Ezra 8:21 | Self Absorbed, Anxious, and Alone

In my industry there is an influx of college hires, a new generation, and this new generation is changing the culture of the companies I work for. This generation is very much into saving the planet. They are into serving the community through activities that the company pays for. They complain immediately to any kind of disciplined hand of correction.  They bringing their collectable action figures to the office. They watch YouTube videos of their favorite stars while in the office. Not many have children and even less are married. The change to culture makes me ponder about the future of the country.

I am not convinced that the next generation’s desire to make corporate or government institutions their religion is a positive advancement for society. Government and other institutions should not be the spiritual structure of one’s life. Making government or wealthy business people the center of spiritual life will leave society dashed on the waves of ever-changing opinions of flawed peoples.

Ezra with a mandate from the unchanging God to return Jewish exiles home to Jerusalem had an opportunity to restore the Jewish community outside of the corporate and government institutions of their captivity. He had an opportunity to lead people away from dependence on men and this world and into a life dependent on God. The Christians of this age would do well to look at Ezra’s example because I fear that the Christian culture is almost indistinguishable from the self-absorbed culture at large.

21 Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods. 22 For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.” 23 So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty. Ezra 8:21-23 ESV

Ezra had secured approval from the king ruling over the Jewish exile to return to Jerusalem. This was a once in a life time opportunity and Ezra, to his credit, boasted in God and also to Ezra’s credit he then humbly placed his trust in God and allow God to be glorified by that trust. We as an American culture, and more importantly Christian culture, have grown dependent on government bureaucracy, school sports and activities, and non-Church institutions for our well being and health. The results are not good. Anxiety, drug use both prescribed and illegal, suicide, family disfunction, sexual abuse, and other selfish acts of sinfulness have come to dominate society. We are not healthy because we, as Christians, have not humbled ourselves before God and placed our trust in him.

So, what does trust in God look like to the modern person? When I look at what I believe to be disfunction of the next generation here are three areas of focus that I think Christians are missing. These three areas I have struggled with myself and I have altered my lifestyle on more than one occasion to focus on these three areas.

First build life around the Church. Christians that look to government for solutions like the rest of society are always in meltdown when the political candidate of their choice does not win. We are not trusting God for the future. Ezra could have asked the government for a solution but he knew that solution was doomed to fail. Looking at government to fix culture is backwards. Government is a reflection of culture. So trust God and a major way to do that is through corporate worship through the local Church. Fellowship and discipleship. Community of believers living life together is the way God has designed us. We are built for close community relationships. And for those of struggling in fear and anxiety one of the greatest benefits of building life around church is a spiritual gift of encouragement.

11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— 12 that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.  Romans 1:11-12 ESV

Second build life around family. Children rebelling against parents. Parents being self-involved and not engaged in the life of their children. Not getting married. Not having children. These are all recipes of a lonely and broken life. God wants men and women to be married and to reproduce. But if you live a life that is self-absorbed then you will ultimately live a life that all alone. If it is God’s will for you then be married and grow a family. Yes it will be difficult. Yes it will be heartbreaking. Yes it will cut into your ability to “have fun”. But the blessings and the benefits of serving others in family will not be a regret. The only possible regret is not starting that family.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. ​Genesis 2:24 ​ ESV

Third and finally is to build life around God honoring education. Government education in current society has become hostile to family, church, and God. Many teachers are open and vocal about their desire to undermine the culture and ethic of the family a child comes from. If you have the means no matter the age of the children seriously consider altering everything to homeschool those children. If you have the means then look into different forms of private education. Post pandemic the other options of pod school and online learning are becoming available. Ask God for a way to put him first in education if you don’t see any other path. God will honor such a request. If you do not have the means then this is where the Church and the families of the local church need to step up and help support one another to start school pods or to take on other children to an existing home school. We as a church family need to build our lives around the larger church family and focus on teaching children to know and understand the wisdom and knowledge of God.

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. Galatians 6:10 ESV

I know that these three things are difficult because these are all consuming. Living life married with children, serving in a church, and homeschool will make you strange and you will feel that judgment from the world and your own extended family. Living life by these three as Christians will be costly in time and self fulfilment because these will interfere with the ambitions of the world. But the reward will be peace in chaos. The rewards are eternal with a life well lived in Christ and in the here and now the reward will be a life of healing selfless love vs the destructive self-love the world has to offer.

Galatians 5:21 | Inheritance of Life

I hear conversations when talking of spiritual things where people want to speak positively that God has many ways to heaven, many ways to acceptance, many ways to peace, or many ways to salvation. I nod along at such uplifting talk and I think how does one interject truth into this flowery but meaningless language? I don’t like to argue and I certainly do not enjoy bursting someone’s bubble but the truth is too important for all of us trying to make our way in life.

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:21 ESV

We live in a moment of grace and mercy. God in his loving wisdom gave to us the Bible, the most printed book in all of history, for us to understand His nature, to understand His character, and to understand His plans for humanity. And it is here at this plan for humanity that the idea of many ways to find reconciliation with God are not found in the text. What one does find is a Jesus that spent much time dividing people and running off potential followers with hard truths. There is but one way to reconcile with God and that is to understand the war waging between the flesh, our lustful selfish desires for physical satisfaction (sin), and the spirit, God’s peace, love, and mercy that we are in desperate need to receive. God tells us that he is the King, the Father, who has an inheritance for those that find life by way of the Spirit. Jesus promises the Spirit filled life to his disciples…

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. John 14:15-17 ESV

Jesus is telling any that will listen that a life lived like the world, dominated by the selfish wicked flesh, cannot be reconciled with God. Peace cannot be found because peace can only come from an unselfish life lived by way of the spirit. This is the way God has ordained reconciliation and life. Think on this and think on this future moment that Jesus describes for all peoples. Where will you sort out?

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Matthew 25:31-34 ESV

Isaiah 2:6 | Pulling away from Culture

As a parent of teens, I am in the phase of life where I am actively thinking about their future. Are they prepared for the world? Are they innocent of evil but not naive to cruelty and selfish lusts of mankind? Are they enthralled and distracted by the current culture? Or could it be said that they might be different or maybe a little strange? I pray, God, that they would be counter cultural. I pray, Father and King for their sake, that they would forsake everything this world offers to love, serve, and be devoted to you through Jesus.

I worry that the public square has no room for Christians who love Jesus. I have seen it change in my lifetime. Leadership positions in all stratus of society from government, public companies, non-government organization, news media, and education are held by the culture in an increasingly oppressive way. There is no room for ideological diversity. A pluralistic society in thought is no longer the norm. We are told what to believe and how to act. Anyone that does not conform will be shamed or canceled to prove a point. Twitter mobs roam from outrage to outrage facilitating the oppression. So where do my kids go from here as they mature and start their own lives? Do they join the culture and be absorbed by it? Do they forge their own unconventional path?

For you have rejected your people, the house of Jacob, because they are full of things from the east and of fortune-tellers like the Philistines, and they strike hands with the children of foreigners. Isaiah 2:6 ESV

God rejected his people because they choose live like the rest of the world around them. They choose the gods of the Philistines. They wanted a path for their children that looked like the lives of children of people who had no regard for God. When I was a young man chasing after young women my overriding constraint was to ask a question. Will a relationship with this young lady pull me toward God or pull me away from God? Most of the time the answer to that question was away from God. And that is the root of what God wanted from His people. He wants people who are devoted to him and not people who are devoted to a culture that has no regard for Him.

31 And I will set your border from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates, for I will give the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. 32 You shall make no covenant with them and their gods. 33 They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against me; for if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you.” Exodus 23:31-33 ESV

I pray for my kids as they transition into adulthood. What relationships will they choose? Will they choose relationships that pull them toward God or will they choose relationships with the world that pull them away from God? If they choose poorly then the world will become a snare to them and then they will be just like everyone else.

22 So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:22-26 ESV

Lord I pray for my kids and for the youth of this present age. Draw them to you. Pull them in close that they might worship you and not themselves. Keep them from the snare of distraction and anxious living that has cursed the youth of this present age. Make them strong because they love you first. In the name of Jesus I pray.

Isaiah 1:18 | Unchanging Reconciliation

There is a common mistake many make when approaching the Bible to learn about God and his nature. That mistake is that the God of the Old Testament is somehow not the same as the God of the New Testament. God is who He is and He does not change so who God is, his character and his nature, are the same from the beginning of the Bible to the end.

When one reads the opening Chapter of Isaiah, a major prophet in the Old Testament, the news Isaiah had to report from God is not good. At that time king Ahaz was evil because of his deeds and because of his heart. He had no room for God and would not submit to God’s plan and order. At this same time Ahaz has many enemies and the nation of Judah is living in a precarious world where Assyria is just one campaign away from turning its attention to Judah for conquest.

One might ask why does God allow this war and suffering. But the truth is the war and suffering are our own doing. It is the outflow of our rebellion and sin against God. Death is what God promised Adam as the result of sin. While God allows us to be rebels that does not mean that God will cover the consequences of our evil if we desire to continue in our rebellion.

18 “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. 19 If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; 20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken Isaiah 1:18-20 ESV

God speaking through the prophet Isaiah is reaching out to the people of Judah and to their King. Let us reason together. Let us argue. Let us come to an understanding about what is right and who is in control. God in his mercy and grace is telling the people there is an alternative to the coming war and destruction. But they need to listen and engage with him. Ahaz being full of his own self refuses to listen and the resulting judgments eventually result in the nation of Judah being “eaten by the sword”. We as readers of the history blame God and see God as fire and judgement on the people.

But what we see of God recorded over hundreds and thousands of years in these verses is the same for us living in this current New Testament age. God has sent us better than a prophet. God himself came in the form of a man and provided the path to turn our scarlet sins into garments white as snow. Each of us now has an opportunity to have the Spirit of God drawing us from rebellion to reconciliation. Just as God wanted for the people of Judah he wants for us now.

8 And when [Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; 11 concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. John 16:8-11 ESV

God’s plan and his grace from the beginning in Genesis to the terrifying end in Revelations is the same. Come let us reason together. At this moment we still live in the time of grace and mercy where reconciliation and submission to God perfect plan is available. Are you convicted of your sins? If so then the Holy Spirit of God is reaching out to you. Reason with him and be willing to obey. God’s plans are good and his quality is an unchanging trustworthy rock in a time of ever-changing lawlessness.

Romans 5:17 | Change your Family Tree

We are in a predicament. You and I, dear reader, are both born into a broken family. Now I work hard to show everyone that my family has it all together but the reality that I know and the reality my family knows is that we have issues. I know, dear reader, that your family has hidden issues as well. How do I know that? Because we are both people and we are under a curse. Everyone has issues some families are just better at keeping those issues out of the public than others. What Adam and Eve did at the very beginning left all of humanity in a mess and yes under a curse.

17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Romans 5:17 ESV

The trespass of Adam brought death to his family and to the families of all his descendants. This is hard to accept for modern man because we do not hold the sins of the father against the son. But in this case humanity was born into the decay of death because the sins of our father Adam are also our sins. We continue in the sins of Adam and embrace selfishness like all those before us.

When building a family tree most people start with themselves and work backward creating a tree and branches on the way back in time. However, this is backward. Our family tree actually starts with Adam and Eve as the seed of destruction and from this seed is the growth of a family that branches out into peoples, nations, and culture over time. Yet all of those families and nations share the original seed of sin from Adam. We are in a mess and there is nothing we can do to fix the family because the root is bad. The seed we draw our life from was corrupted from the start.

Yet there is hope. God steps in through the person of Jesus Christ and a new family tree is started. This new tree is alive with the grace of God. This tree is free of sin and death because the seed is the perfect righteous life of God.

16 If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches. 17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18 do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. Romans 11:16-18 ESV

God breaks all the rules. He does something amazing for those that call on the name of Jesus for salvation. He cuts them out of the dead tree of Adam and He then grafts that person into a new family tree. The living tree of Jesus Christ. The root of Jesus is holy and we who are grafted in receive nourishment from the life giving source of Christ.

5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. John 15:5-6 ESV

Romans 4:16 | Faithful Loving Children

God has made many promises that are recorded in the Bible. Maybe the most important of all those promises is the promise made to Abraham about a future nation. Abraham is the father of the Jewish peoples and they recognize him as their patriarch. But this promise that God made to Abraham was bigger than just a physical blood bond. God’s promise to Abraham is that he would be the father of many nations.

5 And [God] brought [Abraham] outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6 And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:5-6 ESV

Abraham is not just the physical father of the Jewish people. Abraham is the spiritual father of all people who believed in Christ. Abraham is the example of trusting God even when we can’t see what God is doing. Abraham is the father of faith. Abraham’s example is our example of trusting and loving God.

16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all. Romans 4:16 ESV

One of my favorite recounting of saving faith involves Jesus and a tax collector. In this event recorded in the Gospel of Luke we see a Jew who is the physical son of Abraham come to a saving faith that makes him the true spiritual son of Abraham.

He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:1-10 ESV

Jesus pronounced this son of Abraham saved. Is Zacchaeus saved because he “also is a son of Abraham” or is he now a son of Abraham because salvation came to Zacchaeus on that day. Is Zacchaeus saved because he promises to give away his wealth or is Zacchaeus saved because he has a miraculous saving moment with Jesus and out of the overflow of that love, trust, and faith Zacchaeus wants to give up his ill-gotten gain?

We tend to look at the physical situation first. Those Paul is writing to claim to be physical heirs to Abraham and they look to the law of the Jews for salvation. But Paul wants them to know that the promise God made to Abraham and the response of Abraham to trust God is what made Abraham the father of faith. Paul wants us to see the spiritual response first. I am not Jewish but Abraham is my spiritual father because we share in the same faith. Zacchaeus is a son of Abraham not by physical blood bonds but by spiritual faith bonds. Abraham, Zacchaeus, and any follower of Christ share the same faith.

Salvation and the promise of God comes not from our physical circumstances but from the condition of our heart. Do you trust God like Abraham trusted God? Jesus lived a sinless life, died on a cross, and rose from the dead that we might be saved. Do you believe him? Do you trust him to do what he says he will do?

16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all. Romans 4:16 ESV

Romans 2:24 | Don’t be a Jerk

I am not a people person. What I mean is that I am a shy introvert. I am more comfortable behind a keyboard than at a social gathering. Yet God has asked me to be uncomfortable and to reach outside my family to connect with others and be a people person. Sometimes I get shocked responses when I tell someone I am an introvert because in public I try to be friendly and personable to everyone. Years ago my wife and I opened our home to serve and host others in the community. I have learned much about reaching out and being welcoming to people I meet in the community. I am convinced that this is the duty of all those called by God and who take on the name of Christian. It is not hard. Listen more than you talk and take people as they are.

Paul in his letter to the Church in Rome is warning the young church about judging because this kind of judgement causes separation. Paul does not want this church to be cut off from the community in Rome. Specifically, he addresses the Jews who are now Christian warning them to not bring the bad habits of their culture forward into the Church of Christ.

24 As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” Romans 2:24 ESV

William Barclay in his commentary of Romans paints a very unflattering picture of how the Jewish people were despised by the average Roman citizen. The Jewish people had all kinds of special dispensations given to them by the Roman government that other people did not have. Worse yet the Jewish people had a reputation for being rude and hostile to outsiders. For example, Barclay writes that Jewish peoples were allowed to honor the Sabbath. They flaunted this rule and made the Gentile community work around their schedule. The Jews were then called lazy by those inconvenienced. This Sabbath allowance extended even to the military. Because of the Sabbath rules Jews made for bad soldiers so they were exempt from conscription into the army. One might imagine the political ramification of such an unfair imbalance among the population. Reading the gospels, it is clear that the disciples did not like Rome and wanted Jesus to kick the Romans out but on the flip side the average Gentile did not like the closed community of Jews either. General unfriendliness went both ways.

6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ Exodus 19:6a

God intended that the Jewish people, the nation that He called and blessed would be a priest that could point the entire world toward God. Paul desired that the Church in Rome would be able to fulfill that role. Here Peter puts into words what Paul may have been thinking in his letter to Rome.

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. 1 Peter 2:9-12 ESV

Today I try to live this kind of life before the community. I want more than anything for God to be glorified. I want the community I live into to know the grace and mercy that comes from God. Whatever good deeds I may do in service to others is motivated by my desire to glorify God. If you are called by God and claim the mantel of Christian then maybe it is time to host a party at your house for your neighbors. Be gracious and listen to them. You may just find Jesus at work in their lives. Maybe it is time for Christians to join Jesus at work.

Romans 2:1 | No Excuse Judgment

I would hate to be a judge. I can’t imagine presiding over a court where the judgment might alter life of an individual forever. Sentencing someone to life in prison is harsh. What kind of hope and what kind of future is that for the one life we have to live? Yet I do judge and I do condemn but thankfully I don’t have authority to imprison and thankfully some of the most judgmental people I know are not in charge. We should all be circumspect before writing others off or judging someone as not worth an effort of relationship.

Paul after detailing what a sinner looks like in Chapter 1 of Romans pivots on his audience and tells them to not to judge the sinner. Casually reading Romans his warning is well timed because right after the details on how people rebel against God and what that rebellion looks like my mind started to think of certain people or certain types of people that fall into these sinner categories. But that is not what Paul wants the reader to think so he drops a rebuke on that.

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Romans 2:1 ESV

Lest I forget I am a sinner also Paul puts a hold on his narrative to warn the reader. Because when I go back to Chapter 1 I can find myself in this list.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Romans 1:28-31 ESV

I have gossiped. I have been greedy. I have been deceitful. I have been arrogant. I have been loveless. I could continue… So Paul provides a well-timed rebuke to me. Do not condemn others because you yourself are in the same boat. It is like two people in a life raft in the middle of the ocean and me pointing to the other person and saying “You are a looser and you are going to die in this raft.” When the same reality applies to me as the other person is the same situation.

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:37-38 ESV

Jesus talks about my judgement toward others as a negative response. If all people are created in God’s image. If all people are descendants of Adam and Eve then no matter what they have done they are still of the same flesh and blood that I was made from. Jesus contrasts the negative judgment and condemnation done by me, with the restorative and positive of forgiveness and giving. Jesus is saying don’t judge your neighbor but forgive your neighbor because God has forgiven you. Give love and compassion to your neighbor because God has shown love and compassion to you. God wants not that we tear each other down but God wants his followers to build up.

Jesus then jumps into one of the most famous parables

41 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Luke 6:41-42 ESV

Look at how Jesus challenges the listener to get themselves right so they can help the other person. It is about building up. If I can only condemn and judge the other person to tear them down where is God in that? How is he glorified?

While I am not a judge (thankfully) there is a real judgement against all of us sinners. A righteous judgment that only God can give because only God is sinless and perfect.

7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. Romans 2:7-8 ESV

Paul is telling us that as followers of Christ we must be persistent in seeking God’s glory and God’s kingdom and he tells us what that looks like by describing what a judgmental sinner looks like.

Self-Seeking: Judging others is selfish. God made us and saved us to reflect the love, the mercy, the grace, and the forgiveness he has poured out through Christ who is the perfect embodiment of love, selfless sacrifice, grace, and mercy.

Reject Truth: God has told us what is right and what is wrong. Yet those who are judged by God willfully reject his truth and what is right. By rejecting what is right they reject God. Christians do not judge others for rejecting truth we double down with more selflessness, more mercy, and more forgiveness as an overflow of what God has already given us.  

Follow Evil: It is never enough to reject God and God’s truth. It necessarily follows that by rejecting truth that those condemned by God will choose what is evil. There is no middle ground of neutrality. Following what is evil proves that God’s judgement is justified.

I am not here to judge but I know the Judge. I am not here to condemn but I do plead and witness to anyone who will listen how to meet the Judge’s standards. I am a witness to the good news that Jesus died taking on my shame and my sin to make me right before the Judge. That good news is available to all who would seek his glory.

Luke 5:33 | Intermittent Fasting

A new trend in health obsessed culture is called intermittent fasting. Claims of cure all benefits range from weight loss to the end of Alzheimer’s. I think this fad will be shorted lived since there is not much money to be made in fasting and it is incredibly hard to do. The idea of this fad is that one must shorten the window of time in which one eats for a particular day. For example, eating dinner two or three hours earlier with no late-night snack before breakfast the next morning would be a good start. Speaking of Breakfast that is an interesting word. The first meal of the day does indeed break a fast.

Fasting is not a new idea or a new practice. Most every culture and religion have ideas about fasting. Jesus famously fasted for 40 days in the wilderness. Was Jesus on a diet for this famous fast? No clearly that was not the purpose of his fast. However, fasting to improve health may be unique to western culture.  What does the Bible have to say about fasting?

Jesus in one of his interactions the community receives what I think is a genuine question.

33 And they said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” 34 And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? 35 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” Luke 5:33-35 ESV

It was common for the Pharisees to fast. Their tradition was to fast twice a week on Tuesday and Thursday. So, the question is raised to Jesus why he and his disciples are at a party with tax collectors enjoying themselves while other religious people are fasting? Jesus responds saying that one does not fast at a feast indicating that while he, Jesus, is with the disciples there is no need for fasting. But in the future when Jesus has left this earth then the disciples would fast.

This interaction tells us two key things. First once Jesus is glorified, he expected that Christians would want to fast. That means fasting is a valid topic for contemporary Christians. Second Jesus indicates that there is a right time to fast and a right time to not fast.

If fasting is something, we should think about certainly the Bible would then give us some rules about how to fast and what is considered a fast? But no there are no details on how to fast and there is no actual command by Jesus to fast.

11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ Luke 18:11-12 ESV

Jesus told a parable about how not to approach God. In this parable he tells of a Pharisee praying in public a loud and arrogant prayer boasting of how much he fasts and how much money he gives away. The community Jesus told this story to would have connected with the experience. Jesus tells us two key things about fasting. First Jesus links fasting to giving. So again just as we know we should give we may also want to think about what role fasting might have in our spiritual life. Second the Pharisee boasts on his fasting and his tithe. What we know about giving is that it is not something to boast in. It is something that should be done with a cheerful heart and it should be done quietly.

3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:3-4 ESV

In the same way fasting should be done in secret before God and for God. Fasting is a mostly private and intimate act of devotion.

16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:16-18 ESV

Jesus has left us with two key things to think about when it comes to fasting. First it should be done quietly and intimately. Second fasting is something that has a season and a purpose. When I was young and single, I practiced a weekly 24 hour fast. I would wake up on the fast day and not eat and sometimes not drink anything for an entire day (this took time and practice to do successfully). The next day I would wake up and eat breakfast. It was a season where I was able to draw near to God. I did this privately and prayerfully. After marriage and children, the practice of fasting was long lost because dinner is so important to the social structure. I am not in a current season where fasting like that is practical. There may come a time in the future when the children are grown where fasting may yet again be part of my prayerful devotion.

Having practiced a personal fast in devotion to God I have a few practical suggestions to anyone who might feel called to devote themselves in this way.

Start Slow: Replace one meal (start with breakfast, lunch, or if really brave dinner)

Set a Time: Something that is workable to your situation and your schedule.

Set Rules: What is in and what is out while fasting for you. This is personal between you and God. Pray about this rule.

Fasting is hard but it does not need to be impossible. Failure is likely as well. Our society revolves around food so scheduling time to not eat is incredibly difficult. And that difficulty is compounded by the negative reaction our bodies have to being deprived of caffeine, sugar, and everything else we love about eating.  

Also, one more thing. Have a singular reason to fast. The purpose of fasting is to focus ourselves to prayer. Fasting gives us additional focus and intent. Fasting will if done with the right heart and motive draw us closer to God.

Luke 5:8 | Gift Giving by Jesus

Have you ever given a gift and received an unexpected response? As a child I threw a tantrum when I opened a Christmas present from my parents that had socks and underwear. I think they gave that gift to have a good laugh at my expense. I wonder if they expected me to go into drama mode. Regardless I remember, ashamed to say, even to this day my terrible response. The correct response should have been a simple thanks even if I could not appreciate the gift in that moment.

Jesus at the beginning of his ministry gives Peter a gift and Peter responds exactly how Jesus wanted him to respond but it is not how I would have responded and most likely Peter’s response is unexpected to anyone reading Luke’s account.

Jesus was preaching to a crowd on the shore by using Peter’s boat as a platform. At the end of this speech Jesus asks Peter to put down the fishing nets. Peter being a life long fisherman knew this was not a simple task and would require more work on his part. This request from Jesus is like I had just worked a 12 hour shift and in the process of putting away all my tools for the day Jesus asked me to go back to work. Yet because Jesus asked the nets went into the water. The result is a gift from Jesus to Peter. The nets were filled with fish and were filled to such an extent that that Peter was overwhelmed.

5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. Luke 5:5-7 ESV

This is a wow factor type of gift. How many fish would it take to sink two boats? If the idea had ever crossed Peter’s mind it was only from fanciful daydreaming of how to be rich. This record haul of fish is a miraculous gift from Jesus to Peter.

So how does one respond to such a thing? A simple thank you? No that is not enough. An exuberant shout to Jesus proclaiming to him some kind of praise? Well maybe but what did Jesus expect from Peter? I think Jesus knew exactly how Peter would respond and it is not what I expected.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” Luke 5:8 ESV

Peter realizing what just happened in front of his very eyes with fish spilling out of every inch of his boat drops to his knees and asks Jesus to leave him. An unexpected response except that the response is exactly what Jesus expected. Peter’s response is instructive for the reader in two ways.

First Jesus by his very nature will rock the boat of our lives. Peter was just shown that his view of the world and how it works is way too limited. Also, Peter is shown a power greater than any he knew on earth. Get away from me is a fearful reaction that is common when the glory of heaven collides with the unholy earth. Take the moment Isaiah an Old Testament prophet is called to serve God.

4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Isaiah 6:4-5 ESV

Peter saw Jesus for who Jesus really is at that moment and Peter realized to some small degree how far he was from the holiness of God’s presence. And that realization leads us to the second part of Peter’s reaction regarding his own sins.

Jesus being God in the flesh represents righteous holiness that leaves us recognizing our unjust failures. Peter was fearful because he saw his sins clearly without the rationalization of our dark and cloudy self. If my sins were brought to my conscious self all at once I would also be overwhelmed. The self-cringing thoughts at my childhood gift receiving tantrum would be nothing in comparison to how I have chosen my own sinful desires over God’s perfection. I shutter at the idea of being exposed before God in such a way. But this is our very human nature from the beginning of Adam’s fall.

8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” Genesis 3:8-10 ESV

So what did Jesus expect to happen when he gave Peter a gift of more fish than Peter could manage? Did Jesus really expect to see Peter fear and despair because sin? The reaction is real but that is not the goal. Jesus is God in the form of a man seeking reconciliation. The reader sees the miraculous gift of a boat overflowing with fish but that is not the actual gift that Jesus was giving Peter. The gift that Jesus is giving Peter in this moment is a gift of clarity to see God more clearly and to see God work in salvation and relationship. Jesus needed Peter to be ready to give up his old life and start a new life following God.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. Luke 5:10-11 ESV

Whatever anxiety I have at the thoughts of my sin exposed like Peter was exposed before God is pushed aside by the glorious chills of God seeking me out for a relationship and being invited into his kingdom. Dear reader Jesus is working out the miraculous in your life. Now is the moment to respond and follow him.