Salvation is Free; Discipleship is Costly

Luke 13-14

And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’
Luke 13:23-27

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’
Luke 14:25-30

These passages always get me wondering about the difference between salvation and discipleship. Are they they same? Can you have one without the other? How can salvation be free when Jesus says discipleship is costly? I think it’s a “yes and yes” situation.

Because there are people far wiser than myself, I have borrowed from some of their expertise. In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that when Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die. Bonhoeffer describes “cheap grace” and “costly grace”:
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

I feel as though I tend to strongly agree with this point of view of God’s grace – that while it cost us nothing, it cost God so much; therefore we cannot view it as “cheap.” For so many years I did just that, and the result was a complete lack of repentance, fear and anxiety, shame and guilt, giving myself over to sin time and time again, and absolutely no fruit or evidence of a new creation. For many years I claimed to be saved, said that I was a Christian, but I treated that grace very cheaply, as though it had not cost Someone His life. So to me, discipleship becomes the natural overflow from a heart that has fully accepted the costly grace that God has given us.

However, I cannot deny that there are distinctions between salvation and discipleship given in scripture. I found this article that discusses the differences between the two, as well as how they are integrally connected. They provided this list that contrasts the two:

1. Christ’s invitation to salvation is, “Come unto me” (Matthew 11:28); His call to discipleship is, “Come after Me” (Matthew 16:24).
2. Salvation is about the Cross of Christ (Matthew 16:21); discipleship is about your own cross (Matthew 16:22-24).
3. At salvation, you receive a gift, eternal life (John 4:10 and Romans 6:23); in discipleship, you give a gift, your body (Romans 12:1).
4. The salvation decision (putting faith in Christ for eternal life) must be made only once (John 5:24, 6:37-40, 10:27-28); the discipleship decision (commitment to obey Christ) must be made again and again (Luke 9:23).
5. Salvation is a sure thing (Romans 8:1, 8-11, 28-30, 33-39); discipleship is always in danger of failing (Luke 14:25-35).
6. Salvation is about grace (Ephesians 2:5-9); discipleship is about works (Revelation 22:12).
7. Eternal life is the result of salvation in Christ (John 3:16); eternal rewards are the result of successful discipleship (Matthew 16:27).

The author of the article made the case that you can be saved and not fully walking as a disciple and that you can be unsaved while seemingly walking as a disciple (think Judas). Here’s where I have come to rest: Discipleship is not the only indicator of salvation; however, it is the result. Paul writes that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit when we believe in the Gospel of Truth. He also writes that the Spirit in us wars against our flesh, and that if anyone does not have the Spirit in him then he does not belong to Christ. So if our belief in the Gospel was genuine, and we therefore received the Holy Spirit, there should be a gradual procession into discipleship. Sanctification is a process, and it is God working in us to give us the will and ability to do what pleases Him. If that desire for discipleship is not there, perhaps neither is the Spirit.

LORD, thank You for Your costly grace! May I never see it as something cheap that gives me the license to spend it freely. Thank You that You have called us into discipleship, not so that we can earn salvation, but so that we can experience more of You as we become conformed to the image of Christ. More of You is always the greatest reward, no matter the cost! AMEN!

Worry Distracts Us From Kingdom Seeking

Luke 12

Then Yeshua said to His disciples, “So I say to you, do not worry about life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will wear. For life is more than food and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens. They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn, yet God feeds them. How much more valuable you are than birds!
And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? So if you cannot do even something very little, why do you worry about other thingsConsider the lilies, how they grow. They neither toil nor spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass in the field—which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow—then how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?
So do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worryingFor all the nations of the world strive after these things. But your Father knows that you need these thingsInstead, seek His kingdom, and these things shall be added to you. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father chose to give you the kingdomSell your possessions and do tzedakah. Make money pouches for yourselves that do not get old—a treasure in the heavens that never runs out, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Luke 22-34

As I read this section I hear so much tenderness in Christ’s words to His disciples! After warning them against greed in the previous parable, He now goes on to warn them about worry. In greed we strive to obtain as much as we can without regard for God; however, in worry, though we may regard God, we unnecessarily concern ourselves with the needs of this present life which can distract us from concerning ourselves with His Kingdom.

Jesus tells us how futile it is to worry about small matters that lie outside our control – like adding a single hour to our life, so it is then even more foolish to worry about larger matters that lie even further outside our control. I feel like I often err on the side of worrying about the small stuff – stuff I think I can control, while trusting God with the things that I absolutely know I have no control over whatsoever. But in all honesty, as I grow in my walk with Christ, as He renews my mind each day through His Word, I notice that the things of this world that used to distract me, create anxiety or worry or even fear, really have less of a hold over me. As my trust grows, my worry decreases. And when worry is no longer blurring my vision, I find that I am less likely to be focused on myself, and more able to focus on the things that Christ says will store up treasures in heaven. Instead of desiring to build up my earthly “kingdom,” I become focused more on the things that will increase His Kingdom.

Yesterday I wrote about prayer and how Jesus Himself encourages us to keep seeking, asking, and knocking. I’ve heard this phrase a lot recently, “You can worry about it, or you can pray about it.” When we worry about something, we can become obsessed with how we can control the outcome or how the outcome will impact us. However, when we pray about something, we are laying that need or request down at the feet of God, trusting that He will act or provide according to His good, pleasing and perfect will.

So I think the essence to not worrying is knowing how good our Heavenly Father is. We can trust that however He chooses to act is for our ultimate good and that nothing He does is ever intended to harm us, but to draw us closer to Him. Jesus often describes Himself as an object of provision, something that satisfies a need. He declares that He is the Bread of Life and that whoever comes to Him will never be hungry or thirsty again. Twice, Jesus claims that those who drink of the water He provides will never thirst and that streams of Living Water will flow from them. And finally, He describes Himself as the true vine, and that those who remain connected to Him will bear fruit. When we begin to fully understand that the things Jesus promises to provide far outweigh the things of this world, worries just seem to dissolve. Because I know that “God has the power to provide [me] with every gracious gift in abundance, so that always in every way [I] will have all [I] need to be able to provide abundantly for every good cause.”

Father, thank You that the gifts You promise are far greater than anything we can desire in this world and that You graciously provide for all our needs! Help me to remain focused on You and not to become worried or anxious about things that only distract and discourage. I want to always see You as a good, gracious, loving Father who always desires to draw me closer! AMEN!
luk-12-32-web

Lord, Teach Us to Pray

Luke 11

He said to them, “When you pray, say:
Father,
May your name be kept holy.
May your Kingdom come.
Give us each day the food we need.
Forgive us our sins, for we too forgive everyone who has wronged us.
And do not lead us to hard testing.’”

He also said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend; and you go to him in the middle of the night and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine who has been traveling has just arrived at my house, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ Now the one inside may answer, ‘Don’t bother me! The door is already shut, my children are with me in bed — I can’t get up to give you anything!’ But I tell you, even if he won’t get up because the man is his friend, yet because of the man’s hutzpah he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
“Moreover, I myself say to you: keep asking, and it will be given to you; keep seeking, and you will find; keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who goes on asking receives; and he who goes on seeking finds; and to him who continues knocking, the door will be opened.
“Is there any father here who, if his son asked him for a fish, would instead of a fish give him a snake? or if he asked for an egg would give him a scorpion? So if you, even though you are bad, know how to give your children gifts that are good, how much more will the Father keep giving the Ruach HaKodesh from heaven to those who keep asking him!
Luke 11:2-13

I sometimes fail to notice how all these verses about prayer that we are so familiar with were all taught in the same moment. And as I read through them, they really build on each other as they teach us: what to pray for (vs 2-4), how we should pray (vs 5-10), the character of the One we are praying to (vs 9-13), and that the ultimate gift given through prayer is the Holy Spirit (vs 13).

In the first section, Jesus tells us what to pray for. I love that He teaches us to call God “Father” when we pray. To have this intimate, familiar name to associate with the Creator King – with YHVH Himself. God desires for that kind of relationship with us, and while we must always hallow His name, revere and fear Him for His “otherness”, He also wants us to see Him as our Father and us as His children whom He loves. We are told to pray for the furthering of His Kingdom. While we are here on earth, we must keep an eternal mindset at the forefront of our thinking. We need to be about ushering in His Kingdom, which is here in part, but has not fully reached its fulfillment. Peter tells us that we are to live holy, godly lives as we wait for the Day of the Lord and to hasten its coming.

After we acknowledge God and His Kingdom, we can pray for our needs – provision, forgiveness, and deliverance. The prayer for provision is that God would provide our daily bread – what we need today. In western culture, it seems as though we get so caught up in the things we don’t have, instead of being thankful for all that we do – which in comparison to the rest of the world is far greater. But I also think that there is an implication to the Bread that Jesus refers to when He says, “I AM the Bread of Life.” He tells us not to work for the food which passes away, but for the food that stays on into eternal life, which He Himself will give to those who come to Him. Yes, we need physical food to sustain us, but the spiritual food that Christ gives is far more precious and life-giving than anything we put in our stomach because it leads to eternal life!

Dr. Constable had interesting notes on the parts about forgiveness and deliverance:
The believer in Jesus has already received eternal forgiveness for the legal guilt of his or her sins. Therefore the forgiveness Jesus spoke of here is the forgiveness that is necessary for the maintenance of fellowship with the Father. A person’s unwillingness to forgive others who have wronged him or her may indicate that he or she knows nothing of God’s forgiveness. Conversely one’s willingness to forgive other people shows that one recognizes his or her own need for forgiveness.

The fifth petition requests divine protection. This request does not imply that God might entice us into sin. Nevertheless God does allow people to undergo temptation in the sense of the testing of their faithfulness. This petition expresses the disciple’s awareness of his or her need for God’s help in avoiding excessive temptation and enduring all temptation. It is essentially a request for help in remaining faithful to God.

Jesus moves on from what we should pray for to how we should pray. In His parable about the persistent neighbor, He uses a very common form of comparison to contrast the reluctant neighbor, who only gets up to answer the door because of the hutzpah of his friend, to that of God who is always ready to hear and answer our prayers. Hutzpah translates to the idea of shameless persistence, and that is exactly how Jesus is telling us to approach God, who is not annoyed or put off by our prayers. He tells us to keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking, because eventually God will respond. We should keep praying in spite of no immediate answers while keeping in mind that God does not always answer in the way we hope or expect, but He always hears and will answer in accordance to His perfect will and His perfect time. The shameless persistence of asking, seeking, and knocking invites us in to a more intimate experience of seeing God at work through our prayers. Often delayed answers help us to grow in our faith as we are able to look back over the period of our prayers to see how God’s sovereign hand was at work, even if we did not recognize it in the moment.

After encouraging us to be persistent in prayer, Jesus reminds us of the character of the One to Whom we are praying to. Who better to give us a glimpse of our Heavenly Father that the One who has been with Him since eternity past? Jesus reminds us that we, even as fallen sinful beings, enjoy giving good gifts to our children, so how much more does our Heavenly Father rejoice in giving good gifts to us? But the greatest of His gifts is more of Himself, more of His Spirit in our lives. And truly, the more of Him we receive, the more of Him we desire. Once we have tasted and seen how good He is, we don’t struggle as much with wanting to fill ourselves up with things that do not satisfy. Instead we desire to seek after Him more, and when we seek Him we lack no good thing.

Father, You are the source of every good thing! Thank You that You desire intimate relationship with us and that You have torn the veil so that we can approach You in prayer with shameless persistence and expectation! Continue to deepen my desire for more of You and to see You as the loving Father whose ears are always open to my prayers! AMEN!
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He Sends Us Out Ahead of Himself

Luke 10

Now after these things, the Lord assigned seventy others and sent them out by twos before Him into every town and place where He Himself was about to go. And He was telling them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore, beg the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest“Go forth! Look, I am sending you as lambs in the midst of wolves.

The one who listens to you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.
Luke 10:1-3 & 16

I’d never really paid attention to this minor detail about Jesus sending out 70 of His followers…that He sent them out ahead of Him into every place that He was about to go. To prepare His way. To work in His field. He tells them, “the harvest is plentiful, but there are so few people to labor in the fields! Pray that the LORD of the Harvest would send more laborers into the fields to assist in the harvest!” God Himself is the One who does the harvesting, but we can be faithful laborers, used by God to plant and water, till and plow so that the harvest will be great! 

pr.jpgI think we often believe that harvesting is our responsibility, and we become discouraged when a person doesn’t repent and accept salvation. But only God can work in the heart of a person to cause them to be drawn to Himself. We, however, have the joy and duty of helping to prepare that heart for when that day comes by planting seeds of God’s Word and truth, showering it with living water of love and compassion, and laboring through service and sacrifice. If they reject our message, our efforts, then it is not us they are rejecting, but Christ, and the One who sent Him.

Jesus is coming back. And there is not a single town or place that He will not go. He has sent us out ahead of Himself into the fields to prepare the Harvest.

LORD, keep me mindful of the fields that You have placed me in and give me an overwhelming sense of duty and joy to be used by You to prepare for Your return. Give me a heart for the lost souls around me – to love them, serve them, and spread the message of Your salvation! AMEN!

 

Gain Through Loss

Luke 9

Then Yeshua was saying to everyone, “If anyone wants to follow Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross every day, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses or forfeits himself?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory and the glory of the Father and the holy angels.
Luke 9:23-26

I feel like I am really only on the cusp of fully understanding what it means to gain true life through losing this one. Jesus is the greatest treasure to be gained for all eternity. The things we say “no” to, the ways in which we deny ourselves in order to have more of Him, may seem foolish to a world that constantly bombards us with messages of “Treat yo self,” “YOLO,” “Follow your heart,” “Do what makes you happy.” But in reality those are foolish pursuits. They are mantras of self indulgence that are designed to help one build a kingdom of self. A kingdom that will all too quickly be burned up. But Christ calls us to a higher cause. To be used to build an eternal kingdom, and to store up treasures there that will never rot or fade. But it requires denying ourselves of worthless things here. Or perhaps denying ourselves the “right” to the perfect life plan. That God should only do things in the way we perceive as good for us to desire to pick up that cross and follow Him. All I know is that ay suffering we have here, any loss we endure, is superficial in the lens of eternity. But the joy that we will have forever is just that – forever!

“What is gained in Christ far outweighs all that is lost for Christ.”

Paul understood this as is expressed in Philippians:
Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that this will work out for my deliverance, because of your prayers and the support I get from the Spirit of Yeshua the Messiah. It all accords with my earnest expectation and hope that I will have nothing to be ashamed of; but rather, now, as always, the Messiah will be honored by my body, whether it is alive or dead. For to me, life is the Messiah, and death is gain.

But the things that used to be advantages for me, I have, because of the Messiah, come to consider a disadvantage. Not only that, but I consider everything a disadvantage in comparison with the supreme value of knowing the Messiah Yeshua as my Lord. It was because of him that I gave up everything and regard it all as garbage, in order to gain the Messiah.

These are really strong words, to see death as gain, to view everything outside of knowing Christ as garbage. This extremist viewpoint is a common method of comparison in Jewish culture. Jesus Himself used it multiple times, including when He said that anyone who loves Him must hate his father, mother, wife, and children. He’s not literally saying “you now have to hate these people,” but instead that your love for Me should be so great that the love you have for them almost seems like hate. So Paul is not saying everything in the world is garbage or meaningless, but in the shadow of the greatness of knowing Christ, they are of no value. He’s not saying life isn’t worth living, but that the reward of being with Christ in death is such great gain!

So it makes the words of John seem more digestible:
Do not love the world or the things of the world. If someone loves the world, then love for the Father is not in him; because all the things of the world — the desires of the old nature, the desires of the eyes, and the pretensions of life — are not from the Father but from the world. And the world is passing away, along with its desires. But whoever does God’s will remains forever.

It’s not that we cannot love the things of the world, but that our love for them should never even come close to superseding our love for the Father.

LORD, Help me to love you more and more. Teach me how to deny myself and bear my cross. Let me not be ashamed of You, but to joyfully proclaim You through my life – through my words and actions! Teach me to love You more than any other thing in this world! You are the greatest treasure and reward! AMEN!

 

Hearing is a Call to Action

Luke 8

“The parable is this: the seed is God’s message. The ones along the path are those who hear, but then the Adversary comes and takes the message out of their hearts, in order to keep them from being saved by trusting it. The ones on rock are those who, when they hear the word, accept it with joy; but these have no root — they go on trusting for awhile; but when a time of testing comes, they apostatizeAs for what fell in the midst of thorns these are the ones who hear; but as they go along, worries and wealth and life’s gratifications crowd in and choke them, so that their fruit never maturesBut what fell in rich soil — these are the ones who, when they hear the message, hold onto it with a good, receptive heart; and by persevering, they bring forth a harvest.

Pay attention, then, to how you hear! For anyone who has something will be given more; but from anyone who has nothing, even what he seems to have will be taken away.”

But he gave them this answer: “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s message and act on it!”
Luke 8:11-15, 18, & 21

Every time I read the story of the Sower and the Seed, I feel like a take away something new. This time it’s how we hear and act on the Good News and what that looks like in our lives. The Gospel is always a call to action. Some can hear the message and do nothing with it, therefore allowing the enemy to steal it away before it can do anything in their lives. Some get caught up in the emotional high of the message – the overwhelming feelings of grace and forgiveness – but they do nothing to fertilize the soil of their hearts to be able to deepen their roots. Others hear it, accept it as true, but go along with their lives as though nothing has changed and the thorns of this life crowd out the little that they had to begin with. But then there are those who hear it and hold tight to it. They feed the soil of their hearts through spiritual disciplines, they nurture the growing plant, allowing weeds to be picks and fruitless branches to be pruned. They recognize that holding on to this message requires perseverance and work. Not work that saves them – but work to reap a harvest of righteousness. 

I think about our back yard. When we bought our house, to me, it was a beautiful retreat. Landscaping had been done, plants, and trees and flowers had been planted. There was nothing I had to do to create that space for myself. But keeping it that way is another story. If I just joyfully received this beautiful gift of a lovely garden and did nothing to maintain it, it wouldn’t be long before it started to deteriorate. If I say I love my garden and care about how it looks, but completely neglect it, obviously my love is very weak at best. And I’ve experienced how much work has to go into sprucing it up after having neglected it. It takes time, devotion, hard work, and perseverance for the garden to continue to be a place of joy and beauty. Often times I learn by experience that certain plants or techniques don’t work, so I have to keep trying to grow in my ability to keep everything well-maintained.

Obviously the state of my heart is far more important that my garden, so the need to fertilize the soil, pluck the weeds, and water the seed are even more crucial. This only happens when I am abiding in Him and in His Word. He is the Sower, the Gardener, and the Harvester of my soul!

LORD, may I never neglect the state of my heart. It is my joy to persevere in the process of sanctification that You call us to. Help me to have a heart that is good, fertile soil for Your Word to grow and bear fruit. AMEN!

He Has Cancelled the Debt We Cannot Pay

Luke 7

Now when the Pharisee who invited Him saw this, he said to himself, “If this were a prophet, He would know what sort of woman is touching Him—that she’s a sinner.”
And answering, Yeshua said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
And he said, “Say it, Teacher!”
“A moneylender had two debtors. One owed him five hundred denarii, but the other fifty. When neither could repay him, he canceled both debts. So which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.”
“You have judged correctly,” Yeshua said. Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered into your house, and you didn’t give Me water for My feet. But she has drenched My feet with tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet Me with a kiss; but from the time she entered, she has not stopped kissing My feet. You didn’t anoint My head with oil, but she has anointed My feet with perfume. For this reason I tell you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven—for she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little. He then said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.”
But those who were reclining at table with Him began to say to one another, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in shalom.”
Luke 7:39-50

The theme of repentance versus self-righteousness has really stuck our to me in Luke. In chapter 5 we see Christ rebuking the Pharisees and telling them that He did not come to save those who think they are righteous, but to call sinners to repentance. In chapter 6 we see Him speaking woes onto those who are relishing in the pleasures of this life and receiving the praise of men, while blessing those who are poor, and hungry and full of sorrow – those who are persecuted for Christ’s sake. And here we see Christ offering forgiveness to the woman who humbly comes and worships at His feet, weeping in His presence over her many sins, while Simon the Pharisee looks on in disgust.

Jesus says that those who are forgiven much, love much, and those who are forgiven little, love little. I think He was using irony in the term “forgiven little,” in the same way He used the term “righteous” in chapter 5. None of us have been forgiven “little,” yet many of us believe that. Instead of holding our sin up in the light of God’s Word, we compare our sins to the sins of others. We justify our actions by telling ourselves that we aren’t as bad as (insert name). But this comparison causes us to fall into a trap of not recognizing how great the forgiveness we have received really is! No one is righteous, and therefore we have to focus on what Christ has done for us, not how much more He seemingly had to do for someone else. We need to have an attitude of complete, overwhelming gratitude toward Christ that overflows in our lives through love and obedience!

LORD, I don’t ever want to be someone who loves little. I want my love for You to overflow into every area of my life! You have done so much for me, none of which I deserved, so it is my joy to walk in obedience and service to You! May I love You more! AMEN!

Just Like the Rabbi

Luke 6

How blessed you are whenever people hate you and ostracize you and insult you and denounce you as a criminal on account of the Son of Man. Be glad when that happens; yes, dance for joy! because in heaven your reward is great. For that is just how their fathers treated the prophets

Woe to you when people speak well of you, for that is just how their fathers treated the false prophets!
Nevertheless, to you who are listening, what I say is this:
Love your enemies!
Do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.

But love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing back! Your reward will be great, and you will be children of Ha‘Elyon; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Show compassion, just as your Father shows compassion.

talmid is not above his rabbi; but each one, when he is fully trained, will be like his rabbi. 
Luke 6:22-23, 26-29, 35-36, & 40

Jesus - BetterJesus wants us to become like Him. To sit at His feet and walk so closely to Him that His dust covers us. This is why He deliberately and prayerfully chose 12 disciples who would be with Him everywhere He went. They would hear Him preach to the masses, receive in-depth explanations and revelations of His teachings, and see how He lived His life, both privately and publicly. He knew these men (minus Judas Iscariot) would be the ones to go out into the world to tell others about Him, to Spread the Gospel of the Kingdom. The same charge has been given to us – to go and preach the Good News to all nations. But if we are not walking closely with Him, what Jesus will we be preaching? Will it be the Jesus of the Bible – the Jesus who is concealed in the Old Testament and revealed in the New? Or will we preach a Jesus that we have shaped in our own minds, molded by societal changes and human emotion?

Paul writes about this in 2 Corinthians 4:
For this reason, since we have this ministry, just as we received mercy, we do not lose heart. Instead, we renounced the hidden shameful ways—not walking in deception or distorting the word of God, but commending ourselves before God to everyone’s conscience by the open proclamation of the truth. And even if our Good News is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case, the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, so they might not see the light of the Good News of the glory of Messiah, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Messiah Yeshua as Lord—and ourselves as your slaves for Yeshua’s sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Messiah.

God is the One who grants us knowledge and shines His light in our darkened hearts. Jeremiah and Ezekiel both prophesy about the new covenant:
I will put My Torah within them.
Yes, I will write it on their heart.
I will be their God
and they will be My people.
No longer will each teach his neighbor
or each his brother, saying: ‘Know Adonai,’
for they will all know Me,
from the least of them to the greatest.”

Then I will give them one heart. I will put a new Spirit within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may follow My laws, keep My ordinances and practice them. They will be My people and I will be their God. As for those whose heart walks after the heart of their detestable things and abominations, I will bring their ways upon their heads.” It is a declaration of Adonai Elohim.

This covenant promised that God would put His Spirit within us and that His Word would be written on our hearts. That is why is it so hard for me to accept the belief that God is okay with gay marriage. With transgenderism. With abortion. How can we claim to have God’s Spirit in us if we accept and condone, or even give ourselves over to the things that God calls sin? It breaks my heart to see professing Christians believing this kind of falsehood. Because ultimately it means that they just don’t see Jesus as better than. That His ways, all His ways, are true. They want to pick and choose the more popular teachings like do not judge, and love your neighbor (often taking these out of context), and ignore some of His others – pick up your cross, die to this life, endure suffering, know that people will hate you because of Me. It’s interesting that Jesus says, “Woe to you when people speak well of you, for that is just how their fathers treated the false prophets!” I often think that if my beliefs stand in complete opposition to society, I’m probably on the right side, and even Jesus recognized that the right presentation of truth was not going to be the most popular.

If we truly desire to be more like Christ we have to be rooted in His Word. Jesus tells us what it looks like to abide in Him in John 15:
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He trims so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I will abide in you. The branch cannot itself produce fruit, unless it abides on the vine. Likewise, you cannot produce fruit unless you abide in Me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for apart from Me, you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away like a branch and is dried up. Such branches are picked up and thrown into the fire and burned.
If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you. In this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples.”
“Just as the Father has loved Me, I also have loved you. Abide in My love! If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and your joy may be full.
“This is My commandment, that you love one another just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this: that he lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.
“I am no longer calling you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing. Now I have called you friends, because everything I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.
“You did not choose Me, but I chose you. I selected you so that you would go and produce fruit, and your fruit would remain. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in My name.
“These things I command you, so that you may love one another.”
If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own. But you are not of the world, since I have chosen you out of the world; therefore the world hates you.

We were not called to be loved by the world, but to show the world the love of Christ. Christ’s love, Christ’s truth, may often sound like hate to those in the world who are dying to their sin, but that does not mean that we should change or distort the message. Our desire for approval, to be loved, cannot be filled by the world, but only through abiding in Christ and obeying Him because His ways lead to the fullness of joy.

LORD, I want to be like Christ! To be well-trained to become more and more a reflection of my Rabbi. Do not allow fear of rejection and desire for approval to cause me to lose sight of the foundation of truth that is laid out in Your Word. I want to be like the man Jesus describes at the end of Luke 6, who hears and does what You say, building my life and my faith on the solid bedrock of Your truth! AMEN!

We Are All Sick

Luke 4-5

Now when he went to Natzeret, where he had been brought up, on Shabbat he went to the synagogue as usual. He stood up to read, and he was given the scroll of the prophet Yesha‘yahu. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of Adonai is upon me;
therefore he has anointed me
to announce Good News to the poor;
he has sent me to proclaim freedom for the imprisoned
and renewed sight for the blind,
to release those who have been crushed,
to proclaim a year of the favor of Adonai.”
After closing the scroll and returning it to the shammash, he sat down; and the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him. He started to speak to them: “Today, as you heard it read, this passage of the Tanakh was fulfilled!”
Luke 4:16-21

Once, when Yeshua was in one of the towns, there came a man completely covered with tzara‘at. On seeing Yeshua, he fell on his face and begged him, “Sir, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Yeshua reached out his hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing! Be cleansed!” Immediately the tzara‘at left him.

The Torah-teachers and the P’rushim began thinking, “Who is this fellow that speaks such blasphemies? Who can forgive sin except God?” But Yeshua, knowing what they were thinking, answered, “Why are you turning over such thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier to say? ‘Your sins are forgiven you’? or ‘Get up and walk’? But look! I will prove to you that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” He then said to the paralytic, “I say to you: get up, pick up your mattress and go home!” Immediately, in front of everyone, he stood up, picked up what he had been lying on, and went home praising God. 

Levi gave a banquet at his house in Yeshua’s honor, and there was a large group of tax-collectors and others at the table with them. The P’rushim and their Torah-teachers protested indignantly against his talmidim, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax-collectors and sinners?” It was Yeshua who answered them: “The ones who need a doctor aren’t the healthy but the sick. I have not come to call the ‘righteous,’ but rather to call sinners to turn to God from their sins.
Luke 5:12-13 & 29-32

We must first realize we are sick, that there is something wrong with us, before we seek out a doctor. Some people are quick to recognize that something is wrong and seek help. Others will ignore the symptoms, forcing themselves to believe that they don’t point to something more serious. It is only when the disease has taken over, has become unbearable, that they seek intervention. Those who regularly and consistently get check-ups or turn to their doctor when they are ill, are typically the most healthy. They have an eye on their weaknesses, on health risks, and have an overall plan to keep them as healthy as possible. But those who rarely go in for an examination, try to “beat” the sickness on their own, self-diagnose and self-medicate, often have deep underlying issues that have far too long been ignored. It’s almost as though they fear the doctor, they don’t want to hear any bad news or be told that they might have to change any of their habits in order to improve our sustain their health.

The thing is, we are all spiritually sick. But we have a Great Physician! Jesus came to heal the sick – not just the physical sickness that inflicts our bodies, but the spiritual sickness of sin that destroys our souls! I love Jesus’ response to the Pharisees when they criticize Him for telling the paralytic that his sins were forgiven: “Which is easier to say? ‘Your sins are forgiven?’ or ‘Get up and walk?'” Obviously, in their minds the easier thing to say would be “your sins are forgiven.” You couldn’t verify that in the present moment. But to tell someone who was paralyzed to “get up and walk,” well, that would be a sign of the miraculous! So to prove that He not only had the authority to forgive sins, He showed them that He also had the authority to heal the physically sick. But I think Jesus is really trying to drive home the idea that the ability to forgive sins is far greater than the ability to heal the physical body. Our physical bodies will decay, but our souls are eternal. We will spend all of eternity in either heaven or hell. The sickness of our sin makes us unworthy and incapable of being in the presence of a holy, perfect God. The only way is to have our sins forgiven and atoned for. And Jesus is the only One who can offer this kind of healing. The only One who can undo the ultimate consequence of our sinfulness.

We watched a clip from The View this morning where the hosts are talking to the Christian baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. They asked the man whether he had ever thought, “What would Jesus do?” His response was that he thought Jesus would have loved them, but that He would not have baked them a cake for their wedding. The hosts were up in arms over this statement, strongly rejecting his belief and claiming that Jesus absolutely would have baked the cake. It just makes me sad. Because they see baking the cake as the “loving” thing to do. And based on what I read in scripture, what Jesus Himself says and does, I too believe He would not have made the cake. I picture Jesus as a baker at His shop. A same sex couple comes in and immediately His heart breaks for them. He knows that their lifestyle is an abomination to God. It is a willful act of disobedience and disregard for God’s Word. He welcomes them kindly to His shop and asks how He can serve them. They joyfully declare that they are engaged, looking lovingly into each other’s eyes, and that they are here to purchase a cake for their wedding. Not a cake for a birthday celebration. Not cupcakes for a baby shower. A cake to celebrate their unholy union in the covenant of marriage. The covenant that God, therefore He, instituted and designed. Jesus knows that the penalty for all sin, even the smallest, is death. Separation from God. Jesus Himself was separated from God for a time when He bore the sins of humanity on the cross, so He knows how excruciatingly horrific that is. I simply cannot imagine Jesus responding to this couple with, “Would you feel loved if I bake this cake for you? If so, I will bake it and watch you walk out this door happily, while blindly heading for destruction, yet knowing that I made you feel loved.” In every interaction Jesus had with people He loved them, He healed them, and He told them to go and sin no more, calling them out of their sin. He never condoned or enabled them to continue in their sinfulness. To bake a cake for a gay wedding would be an act of condoning the sin of homosexuality as they enter into a binding covenant that defiles God’s design.

When John the Baptist was preaching, Luke writes that he preached the Good News while also giving many warnings and exhortations. We can’t just preach the Good News without repentance. We cannot simply believe the soft virtues of God (grace, love, mercy, forgiveness) while rejecting the hards virtues of God (justice, righteousness, truth, holiness), and vice versa. While God is full of mercy, grace, and loving-kindness, He is compassionate, forgiving, and slow to anger; He is also a righteous, holy God, full of justice to rightly punish the wicked. Jesus would not have condoned an act, a lifestyle, that He knew would send someone to hell.

In this day and age, it is such a sticky, tricky struggle to know what is the truly “right” response to the sinfulness of the world we live in. We want to love others, we want others to come to an acceptance of Christ, but the world keeps telling us that our beliefs are unloving, hateful, and discriminatory. The essence of the Torah, and what Jesus Himself echoed in His teaching, was “do the most loving thing.” Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. We have to be careful that we are not loving people straight to hell by dismissing, accepting, or condoning their sin. We have to recognize that we are all sick, we are all sinners, and we who have been healed are to point others to the Great Physician, the only One who can heal us of our disease!

LORD, continue to direct me in Your Truth. The world can send lots of noisy voices that try to confuse and contort Your Word. My heart is in constant need of a check-up! Keep feeding it what it needs from Your infallible, living Word! Left to my own devices I am prone to trust my deceitful heart. Help me to love others the way You do, not seeing them as their sin, but not denying their need for healing! Give me boldness and overflowing love for those who are dying and don’t even realize it! AMEN!

There were foolish people who suffered affliction
because of their crimes and sins;
they couldn’t stand to eat anything;
they were near the gates of death.

In their trouble they cried to Adonai,
and he rescued them from their distress;
he sent his word and healed them,
he delivered them from destruction.
Psalm 107:17-20

Repentance Produces Good Fruit

Luke 3

And he came into all the surrounding region of the Jordan, proclaiming an immersion of repentance for the removal of sinsAs it is written in the scroll of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way of Adonai,
and make His paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled up
and every mountain and hill brought low.
The crooked shall be made straight
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all humanity shall see the salvation of God.’”
Therefore John was saying to the crowds that came out to be immersed by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Therefore produce fruits worthy of repentance; and don’t even begin to say among yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’! For I tell you that from these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid at the root of the trees, so every tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire!”

Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were wondering in their hearts about John, whether he might be the Messiah. John answered them all, saying, “As for me, I immerse you with water. But One is coming who is mightier than I am; I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandals! He will immerse you in the Ruach ha-Kodesh and fireHis winnowing fork is in His hand to clear His threshing floor and gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn up with inextinguishable fire.” And with many other warnings besides these he announced the Good News to the people.
Luke 3:3-9 & 15-18

The free gift of salvation is not a “get out of hell free” card. But sadly, many people see it as just that. I know there was a time in my life where that’s how I viewed it. I thought, if all I have to do is say a prayer so I don’t have to go to hell that sounds like a pretty sweet deal! Even John knew the hearts of many who came to him for baptism were just like this. He called them snakes, vipers, people who were just trying to escape the coming judgment. We always want the most bang for our buck. We want the million dollar mansion without all the hard work. We want something for nothing. And while salvation is free, it comes with a cost. The greatest cost imaginable. Salvation cost Jesus His life. His perfect, blameless life. He did it because we could not. But this realization should stir something in our hearts. The fact that Christ had to die for me should create a desire to live my life overwhelmingly grateful for what He has done.

And therein lies the root of repentance. We have to recognize what we have been saved from and what it cost. We have to acknowledge our need for salvation, not just desire it. That need lies in the fact that we are sinners. The the inclination of our hearts is bent toward rebellion, death, and destruction. Jesus died for those things, not so that we could continue in them, but so that even when we do miss the mark, those things cannot rule over us. Repentance literally means to “turn around, or turn back.” When we turn back to God, we are turning our backs on the sin that draws us away from Him. Our sins have hidden His face from us, therefore, salvation which leads to repentance is a desire for God, not simply a desire to escape judgement. The greatest reward of salvation is God. Not heaven, not eternal life, not peace. No, it’s God. And out from God flow all of His promises and rewards, but God is the ultimate desire of our hearts. When we accept salvation it is so we can have more of God, and that means repenting, dying to our old self, and throwing off anything that hinders us from experiencing more of Him.

When we live our lives with a heart of repentance it produces fruit. The desire to live life for God grows as the desire to live for myself decreases. We will still struggle against temptation, but as God walks us through the process of sanctification, our desire to turn from sin becomes greater than our desire to give into it. In the book, A Kingdom Called Desire, Rick McKinley writes,
I believe underneath all our other desires we have a desire for perfected love, which is a desire for God because God is love. You may have to pull back the layers, but it’s there. If our desires tend to lead toward disappointment as we have seen, perhaps our hearts were made for something greater than this earth can offer. We were made to live in a Kingdom of perfected love where we love and are loved by Jesus. If beneath all other desires we find the desire for perfect love, and God is perfect love, then our desire is for God, since He is both beyond what the world can offer and the very definition of love. His Kingdom breaks into our very desires with heavenly love reigning in our hearts through Jesus our King.

When God becomes our desire, His Kingdom work overflows in our lives, because we know nothing satisfies more than Him. Perhaps that is the goal of sanctification, to increasingly become aware of how much better Jesus is than anything else. God continually puts us through the refining fire, clears away the dross, and we become more and more like Christ. LORD, let these truths ring true in my life! AMEN!
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