Words Matter

Today’s Reading:  Judges 11-12

Today as we study Judges 11-12, we are focused on the Life of Jephthah.  I know I’ve read this story before, but only because I read the whole Bible in 2016.  When I read it again this week, I didn’t remember it.  Perhaps because I’m still not sure how to pronounce Jephthah’s name.  But more likely because it is an awful story.

According to Judges 11, Jephthah was the son of Gilead, a great warrior, and a prostitute.  Jephthah’s half-brothers ran him off to keep him from getting any of his father’s inheritance.  When the Ammonites were attacked the nation of Israel, they went to find Jephthah and recruited him to lead their army.  We know from Jephthah’s response, he was faithful to God.

“If I come with you and if the Lord gives me victory over the Ammonites, will you really make me ruler overall the people” (Judges 11:9)?

Long story short, Jephthah became commander of the Israelite army and led them into battle with the Ammonites.  His faith, however, didn’t keep him from making a rash, foolish promise to God.

“If you give me victory over the Ammonites, I will give to the Lord the first thing coming out of my house to greet me when I return in triumph.  I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering (Judges 11:30-31).

When Jephthah returned from the battle, his daughter was the first person out to meet him to celebrate the victory.  Verse 39 then tells us that Jephthah kept his vow.  Ugh.  Didn’t I say this story was awful?  Is it true?  Could Jephthah really have offered his daughter as a burnt offering to God?  Was that what God really expected?  To be honest, I’m not sure.  After reading a few arguments why Jephthah’s follow through may have been literal and others why it likely was not, I settled on this – for our purposes today, I’m not sure it really matters.  What I know for sure is God’s word is true, and God keeps his promises, without exception.  In the same way, God expects us to be truthful, and God expects us to keep our word, without exception.

Whether or not Jephthah’s vow was literal or not, we know that keeping his word came with a hefty price (Judges 11:34-35 gives evidence of his heartache).  We also know that God honored his faithfulness, as Hebrews 11:32 identifies Jephthah’s faith story along with those of Gideon, Barak, Samson, David, Samuel and all the prophets.

My challenge for us today is to think about the words we use, they matter.  Not keeping our word and/or telling half-truths are just different forms of lying.  All are displeasing to God and come with pretty serious consequences.

“But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned (Matthew 12:36-37).

But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

Joshua

Today’s reading:  Joshua 23,24

In the absence of effective leadership, people wander.  In January 2019, Forbes.com reported that only 1/3 of US workers demonstrate a healthy level of engagement in their jobs.  I honestly don’t think this is a coincidence.  Great leaders are a rare commodity.

In his July 15, 2019 blog post, Michael Hyatt, a well-known thought leader on leadership, shared what he believes are five key characteristics of an effective leader – insight, initiative, influence, impact and integrity.   Our scripture for today (Joshua chapters 23 and 24) is Joshua’s farewell speech to his leaders.  If I had to describe Joshua in two words, those words would be “great leader”.  In fact, the adjective “great” doesn’t seem impressive enough to accurately describe the incredible leader Joshua actually was.  As I studied his life this week, I saw how it demonstrated all five of Michael Hyatt’s key leadership characteristics.  Let’s take a look –

Insight – Effective leaders can gain clarity in the midst of complex situations/issues/problems in order to set a course of action.

Initiative – Effective leaders don’t ask others to do what they are not willing to do themselves.  This demonstrates a level of dedication that earns the trust of their followers.

Influence – Effective leaders are someone others want to follow, people are drawn to their vision and values.

Impact – Effective leaders make a difference, they create and sustain change.

Integrity – Effective leaders have a moral compass, they do the right things for the right reason.  Integrity is the foundation of effective leadership, as it determines the quality of a leader’s impact.  A great leader makes people better at the same time they drive results.  An ineffective leader, in contrast, may be able to get the same results, but they often leave a trail of bodies in the process.

God promised his people the land of Canaan (the “Promised Land”), but he didn’t’ serve it up to them on a silver platter.  Rather, under the leadership of Joshua, the nation of Israel was to conquer the land of Canaan one city at a time.  Joshua’s keen insight on how to win battle after battle came from his faithfulness to seek God’s guidance before every battle (other than at Ai, where Joshua’s army got their tails kicked).

 Joshua personally led his army to conquer thirty-one kings/cities (see Joshua 12:9-24 for a complete list).  In his farewell address, Joshua challenged his leaders to follow his lead and honor/serve the Lord wholeheartedly just like he did.

“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:14-15).

The nation of Israel responded to Joshua’s challenge by affirming their commitment to the Lord.

“We too will serve the Lord, because he is our God” (Joshua 24:18).

Are you an effective leader?  Do you have insight, initiative, influence, impact, and most of all integrity?  Is your moral compass aligned to God’s word?  Like Joshua, are you inspiring those you lead to choose to serve the Lord?  I pray the answer is yes.

 

Sarah

Today’s reading:  Genesis 16:1-15; 18:1-15; 21:1-7

Pragmatic – relating to matters of fact or practical affairs often to the exclusion of intellectual or artistic matters; practical as opposed to idealistic (Miriam Webster).

As I was updating my resume a couple years ago, I was looking for ten key words that described me and how I approach my work.  One of my friends suggested the word pragmatic.  While it wasn’t on my original list, I decided it describes me pretty well.  I am a practical, figure out a way to get stuff done, kind of person.

My friend Amy called me last week.  She had been asked to lead a big project and wanted my advice on how to approach it.  So, we went to lunch on Friday to discuss it.  My reaction after listening to the assignment she’d be given was, “well they’ve asked you to boil the ocean, but here is how I’d approach it”.   It didn’t take long for us to come up with a plan for how she could clarify/prioritize objectives with her sponsors, then gather/analyze current state data to figure out the problem areas to solve first.  A practical approach to start getting stuff done.

The Biblical person we are studying today is Sarah, Abraham’s wife.  I think pragmatic is a good way to describe her.

God had promised Abraham and Sarah a child of their own.  They had faith, and trusted God would do what he promised.  Then they waited, and waited, and waited.  By the time she was in her mid-eighties, Sarah’s pragmatism took over.  Perhaps Sarah was tired of waiting or, what seems more likely to me, she decided God needed her help to make progress.  At around 85 or 86, she decided to come up with a practical approach to start making things happen.

Since Sarah couldn’t have children of her own, her plan was for Abraham to conceive a child with her servant Hagar.  This type of surrogate arrangement was not uncommon at this point in history.  Married women who could not have children were shamed by their peers and often gave their servants to their husbands in order to produce heirs.  Children born to the servant in this type of an arrangement were considered children of the wife.   Ah ha, this plan would work for Abraham and Sarah’s situation.  Good thing God had Sarah to help him along, right?

Wrong.  Sarah’s plan initially worked.  Abraham slept with Hagar and she became pregnant with a son.  But because this wasn’t God’s plan, things started to unravel.  Sarah became frustrated with Abraham and began taking her frustrations out by mistreating Hagar.  Eventually, Hagar ran away from Sarah. An angel of the Lord intercepted her and turned her around to return to Sarah.  Hagar eventually gave birth to Ishmael who, as the angel foretold, was wild and lived at odds with everyone.  Hmm, maybe helping God’s plan along didn’t turn out so well after all.

Fourteen years after Ishmael was born, Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah.  Sarah was 90 or 91 years old when she gave birth to the child God had promised many years earlier.  I could go on about the remaining 36 years of Sarah’s life, but I am going to stop here and draw your attention to two key lessons from Sarah’s life that spoke to me this week.

#1 – God keeps his promises even when we mess things up.

Sarah took matters into her own hands and created a mess.  It strained her relationship with Abraham, ruined her relationship with Hagar, and produced a wild child that wreaked all kinds of havoc.  But, God still followed through on his promise.  Take a look at the first two verses of Genesis 21.

Then the Lord did exactly what he had promised.  Sarah became pregnant, and she gave a son to Abraham in his old age.  It all happened at the time God said it would (Genesis 21:1-2).

#2 – God is not bound by earthly limitations, he is capable of making unbelievable things happen.

As a woman in her early nineties, Sarah was way beyond child bearing years.  Giving birth to a healthy child was not physically possible…without the miraculous work of God.  Nothing is beyond the realm of possibility with him.

My challenge for us today is this – what areas of your life are you selling God short?  Have you messed things up so bad that you no longer think he’ll work in your life?  Are there things you think he can’t make happen?  After studying the life of Sarah today, do you want to reconsider?  Do you need to get on your knees, confess your lack of faith and recommit to fully trusting God?

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Apostasy

Today’s reading:  Jude

With approximately 460 words, Jude is the fifth shortest book in the entire Bible.  Jude, the brother of Jesus, didn’t mince his words when he was warning Christfollowers about the danger false teaching and apostasy.  Don’t gloss over his message, as it is just as timely today as it was in the first century.

Apostasy – the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief; turning away from God’s truth and embracing false teaching.

False teachers during this time (approximately 65 AD) claimed that Christfollowers could do as they pleased without fear of God’s punishment.  Jude’s response was twofold, reminding his audience that – 1) God punishes rebellion against him, and 2) they needed to persevere and continue to build their lives on faith in Jesus Christ.

Jude supports his first point by giving three examples where God punished rebellion against him in the Old Testament:

  • The nation of Israel, whom God rescued from slavery in Egypt, refused to trust that he was going to give them the Promised Land.  They grumbled and rebelled.  Instead of delivering them into the Promised Land, God punished them.  They wandered in the desert for 40 years until the entire generation of rebellious people had died off (see Numbers 14).  Then God, being true to his promises, delivered the next generation of Israelites into the Promised Land.

 

  • Some angels gave in to pride and joined Satan to rebel against God.  Even though at one time, these same angels were pure, holy, and lived in God’s presence, God did not spare them when they rebelled.  Rather, he sent them to Hell to await final judgment (see 2 Peter 2).

 

  • Inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah were so full of sin that, when they did not heed God’s warning to turn from their sinful ways, God wiped the whole city from the face of the earth (see Genesis 19).

If God harshly punished his chosen people, sent rebellious angels to Hell, and wiped entire cities off the map for rebelling, consider how much more harshly he would deal with false teachers who are leading his people astray.

The second part of Jude’s message is the call for Christollowers to persevere and build their lives on the truth of Jesus Christ.   The antidote for apostasy is staying in God’s word.  Continually seeking to know God’s truths in new and refreshing ways helps us to easily identify, and steer clear of, false teaching.  Those who refuse to learn sound, Biblical doctrine are susceptible to false teachings because they are not fully grounded in God’s truth.

I’ll be honest, writing for the Bible Journal has been a blessing in my life over the past 3.5 years. Understanding God’s word deep enough to write a 500-600 word message summarizing how the reading of the day spoke to my heart has been a recipe for spurring me on to know God’s truths in new and refreshing ways.  I admit that some weeks have been harder than others, but for 3.5 years, God has spoken to me in ways I would never have imagined.

Equal Opportunity

Today’s Reading:  Ephesians 3

As my 12 year old daughter Annika and I were driving in the car last week, she said to me, “Mom, what is the American Dream”?  I reminded her that the United States was founded by immigrants who fled their homeland in search of a better life.  Freedom from the King of England, who ruled over them without giving them a representative voice in the government, was their goal.  Our nation was founded on the principle of equal opportunity – everyone should have a chance.  The American Dream, more specifically, is the ideal that every person should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative.

As we celebrate Intendance Day, the 243rd anniversary of the United States, it is fitting that our scripture today is the 3rd chapter of Ephesians (Galatians 5 would have been even better, but Ephesians 3 will do).  Paul’s message in this chapter was about God’s Plan.  Do you see the parallel?  God’s plan is also based on the principle of equal opportunity.

And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:6).

Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is about equal opportunity because it is available to EVERYONE.  It doesn’t matter who you are, where you came from or what you’ve done.  By putting your faith in Jesus Christ, the blood he shed on the cross covers your sins and makes you acceptable to God.  Here’s where the parallel ends though – unlike the American Dream, salvation cannot be earned through hard work, determination, and initiative.  It is a gift of God.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Every year when you watch the 4th of July fireworks finale while listening to Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA, do you feel a strong wave of patriotism wash over you?  Sometimes it makes me passionately sing along, sometimes it makes me put my hand on my heart, but every time it makes me grateful for those who gave their lives to fight for and protect the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.  Did you notice a similar finale in Ephesians 3?  In verses 3:14-21, Paul was overcome with emotion as he remembered everything God had done, he passionately prayed for the church at Ephesus and closed by giving all glory and praise to God.  Does Ephesians 3:20-21 stir emotion in you?  Instead of putting our hands on our hearts this July 4th, Paul’s finale in Ephesians 3 should bring us to our knees.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Binding Agent

Today’s Reading:  1 Corinthians 13

Our scripture for today is 1 Corinthians 13 where the apostle Paul is writing to the Corinthian church about love.  If you’ve been to very many weddings in your life, you are very familiar with this passage.  May I share with you a few new perspectives I gained this week through my study?

 

Love is a binding agent – (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

About two years ago, B.J. came home from work one day and unexpectedly found dinner waiting for him on the table.  He gave me a puzzled look and said, “Who are you and what have you done with my wife”?

 

After 22 years of marriage, I had decided to start cooking.  It’s not that I was completely incapable before, but I never really wanted to spend my time on meal planning/preparation.  It was also common for me to substitute for ingredients that I didn’t have on hand, so very few things I fixed ever tasted like they were supposed to.  (And we usually spent our dinnertime trying to figure out what I’d messed up and/or why it didn’t work).  Turkey sandwiches, salads and cereal had to be my go-to meals because you can’t really mess those things up!

One of the things I’ve learned on my cooking journey is the need for a binding agent.  Have you ever forgotten the eggs in a batch of cookies?  They turn into a runny mess.  You must have something to hold all the ingredients together.  While you can’t really taste the binder, the recipe simply doesn’t work without it.

Take a look at the first three verses of 1 Corinthians 13, do you notice that before he “defines” love Paul describes it as a binding agent?  Spiritual gifts and good works are useless without love.  It holds everything together, nothing works without it.

Love is selfless – (1 Corinthians 13:4-6)

True love is completely selfless.  It is directed at others, not ourselves, all the time.  This is hard to wrap our brains around because true love is so rare in our society.  Because of sin, humans are inherently selfish beings.  In fact, it is impossible for us to be completely selfless and truly love others without God’s help to put others ahead of ourselves.

Love is 100% effective – (1 Corinthians 13:7-8)

In my job, I regularly provide my staff feedback on their written and verbal communication because effective communications are most often how we gain buy-in from our leaders and business partners.  What we say has to be said/written in a way our audience can easily understand and it has to be completely accurate.  One of my guiding principles is to avoid using the words ever, never, any and always.  Why?  Because very few things in business are 100%, there is almost always an exception to the rule.  (Do you remember I’ve spent a lot of my professional career in Audit?).

Do you notice how Paul describes love in verses 7 and 8?  The New International Version translates it as always, always, always, always and never.  When it comes to genuine love, my guiding principle isn’t correct.  One-hundred percent of the time, true love protects, trust, hopes and perseveres.  It never fails.

Love is the greatest of all human qualities – (1 Corinthians 13:13)

In verse 13, Paul says three things will endure – faith, hope, and love.  He then says love is the greatest of the three.  Why?  Back to the concept of a binding agent, without love nothing else holds together.  My Life Application Study Bible describes it this way – Faith is the foundation and content of God’s message; hope is the attitude and focus; love is the action.

Think about this – you can know everything there is to know about what it takes to run a marathon.  You can have all the right equipment, have followed a training plan perfectly, and have perfect conditions (which look like a completely flat course, cool temperatures and no wind in my mind).  BUT, if you don’t take action and actually show up and run the race, it is all for nothing.  The same is true with love.  We can know everything there is to know about God’s word and have perfect conditions to follow it, but until we put it into action and start loving others, it is all for nothing.

Love is a game changer.  1 John tells us God is love.  Not God has love or God loves, but God IS love.  It is his very nature.  People should be able to tell we are Christfollowers because they see us genuinely loving others.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (1 John 4:7, 11-12).

Hope

Today’s reading:  John 20

What information source do you rely on to get your world news?  I am a Wall Street Journal reader.  Every day I have three different WSJ emails pushed to my inbox.  They give me give me a couple paragraphs about the top 2-3 stories, then 2-3 sentences about 15 or so other topics.  It is perfect.  I scan the page and quickly know what’s going on.  If I want more information about any topic, I can just click on a link that will take me to the full article.  Truth is, I don’t click out to most of the articles.  A couple of sentences about an event is usually about all I need to know.

 

On Saturdays, I get an email called Grapevine: colorful stories and diversions from WSJ.  My approach to this email is the same even though it comes on the weekend – scan the page and see if there is anything that intrigues me enough to read more.  At the end of beginning of May, Grapevine published a story about Patricio Galvez, a Swedish citizen whose daughter had converted to Islam and moved her family to Syria a few years ago.  This one caught my interest.  I clicked the link, read the entire article, and was left wanting more.

In early 2019 Galvez’ daughter and her husband were killed in an airstrike, leaving behind 7 children ages 1-8 somewhere in Syria.  The article was about Galvez’ travel to Syria “on mission” to find his grandchildren.  Eventually he located his youngest grandchild in a hospital and the other six in a northeast Syrian camp.  After much petitioning Galvez was admitted to the camp and reunited with 7 emaciated, feverish children.  While he was able to meet them, give them clothes, toys and food, he was unable to take them from the camp until the Swedish government officially claimed them.  Galvez was forced to leave the camp alone, without any of his grandchildren.  It was heartbreaking.

 

Three weeks later on May 20, the WSJ published an update to the story.  Swedish officials had claimed the children and they had been reunited with their grandfather in northern Syria.  A few weeks later, after some fundraising assistance, they all boarded a plane back to Sweden.  It was anything but an easy trip (they almost missed the shuttle because one child had barfed, another had come down with measles, and the grandfather and his two helpers had forgotten diapers for the baby).  The article ended when the family arrived back in Sweden and Swedish social services had gotten involved to help figure out a long-term plan to care for the children.

It is going to be a long, rocky road to integrate these 7 children into Swedish society and fully raise them to adulthood.  But…in their home country with a grandfather that loves them, they have something they didn’t have alone in Syria.  They have hope.

Do you ever feel hopeless?  If so, our scripture for today is just what you need.  This is the greatest hope story of all time.  It is better than a grandfather traveling all over Syria to rescue his grandchildren.  John 20 tells of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Only by dying and rising again could Jesus ultimately conquer sin and death. He is our only hope of abundant life eternally.  What would make you put your faith in anyone or anything else?

His Daughter Died for ISIS.  Can He Save Her Children? The Wall Street Journal, May 1, 2019.
New Start for Family Rescued from Syria, The Wall Street Journal, May 20, 2019.

Faith in Action

Today’s reading:  Mark 11

The setting for today’s scripture is Jerusalem and surrounding towns (Bethphage and Bethany) about five days before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.  Mark 11 begins with the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  According to verse 11 Jesus entered the city to the praises of many people, then made his way to the temple courts and took notice of what was going on.  Since it was late, he continued on about 1.5 miles to the east to stay in Bethany with his disciples for the night.

 

Do you ever get home from a long day at work to find a mess that needs to be cleaned up, misbehaving children that need to be set straight, or an issue that needs to be resolved?  Do you ever think to yourself, “I can’t handle this right now, I’m going to bed and will deal with it in the morning”?  I sure have.  I find that things seldom look as hopeless in the light of the morning as they look in the dark of night.  And, I almost always have more patience to deal with them in the morning than I do at night when I’m tired.

I think that might be what happened here.  Because Jesus was fully human and fully God, the Bible tells us he experienced all the same emotions we do.  Knowing the horror he was going to experience at the hands of the same people who were praising him as he entered the city may have disgusted him.  The betrayal of a close friend, much less the anticipation of the physical pain and agony that awaited him, were also probably weighing heavy on his heart and mind.  Rather than busting into the temple and driving out the money-changers right away, he may have decided to just to head to Bethany for the night and deal with the situation in the morning.

The next morning as Jesus was headed from Bethany back to the temple, do you notice how he sneaks in a little object lesson for his disciples?  Mark 11:12 tells us Jesus was hungry and went to see if the nearby fig tree had any fruit he could eat.  Fig trees normally produce fruit two times per year, one in the early spring when the leaves fill out and the other in the fall.  It was springtime and the tree looked promising because it was full of leaves, but when Jesus took a closer look he realized it had no fruit.  He said to it, “may no one eat fruit from you ever again” (Mark 11:14).  I don’t think Jesus cursed the tree because he was hangry (slang for being irritable as a result of hunger) like I would have done.  He did this to teach the disciples a lesson.  Until I studied this passage more closely this week, I always thought the story about the fig tree was a little was random.  I never connected the dots between it and Jesus cleansing the temple.  Now I know.  Not only are these stories linked, but the fig tree encounter only happened so Jesus’ disciples could better understand Jesus’ disdain for the commerce taking in place in God’s house.

 

After leaving the fig tree, Jesus and his disciples went to the temple to deal with the mess they had walked away from the night before.  What they found was religious leaders who had found a way to make money off those who were upholding Mosaic Law by selling them the animals they needed for making sacrifices in the temple.  In fact many scholars believe the religious leaders’ practices were so egregious they could have been considered extortion.  Like the fig tree, the temple looked promising because it was full of “religious” people acting in way that appeared to be holy.  Unfortunately, their hearts were far from God and their actions were completely void of reverence for anyone but themselves.  Jesus cursed the practices of the merchants and drove them out of the temple.

When Jesus and his disciples left the temple and headed back to Bethany, they came upon the fig tree that had withered away in the short time they were gone.  Jesus’ message to his disciples was clear – the Kingdom of Heaven has no use for “religion” without substance.  Anyone who claims to have faith without putting it to work in their life is like the fruitless fig tree and religious leaders in this story – dead, useless to God.

 

Do you know anyone who wants to be useless?  I don’t.  Most everyone I know desires to live each day with some kind of purpose and meaning.  Genuine faith in God gives our lives potential for great purpose and meaning if we put our faith to work for the kingdom of God.

Two Worlds

Today’s Reading:  Luke 16

Do you spend much time thinking about Judgment Day? When we (the Bible Journal community) studied Revelation back in mid-2016, I remember concluding Revelation 20:14-15 had the potential to be the scariest verses in the entire Bible.  They describe Judgment Day – the day each of us will find out if our name is written in the Book of Life and we get to spend eternity with God, or if it is not and we are condemned to spend eternity in torment, away from God.

Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15).

The parable of the rich man and the beggar in Luke 16, our scripture for today, takes us back to this setting.  The story isn’t about Judgment Day itself, but gives the perspective of someone (the rich man) who had been living in Hell for a while.  Jesus uses this story to teach his audience (and us) some very sobering lessons about Judgment Day.  Let’s look at a couple –

  • We must declare Jesus as Savior and Lord while we are still living.  Salvation is the free gift of God, but it isn’t automatic.  We must choose to put our faith in Jesus.  Like the rich man who had the opportunity to help Lazarus every day, we have more than one opportunity to choose Jesus during our lives on earth.  We don’t get to change our minds after we die.

But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us’ (Luke 16:25-26).

  • God’s word has already given us all the evidence we need to come to faith in Jesus.  Our sin and need for a Savior is evident throughout the Bible.  If we are unwilling to accept this reality and reject God’s word, no miracle will change our hearts.

He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead’(Luke 16:31).

Here is the good news – for those of us who have already put our faith in Jesus Christ, Revelation 20:14-15 aren’t scary verses at all.  We know our names are written in the Book of Life and look forward to spending eternity with God in Heaven.

If you are reading this post today and haven’t already put your faith in Jesus, it isn’t too late.  Today can be your day.  Will you say this prayer with me?

God, I confess I am a sinner and deserve the consequences of my sin.  I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead.  Today, I ask for your forgiveness.  I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I accept you as Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Good News

Today’s reading:  Luke 1

Today we launch into a six-week study of the life of Jesus Christ as recorded in the first four books of the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  These four books are referred to as The Gospels, or good news.  What is the good news?  From my perspective, it can be summed up in one short verse.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

As we study over the next six weeks, how can we continually keep this truth on our hearts and in our minds?  Will our study be more meaningful if, with each passage, we take time to remember every single one of them is intended to point us to Jesus Christ our Savior?  Let’s try it.

Our text for today is Luke 1 – the birth of John the Baptist foretold, the birth of Jesus foretold, Mary visiting Elizabeth, the birth of John the Baptist and Zechariah’s prophecy.  These stories are familiar to many of us.  Rather than focus on the storyline, I’d like to begin our study in Luke 1 by focusing on verses 1-4.  What these verses tell us about the author and his commitment to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ is significant.

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.  With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught (Luke 1:1-4).

A few interesting facts I learned this week that emphasize Jesus Christ is good news wrapped in a person:

  • Luke is the only one of the gospels that was written by a gentile (Matthew, Mark and John were all Jews). Why is this significant?  The saving grace of Jesus Christ is available to anyone who puts their faith in him.  Knowing part of the Bible, the inspired word of God, was written by an author outside of the Jewish community helps gentiles (or non-jews like most of us) see themselves as part of the good news story.
  • Luke was not one of Jesus’s apostles.  He did not personally walk with Jesus during his earthly ministry.  According to verse 2, he interviewed many eyewitnesses and completely investigated everything.  The evidence he found to support Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah must have been overwhelming.  He couldn’t keep it to himself, but had to share the good news.
  • Luke was a physician.  He captured more detail than the other gospels, as the book of Luke is the most complete record of Jesus birth and childhood.  Rather than just focusing on the storyline, Luke emphasized Jesus’ tenderness, care and kindness toward people throughout his writing.  A Savior who humbled himself and became a servant to all is a leader I want to follow.  That is good news.
  • Luke addressed this letter to Theophilus (verse 4), or “Lover of God”.  While many interpreters consider this to be a specific person, it could also have generically meant any Christfollower.  According to verse 2, Luke’s objective was not to provide Theophilus with an historical justification of the Christian faith (did it happen), but to encourage faith by connecting the dots on what happened and what the good news really meant.

The good news of Jesus Christ impacted the life of Luke so significantly he was compelled to pass it on by writing this letter.  As we study together over the next six weeks, I dare you to ask God to speak to you through his word.  God used Luke to write part of the New Testament.  Who knows what he has in store for you.