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Jesus often withdraws to deserted places to pray.
Image source: Lumo Project

Yesterday, we looked at Jesus’ secret to overcoming temptation. In today’s Bible reading, we see the secret to Jesus’ life overall.

Simon and his business partners, James and John have been fishing all night. They have caught nothing. It happens occasionally. When you make your living fishing, some days are diamonds and some days are coal. Last night was stone hard, dirty, black coal and the men are discouraged and tired. But at Jesus’ suggestion, they cast their freshly-cleaned nets and haul in two boats full of fish! There are so many fish that both boats begin to sink! This was a diamond of a day! Completely overwhelmed, Simon cries out to Jesus, “Get away from me. I’m a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)

Jesus simply responds, Simon, James, and John, your fishing days are over. This is the fishing story of all fishing stories! You’re retiring at the top of your game. From now on, you’ll fish for the souls of men. Immediately, they drop everything and follow Him.

Wait! What? They don’t even take their catch to the market! They just leave the fish and the nets in the boats and walk away. Obviously, they saw that Jesus was worth more than the value of two boatloads of fish!

As Jesus travels, news about Him travels faster. He finds Himself being greeted by large crowds of sick people, desperately asking Him to heal them. And He does.

Next, Dr. Luke tosses in a nugget of information that we might otherwise overlook. “Yet he often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.” Luke 5:16 (CSB)

One might think that Jesus was successful because of all that he accomplished. Or maybe He was successful because of the miraculous things that He did. But Dr. Luke’s little piece of information speaks volumes. Yes, the ministry was great. The numbers were growing. Yet, Jesus often withdrew to secluded places to pray.

Some people are energized by the crowds and rubbing elbows with lots of people. But as an introvert, I can relate a bit to Dr. Luke’s statement. Sure, I can be “out there” with people. I can speak to lots of people. I can greet lots of people. But it takes a lot of energy. I have to withdraw from people to recharge my batteries.

Application

Note that Dr. Luke doesn’t just say that Jesus withdrew to pray. He points out that Jesus often withdrew to pray. It wasn’t just once a week. It wasn’t just once a quarter. It wasn’t every seven years for a sabbatical. No, Jesus often withdrew to pray. It was his habit, his normal mode of operation. A.T. Robertson says,

The more the crowds came as a result of the leper’s story, the more Jesus turned away from them to the desert regions and prayed with the Father. It is a picture of Jesus drawn with vivid power. The wild enthusiasm of the crowds was running ahead of their comprehension of Christ and his mission and message. [1]

Do you often withdraw from your activities to pray? I’m sure that you’re not as busy as Jesus. I know I’m not. But if Jesus needed to take some time to pray, we do, too! And we need to do it more than He did!

So… When was the last time you spent some extended time praying? Extended time…. like more than a couple of minutes? Like more than ten minutes? Like an hour or more?

Simon and his business partners knew that being with Jesus was worth far more than whatever they would get from selling their catch, their nets, and their boats. Do you? Do you see that being with Jesus (yes, now, on this side of eternity) is worth far more than anything you could do with your time? That’s what Christian Hedonism is all about: seeing Jesus as being worth way more than anything else.

Maybe you and I need to get away (not together) for a little while to spend some extended time in prayer.

Often.

[1] Robertson, A.T. Word Pictures in the New Testament. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933. Print.

This devotional was originally published July 3, 2019.

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Today’s Bible reading includes Jesus’ “Great Commission”. Jesus has spent about three years with his disciples and is commissioning them for their ministry. Grammatically speaking, there is one command with several participles that describe how the command is to play out.

He begins with “As you go”. He assumes that His disciples will go. Because He has all of the authority, He gives them this great commission.

Next is the command to make disciples.

The next set of participles describe how to make disciples:

  • by baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, fully identifying them with the Trinity.
  • by teaching them to obey Jesus’ teachings. Jesus gave a lot of commands. But in John 13:34–35, He gives them a new command: Love each other. Jesus’ new command wasn’t really new, he was just giving the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36–40) a new emphasis. In John 13:35, He says that people will recognize His disciples by their love for each other. This isn’t to discount so many other things about them, but their distinctive was to be love. Not an ooey-gooey squishy love, but a real — almost tangible love that Paul describes in 1Corinthians 13:1–13.

That’s it! That’s all it means to make disciples. The Great Commission is simple. But it isn’t easy. Teaching people to obey Jesus’ teachings is a life-long journey.

When Jesus linked teaching with how the command is to be applied, He isn’t talking about taking something from one person’s brain and transferring that to someone else’s brain. In the New Testament times, a disciple wasn’t just a student of a teacher. A disciple was a learner, much like an apprentice under a mentor who poured his life into the apprentice’s life.

Jesus’ commission isn’t to get people to make decisions. The commission is to make disciples. There is a world of difference between these two!

Unfortunately, a lot of leaders in the church at large don’t get this. It’s much easier to get someone to “bow your head and repeat after me” than it is to make a disciple. Decision-making is very quick. Disciplemaking takes time. Unfortunately, churches are full of decision-makers, and lacking on disciples.

In 2Timothy 2:2 Paul adds another dimension to disciplemaking: Make disciple-making disciples. Until a disciple passes his/her own walk down to a younger (in the faith) believer, we haven’t completed the task to make disciples. Unfortunately, most church-goers have never been “discipled” and are therefore incapable of making disciples.

Application

Have you ever been discipled? Maybe you need to talk with your pastor about growing deeper in your faith by meeting regularly with a more mature believer who can pour his/her spiritual life into yours.

Have you made a disciple? The commission wasn’t just for Jesus’ immediate disciples. The commission is for us, too!

I once heard someone wisely say that every Christian needs a Paul (a more mature believer who is discipling you), a Barnabus (someone on about the same spiritual growth level as you), and a Timothy (someone you are discipling).

Indeed!

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nuclear_explosion

I will probably upset someone with this devotional based on today’s Bible reading. It’s because I don’t share the most popular view of eschatology. As a result, I see this passage very differently than many people. But we need to seek to understand and apply the Bible according to the Bible and not according to popular theology and popular Bible teachers. The majority can sometimes be wrong.

I recently got into a text discussion with a friend over this very topic, eschatology, the study of the End Times. It’s the only view that many Christians have ever been exposed to. The popular view of today’s passage looks to the future for the fulfillment of Jesus’ words, often with an America-centric slant. The popular view sees all of this passage as being in the future. But is this Jesus’ focus?

If you read Matthew 24, Jesus appears to deliver the entire chapter in one speech. In other words, look at the passage as a whole to seek to understand what Jesus is saying. He begins with a prophecy that the Temple will be destroyed. Next, He describes signs of the end of the age. The next three sections in the chapter deal with Jesus’ Second Coming, concluding with a strong statement that no one will know the day or the hour.

Obviously, the destruction of the Temple isn’t in the future; it happened in AD 70 with the fall of Jerusalem. But the rest from Matthew 24:3 could have happened in the past, are now happening, or will happen in the future. Is Jesus giving us a step-by-step description to guide our worldview? Or is He simply giving us a “watch for these signs and be alert” warning?

I believe He’s giving us a warning to watch and be alert rather than a timetable. The central application point is Matthew 24:12-14.

And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Matthew 24:12–14 (ESV)

Application

Jesus couldn’t be more clear that the timing of His return is unknowable. So why do so many seem to be obsessed with when He will return? Shouldn’t we instead be faithful with proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom (v. 14) and stay alert (v. 42, 44, 46), faithfully loving and serving Him?

If you tend to focus on the timing, step back a bit and look at the passage as a whole. Look at the book of Revelation as a whole. You’ll find that our call is to make sure we’ve been saved (had a conversion experience) and that we will be saved in the end (ultimate salvation for those who endure and not fall away) as well as to bring as many to heaven as we can.

Make sure that your love for Him and His people doesn’t grow cold. (Matthew 24:12) Be faithful today. Be obedient today. Be watching today. Get to know and love God better today. Live to God’s glory today. Sure, watch for the signs. But concentrate on growing deeper in your relationship with Him today.

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Jesus confronts hypocrisy
Image credit: Lumo Project

In today’s Bible reading, Jesus confronts the Jewish leaders on their hypocrisy. He says that they have nullified God’s commands with their traditions. How did they do that?

The Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day made a religion out of God’s commands. They wanted to make themselves out to be so religious, they completely missed the point of the commands that God gave. By the time that Jesus came along, the religious leaders had the Law, the commentary on the Law, and the commentary on the commentary on the Law. What they practiced was so far and away from how God designed things, they didn’t even need God for their religion to work, and for them to look really good doing it. And there’s the problem.

Application

I once heard that Jesus could return and rapture His children and most of the church’s activities would continue to operate with no recognizable differences. That’s a scary thought! If that’s true, how much of the ministry of the church is actually the work of the Holy Spirit? And how much can be completely explained by the work of people?

One might respond, “Well, not in my church! Everything we do is empowered by the work of the Holy Spirit.” Let me be honest. There’s never been a perfect church. Yours isn’t either. Every Believer in every church has areas where we can grow. There’s always room for improvement and adjustment.

I continue to contemplate things like this while we’re still in the “lock-down” from the coronavirus. When we “get back to normal”, will we do what we’ve always done? I once heard that if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”

Perhaps this brief pause is an opportunity to do things differently in the future. Perhaps what we’ve always done and the ways we’ve always done them are nothing more than traditions and not actually fulfilling the commands of God.

God never called anyone to merely do activities. People are only called into relationships with Him. And all of the activities are simply overflow of the relationship.

So what are some things that you are doing
instead of developing your relationship with God?

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Jesus sends our His Disciples for ministry
Image source: LumoProject

In reading through today’s Bible reading and looking back on the past four weeks of “stay at home” to flatten the curve of the coronavirus, I must say, I’m very much in a reflective mood.

As you look at what Jesus said in Matthew 10:5-15, you see a lot about what the Disciples were commissioned to do, but Jesus didn’t tell them how to go about it. One obvious point is that not once did He say anything about setting up a building as a center for ministry.

In one YouTube video I saw today, the speaker said that some church leaders (of large churches) in Canada suggested that they may not be able to return to “normal” church services until August or September. August or September!

In light of Jesus’ commissions for His Disciples in today’s reading and our recent inability to do church like we’re used to, we really need to ask some serious questions about how we are supposed to do church as we move forward.

As we begin to talk about going back to church — at least at first — we won’t be able to go back to what we’re used to. We will have to do some things differently. The mission remains, but the methods must change.

Perhaps God is giving us a chance to press the “Reset” Button. Perhaps what we’ve been doing for the past five hundred years needs to look different as we move forward. Maybe we need to stop doing some things we’ve been doing because the methods have served their purposes for a time and it’s time now to move on to more relevant things.

In some ways, we have already done this. Compared to fifty years ago, how many churches still conduct “Bible Drills” and Vacation Bible School? How many churches have an active “bus ministry”? How many churches have “Revival Services” twice a year anymore? How many churches still have a choir that wears choir robes for Sunday Morning church and present two cantatas per year? How many preachers still wear three-piece suits on Sunday Mornings? How many churches still have weekly door-to-door cold-call visitation?

Things have changed. We have already laid aside many things that may have run their course for our specific context. Note: I’m not saying that churches shouldn’t do any of these things anymore. I’m just saying that in many contexts, these methods aren’t as effective as they used to be. As a result, we have retooled our methods, as retail stores have abandoned brick-and-mortar-only approaches to selling products to customers. The market changes and our methods of delivering on our mission should also change to reflect those changes.

Just before we began to talk about merging churches, I preached about our need to do whatever it takes to reach different types of people: The lost, the traditional church-goers, and the former traditional church-goers.

Application

I have a few quick questions for our church specifically, and to other church-goers in general. When you look forward to getting back to meeting together as a church, what are you looking forward to? What do you miss? Finally, what needs to change when we go back?

On Wednesday afternoon, I attended a webinar about finishing well as a believer and church leader. Someone commented that preachers oftentimes say that they are “called into the ministry”. He followed this by saying, “No. You aren’t called into ministry. You’re called to intimacy. Ministry will flow out of intimacy.” As I reflected on this profound quote, I wondered if the intimacy he referred to was limited to (vertical) intimacy with God or if it includes (horizontal) intimacy with others.

Especially in light of today’s reading and my comments above, I believe it includes both types of intimacy. Having said that, I have to ask how much of my ministry has not been focused on vertical (with God) and horizontal (with others) intimacy (ie, the mission), but rather on the methods.

I have a lot to learn.

Nothing is more relevant to the world right now than the message of the Gospel. People are reaching out, looking for hope. Looking for answers. Record numbers of people have downloaded the YouVersion Bible App. And I have been shocked at how many people are viewing our Sunday Morning Messages on Facebook Live.

May we be true to our mission and flexible in our methods, seeking God’s leading all the time.

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1 2 3 9

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