Thursday, September 29, 2011

Matthew 26:31-35

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31 Then Jesus said* to them, ``You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, `I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.' 32 But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee." 33 But Peter said to Him, ``Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.'' 34 Jesus said to him, ``Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.'' 35 Peter said* to Him, ``Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.'' All the disciples said the same thing too.

Well, the time has come for Jesus to be taken away to be sacrificed as the Lamb of God. He warns His disciples that this will prove to be most traumatic to them and they will fall away from Him for a time. Then He says BUT after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.

Jesus specifically warns Peter that he will deny Him 3 times "before a rooster crows." Peter protests that this won't be true of him, but that he will die with Jesus, if necessary! And the other disciple agreed with him.

When we look at this situation, we really don't think it applies to us. But it truly does! When it is clear that we're going to fail at something, we persistently try to show God and everyone else that we can do it. We tend to become defensive and deny any vulnerability. It's important to realize God doesn't allow anything in our lives unless it goes through His loving hands.

IT'S NOT WHAT HAPPENS TO YOU, BUT HOW YOU HANDLE WHAT HAPPENS THAT COUNTS. This is not the time to either deny or wallow in your failure, but see it as a special graduate course from the Lord from which you will learn and grow significantly through it.

I like this saying, A SETBACK IS A SETUP FOR A COMEBACK!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Matthew 26:26-30

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26 While they were eating, Jesus took some bread and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body.'' 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. 29 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.'' 30 After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Jesus was celebrating the Passover dinner with His disciples. The first Passover is described in Exodus chapter 12: one lamb was sacrificed for every household and the blood painted onto the lintels and doorposts. This was done in order that the angel of Death would not slay the first-born son of the Jewish households, but only those of Pharoah's people, whom God had warned He would judge. "When I see the blood, I will pass over you" the Lord told the children of Israel (Exodus 12:13). They were to eat the lamb, with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, in haste prior to their departure from Egypt. The eating of unleavened bread was to continue for seven days, as their sustenance to exit Egypt and escape Pharoah's slavery. God ordained that the children of Israel would commemorate the Passover every year to remember their deliverance, almost 3,450 years ago. It is a reading of the Exodus 12, Psalms 113 and 114.

The Passover was a definite foreshadowing of God's Messiah, Who was still to come. There are several direct references to the Messiah in the celebration. There is an empty chair set for Elijah, if he should show up, presenting the Messiah. At one point in the dinner, the youngest of the family leaves the table and goes to the door to see if Elijah is here. He returns year after year with sadness that Elijah didn't show.

The entire meal is based upon 4 cups of wine-sanctification, deliverance, redemption and praise. It was the cup of redemption (the full payment for our freedom-the Lamb) that Jesus references as Himself. Also, there was a lamb that was killed in the original Passover event and one day God will provide His Lamb for the freedom of the entire world.

Jeremiah 31 speaks of this provision and that it will be a New Covenant (New Testament) with His people that will not be written on stones, but on the hearts of His people. This gives some rich meaning to John's words (John 1:29) when he says, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."

NOTE one more thing: This is called "communion" within the Christian world and is not a biblical term. Jesus speaks of it as a covenant. And that is the way I see it. It is a covenant between you and Jesus and between you and those with whom you are walking-all in the name of Jesus.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Matthew 26:20-25

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20 Now when evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the twelve disciples. 21 As they were eating, He said, ``Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me.'' 22 Being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, ``Surely not I, Lord?'' 23 And He answered, ``He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray Me. 24 The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.'' 25 And Judas, who was betraying Him, said, ``Surely it is not I, Rabbi?'' Jesus said to him, ``You have said it yourself.''

NOTE the following observations: FIRST--Judas had to work behind the scenes-in secret-to do his dirty deed. WE ARE AS SICK AS OUR SECRETS!

SECOND--Judas, being the treasurer of the disciples, was very concerned about the physical things over the spiritual-he was not happy with the woman who washed the disciples' feet with an expensive ointment, was focused on the political and external dimensions of the movement around Jesus and was willing to take 30 shekels (pieces of silver) in order to point Jesus out to the soldiers.

THIRD--Jesus confronted him personally, not blasting him, but gently revealing that He really knows what's going on.

This is an interesting and maybe a little encouraging to those who are working with others, attempting to bring them along in Jesus. Jesus chose 12 and lost 1 out of them to the Devil, so don't get discouraged about those who seem to fade away or fallout with things of the Lord. Just keep on keeping on in the name of Jesus.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Matthew 26:14-19

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14 Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, ``What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?'' And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him. 16 From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus. 17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ``Where do You want us to prepare for You to eat the Passover?'' 18 And He said, ``Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, `The Teacher says, ``My time is near; I am to keep the Passover at your house with My disciples.''''' 19 The disciples did as Jesus had directed them; and they prepared the Passover.

THE BETRAYAL DINNER IS SET. I love the thought-provoking words of Max Lucado in his writings, Shaped By God. He calls this section "Judas, the Man Who Never Knew":

"I've wondered at times what kind of man this Judas was like. What he looked like, how he acted, who his friends were.

I guess I've stereotyped him. I've always pictured him as a wiry, beady-eyed, sly, wormy fellow, pointed beard and all. I've pictured him as estranged from the other apostles. Friendless. Distant. Undoubtedly he was a traitor and a quisling. Probably the result of a broken home. A juvenile delinquent in his youth.

Yet I wonder if that is so true. We have no evidence (save Judas' silence) that would suggest that he was isolated. At the Last Supper, when Jesus said that his betrayer sat at the table, we don't find the apostles immediately turning to Judas as the logical traitor.

No, I think we've got Judas pegged wrong. Perhaps he was just the opposite. Instead of sly and wiry, maybe he was robust and jovial. Rather than quiet and introverted. He could have been outgoing and well meaning. I don't know.

But for all things we don't know about Judas, there is one thing we know for sure: He had no relationship with the Master. He had seen Jesus, but he did not know him. He had heard Jesus, but he did not understand him. He had a religion, but no relationship.

As Satan worked his way around the table in the upper room, he needed a special kind of man to betray our Lord. He needed a man who had seen Jesus but did not know him. He needed a man who knew the actions of Jesus but had missed out on the mission of Jesus. Judas was this man. He knew the empire but had never known the Man.

We learn this timeless lesson from the betrayer. Satan's best tools of destruction are not from outside the church; they are within the church. A church will never die from the immorality in Hollywood or the corruption in Washington. But it will die from corrosion within-from those who bear the name of Jesus but have never met him and from those who have religion but no relationship.

Judas bore the cloak of religion, but he never knew the heart of Christ. Let's make it our goal to know. JESUS.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Matthew 26:6-13

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6 Now when Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came to Him with an alabaster vial of very costly perfume and she poured it on His head as He reclined at the table. 8 But the disciples were indignant when they saw this and said, ``Why this waste? 9 ``For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.'' 10 But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ``Why do you bother the woman? For she has done a good deed to Me. 11 ``For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me. 12 ``For when she poured this perfume on My body, she did it to prepare Me for burial. 13 ``Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.''

John's Gospel shares this same story and identifies this woman as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.

NOTE some things that this story teaches. FIRST--It shows us the extravagance of love. The woman took the most precious thing she had and poured it out on Jesus. Jewish women were very fond of perfume; and often they carried a little alabaster vial of it round their necks. This was very valuable perfume! Both Mark and John make the disciples say that this perfume could have been sold for three hundred denarii (Mk 14:5; Jn 12:5); which means that this vial of perfume represented nearly a whole year's wages for a working man.

SECOND--Mary gave this to Jesus, because it was the most precious (valuable) thing she had. Love never thinks how little it can give; love's one desire is to give to the uttermost limits.

THIRD--It shows us that there are times when the commonsense view of things fails. Common sense obeys the dictates of prudence; but love obeys the dictates of the heart. A gift is never really a gift when we can easily afford it; a gift truly becomes a gift only when there is sacrifice behind it, and when we give far more than we can afford.

FOUR--It shows us that certain things must be done when the opportunity arises or they can never be done at all. There are some things which we can do at any time; there are some things which can be done only once; and to miss the opportunity to do them then may be to miss the opportunity for ever.

It tells us that the fragrance of a sacrificial deed lasts for ever. I'm reminded of the saying I first heard as a child. Only one life twill soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last. What you do for Jesus lasts forever!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Matthew 26:1-5

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1 When Jesus had finished all these words, He said to His disciples, 2 "You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man is to be handed over for crucifixion.'' 3 Then the chief priests and the elders of the people were gathered together in the court of the high priest, named Caiaphas; 4 and they plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth and kill Him. 5 But they were saying, "Not during the festival, otherwise, a riot might occur among the people.''

Once again, Jesus reveals His upcoming death to His disciples. It seems they didn't really get the full impact of what He was telling them, because they still had in their minds a hope of Messianic victory over the Roman occupation.

This is an interesting snapshot of how a negative response is usually painted by the leadership. It's always the leadership that paves the way-either negatively or positively. Jesus was loved by the masses. It was the leadership that was threatened by His teachings and His presence. It was the leadership that rejected the Messiahship of Jesus. This is why Jesus was very hard on the religious leaders of His day.

FIRST--He called them snakes.

SECOND--He called them white-washed tombs, pretty on the outside, but totally dead inside.

THIRD--He warned them that if they were to lead any "little ones" astray, there would be the harshest judgment from God upon them.

Two things come to mind here: 1. Be careful of the leadership you follow-listen to, hang out with, those who influence you the most. Even the news media becomes a major influence on spiritual things and world-wide perspective.

2. Your relationship with Jesus doesn't have to depend upon the leaders in your life. Note that Jesus spent most of His time hanging out with the non-leadership kind of people, the little people, the laity. It was easier for them to relate to this most attractive one. They had nothing positionally to lose!

The special thing about following Jesus is that he trumps everything else-all leaders and organizations. So, be careful to draw close to Jesus today. Thank Him for walking with you throughout your day, for caring what happens to you and your family today! Do the toughest thing you can do-do your best to walk with Him. See what He does and listen to what He says, then DO IT!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Matthew 25:31-46

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31 ``But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right, `Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 `For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.' 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, `Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 `And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 `When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' 40 The King will answer and say to them, `Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' 



41 ``Then He will also say to those on His left, `Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.' 44 Then they themselves also will answer, `Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?' 45 Then He will answer them, `Truly I say to you, to the extent, that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' 46 These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.''

NOTE two things here: FIRST--Those in need are at the heart of God-hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned. Human nature is to take care of those who can do something for us. Therefore, we look to treat those who are important from an earthly perspective-the athlete, the musician, the highly positioned person in society. BUT Jesus points us in another direction entirely!

SECOND--Ministering to the needy is in fact ministering to Jesus, Himself. So, if you want to find and interact with Jesus, He is right there in the midst of those in need.

So what does this mean to you? Where is Jesus in your world?

CHRISTIANITY ISN'T THE WAY...JESUS IS!

I’ve spent most of my life seeking to understand how to relate to the non-churched, non-Christian world. My books and speaking platforms have all had a crossover flavor to them and I finally ended up at the peak of professional speaking opportunities on the largest platforms in addition to pastoring one of the early mega-churches.

During that season of my life I came to the conclusion that only Jesus could transform our lives.
1. NOT Churchianity
2. NOT Christianity
3. NOT conversion methods
4. ONLY JESUS

I came to the conclusion that in order to reach the non-churched world I would have to separate myself from mainstream churches and Christianity. So, I did that to a certain degree, but I still had to take up offerings to to keep the church and its staff alive.

In the second season of my life Jesus apprehended my heart in a fresh way and poised me toward taking this same JESUS PLUS NOTHING message beyond the “secular”, non-churched world into the 7 major cultures of the world.

So, now my focus and perpendicular learning curve have taken me to a simple understanding of Jesus and the Kingdom. I've spent so much time and energy unlearning a lot of my theological premises I received at graduate seminary while a student and professor. It's been a fresh look at Jesus and His message of the good news of the Kingdom. He only mentions “church” twice, yet we are all about building and uplifting the church. His message was not the church, but all about the Kingdom.

In this journey now we are working with the 7 primary cultures of the world—Buddhist, Hindu, Moslem, Jewish, Animist, Christian and Atheist/Agnostic. We don't present Christianity to them, but Jesus. We teach them to follow the teachings and principles of Jesus as the early disciples did. It took a while for the disciples to become believers. However, it's important to note that being a believer is not enough—the demons believe, false prophets/teachers of Matthew 7 are believers and we are believers. So, what's the difference? Jesus says, "Only those who do the will of my Father will enter the Kingdom." So "hear my words and practice them"....

We are working with the Buddhist youth. What is so amazing is that these young Buddhists are followers of Jesus. It's just like hanging out with the early disciples while Jesus is out for the evening. It is mind-blowing! We are seeing the same results with the other cultures. Jesus trumps everything else. Not Christianity, but Jesus. My concern is that we must stick to the teachings and principles of Jesus without depending upon a set of beliefs or a theological system that man has built around Jesus. I believe Jesus never was a Christian and doesn’t want to be.

The problem I sense with making Christianity the answer or making the ultimate goal for a person to become a Christian is the following:

We are using and promoting terms (Christian and Christianity) that are NOT even used by Jesus. And, when New Testament writers don't make this their identification mark for the Jesus movement. Worse, we have transformed these terms into sacred goals for not only our lives, but the entire world. By doing this we set it up for people to hate Christians and Christianity, even lumping it altogether with the West. Therefore, so many do not hear the Good News. So many miss the most attractive person ever—Jesus.

Many people use the term “Christianity” and mean by it a personal relationship with Jesus. However, words must be chosen well in order to communicate most clearly. So, consider these observations:

FIRST—Making Western Cultural Christianity the primary way to God implies all other cultural religions are wrong and Western Cultural Christianity is right. It tells people that to be a Follower of Jesus, one must also undergo a cultural transformation to Western Christian culture. It’s as if Western Christian culture and Western Cultural Christians own Jesus. This is not scriptural; Jesus is not exclusive, but all-inclusive.

SECOND—Making Christianity the primary way to God implies and requires that Christians must convert the world to Western Cultural Christianity. Obviously, this requires a vast array of evangelistic campaigns, exporting Christian music and Christian doctrine, which is really a brand of Christianity from the West, with the intent of changing the audience to a more western culture. This creates a prideful, imperialistic, cultural type of evangelism. It creates a situation where people of other religions are the “enemy of our faith” who must convert to “our side,” instead of simply following Jesus within their context. The turn-off level is great and very offensive to many who don’t want to reject their culture in order to come to Jesus. The truth is that only Jesus through His Spirit is able to bring about spiritual transformation. This is not a cultural transformation, but a heart transformation.

THIRD—Making Western Cultural Christianity the primary way to God brings with it a narrow view of God—Jesus and the Kingdom. God and Jesus are limited as being from the West. It’s a negation of God’s full creation of every culture, nation and tribe and thereby diminishing the cultural richness of the Creator-God.

FOURTH—Making Christianity the primary way to God reduces Jesus and the Kingdom to a religious system, competing for the hearts and minds of men and women everywhere. Christianity is another religious system on par with the religions of the world. Jesus and the Kingdom are not! We cannot change people with religious rituals and programs; that is pride. Only a personal relationship with Jesus, who is above all religions, can and will change people; from the inside out.

Christianity as another religious system acting as if it is the only way to God or the right way to God stirs up negative reactions and attitudes from the non-Christian world, criticism from the media and persecution of the Christian “missionaries” and their activities around the world. This attitude and teaching that Christianity is right and all others are wrong merges quite well with the smug attitude of the West believing we are always right and better than most everyone else.

E. Stanley Jones’ approach in the Indian culture was marked by his meeting with Mahatma Ghandi. Ghandi had just returned from his work in South Africa. He asked Ghandi how he might make the Good News more effective in the nation of India. Without skipping a beat, Ghandi offered two suggestions to Jones. First, “If you Christians would practice the teachings and principles of Jesus, that would go a long way in communicating your faith.” Second, “If you would study our culture and religion, then you will find we aren’t all that bad and reprehensible.” Jones found these to be profound enough to make them the cornerstone of his approach to not only the Indian culture, but the cultures of the world.

FIFTH—Making Christianity the primary way to God rejects the life and teachings of Jesus. Jesus is for the entire world. Jesus never urged anyone to become a part of a Christian culture or to join a Synagogue or Church. His only concern seems to be the person’s heart of faith and the subsequent act of whether or not the person becomes a follower of Jesus.

Jesus made it a habit of reaching out to people from all kinds of religious and cultural backgrounds. NOTE the following illustrations of how the approach of Jesus and his disciples was all-inclusive:

• John 4:12—Woman at the well was a Samaritan with very different beliefs regarding the center of worship. He left her with cultural beliefs intact, except that He trumped the center of worship by saying that someday the center of worship will not be in a given location, but in your heart. Jesus was not promoting a new religion; he was offering a personal relationship with God. This personal relationship would transform both her religion and the Hebrew religion. We give Satan too much credit, he is not a creator! He can only steal and destroy what God has made. A personal relationship with Jesus would take what Satan had stolen back for God and replace what he had destroyed.
• Acts 10:28—Peter’s experience with the non-Jews. After Peter was supernaturally led to the house of Cornelius by a radical vision from God, he told them: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”
• Mark 7:26—The Syrophoenician woman. She was a gentile from a godless culture. Her faith was evident in her persistent conversation with Jesus about her daughter. Jesus honored her faith, however He didn’t pull her into a new religious system or study class, nor did He have her renounce her cultural upbringing. When Jesus conversed with the Samaritan woman, He didn't make certain to warn her of her false beliefs and be sure to change the mountain where she worshipped. There was no renunciation of her false doctrines.
The presence of Jesus will change a person from the inside out to be like Jesus. God’s presence will convict their hearts in His time of what needs to be changed in their personal and cultural ways; NOT US!
• Luke 9:54—Rebuke of James & John. They suggested that Jesus call down fire from heaven to destroy the Samaritans who were not of the Jewish faith. Jesus rebuked them soundly.
• Mark 6:45-7:23—Trip to Gennesaret. Do you notice how many times the Gospel writers refer to going to the other side of the Sea of Galilee? Whenever they were on the Jewish side, they crossed over to the other side. Why? Jesus performed the same works among the gentile world. He never urged them to change their religious culture, but let them remain right where they grew up. However, they were drawn to Him.
• Matthew 15:30; Mark 7:24-8:9—Trips to Tyre, Sidon and Decapolis. All of these were non-Jewish areas where Jesus ministered.
• Mark 7:31-38; Matthew 15:29-38—Feeding of the 4000. It’s almost as if Jesus made a point doing the same miracles among the gentiles as He did with the Jews. This was a feeding within the world of the gentiles.
• Matthew 8:5—The Roman Centurion. No doubt the Roman Centurion grew up with the Roman gods, yet Jesus does not speak to this at all. His concern was his faith. When Jesus declared the Roman official's faith as outstanding, even greater than He had seen among the house of Israel, Jesus didn't tell this man to make sure to repent and go renounce the many Roman deities or his faith would be for nought.
• Matthew 8:10-11—Continuation of the Centurion story. Further in the scene in the healing of the Roman Centurion’s servant, Jesus says: "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.”
• Matthew 24:14—Jesus’ message regarding the nations of the world. Here Jesus says: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”
• Matthew 28:18-20—The great commission of Jesus. Jesus repeatedly gives the same command to His disciples before His departure: MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL NATIONS.
• John 10:16—Jesus mentions “other sheep” that are His. Who are these other sheep? Could it be that they are from the various cultures of the world? Could they be those spoken of in Romans 2:14-15 and 1 John 4:7?
• Acts 15:1-29—The first followers of Jesus were all Jews. When the first gentiles (everyone else) came to Jesus, some religious Jews insisted that all followers of Jesus must become cultural Jews. The apostles clearly decided against this. All people could be Followers of Jesus without changing their culture.
• Acts 17:26-27—Message of Paul in Athens. “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” God made the nations—all nations—were made by God in such a way so that all men might seek and find God.
• Acts 17—When Paul spoke before the gentile audience in Athens, he didn't quote Scripture, didn't use Jesus' name at first, stroked them for their many idols of worship and proceeded to explain to them who this UNKNOWN GOD is that they commemorated. He didn't call for the renunciation of these "gods" and he used their “heathen” poems to explain what God is like (Acts 17:28), yet many believed in Jesus that day. What's that all about? I don’t know many with this kind of approach.

• Acts 8:26-40—When the Ethiopian eunuch was approached by Philip, sent by God to do so for this Divine appointment, why doesn't Philip bring up the renunciation of his Ethiopian culture? They had already built many temples to some gods back then, so why not a call for renunciation of these gods...and especially before baptizing this eunuch, which must have served to make him feel he was now OK with God and a follower of Jesus?
• I Corinthians. 9:19-22—Cultural identification. “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” NOTE the strategy here was not to export a given culture to another, but to identify with the culture in such a way to introduce Jesus to that culture.
• Revelation 5:9—Every tribe and tongue and people and nation. Jesus came to reach all of these, not by exporting any given tribe, tongue, people or nation, but from within each of these faith in Jesus naturally emerges. Since the Creator-God is the source of all people, He has already marked all of these people groups. The word translated as “nations” is actually “ethnos” in the Greek. This is where we get the word “ethnic” from; in other words, there will be every cultural group in heaven.
• Anyone, anywhere can be a follower of Jesus— Cultural Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Animists, Agnostics, Moslems, and even Christians can all be followers of Jesus. Christians have said for years that a cultural Jew doesn’t have to renounce being Jewish in order to follow Jesus. Following Jesus makes a person’s Jewishness more full and meaningful. I believe this translates into the many cultures of the world. Following Jesus brings out the fullness of any and all cultures. A cultural Buddhist can be a follower of Jesus. A cultural Moslem can be a follower of Jesus. It’s just like a cultural Catholic can be a follower of Jesus without renouncing his cultural background or cultural Baptist or a cultural Methodist. Anyone can be a follower of Jesus and still remain within his or her cultural background...and this is quite Biblical as demonstrated above. It also makes it much better for reaching others within that culture.

NOTE that each of the above passages has to do with the good news of Jesus and the Kingdom reaching to the ends of the world—to everyone everywhere.

To take this one step further, there is a spirit of anti-Christ taught in Scripture. “Anti” is not only "against Christ", but "instead of Christ", therefore anything that takes us away from JESUS PLUS NOTHING is not only an add-on, but in the spirit of anti-Christ. This is why Paul says, "I am afraid as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness that your minds might be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ" (II Cor. 11). I wonder if this is what is going on in our ministries.

I don’t want to slam any church or Christian leader by what I’m saying, but I do want to be helpful in awakening leaders everywhere to the simplicity and purity of following Jesus. I have pastored a few churches over the years and know how easy it is to fall into the habit-patterns of keeping the "show" going—whether it is the Sunday morning service, the youth program, the children's ministry, and the obligatory prayer-letter back to supporters. Sometimes we get caught in the trap of pleasing our constituencies and are not free to see Jesus and His teachings as they are. We pray for a special releasing of the people of God everywhere to be free to see what Jesus said and did and JUST DO WHAT HE SAYS.

By the way, when Jesus spoke of being hated by the world as He was hated, He was referring to the religious leaders (“They will put you out of their synagogues.”) and that's where I receive most of my attacks...from those brothers who ought to know better.
Jesus and the kingdom are spread through a few who have been transformed by the power of Jesus.

PERSONAL TRANSFORMATION is what is normally called “conversion” and because of a misunderstanding of what this is, the modern missionary movement has attempted to “convert” the natives throughout the world. This is what I call “doing missionary work the hard way.” No missionary, no matter how effective, has the power to produce genuine, spiritual transformation.

The great modern missionary, E. Stanley Jones, was confounded by this problem and was a quick-study on what Jesus would do in other cultures. He said: “In conversion you are not attached primarily to an order, nor to an institution, nor a movement, nor a set of beliefs, nor a code of action—you are attached primarily to a Person, and secondarily to these other things.

To pass from estrangement from God to be a son of God is the basic fact of conversion. That altered relationship with God gives you an altered relationship with yourself, with your brother man, with nature, with the universe.”
Recently a blogger by the name of Bill stated this beautifully when he said, “The more I study Jesus’ message the more I’m convinced that it is non-religious. In fact, until the modern mission movement that began in the late eighteenth century, Christianity mostly moved into culture rather than converting it. That is, Christian missions more often converted the heart but left much of the culture intact. For the past 200 years, we have been converting whole cultures to the Euro-American style of Christianity…. What I’m beginning to understand is that the ‘Good News’ requires little change in culture—which often includes a religion. The gospel message is relational and spiritual, not religious.”

And that relational, spiritual transformation can only happen through the power of Jesus, not Christianity.
Why has the church become a distribution center for religious aspirin? Most people only go to church at baptisms, marriages and funerals—only to be hatched, matched and dispatched.

Why is the church viewed as irrelevant and out of step with the culture? Why is the church so impotent Ζ’and dying out in the USA at the rate of 70+ churches per week? Why is the church not expanding in our country?

The building and expansion of little local kingdoms called churches has replaced genuine transformation through the good news of Jesus and the Kingdom. Jesus mentioned the “church” only twice and spent His entire ministry teaching the principles of the Kingdom. Christianity, though well-intentioned, has placed the emphasis in the wrong place and is missing the power of personal transformation. The emphasis must be upon Jesus and the Kingdom and churches gather in the name of Jesus to teach and practice the Kingdom lifestyle.

So, it’s not so important that a person becomes a Christian or Catholic or Baptist or Adventist or whatever. What’s important to be a follower of Jesus.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Matthew 25:14-30

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14 ``For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. 16 Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. 17 In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. 18 But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, `Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.' 21 His master said to him, `Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' 22 Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, `Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.' 23 His master said to him, `Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' 24 ``And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, `Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. 25 `And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.' 26 ``But his master answered and said to him, `You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. 27`Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. 28 `Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.'"

29 ``For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. 30 Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

This teaching, as all of Jesus' messages, has an immediate application as well as a universal one for us today! The immediate is another warning to the Scribes and Pharisees and anyone who follows them. For us there are, at least, four principles.

FIRST-God gives men different gifts. It's not what is given a person, but how he or she handles it that matters. Although talents aren't equal, effort is.

SECOND-God's reward of "well done" leads to more work to do. Each of the two who received their rewards for their great effort are given the opportunity to carry an even greater responsibility in the Kingdom work.

THIRD-God's punishment is only given to the one who was not willing to try. He didn't lose it, but he was unwilling to invest it that it might become more productive. In other words, this man missed the point of what he was given. All that is given to us by God is given for us to manage, not to own for ourselves. It is given to use for the Kingdom. And, if we are seeking His righteousness and His Kingdom, God will take care of our security needs.

FOURTH-The only way to keep God's gift is to use it and then more will be given in the process. If you don't use it, you will surely lose it!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Matthew 25:1-13

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1 ``Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps. 5 Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. 6 But at midnight, there was a shout, `Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the prudent, `Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' 9 But the prudent answered, `No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' 10 And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other virgins also came, saying, `Lord, lord, open up for us.' 12 But he answered, `Truly I say to you, I do not know you.' 13 Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour."

Jesus continues His warning of being ready. BE READY and BE PREPARED for the most important event yet to come in your life. The Bride-groom is coming! God's Messiah (the Bride-groom) is coming for His Bride.

In its immediate significance it was directed against the Jews. they were the chosen people; their whole history should have been a preparation for the coming of the Son of God; they ought to have been prepared for him when he came. Instead they were quite unprepared and therefore were shut out.

The only way I know to BE READY is to have a fresh, daily, relationship with Jesus, strengthened by my relationships with other followers of Jesus.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Matthew 24:42-51

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Prophecy is so fascinating and those who claim to have it all nailed down and figured out have missed what Jesus is saying so simply. For instance, in the last paragraph, Jesus sets the context as "in the days of Noah" and one is taken and the other is left. Who was taken and who was left behind? Those who were the faithful were left behind, yet one of the all-time best-sellers ever is the "Left Behind" series. In that series, they teach just the opposite! Go figure!

Jesus goes on warning His disciples to be on the alert: 42 "Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. 43 But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 44 For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will. 
45 Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 47 Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But if that evil slave says in his heart, `My master is not coming for a long time,' 49 and begins to beat his fellow slaves and eat and drink with drunkards; 50 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, 51 and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." BE READY!

There is a fable which tells of three apprentice devils who were coming to this earth to finish their apprenticeship. They were talking to Satan, the chief of the devils, about their plans to tempt and ruin men. The first said, "I will tell them there is no God." Satan said, "That will not delude many, for they know that there is a God." The second said, "I will tell men there is no hell." Satan answered, "You will deceive no one that way; men know even now that there is a hell." The third said, "I will tell men there is no hurry." "Go," said Satan, "and you will ruin them by the thousands." The most dangerous of all delusions is that there is plenty of time to get your act together with Jesus. The most dangerous day in a man's life is when he learns that there is such a word as tomorrow. There are things which must not be put off, for no man knows if for him tomorrow will ever come.

Think of the tragic morning of September 11th. That morning rocked our world dramatically! It just doesn't take much to turn the world on its head. This brings a new perspective on "one day at a time." We are to set our course for the long haul, but live as if this is all we have. Jesus may come for even you today! Are you ready?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Matthew 24:32-41

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32 ``Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; 33 so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door . 34 Truly I say to you, this generation [normally, this word is translated "race"] will not pass away until all these things take place.[When you see all of the these signs coming to pass, then you will know that the Messiah's coming in glory and victory is near.] 35 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. 36 But of that day and hour no one knows, [What part of "no one" do you not understand?] not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone." 37

"For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, [Even though Noah had been preaching and telling the story of the impending judgment of the flood, they did not understand it all until it actually happened and then it was too late!] 39 and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be. [In the flood, the people who did not "get it" were removed from living on the earth. They were going on with their lives, ignoring the message that was being preached. So, in the same way, the masses of people on earth will ignore the preaching of the coming of the Messiah in glory and will face the same kind of ending to their lives.] 40 Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left."

No matter how you interpret the 2nd Coming of Jesus, there is one universal fact that must not be ignored. Jesus is coming! After a fresh trip in my mind of visiting the people of Israel-Muslim, Jews (religious and secular), Christians, and Druze, everyone is poised toward this great, supernatural event!

FIRST--Muslims are looking for Jesus to return and bring world peace!

SECOND--Religious Jews are looking for the Messiah (already rejected Jesus' Messiah-ship) to come and bring peace!

THIRD--The secular Jews are so desperate that they quietly hope there is a supernatural work of God such as the coming of Messiah!

FOURTH--The Christians (in their hundreds of Heinz varieties, all believing that Jesus will come and affirm their way of thinking) are looking for Jesus to bring peace!

FIFTH--The Druze (a Muslim spin-off) are looking for the Messiah to come and bring peace (although in their thinking, He will be born through a man.)!

In other words, there are people all over the world who are looking up into the skies and seeking the God of gods to do something dramatic. So, where are you looking?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Matthew 24:15-31

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Question #3-What is the sign of your coming? 15 ``Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), 16 then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. 17 Whoever is on the housetop must not go down to get the things out that are in his house. 18 Whoever is in the field must not turn back, to get his cloak. 19 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 20 But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath."

21 ``For then there will be a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever, will. 22 Unless those days had been cut short, no, life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. 23 Then if anyone says to you, `Behold, here is the Christ,' or `There He is,' do not believe him. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect."[The deception by these false messiahs will be so believable that the true believers may be misled.]

25 ``Behold, I have told you in advance. 26 So if they say to you, `Behold, He is in the wilderness,' do not go out, or, `Behold, He is in the inner rooms,' do not believe them."

27 ``For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be." [The sign will be like a lightning flash from the east to the west.] 28 ``Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather."

29 ``But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken."

THEN, 30 ``And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. 31 And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.

The point here is that Jesus will not come in a secretive, humble manner as when He first came, so that His coming might occur unnoticed. But He will come in a dramatic way following a great world-wide tribulation, claims of false messiahs and major changes in the heavens (sun, moon and stars). When Jesus comes back, no one will be able to miss it! The question again is: "Are you ready?"

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Matthew 24:4-14

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Question #2-What is the sign of the end of the age?

4 And Jesus answered and said to them, ``See to it that no one misleads you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, `I am the Christ,' and will mislead many. 6 You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. 8 But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. It's not so much the fact of famines and earthquakes, but the frequency and intensity like the birth pangs of pregnancy. 9 Then they will deliver you to tribulation and will kill you and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10 At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. 11 Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. 12 Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. 14 This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come."

Some believe that the "nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom" was the 1st world war, then the increase in frequency and intensity of the famines and earthquakes, great persecution, false prophets rising up and deceiving many, lawlessness increased, love for one another will be more and more scarce, THEN, the gospel of the kingdom will be presented in the whole world as a testimony of God and THEN THE END WILL COME.

So, the end of the age will come after several, cataclysmic events and the ugly atmosphere of a loveless world will prevail. What do you think? Is it near?

I used to believe I had the prophetic end-times all worked out. I could draw the charts and come very close to nailing down the time of Jesus' return and the end of the world as we know it. The more I've learned about simply and really following Jesus, I've come to realize that maybe I didn't know as much as I thought I did.

What fascinates me the most out of this passage is verse 14: "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come." Now that we are working with the many cultures of the world where people are becoming followers of Jesus without abandoning their cultures, WHEN Jesus comes back is not nearly as important as focusing on the WHO of Jesus Himself. He is already showing up within the many cultures of the world. Now, that is thrilling to me!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Matthew 24:1-3

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1 Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. 2 And He said to them, ``Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.'' 3 As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, ``Tell us, when will these things happen, and what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?''

This is a fascinating interaction between Jesus and His disciples. Jesus, standing outside the magnificent Temple, says that this Temple will be utterly destroyed. The disciples come back at Him with 3 questions: 1. When will the Temple be destroyed? 2. What will be the sign of Your coming again in glory? 3. What will be the sign of the end of the age?

Let's begin by rehearsing Jesus' answer: 20 ``But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. 21 ``Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; 22 because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. 23 ``Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; 24 and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. Luke 21:20-24

Jesus' answer is: the Temple will be destroyed WHEN you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies. This happened around 66 A.D. The Roman armies surrounded Jerusalem and when the capture of the city proved to be more difficult than expected, they sent out for more supplies. It was during this time that those who heeded Jesus' warning, actually fled the city to save their lives. There is a well-founded Jewish tradition that the followers of Jesus did flee the city during the time of re-supplying the troops and not one Messianic believer in Jesus died in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by the Roman General, Titus.

This prophecy was fulfilled in a close enough time period where people could actually see its fulfillment. The other two questions have a long-term nature to them and very difficult to understand for sure.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Matthew 23:37-39

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37 ``Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. 38 ``Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! 39 ``For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, `BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!' ''

I love the Old City of Jerusalem. When we share Israel with people, we always begin in the Galilee area and then move south and up to Jerusalem. Entering that city is one of the most dramatic experiences to me. I have entered Jerusalem well over 100 times and I never have lost the thrill of it.

Yet in the 1st Century, Jerusalem was even more magnificent! Herod's Temple must have been a most amazing site to behold with all of its gold and splendor!

I can imagine Jesus looking over the city with His heart filled with grief and compassion and saying those words above. He had presented Himself as God's Messiah, yet was rejected like so many of God's prophets who were sent before. His heart is broken and He knows the coming destruction of this grand city and its people is drawing near (70 A.D.).

Then Jesus makes a curious statement , "you will not see Me until you say, BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD." Or, you will not see Me again until you welcome Me as God's Messiah for you. There is an interesting progression of passages throughout the prophets that all speak of the Jewish people (following their leadership) committing one primary sin and that sin is the rejection of God's Messiah. Then the Prophet Hosea presents the words of God saying, "I will go away (from earth) and return to My place (heaven). Until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face. In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me." And then Jesus makes this statement in Matthew that they will not see Him again until they are ready to welcome Him to return. Whatever this all means in the days ahead, you can be assured that it is our responsibility as followers of Jesus to be ready and willing to welcome Him back as God's Messiah, His Deliverer, for us.

In other words, the emphasis of our lives must be to pay attention to the present-the nasty now and now-and not hyperventilate or speculate on the future of when Jesus will return. He is coming back, but that's his business. Our business is to be ready by being faithful to him.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Matthew 23:29-36

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29 ``Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, `If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' 31 ``So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 ``Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. 33 ``You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell ? ``Therefore,, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, 35 so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 ``Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation."

Jesus points out how the Scribes and Pharisees take care of the tombs of the martyrs and beautify their memorials and make the claim that, if they had lived in the old days, they would not have killed the prophets and the men of God. But that is exactly what they would have done, and what they are going to do shortly.

Jesus is quite clear that the murder taint is still there. He knows that now he must die, and that in the days to come his messengers will be persecuted and ill-treated, rejected and killed.

He says that this blight of murder among the leadership of the Jewish people has occurred from the beginning! He says from Cain to Zacharias. In the Hebrew bible the first book is Genesis (the first murder involving Cain) and the last book is II Chronicles (the last murder in the biblical story was Zacharias). Jesus is saying that "rejection" even to the point of murdering God's chosen men, has been the nature of the Jewish leadership throughout their history. What a tragedy! God's chosen people, greatly loved, has continually turned against God and there will be a day of reckoning.

We must evaluate our own lives today. We are the only message of the love of God that most people have today. They will either see the love of God in and through us or they won't. So, are you a clear light that attracts others or do you stand as a hindrance?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Matthew 23:27-28

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27 ``Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. 28 ``So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Any Jew of that time would have instantly understood Jesus' reference to the tombs. First, making their way to Jerusalem, they would have come across many tombs along their way. Remember, anyone who touched a dead body became unclean (Num 19:16), therefore anyone who came into contact with a tomb automatically became unclean. With so many tombs and such great crowds traveling to Jerusalem for the Feasts, they used to whitewash the tombs in order to alert the traveler of its presence.

Second, when walking outside the Temple, one could easily see the massive tombs on the hillside of the Mount of Olives. Both of these sites were very evident to the Jew of that time.

So, these tombs glistened white on the outside, but within they were full of bones and bodies whose touch would defile a man. This was the picture Jesus presented of the Pharisees. Spiritually glistening on the outside, yet spiritually dead on the inside! This continued the theme that Jesus was driving home, internal over the external.

God looks upon the heart; man is attracted to the outward appearance. So, let your life be a focus on the inside and the outside will take care of itself.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Matthew 23:25-26

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25 ``Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26 ``You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.

The idea of uncleanness is continually arising in the Jewish Law. It must be remembered that this uncleanness was not physical uncleanness. An unclean vessel was not in our sense of the term a dirty vessel. For a person to be ceremonially unclean meant that he could not enter the Temple or the synagogue; he was barred from worshipping God.

Some of the laws concerning uncleanness: 1. A man was unclean if he touched a dead body or came into contact with a Gentile.

2. A woman was unclean if she had a hemorrhage, even if that hemorrhage was perfectly normal and healthy.

3. If a person who was himself unclean touched any vessel, that vessel became unclean; and, thereafter, any other person who touched or handled the vessel became in turn unclean. Therefore is was very important to have vessels cleansed; and the Pharisaical laws for cleansing them is amazingly complex.

For instance, an earthen vessel which is hollow becomes unclean only on the inside and not on the outside; and it can be cleansed only by being broken. A flat plate without a rim, an open coal-shovel, a grid-iron with holes in it for parching grains of wheat cannot be clean at all. On the other hand, a plate with a rim, or an earthen spice-box, or a writing-case can become unclean. Of vessels made of leather, bone, wood and glass, flat ones do not become unclean; deep ones do. If they are broken, they become clean. Any metal vessel which is at once smooth and hollow can become unclean; but a door, a bolt, a lock, a hinge, a knocker cannot become unclean. If a thing is made of wood and metal, then the wood can become unclean, but the metal cannot. These regulations seem to us fantastic, and yet these are the regulations the Pharisees meticulously kept. The food or drink inside a vessel might have been obtained by cheating or extortion or theft; it might be luxurious and gluttonous; that did not matter, so long as the vessel itself was ceremonially clean. This is another example of fussing about trifles and letting the weightier matters go. This can still happen today. Some believe it's unclean to have rock-like music in the church service, some want only hymns, some hold to a certain translation of the Bible, others want those who are up front to be dressed a certain way-no flops or sandals, no jeans, some want choirs to wear robes. A local fellowship can find themselves in an uproar when disagreement occurs over the colors in the carpet or walls, or the architecture of a building or the atmosphere within that building.

Can you say, "IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER!"

Monday, September 05, 2011

Matthew 23:23-24

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23 ``Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. 24 ``You blind guides who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

The point of Jesus' saying is this. It was universally accepted that tithes of the main crops must be given. But mint and dill and cummin are herbs of the kitchen garden and would not be grown in any quantity; a person would have only a little patch of them. All three were used in cooking, and dill and cummin had medicinal uses.

To tithe them was to tithe an infinitesimally small crop, maybe not much more than the produce of one plant. Only those who were super meticulous would tithe the single plants of the kitchen garden. This is exactly what the Pharisees were like. They were so absolutely meticulous about tithes that they would tithe even one clump of mint; and yet these same men could be guilty of injustice; could be hard and arrogant and cruel, forgetting the claims of mercy; could take oaths and pledges and promises with the deliberate intention of evading them, forgetting any sense of right and wrong. In other words, many of them kept the trifles of the Law and forgot the things which really matter.

Jesus uses a vivid illustration of straining out a gnat. A gnat was an insect and therefore unclean; and so was a camel. In order to avoid the risk of drinking anything unclean, wine was strained out, so that any possible impurity might be strained out of it. This is a humorous picture which must have raised a laugh of a man carefully straining his wine through gauze to avoid swallowing a microscopic insect and yet cheerfully most willingly swallows a camel. It is the picture of a man who has completely lost his sense of proportion.

They majored in the minors and minored in the majors! And its still going on today

Sunday, September 04, 2011

A NEED FOR A JESUS CURRICULUM

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Years ago the many para-church organizations-Young Life, Youth for Christ, Campus Crusade for Christ, YWAM, Intervarsity, Navigators-struggled with what to do with their new believers. If you funneled them into a local Church, the students tended to be turned off with the irrelevance of the services and messages of the Church. The very reason for a para-church ministry was to serve the local Church in areas where they were unable to function well. The local Church tailored its services and activities in the same manner they fashioned their adult services. In most cases this approach was never able to generate the sizzle to attract young people into the Church setting. The para-church groups focused their attention on high school and college students. They were able to be extremely successful, because of the freedom they had to spend all of their time on just working with students.

This gap existed between the local Church and the para-church groups for years. Since the para-church couldn't figure out a way to get its students to be enthused about going to the local Church and the local Church was threatened by the success of the para-church groups, the para-church organizations began to work on developing a teaching curriculum for their new believer students.

This very same phenomenon is occurring again, but this time the players are different. On the one side, there is the local Church that has, for the most part, narrowed the gap between their work with students and the many para-church groups who work with students. In fact, the two are working together more closely than ever. Today there is a Jesus movement that is popping up all over. This Jesus movement is just that-a movement that is all about Jesus who is not packaged within any institutional, religious structure-not even Christianity.

The Jesus movement is attracted to simply Jesus without being wrapped in Christianese or religious traditions or trappings. Participants in the Jesus movement have been confused and even turned off by these wrappings. It's a movement that is moving to a different beat than most religious groups; it's a Jesus beat!

Today, we are introducing many to Jesus, yet these new "followers of Jesus" quickly become distracted away from the simplicity and purity of walking with Jesus and walking with others. They can easily become distracted by the religious terminology that just doesn't matter in comparison to knowing and following Jesus. Instead of embracing Jesus and growing in Him, they tend to grow into better Bapterians, Presbytists and Episcolics. Simply Jesus or Jesus plus nothing is what these new followers of Jesus need and are looking for.

A lady said to me last week that when she attends one of our studies about Jesus plus nothing, she feels like she has just come back home. Jesus resonates with her; religiosity does not. It distracts her and confuses her and leaves her with her feet firmly planted in mid-air spiritually. The answer for the new followers of Jesus is the same answer as we faced many years ago with students who became new believers. We are in desperate need of a curriculum that only teaches about Jesus.

After my most recent trip to Kenya, many things have become clearer to us (those with whom I am walking) as to what our best role is in the Jesus movement. The clarity has come as we see the needs in the movement personally in discussion with many of you and through the eyes of national and international leaders. These leaders are religious, political and corporate; they are all communicating the same things to us. There seem to be four specific needs repeatedly expressed:

FIRST-There is a major need for training our own people in the family of friends who want to follow Jesus, so that they are more than parrots. We all know so many little study groups that would be thrilled to study simply Jesus. There is a great need for each follower of Jesus to embrace the ABC's of the teachings and principles of Jesus personally-that each one owns it for himself well enough to live it.

SECOND-There is a major need for a Jesus curriculum. I hear this everywhere I go. People are introduced to the concept of Jesus plus nothing, and then are sent back into studies and teachings about how to be a better Church member, not a follower of Jesus. Once a person decides to follow Jesus and embrace His life and teachings as a lifestyle, that person needs to be able to feed on these teachings. If the end-game is to become like Jesus, then we need as many studies as possible to be about Jesus plus nothing without being couched in the religious terminology of religiosity. Studies must be all about Jesus and nothing else, simply Jesus. Even the "secular" dimensions of the culture must see how practical it is for Jesus to be the reference point of life.

THIRD-There is a major need for "Christian" leaders to know Jesus and His Kingdom-to be able to embrace these truths Biblically and to experience them personally. Never have I seen a greater openness than now! I am meeting with clergy and other religious leaders about this every week. There is a great hunger within the Church of Jesus to know Jesus better. Several pastors around the country are eager to participate in creating a Jesus core curriculum.

FOURTH-There is a major need for non-Christian leaders to know Jesus and His Kingdom-to be able to embrace Jesus and His Kingdom through their cultural lenses. Yet our normal approach is to introduce a person to Jesus without giving serious consideration to Jesus' command to make disciples of all nations. Once a person learns about Jesus he has a desire to know more about Jesus, not some theological set of beliefs from his culture and background.

This brings me back to one of my favorite statements from Paul: "I am afraid lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, that your minds might be led astray from the purity and simplicity of devotion to Jesus." Whatever you are reading, studying and discussing, be sure to make it all about Jesus.