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Christian Hedonism

Paul, Apollos, and Peter preached Jesus rather than themselves.
Image credit: Sweet Publishing

Today we begin reading through Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. Corinth is located in Southern Greece and was the city where Paul met Priscilla and her husband Aquilla. The three of them made tents together. (Acts 18:1–3)

Since he only knew of the baptism of John the Baptizer, Priscilla and Aquilla explained the gospel “more accurately” to Apollos in Acts 18:26. We know from Acts 18:24-25 that Apollos was an eloquent speaker and competent with the Scriptures. He also was fervent in the Spirit. He was the poster child for charismatic speakers everywhere. It seems natural that he would develop quite a following among Christians in his day.

But there was a problem in Corinth. Some of the believers attached themselves to Apollos and his teachings while others aligned themselves with Paul. Others thought Cephas (Peter) was the best preacher they ever heard. There’s nothing wrong with having your favorite Bible teachers. But Paul addresses a problem that went beyond having your favorite teacher. Divisions arose around these three men. We might say that the first denominations were begun in Corinth; the math term “denominator” is used in “division”.

Paul speaks very strongly against these divisions, even pointing out that he had only baptized a handful of people in the city. And he quickly points the church to Jesus and what He accomplished on the cross. I believe that Paul was thinking of Apollos and Peter when he said that “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. (1Corinthians 1:23) In other words, he says that all three of these godly Bible teachers preach the same gospel. In contrast to the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles, they’re all on the same page in the message they are preaching.

Paul says, rather than boast in who you’re following, boast in the fact that you’re following Jesus. (Jeremiah 9:23–24)

Application

Whose books do you read? What Bible teachers do you watch on TV? Whose podcasts do you listen to? I’ve mentioned before that we need to be very careful who we align ourselves with. As I said above, it’s ok to have your favorite Bible teachers, but our favorites pale in comparison to Jesus. Or at least they should!

The most popular Bible teachers aren’t necessarily the most Christ-centered in their beliefs, their attitudes, and their behaviors. And not every Bible teacher is on the right side of Scripture all of the time. And if the truth were known — and it should be — some Bible teachers don’t even reference the Bible very often, if at all.

Make sure that above all that you boast in Jesus Christ. He is our focus.

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What will you do with Jesus?
Photo credit: LumoProject

Dr. Luke continues his narrative about Jesus’ trial in today’s Bible reading. Pontius Pilate is convinced that Jesus is not guilty of anything worthy of the death penalty. He learns that Jesus is from Herod’s district so he sends Jesus to Herod. Herod can’t find anything worthy of death either, so he sends Jesus back to Pilate.

Pilate is in a quandary. What to do with Jesus?

He offers to have Jesus flogged and the religious leaders aren’t interested. Actually, the only thing they’re interested in is Jesus’ execution at the hands of the Romans. If the Romans kill Jesus, then they can always claim that their hands are clean. To them, it doesn’t matter that Jesus is not guilty of breaking the Roman Law. It doesn’t matter that Jesus is not guilty of breaking the Jewish Law. It doesn’t matter that they have to lie — breaking the Jewish Law — to get rid of Him.

Jesus’ only offense is upsetting these religious leaders’ apple cart. He humbly came on the scene without any fanfare, miraculously healing people from lifelong illnesses, delivering people from spiritual oppression, and feeding crowds of hungry people. And He spoke with authority, not as the religious leaders did. (Luke 4:32, Mark 1:22)

How could it be that so many religious leaders could hate someone so bitterly that they are willing to lie and send an innocent man to His death?

The people loved Jesus and He loved them. And that ticked off the religious leaders. The people were supposed to look up to them. The people were supposed to be impressed with them. The people were to love them.

Anger, rage, and jealousy have driven people to do things they wouldn’t have done on their own. When you add more and more people with more and more anger, rage, and jealousy, you end up with a mob rule of anarchy. The religious leaders wouldn’t listen to reason. They had already moved past that.

So Pilate decided what to do with Jesus. He have Jesus executed. And the religious leaders were happy.

One of the criminals crucified with Jesus decided what to do with Jesus. He joined the mocking crowd, “If you’re the Messiah, save yourself!”

The other criminal crucified with Jesus decided what he would do with Jesus. He defended Him and then asked, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

Application

So what will you do with Jesus? That is the question!

When you cross over to the other side of eternity and face your Judgment Day, the only question that will matter is, “What did you do with Jesus?”

It won’t matter how many times you read your Bible. It won’t matter how many people you told about Jesus. It won’t matter how fluently you pray publicly. It won’t matter if you were baptized. It won’t matter if you went through a confirmation class at church. These things won’t matter.

It won’t matter which religion you claim. It won’t matter how many people you proselytized to your religion. It won’t matter how much money you gave to charitable causes. It won’t matter how many glasses of cool water you offered to thirsty people.

All that will matter is what you did with Jesus.

So?

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The End Times

Today’s Bible reading involves eschatology. Eschatology is a twenty-five cent word that means the study of “The End Times”. I commented on a parallel passage from Matthew 24 in May. Hence the recycled End Times image.

As I said in May, lots of people claim they know when Jesus will return. But rather than speculate as to when Jesus will return, I choose to focus on being ready whenever He returns. In fact, that seems to be Jesus’ focus as well.

I don’t know when He will return and neither does anyone else. But our Father does! He’s in control of everything. Jesus won’t return a second earlier and He won’t return a second later than His Father plans. Don’t worry about when the End Times happen. We’re already in the End Times and have been since Jesus came the first time! (Matthew 12:28, Luke 11:20)

Thinking about the End Times can be a little scary, but it shouldn’t be if you’re a believer. Things may get bad, as they did in AD 70 when Jerusalem was overtaken (and which is a lot of what Jesus is referring to in our reading). But God is still in control!

Always keep that in mind!

Application

So what can you do to be ready? The number one thing is to have a dynamic relationship with your Father. Spend time with Him in prayer, Bible study, worship, and other Spiritual Disciplines. The bottom line: Get to know your Daddy! Enjoy your fellowship with Him and tell other people how they can have and develop a relationship with Him, too.

Don’t let yourself get distracted by the speculators. And don’t wait until Jesus returns before you spend time with Him. Do it now!

Stay close. Stay clean. Be ready. Watch. And pray.

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Has Jesus changed your life?

Today’s Bible reading presents the famous story of the “wee little man”, Zacchaeus.

From an early age, I felt like I could relate to Zacchaeus. Those of you who have met me know why. Neither Zacchaeus nor I will ever be the tallest man in the room! It doesn’t bother me so much now compared to my “wonder years”. At some point, I finally embraced the fact that it is what it is.

But Zacchaeus’ stature isn’t what the story is about. The Sycamore Tree isn’t what the story is about. The central focus of the story is Zacchaeus’ radical transformation from being a greedy tax collector to a repentant Christ-follower after his encounter with Jesus.

As I just typed that, I realized how strange that redundancy should sound: a repentant Christ-follower. Every Christ-follower should be marked by a changed life as a result of encountering the One we follow. And following Him involves — even requires — repentance: Turning from us and turning to Him.

Tax collectors weren’t the most popular people of Jesus’ day. Evidently, tax collectors lined their pockets with whatever extras they could exact from their taxpayers. And from Dr. Luke’s description, Zacchaeus was really good at his job. Dr. Luke even hints at that in naming Zacchaeus a “Chief Tax Collector”. (Luke 19:2)

Other than the disdain of the religious leaders that Jesus had gone to “stay with a sinful man”, Dr. Luke doesn’t give us any details of Jesus’ visit to Zacchaeus’ home. He only gives us the result of the encounter: Zacchaeus will never be the same. His behavior changes because his heart changes. An encounter with Jesus is always a heart encounter first. Then it overflows into a behavior change. In expressing his repentance (Luke 19:8), Zacchaeus promises restitution to those he has wronged. This is straight out of the Law (Leviticus 6:5, Numbers 5:6–7)

Philosophers will sometimes use the “Prime Mover Argument” in an effort to prove God’s existence. It says that everything in the universe is in constant motion. Therefore, there had to be a Prime Mover who set the first thing into motion; that Prime Mover is God.

Zacchaeus climbed the tree because he wanted to see Jesus. But before Zacchaeus needed the tree, God put that tree where Zacchaeus would need it. God is always the “Prime Mover”. God is the One Who seeks. Jesus said that the Father seeks spirit-and-truth worshipers. (John 4:23) That’s a good thing! Because on our own, not one of us would seek God! (Romans 3:10–12) And in our reading today, Jesus said that He was sent to seek and save the lost. (Luke 19:10) And the day our first father sinned, it was God who was seeking. (Genesis 3:8–9)

Application

The religious leaders criticized Jesus for being with sinners. The underhanded accusation was that Jesus was with hanging out with sinners because he was one, too. But note that in every situation where Jesus hung out with sinners, the sinners changed but Jesus didn’t. Every situation. He never compromised on the Truth of His message. And neither should we.

It is admirable when Christians reach outside our comfort zone and roll up our sleeves to rub elbows with people unlike ourselves. But in reaching out, we must be very careful to “love the sinner” and not share in their sin, nor encourage them in their sin. Like Jesus, believers should love the sinner out of, and away from, his/her sin.

In case you’ve missed this major theme, everyone is a sinner. Our goal in discipleship/becoming more like Jesus is to become in our experience who we already are in Christ Jesus. In Jesus, we are saints. But until we cross over to the other side of eternity, we will struggle with becoming more saintly in our beliefs, our attitudes and our behavior, and less as a sinner.

The Christian life isn’t about behavior change. If it were, it would be just like all of the other religions. Instead, the Christian life is about having a relationship with Jesus Christ. But as we grow in our relationship with Jesus, our behavior will change. Just like Zacchaeus!

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Count the cost of following Jesus

Once again, Jesus teaches that His disciples must count the cost to be His disciple in today’s Bible reading. It seems to be a recurring theme. I’ve said it many times, if you see words or a concept repeated in the Bible, it’s probably pretty important and you need to take note of it.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, 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.” Luke 14:26–27 (CSB)

Jesus begins this section with a figure of speech called hyperbole. Hyperbole is an exaggeration that’s not intended to be taken literally.[1] Jesus uses it to compare how much His disciples must be willing to give up to follow Him. A few chapters back, Jesus’ invitation to follow Him was met with, “Ok, but first I need to ….”

No, Jesus told us to put His Kingdom and His righteousness first. (Matthew 6:33; Luke 12:31)

First.

Remember when Jesus called Peter, James, and John after their monster fish catch. No, they didn’t catch a monster fish. They had a monstrous catch of fish. (See my devotional on Luke 5) Instead of taking two boatloads of fish to the market, they left the fish. They left the nets. They left the boats. Compared to the value of following Jesus, nothing was of any value. (Philippians 3:8)

When you think about it, based on the very definition of the word, it’s impossible to say, “No, Lord.” If He is truly Lord, you have to say, “Yes”. If you say, “No”, then He isn’t truly Lord. Everything that Jesus says about following Him emphatically states or implies that if someone wants to follow Him, He must be seen as “Lord“. There is no other option!

Application

Oftentimes, I have heard people say something like, “I accepted Jesus as my Savior when I was x years old. But I accepted Jesus as my Lord when I was y years old.” A few days ago, I referred to a comment one of my seminary professors made about knowing Jesus as Savior and then later knowing Jesus as Lord: You can come to Jesus as Savior and later come to know Him more as Lord, but you cannot come to Jesus as Savior and reject Him as Lord.

How about you? Do you know Jesus as your Lord? Or do you know Him merely as Savior so you can have “Fire Insurance” (so you can go to heaven when you die)?

Uhm… I’ve read through the Book a few times, and I’ve never seen anything about a concept of having “fire insurance”. You either come to Him on His terms, or you don’t come to Him at all.

[1] Source: Dictionary.Com

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