Playing It Safe

Living or ExistingSome folks habitually “play it safe.” They won’t board an airplane. They won’t go overseas. They won’t step too far out of their comfort zone. In their minds, life is too precious to jeopardize it in such frivolous ways.

Jesus told a story in Luke 19.11-27 which included a man who played it safe. It’s the story of the ten minas (one mina was about three-months’ wages) which a nobleman distributed evenly among ten servants, telling them to “Engage in business until I return.” When he returned, the nobleman found several servants who had multiplied his money. But one fearful servant returned the single mina he’d been given, saying, “Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man.”

The nobleman-now-king took the mina away from him and gave it to another servant who had most-successfully multiplied his money. Everyone was dumbfounded that he would take away what little the one servant had and give it to the one who had the most, but he answered, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Safe!The fearful servant tried to play it safe, but too late he discovered he had done exactly the opposite. The king told him he should have at least put the money in the bank so it would have earned a little interest! Do SOMETHING, even if it’s small.

Fear freezes. We must not let fear control us to the point that we fail to DO SOMETHING. Everyone knows there is something wrong with the lady shut up in her house, refusing to come out because of her phobias. But many live that way, holding to their daily routines, their safe routes, their points of protection, their comfortable zones, and woe to the one who would nudge them off course!

Whole churches play it safe for years. Comfortable pew warmers smile, sit, chat, and go home. Did the preacher say something about helping the poor? Can we just write a check for that? Did someone encourage us to teach the gospel to our neighbor? Well, we have such a good relationship with the neighbor, it would be a shame to ruin it with talk about religion. The whole world around us is dissolving into an ethical and moral nightmare; are we content to watch it crash and burn and not speak the words of life necessary to fight against evil? We’ll complain amongst ourselves at the deterioration of society; then we’ll go home and allow Netflix to entertain us with the same filth we protest against.

Rock ClimbingMen play it safe by not addressing sin in their own lives, by not confessing sin to other faithful men who can support, pray, and help. We don’t address sin in our families for fear of straining relationships…yet the relationship is really strained because of the sin! We play it safe when we don’t stretch ourselves to grow in the talents and abilities God has given us to use for His glory.

We need to stop playing it safe. When the King returns, will He find us working to increase what He entrusted to us, or will He find us sitting on our couches, eating ice cream, and immersing ourselves in the world’s entertainment? I hate to admit I do way too much of what’s in that last sentence.

Jesus didn’t die so we could watch Netflix. Jesus didn’t die so we could play. Jesus didn’t die so we could increase our wealth. He died so we could have life and that we, in turn, could become life givers and producers in His kingdom!

Jesus didn’t play it safe…and He doesn’t want us to, either.

Two Months to Live

Showing the BibleI just got off the phone with a man whose brother-in-law has been told has two months to live because he has aggressive, stage four lung cancer.

My friend said, “I want to send him a Bible verse to encourage him in this time…can you give me some ideas of what to send him?”

“Is he a Christian?” I wanted to know.

“Well, he’s Catholic, but he never goes to church anyway,” was the answer.

“I see.” I told him I’d try to text him some verses.

But I knew that someone who is not a faithful believer won’t get much hope from the Bible!

I finally texted my friend:

I’d encourage your brother-in-law to read one of the gospels and get acquainted with Jesus really well. I’m not sure how encouraging Bible verses will be if he’s not in a good relationship with God and Jesus.

Food for LifeThen I sent the following verse suggestions, which might help lead the man where he really needs to go. But before you read them, let me ask you:

What would you say to this man? How would you counsel someone with only a couple of months to live?

John 14.1-6

          1      “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.
2      “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.
3      “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.
4      “And you know the way where I am going.”
5      Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?”
6      Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

1 Corinthians 15.42-58

          42      So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised can imperishable body;
43      it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;
44      it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
45      So also it is written, “The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.
46      However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual.
47      The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven.
48      As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly.
49      Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly.
50      Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
51      Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed,
52      in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
53      For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.
54      But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory.
55      “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?”
56      The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;
57      but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58      Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

Philippians 1.21-26

          21      For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
22      But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.
23      But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better;
24      yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.
25      Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith,
26      so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.

Confidence!

Standing StrongTwo understandings I hold seem on their face to contradict:

  1. I am confident I am wrong on some spiritual matters
  2. I am confident I am in relationship with Jesus Christ

Chew on those for a moment.

How can a person be confident in his relationship with Jesus, confident of his salvation, and also confident he is wrong in some of his Bible understanding?

Actually, I wonder how someone can be otherwise. Would it not seem the height of arrogance for one to think he has every spiritual matter completely figured out? The humble (and realistic) appreciate their finite knowledge and intelligence. Only God is all-wise and all-knowing. Therefore, there must always be room for growth, for adding new information, for adjusting understanding.

Our confidence must never come from ourselves. When we believe our salvation depends on how right we are about things, our salvation becomes dependent upon ourselves. Hear me now–there is a right and a wrong, good and evil; it’s just that we, in our finite selves, will never fully discern these things. We grow in our discernment, learning every day (Lord willing) to more rightly divide the word of truth.

God gives us grace despite our imperfect knowledge. How much more grace should we give each other, then? In truth, we should be strict with ourselves and gracious with one another, but we often get those reversed.

Paul wrote:

To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory. (Eph. 3.8-13)

ConfidentFrom where did Paul’s confidence come? It came from Jesus Christ! Paul was fully confident in Jesus’ power, Jesus’ love, Jesus’ accomplishment. Paul placed no confidence in his own work.

But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us… (Titus 3.4-5)

We can put up with brothers and sisters who understand Scripture differently than we. Sure, there are items with which we must have no disagreement, but the “same mind” Paul wanted the brethren to have (1 Cor. 1.10 and Phil. 2.1-4; 4.2) is not an exact oneness of understanding on everything but a oneness of attitude towards God and towards each other. Paul wanted them to have the same mind Jesus had (see Phil. 2.5ff), the mind of abject humility and obedience to God.

When we divide from and formally disfellowship our brothers and sisters because they have a different understanding, we may actually be demonstrating a mind which is not consistent with Christ Jesus! Sometimes we must break fellowship with one another for a season…perhaps for longer…but that does not mean we must view one another as lost in sin. Paul and John Mark broke fellowship for a time and couldn’t plow together in the same yoke, but that was only for a season. Neither was spiritually lost.

Have confidence in Jesus Christ. Hold fast that confidence! And love your brothers and sisters who also hold fast that confidence.

The Good Samaritan: The Power of a Story

Good SamaritanMany of us have heard abundant teaching and preaching on Luke 10.25-37, the parable of the good Samaritan. Praise God for providing such a teachable event, for the lessons just pour out of the text!

Jesus told the parable in response to a lawyer’s questions.

The lawyer (testing Jesus) asked, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

As the master teacher He was, Jesus replied with a question, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

In the presence of an audience, this must have been a bit embarrassing for the lawyer. He should have known the Law like the back of his hand. This question was kind of like asking a child, “What does the book say? You should already know the answer.”

If the lawyer couldn’t produce the answer, he’d be publicly embarrassed, so he had to answer. Jesus caught him…but not in a mean way. Jesus was teaching him.

Questioning JesusThe lawyer produced an excellent answer: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

“You have answered correctly; do this and you will live,” Jesus responded.

[Um. Wait. It can’t be that easy. I’m a lawyer, and I wouldn’t ask such an easy question! No, my question is really much deeper than that, Jesus. What I really meant to ask was…]

“And who is my neighbor?”

THAT’S when Jesus gave the good Samaritan illustration. And what an answer it is! It’s clear. It’s simple. There’s no room for argument. It teaches that it’s not so much about figuring out who your neighbor is; it’s really about being a good neighbor to anyone and everyone who needs a neighbor!

Jesus’ answer, in a nutshell, is, “Go, show people mercy. Be like that Samaritan.”

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what of this 157-word illustration? Jesus could have just said, “Just be a good neighbor to anyone you meet.” Would that have packed the same punch? Not hardly. Packaged the way it is, the parable of the good Samaritan contains riches well beyond a legal statement; it contains abiding principles and depths of teaching a list of laws never could.

Instead of providing the lawyer with a list of people he should consider to be his neighbor, Jesus made the lawyer picture himself in the shoes of a compassionate Samaritan (someone he normally would loathe). Jesus broke down racial, economic, and social barriers with this simple story.

Perhaps that’s why so much of the Bible is written in narrative.

Such Great Faith

Guest Post by Doug Hoffman


The Phone CallI was impressed last night, again, by the great faith of the Centurion in Luke 7 who clearly saw himself as unworthy in the light of the great authority of Jesus.  It’s interesting to me that the word for “authority” in Luke 7.8 (exousia) is exactly the same word most often translated “power” (ex., Lk. 4.6), identifying Jesus’ ability to accomplish whatever He desires.

I tried to think about what that would look like today. If I had access to our President, a man of great authority/power, and could say, through a couple of advocates close to him, “Mr. President, I know you have the power to erase this parking ticket, would you please do so?” what an incredible power I would have at my fingertips. Imagine I was on death row and made the same appeal knowing he had the power to give me life by pardoning me; what an incredible gratefulness and, maybe even, allegiance I would feel if I could acquire such mercy and grace. And what if I had access, not through some advocate, but by simply picking up the prison telephone?

Then it struck me: I have direct access to an even greater power in Jesus Christ.  He provides the power for me to live FREE, unchained from the grips of sin, addiction, sorrow, and the like.  Why don’t I access that power when it is as easy as simply asking, without the intermediary?  What would I be willing to ask Him to do?  So it isn’t really surprising to read that Jesus was able to say about the Centurion, “I have not found such great faith in Israel.”  Can he find that kind of great faith in me?  I’m working toward that goal.

Why Did Jesus Feed the 5000?

Jesus Teaching
by www.LumoProject.com

Herod, the Bible says, “sought to see” Jesus (Luke 9.9), but it seems he didn’t seek very hard, for in the immediately-following verses a huge crowd went out into a desolate place outside Bethsaida to find Jesus. Surely Herod could have gone out, too, had he really wanted.

But the 5000 enjoyed the words and the powerful healing Jesus brought; all day they listened until the day began to wane. The disciples suggested that Jesus send the crowd into the surrounding villages so they could get something to eat, but Jesus surprised them with a challenge: “You give them something to eat” (Luke 9.14)!

“We have no more than five loaves and two fish,” they answered, not for a moment considering a boy’s lunch (John 6.9) ample provision for such a great multitude. I would have been right with those disciples, I’m afraid. (I sometimes stare into my fridge thinking, “There’s nothing to eat,” when really there is plenty…)

Listen, Jesus was not obligated to feed this multitude. It wasn’t His job, and no one expected Him to provide a meal. He must have had a purpose to this miracle, don’t you think?

So why did He do it? Let me suggest two reasons.

1. To increase the faith of the disciples.

11_Jesus_5000_1024After His disciples basically said they couldn’t feed the multitude, Jesus didn’t just say, “Okay, fine, if you won’t do it I’ll do it Myself.” No, He performed the miracle of multiplying the bread and fish, and He “gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd” (Luke 9.16). In other words, the disciples ended up giving the crowd something to eat, just as Jesus had instructed! Jesus does not command anything for which He doesn’t also equip. Remember that.

Jesus had told these disciples He would make them fishers of men (Luke 5.9-10). These twelve (Luke 6.13) would be the seeds which started a world-wide planting operation. How in the world would they accomplish such a monumental–dare we say, impossible–task? By faith these men would come to understand all they had to do was obey–God handles the multiplication!

God can take an oil jug with just a bit of left-over oil in the bottom and make it outlast a famine (1 Kings 17.8-16). God can feed and water a couple million people in the desert for forty years. Man’s road blocks and impossibilities are nothing to God.

2. To identify Himself.

15_Jesus_5000_1024Continuing the previous thought, Jesus identified Himself with Moses in the wilderness. John accounts the feeding of the 5000 in John 6, and do you remember what conversation the event precipitated? The next day, the Jews tried to provoke Jesus into feeding them again: “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’” (John 6.31). They did well to connect Jesus’ power with the feeding of the Israelites in the wilderness, and Jesus continued the thought, identifying Himself as the true bread from heaven.

Not only did He identify Himself as the bread of life, but this even also identified Him strongly with Moses–Moses being a type of Christ. How could Jesus do such awesome things unless He was truly sent by God? And if He was truly sent by God, His words rang with prophetic power. Moses had prophesied in Deuteronomy 18.15, “YAHWEH your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear…”

The feeding of the 5000 proved that God had raised up The Prophet, and He was standing before His brethren!

Are You Walking in Grace Today?

ComfortingTheoretically, I assume grace would come naturally to a sinless and selfless individual. But to all of us lawbreakers who feel guilt and shame in our lives, grace makes us nervous and unsettled. As weird as it may seem, grace almost feels wrong to us.

Take for example the parable of the laborers in Matthew 20.1-16 in which the landowner went out five times during the day to find laborers for his vineyard. The first men began work early in the morning, the second around 9 a.m., the third around noon, the fourth around 3 p.m., and the last at 5 p.m., leaving them only an hour or two of daylight in which to work. Those last men were called “about the eleventh hour,” Jesus said (Matt. 20.6). We use that phrase “eleventh hour” to mean “the very last minute.” Indeed, those men were called at the tail end of the day, and we law-abiding folk balk as the landowner handed every worker the exact same wage no matter how many hours he had worked!

“Not fair! Those who worked longer should have received more. Workers have rights, you know. You can’t give those sweaty, exhausted workers the exact same thing as to those men who lazed around most of the day.”

Oh really? Jesus demands that we consider it. Isn’t it up to the landowner to hire workers and pay them whatever he wants? If the workers agreed to the wages, they received what was fair.

Not only was the landowner fair, but he extended grace to those who worked fewer hours. He didn’t have to pay them a full day’s wage…but he did. It’s not that he wasn’t fair to the first men, it’s that he is more than fair with the last–and therein lies the message. Grace makes us squirm.

When your wife has left several obvious items at the house undone, when your children succumb to temptation and break your rules, when a man holds a sign on the side of the road “hungry, please help,” do you act in grace? Is grace your default, or is it something you must work at?

By the Grace of GodBecause of our sinful natures, grace is often difficult and not our default. Grace is truly being like God, and we have fallen from His nature; that image has been corrupted. Jesus is the exact image of the Creator, but we are not!

How have you responded to your husband / wife today? How have you dealt with your children recently? When your boss is cranky, what is your default reaction? When your employees don’t exactly measure up, how do you treat them? Humans mess up. God doesn’t. Yet see how He treats us in spite of our sins!

Are you walking in grace today? Or do you walk entirely by law? When people don’t measure up, do you prosecute (persecute?) them to the fullest extent of the law?

“For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1.17)

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3.21-26)

For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Rom. 6.14)

For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you. (2 Cor. 1.12)

Think on these things.