My friends John Armstrong and Emmanuel Rebba invited me to join the pastoral team for two weeks in Repalle with India Rural Evangelical Fellowship (IREF). We would preach in evangelistic crusades in the evenings and teach the pastors, evangelists, and Bible ladies during the day. We preached some larger evangelistic meetings and we traveled for hours by car to preach in small villages to maybe one or two hundred people. I sat and talked with Indian brothers who were involved in church planting and pastoring. I learned about village evangelism from Prasada Rao, Emmanuel’s father and the founder of the ministry. In short, those two weeks of ministry in Andhra Pradesh, South India, changed my life.

Since 1990 I have returned many times to Repalle to serve with IREF. After several of these trips I was asked to serve on the American board of directors. The ministry has grown. The Lord has blessed in amazing ways. Hundreds of American pastors have taken the same trip and many of them have led their churches to support IREF. A number of years ago we began to partner with Word and Deed in the Netherlands. Word and Deed has done a great deal to help in the support of orphans, education, and building school buildings. When I first went to Repalle there were about 100 students in the school. Now there are several schools scattered around the district, a high school, a junior college, an accredited degree college, a nursing school, a school of evangelism and theology and there are literally thousands of students in these schools.

IREF has a vision to preach the gospel to hundreds of thousands of people who have never heard the good news before. That ministry has grown. Last time I was there we preached for five nights to over 20,000 people each night. But we are still going into villages and preaching to people who have never heard the name of Jesus.

But IREF also cares for the poor and needy. After the Christmas tsunami several years ago IREF got involved in rebuilding hundreds of homes for people whose homes had been washed away. We helped buy fishing boats that were lost and nets that were destroyed. IREF has been involved with aboriginal villages from the beginning. These people are the poorest of the poor and the lowest of the low, even in India. Yet we have planted churches in their villages and provided pastors and Bible ladies for these churches.

I received some heartbreaking news the other day. There have been some awful fires in some of these aboriginal villages. One of them, Nizampatnam, I have been to and preached in many times. The pictures attached to this post are all from Nizampatnam. IREF is trying to do whatever we can to help these people who have not only lost their homes but just about everything they own. We’re doing what we can. But we need help. If you are willing and able to help, please visit There is a link at the bottom of the home page that tells about the fires and shows how you can help. You already know, every little gift matters. Ten American dollars still buys a lot of rice for an Indian family. You can make a difference in the lives of these people. Please, take a minute to go to the website and prayerfully consider what you can do.

Thank you!

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Mark 8:11-15

Jesus and the disciples land on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee and are met by the seemingly ever-present Pharisees. They came to test/tempt Jesus and asked him to show them a “sign from heaven.” Jesus refuses to give them the sign they ask for, turns away from them, and sails back across to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.

We can almost see Jesus sitting in the boat as he sails across the lake with his disciples. He seems to be looking off at the horizon, thinking. Things are quiet. The only sound is that of the water brushing against the bow of the boat as the wind pushes it along. Then suddenly Jesus speaks. “Be careful. Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” Then all is quiet again. The disciples look at one another quizzically. What could he possibly mean? Yeast? Pharisees? Herod? Suddenly one of them comes up with an idea. “Hey! I know! It’s because we forgot to buy bread when we were in Dalmanutha! We only have this one leftover loaf. That’s why he’s talking about yeast!” But no. That wasn’t it. And the disciples weren’t getting it.

What was this yeast about which Jesus was speaking? Having come directly from the confrontation with the Pharisees it is not hard to see what he meant. He warned his disciples to watch out for the attitude of the Pharisees who were asking for signs. The kingdom of God was a matter of belief and faith. Those who entered the kingdom entered not because they saw signs and wonders but because they put their faith in Christ. Signs and wonders led to belief by sight. Jesus called people to believe by faith. What was the leaven of Herod? It was probably the same thing. We know that Herod was afraid of Jesus because he feared Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. (Mark 6:14-16) Later, during Jesus’ trial, Pilate sent Jesus to Herod. Luke reports, “When Herod saw Jesus he was greatly pleased because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him he hoped to see him perform some miracle.”

But here’s my question: If Jesus was among us today, what kind of leaven would he warn us about? What kinds of parallels might we find between our culture and the culture of the Pharisees? I think there are some parallels! At the root of the sin of the Pharisees was the idea that everything was about them. Their religion was all about them and making them feel important. Their religious activities were all about making them look wise and spiritual and significant. God was lucky to have them on his side! Of course God would give them a sign because they were so important to his plan. They wanted to maintain control and Jesus was a threat to their control. These attitudes hardened the hearts of the Pharisees.

Do we see anything like that in the church today? Jesus would say, “Watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees! Watch out for their self-important attitudes!” What is a common attitude of people today toward the church and faith? The church exists to satisfy me! The church and its buildings and its programs and its events are all about making me feel special! Show me how my relationship with God can meet all my needs. Church doesn’t work for me unless it makes me happy and comfortable. I want to go to a church that is successful. A church that will offer more to me and my family. In short, God and church are all about me! Jesus would say, “Watch out for those attitudes!”

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


Today I turned 56 years old and began my 57th year. God has been good to me. There have been many difficult ups and downs over all these years but I want to say that he has proved himself faithful, gracious, and patient.

I’ve been in ministry for 35 of those years. Youth ministry, Youth For Christ, and senior pastor ministry since 1981. I’m amazed. God called me to ministry when I was a senior in high school. The call was clear and I went to Wheaton College to begin preparing to answer the call. I always wanted to be a missionary. God never let me be a full time missionary. But he’s let me minister and help plant churches in Brazil, Romania, and India. I’ve been blessed to preach many times in England and Scotland. I’ve tasted the passion of my heart in missions even though God has kept me in pastoral ministry all these years!

I haven’t been alone in my work. My late wife was a great partner in ministry for 22 years. I could never imagine that God would bring me another wife who has supported me in this work for the last nine years! Mia has been a great joy and a true co-laborer as we have now worked on two church plants together. I can’t imagine what my life would be without her and the five fantastic kids she brought to me! Again, we have lived and loved through many tests and trials of life and ministry but God has kept us in the palm of his hand and has led us every step of the way.

Now I have the joy of being involved with the planting of New Hope Community Church in Shafter, CA. God has fulfilled my dream of doing missions without ever leaving the USA! Our community is over 75% Hispanic. Our church is bilingual and multicultural. We are thrilled to be able to participate in the lives of people whose cultures are completely different from ours. We are surrounded by wonderful and godly people who labor at our side for the sake of the kingdom. God has shown us his goodness.

So I’m 56 years old. My mind and my body still tell me I’m 36. God has graciously given me vision for ministry for many years into the future. He brought me through a cancer surgery this past March and I feel terrific! I just want to make every day count for the work of Christ on earth. The scripture says “Your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” I never remember my dreams but I have a vision! So I must still be young! May God grant me strength and energy to live to see those visions accomplished!

Thanks to many, many of my friends who sent birthday greetings today! I love you!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Mark 8:1-10

If the religious leaders of Israel had no part of God’s kingdom, then who did? Who was the kingdom for? Who was going to have a place in God’s kingdom? In chapters 7 and 8 Mark follows the incident of conflict with the Pharisees with a trilogy of events that is meant to answer these questions. Jesus leaves Galilee and goes into the regions of the Gentiles and performs wonderful miracles and reveals the kingdom of God to the Gentiles

In 8:1-10 we come to the third account in Mark’s trilogy in which Jesus blesses the Gentiles. While he is still in the Decapolis, Jesus repeats his miracle of the feeding of the thousands. This time Mark says there were four thousand men present instead of five thousand. This time there were seven loaves of bread and a few small fish. But all the other details of this account are almost exactly the same as those of the feeding of the five thousand in Mark 6. The radical similarities have caused some scholars to conclude that somehow this story has been accidentally repeated. Some critics point to the repetition as evidence that the Bible has serious mistakes and flaws. But I believe that Jesus intentionally repeated his miracle almost exactly on purpose! I think there are some very important things he wanted to teach his disciples and those of us who would read these accounts thousands of years later.

The miraculous feeding of the thousands was meant to remind the people of God’s feeding of his people in the wilderness under Moses. It was a demonstration of the fact that Jesus was the Messiah and that he was the Son of God. It revealed the power and the character of the kingdom of God on earth. It was Jesus’ invitation to people to come to him and receive the bread of life. The huge difference between the first miraculous feeding and this one is found in those who received food! This time Jesus fed thousands of Gentiles! This time he went to the people who were rejected by the Pharisees and the teachers of the law and offered them the bread of life! The kingdom of God was meant for all people! None were to be excluded! And the fact that the disciples gathered up seven basketsful of bread showed that there would be plenty for all. God’s grace and mercy are not limited in any way!

The Pharisees hated Jesus. They rejected the very thought that he might be the Messiah, the Son of God. They were trying to find a way to kill him! They were concerned about keeping themselves ceremonially clean, as if that would result in true righteousness which would put them in good standing with God. They believed the kingdom belonged to them and they would be the leaders of it! Jesus makes a point by going to the Gentiles. He blesses a Canaanite woman in Tyre, a deaf-mute in the Decapolis, and caps it off with the feeding of thousands in the Decapolis. Isn’t the message crystal clear? The gospel is for everyone! All who come to Christ and cry out to him in faith and humility will be met with love, healing, and forgiveness! This is the good news of the kingdom of heaven!

Monday, September 07, 2009


Luke 18:15-17

People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Here’s a passage that has been debated far longer than I have been alive and it has been debated throughout my life in ministry. This is the question that I have heard debated over and over again: “What does Jesus mean by receiving the kingdom of God like a little child?” And, “What are people supposed to do to become like little children so they will be able to receive the kingdom like a little child?”

The key here is context, context, context. At the end of Luke 17 Jesus began teaching about the kingdom of God when he was speaking to a Pharisee and said, “The kingdom does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” The context is the kingdom of God and the ensuing episodes all speak of the nature of the kingdom and how it comes to a person, or, how a person enters it. In the case of this Pharisee, Jesus says that the coming of the kingdom is something that takes place within a person. It is not something the Pharisees will be able to discern because it is not a visible event!

The parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8) speaks about continuing in prayer and not giving up. The kingdom is a kingdom in which the king deals justly with his people. But at the end of this episode Jesus says, "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Again, the kingdom of God is a matter of faith, not a matter of visible events.

The Pharisee and the tax collector came to the temple to pray (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee was self-righteous. Apparently his belief matched that of the majority of the Pharisees. They believed that they deserved to be in the kingdom because they kept all the laws and the teachings of the elders. They believed they were already righteous. They believed that entering the kingdom was a matter of keeping laws and rules; visible actions. But the Pharisee did not go home justified!

The episode of Jesus and the babies and little children is also a kingdom parable. Who will enter it? Those who receive! The babies were brought by their parents. The little children were brought by their parents. The little ones received the blessing of the king of the kingdom. They had no good deeds or law keeping to recommend them for citizenship in the kingdom. They had no righteousness to offer in exchange for the blessing. There was no visible change in their lives. But they had received the grace and mercy of the king. There was nothing they could do to receive his blessing. It was merely bestowed upon them! They were blessed simply by his mercy and grace.

Who will enter the kingdom? Those who are blessed by the king. Those who are recipients of his grace and mercy. Those who do not try to offer their own good deeds or their own righteousness. Those who do not think they deserve to enter the kingdom. Those who enter the kingdom are those who receive the blessing of grace and mercy.

Sunday, September 06, 2009


Luke 18:9-14

Parables always tell us something about the kingdom of heaven. This parable speaks to the question of who it is who will be allowed into God’s kingdom. There is the self-righteous Pharisee and the tax collector. They go to the temple to pray. The Pharisee is honored and respected among the Jewish people. He is considered the model of religious propriety. The common man would like to be like the Pharisee. He would like to be treated the way the Pharisee is treated. The Jews looked up to Pharisees and want to find approval in their eyes. They think that surely the Pharisees will be among the first who are welcomed into the kingdom.

The tax collector is scorned and hated by the Jewish people. He was a traitor to the Jews who worked on behalf of the Romans. He was generally considered to be the lowest of the low; a dishonest man who sought to advance himself at the monetary expense of his countrymen. He was disrespected and considered to be a “sinner,” one who was ceremonially unclean. In fact, he was probably not supposed to even be in the temple because the Pharisees considered him a “sinner.” I’m surprised the Pharisee in this parable didn’t turn on him and have him thrown out of the temple!

Jesus tells about the prayer of the Pharisee first. Jesus describes the Pharisee as standing up and praying about himself. Even though he addressed God he was speaking about himself. Thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get. There is no sign of humility here. He stands boldly before his God and speaks about the things he doesn’t do and the things he does. He is better than robbers, sinners, and immoral men. He considers himself a worthy candidate for the kingdom because he doesn’t do a lot of evil things. He thinks himself righteous because he fasts and tithes. Everything is focused on his own behavior which he considers to be above reproach. He looks down on the tax collector and lifts himself up.

The tax collector wouldn’t draw near to the place where the Pharisee stood praying proudly. He stayed away, at a distance. His spirit was apparently rather low because he wouldn’t even raise his eyes to heaven. He didn’t talk about the good things he did and he didn’t draw attention to any self-perceived righteousness. Instead, he spoke about the condition of his heart. He beat his breast and said, God have mercy on me, a sinner. This man knew he was unworthy of the kingdom of God. He knew he had no righteousness to offer to God in exchange for citizenship in the kingdom. If he were to be allowed into the kingdom it would have to be entirely based on the mercy of God. He humbly cast himself entirely upon the mercy of God.

Much to the surprise of the disciples and whoever else heard this parable, it was not the Pharisee who would enter into Christ’s kingdom. He was arrogant and self-righteous. He didn’t call on the mercy of God because he didn’t think he needed mercy. If God was just he would be allowed into the kingdom. He would get justice. He would be cast out into outer darkness. It was the tax collector who would be justified. Why? Not because of his good deeds but because of his humility and his cry for God’s mercy. He would receive not justice but mercy because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Oh God, give me mercy, not justice!

Saturday, September 05, 2009


Luke 18:1-8

Jesus taught a great deal about prayer; more than most people think. Luke tells us right at the outset that Jesus wanted to teach his disciples to always pray and not give up (8:1). He then proceeded to tell the story of the widow who would not give up pleading for justice from the unjust judge. Finally, this ungodly judge gave the woman justice just to get him to leave him alone.

People often misinterpret parables. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people struggle with trying to identify God the Father with the unjust judge. The principle of interpretation is rather simple: If the judge who is ungodly and unjust gives justice to one who continually asks for it, how much more will your Father in heaven who is good and just give you what you ask for?

Have you ever wondered what it is that keeps us from asking and asking and asking God again for his blessing in a certain situation? Some people say that God already knows what we need and that we don’t need to keep asking him for it. Others say that it shows a lack of faith to keep asking and asking over and over again. Some people grow discouraged when the answer to their request does not come quickly and they give up asking.

I think some people come to believe that their request isn’t that important to God. Or that God is not going to answer their prayer. Others begin to wonder if God cares about their need. Or they wonder if God really is good and means to bless them at all.

Jesus wants us to learn to pray faithfully and not give up. Why? The more we pray about a situation the more we will begin to see that the answer is completely out of our hands and that it is in God’s hands. That humbles us. That increases our dependence on God. That builds our faith.

The greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. I am a father. I want my kids to love me and I want them to love me a lot! What would break my heart is to hear them say, “Dad doesn’t really care about us. He doesn’t want to help us. He’s given up on us. It does no good to ask Dad for anything because he never gives us an answer to our questions. We have to take care of ourselves!” If I want my kids to love me and to depend on me, how much more does our Heavenly Father want us to love him, depend on him, and come to him with our needs!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


Joshua 9

After Joshua led the people of God to victories over Jericho and Ai, the people of Gibeon realized they were in serious trouble and decided their best hope for survival was to try to deceive Israel. Their only hope was to try to convince the Israelites that they were not neighbors but people who had come from a very distant land to pay homage to the people of the great God who had done wonders in Egypt and conquered the Amorite kings east of the Jordan. If the people of Israel knew the Gibeonites were neighbors in Canaan they would be wiped out.

So they developed a ruse. Their delegation packed things in worn out bags and took along old wineskins. They wore old and patched sandals and old clothes. And finally, they took along moldy bread. All this was to support their claim that they had come from a great distance.

When the Gibeonites arrived at the Israelite camp they asked Joshua to make a treaty with them. At first the Israelites were wise to consider the possibility that these men were actually neighbors. But then they fell for the ruse. The Gibeonites pointed out all their old and worn out belongings and showed them bread that was allegedly warm from the oven when they left home! Joshua 9:14, 15 record the disastrous mistake the Israelites made, The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD. Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.

A few days later the Israelites learned that they had been deceived. They marched on Gibeon but did not destroy them because of the oath they had taken. Their oath prevented them from obeying the word of the LORD. They were supposed to destroy all the Canaanites so they would not be seduced by their foreign gods. What did the men of Israel do wrong? They did not inquire of the LORD. They took action and ratified a covenant based on their own ability to discern and they were deceived! It would prove to be a costly sin!

This causes me to take personal stock in my own life! I think of all the decisions I have to make day in and day out. Decisions that affect our church. Decisions that affect my marriage and my family. Decisions that affect my relationship with God. Decisions that affect my relationships with people in our fellowship. How do I make such decisions? Am I careful to inquire of the Lord or do I pretty much act on my own experience and knowledge?

Pride tempts us to think we know what is the right thing to do in all kinds of situations. We might think, “I’ve been here and done that before! I know what to do in this case! This is really an easy one!” But this passage warns us we need to inquire of the Lord, seek his wisdom, and wait on his guidance in our lives. When we carelessly act on our own we will be deceived and the damage we do may prove to be very costly!