Comfort and Joy

I think the words comfort and joy are in the Christmas Carol “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.”

Yet it was those three words that came to mind this morning when I read Matthew 6:7-8. ““And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Think on this:

1). God knows what I need.

2). God knows what I need before I ask him for what I need.

3). And so I ask him for what I need.

This is reality! Think on these three things before you pray today and then pray! There is comfort and joy to be had in knowing that as a Christian, God is my Father. He knows what I need. He knows what I need before I ask him for what I need. And so I ask him for what I need.

So, tell him what you need! Take your need to your Father in prayer and leave it there.

Let the Children Come to Me

Luke 18:15-17

What is a church to do for children?

Does a lack of children in any church mean that there is not much for children there?

What does it mean if a church has no children’s church? no youth group? no youth pastor? Does this mean that there is nothing for children there?

What does it mean if a church has children’s church? a youth group? a youth pastor? Does this mean that there is something for children there?

What is a church to do for children?

Luke 18 is a part of the largest section of the Gospel of Luke. And there are just three sections: before Jerusalem (Luke 1 thru Luke 9:50); on the road to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51 thru Luke 19:40); and finally in Jerusalem (Luke 19:41 thru Luke 24). So in Luke 18 there is not much further to go; we are almost to Jerusalem. When we finally get arrive in Jerusalem, we are only there for about a week. So, let’s consider Luke 18 the week before getting to Jerusalem. And the week before getting to Jerusalem, what does Jesus spend time doing?

In Luke 18:15-17, what does Jesus spend time doing? Two things. 1) Jesus spends time teaching us something about children. 2) And Jesus spends time teaching us something about children.

And in these verses there is one key word. It is the word help.

They Brought Even Infants to Him

Luke 18:15-17 is really simple. A particular kind of people, we might say a particular pair of people do something. And the disciples do not like it. Those who want to know Jesus better and help others do the same, do not like it. The disciples rebuke the particular pair of people for doing something. And Jesus corrects the disciples; he corrects their thinking about what is being done.

Notice verse fifteen. “Now they were bringing even infants to him.” Somebodies brought even infants to Jesus. They brought 18 year olds and 16 year olds and 11 year olds and 9 year olds and 5 year olds and even babies to Jesus (and what is to say that they did not bring 45 year olds to Jesus, too?). And why? That he would place his hand upon their head and bless them (cf. Mark 10:16). We see this custom all the way back in the Old Testament. Mark it down. We will see it in a moment – Genesis 48:8-20.

But first, who is bringing all these kids, even babies to Jesus? It is rather ambiguous – they. Who are they? Who might they be? It is parents; moms and dads bringing their kids to Jesus.

And the Disciples Rebuked Them

And the disciples rebuked them. Look closely. Who did the disciples rebuke? The disciples – those who want to know Jesus better and help others do the same – rebuked the parents for bringing their kids to Jesus.

Picture the scene. There are parents, kids, Jesus and disciples. Now notice Genesis 48:8-20. And picture this scene. In this scene are a parent, two kids and a grandparent. It is Joseph, his two sons and their grandfather Jacob. In verse nine, Jacob tells Joseph, “Bring my two grandsons to me, please, that I may bless them.” And so he does. Jacob then places his hands on his grandsons’ heads and prays for them (Genesis 48:14-16; 20).

This is rather similar to Luke 18:15-17, except for one thing: the disciples. Parents brought their kids to Jesus and the disciples put a stop to it. Now watch what Jesus does. He called to the disciples. He took them to the side and said, “Let the children come to me and do not hinder them.”

These are two commands, not good ideas or advice, but commands. These are two commands for disciples to follow. Let children come to him. And do not hinder them. But why the two commands? It would seem that if I let children come to Jesus, I am not hindering them from coming to Jesus. But what is the opposite of hinder? Help. Help them. Let the children come to Me and help them.

The disciples were to be helping what was happening, not hindering what was happening. And what was happening? Parents brought their kids to Jesus. Disciples, do not hinder this from happening.

The big idea of Luke 18:15-17 is that disciples are to be a help to parents, not a hindrance to parents as they desire to bring their kids to Jesus.

The church family is to be a help to the family, not a hindrance to the family. And we are a hindrance when we do not help!

How Can We Help Your Family?

So, the question is, how can we help the family? How can the church family help the family? What is the best possible way of doing that?

In Luke 17:3 is a command. Pay attention to yourselves! Or, each one of you watch out for each one of you.

1) As a church family, each one of us must recognize that each one of us includes the younger of us.

Well then, how do we do that? Do you know the younger of us? Do you know their interests, their likes and dislikes? Do you speak with them? pray for them? laugh with them? find ways to encourage them? What will happen when you do this? When they are 16 you will hear them say, “Thank you. God used you to get me excited about him and his Word for the very first time.” Friends, that does not come from a program; that is genuine children’s ministry and youth ministry.

Yet, we are still asking, how can we help the family? Equip mom and dad.

2) As a church family, each one of us must recognize that each one of us includes moms and dads.

Moms and dads who have been through it, spend time with moms and dads who are going through it! If you have never been through it because you are not a mom or dad, you put your parents through it, so spend time with moms and dads.

And moms and dads, learn these things from your church family:

Make time for worship with your church family.

Make time for worship in your home.

Fellowship with other Christians as a family.

Your children need to see you apply God’s Word to daily living.

Put affection for one another on display!

Talk about deep and important things with children.

Read God’s Word together. Hear each other pray.

Live out being a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2).

Live out the brevity of life.

Model consistency.

Why Be a Help to the Family?

Why be a help to the family? Jesus has one more thing to teach us about children. It is introduced at the end of verse 16 and expanded in verse 17.

Look at verse 17. It is the pivotal point. And he says it to disciples. “Truly, I say to you…” Note the words to come: like a child. Children are helpless, from the moment they arrive until the moment they leave. The federal government calls them dependents. “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

Why be a help to the family? I know what it means to be helpless. Those who have received the kingdom of God, eternal life, know that they did not do so on their own merit or their own doing. But instead by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, fully relying on his finished work at the cross. It is this humble attitude that says, “I will be a help to the family.”

What Do We Do When There Is No Justice?

Luke 18:1-8

What has happened in the last seven days? Some people made the news. Some people talked the news. Some people played sports. Some people talked sports. Some people went to the market. Some people stayed home. Some people had roast beef. And some people had none.

What will happen in the next seven days? Some people will make the news. Some people will talk the news. Some people will play sports. Some people will talk sports. Some people will go the market. Some people will stay home. Some people will have pulled pork. And some people will have none.

These are good things – also known as everyday living. And this is the view – good things; everyday living – in which to see Luke 18:1-8.

Do Not Give Up Prayer

Pay close attention to the first verse. “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” This is the most unusual verse in the Bible. Why? It is because Luke tells us that we are about to read a parable.

A parable is a story with a purpose. It is so that we remember a truth for everyday living. And remember what is true of everyday living. Everyday living is filled with good things. Food is a good thing. Marriag and dating – falling in love – are good things. Working for a living is a good thing. Planning for the future is a good thing. And yet “the good things in life can make us just as insensitive to the reality of God as the gross things in life can.”

Remember Lot’s wife. She perished not because she chose destruction over safety; judgment over salvation. She perished because she chose the good things in life over salvation.

Immediately after telling us to remember Lot’s wife, Jesus then tells us a parable. It is a truth for everyday living. The first verse (Luke 18:1) is unusual, this parable is unusual because we are told the point of the parable before reading the parable! This almost never happens.

I love this first verse. Jesus tells this parable “to the effect…” This is parable is to do something to us! What is it? “…that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” So, the reason for the parable is two things: 1) that we pray 2) and not give up prayer.

There is a lot said – sermons and books – about prayer or to help Christians pray. But what I find most troubling is the second part of the reason of this parable. Do not give up prayer.

What Do We Do When There is No Justice?

Think about it. When are Christians most likely to give up prayer? When have you most often given up prayer? It is zippity-do-dah, zippity-yay, everything is going my way. It is in the good things; the everyday living! And when is prayer most frequent? It is when good things sour.

And this is the parable. It takes place when the good things have soured.

The parable is about a judge and a woman. And it takes place in a certain city; the judge and the woman are in this certain city. The certain city is her home and his jurisdiction.

Now what do we know about the judge? He does not care about God or the things of God and he has no heart for people.

Now what do we know about the woman? She is a widow. She has no husband to help her, to stand with her or protect her. She has no one…except this judge.

And what has happened? Something has happened? Actually, two things have happened. First, she has been wronged. She mentions “my adversary” (v. 3). And second, nothings has been done about it. “Give me justice!”

Listen or look closely at verses three and four. The judge refused. He refused to give her justice. So, what did she do when there was no justice? There was no protest. There was no violence. There was no riot. She kept coming to him demanding justice. And he kept refusing – for a while.

When he was at work, she found him and demanded justice. When he was at home, she found him and demanded justice. When he was on Facebook, she found him and demanded justice. When he was shopping, dining, on vacation, she found him and demanded justice.

And finally, the judge gave in. She would not give up and he gave in. He was getting worn down and worn out because he could not escape her plea.

Listen to What the Judge Says

Listen to verse six. Jesus tells us to pay attention or “hear what the unrighteous judge says.” He gave in and gave her justice only because he tired of her. He did not care for her or for God. He only cared about himself. And Jesus says to pay attention to that.

And then Jesus asks three questions. Will not God give justice to his elect, his chosen, his people? And will he delay? Meaning, when he gives it, he gives it not in parts, but fully.

And the big idea is that God is not like the judge. When we pray, he is not like the judge. God’s heart is toward us! See Joshua 1:5 and Psalm 118:5-7.

And it is because when we pray, he is not a judge to us. He is our Father (cf. Luke 11:2). And this is why, even in the good things, we do not give up prayer.

But we are like the widow. See Psalm 73:25-28 and Psalm 121:1-8.

And this is why, even in the good things, we do not give up prayer.

But When Jesus Returns, What Will He Find?

But when Jesus returns, what will he find? Look at how this concludes. In light of this, Jesus asks, what will he find on earth when he returns? Will he find faith? Will he find his own, insensitive to the reality of God or will he find a people who cry out to him day and night?

It leads me to say this: we have time, in all the good things, to pray. We have 9:30 every Sunday morning. That is our time to pray together. We have our commute to work. We have our meal time. We have our leisure time. We have bed time. We have time as we wait to see him.

And so, as you pray, pray God’s Word. Take the words of Scripture and pray these back to God with your requests. And take everything to the Lord in prayer…and leave it there.

The Kingdom of God Is…Right In Front of You

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Luke 17:20-37

The year 2020 is, so far, getting a one star review with the following explanation: Would not recommend. Nope, never again…very bad. And yet, there has never been a better year…to think through the Gospel of Luke together.

Why did Luke write the Gospel of Luke? What is its purpose? There are things which happen to make us totter, but there are things which have happened to keep us from tottering over. And one of those things which have happened to keep us from tottering over is right here in Luke 17:20-37. Keep that in mind – there is one thing in these 18 verses given to us that we might not totter over. What is it? It is verse thirty-two. Remember Lot’s wife.

Behold, The Kingdom of God

The Gospel of Luke can be outlined in three simple parts. There is before Jerusalem (Luke 1 thru Luke 9:50). There is on the road to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51 thru Luke 19:44). And there is in Jerusalem (Luke 19:45 thru Luke 24). The largest part is on the road to Jerusalem. Notice what keeps happening on the road to Jerusalem. It is Luke 17:20. “Being asked by the Pharisees…” These Pharisees keep popping up!

The Pharisees were not fans of Jesus. And a reason we keep seeing them was that they sought to trip Jesus up on the road to Jerusalem (cf. Luke 11:54).

However, this looks and feels and sounds so innocently genuine. They simply want an answer to a question. The grammar suggests that the Pharisees were rather persistent in getting the answer. They want to know. Notice their question. “When will the kingdom of God come?”

This question and Jesus’ answer is really important to the rest of the passage. But why do the Pharisees want to know when the kingdom of God will come? First, the Pharisees know that the kingdom of God is coming and it is because God said so (see passages like Jeremiah 33). And so the Pharisees are waiting for it. And as the Pharisees wait for it, they are looking for it. And as the Pharisees look for it, they know what they are looking for. They will know the kingdom has come when they see it. They just want to know the signs of its coming. But pay attention to that: they will know it when they see it. And pay close attention to Jesus’ answer. It is verse 21. “Behold,” which literally means to look and see. “You do not see it.”

Jesus says, “Look. It is not coming in ways you can watch or inspect or see. And no one will say, ‘Look! I found it.'”

What Is The Kingdom of God?

Jesus says at the end of verse 21 that the kingdom of God is in their midst; it is in them or withing their grasp. In effect, the kingdom of God is right in front of you. And what does that mean?

The kingdom of God is essentially God in charge. There are studies after studies, books upon books about the kingdom of God. But all agree that it is God in charge. But what does Jesus mean that it is right in front of you? What would the Pharisees be looking at as Jesus said this? The Pharisees would be looking at Jesus. And since Jesus is here doing the things only Jesus can do, the kingdom of God is here. But that is not all. Listen to verse 22 which immediately follows verse 21. “And he said to the disciples…” Who else are the Pharisees looking at? The Pharisees would also be looking at the disciples, those who want to grow in their relationship with Jesus and help others do the same.

So, what is the kingdom of God? It is people with Jesus living according to his teaching no matter where they are.

But this is not the point of Luke 17:20-21. The point is that the Pharisees desired to see the kingdom of God, were looking for it and did not see it even when it was right in front of them. It is why Jesus says what he says to the disciples next.

The Days Are Coming

So, there is what Jesus just said to the Pharisees which was rather short. Then there is what he will say to the disciples which is rather long. So notice that; Luke 17:22-37 is to and for disciples. And Jesus says to disciples – those who want to grow in their relationship with Jesus and help others do the same – the days are coming.

Jesus calls these days, “days of the Son of Man.” Son of Man is another term for Messiah or Christ. The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Messiah. As a disciple you will desire to see one particular day of the Messiah. And what is that day? It is the return of the Messiah; the return of Jesus Christ. And what does Jesus say about that day?  You will not see it (v. 22). Jesus will explain that you will not see it in the way you think you will see it or the way some are looking for it (v. 23).

Do you see how this is similar to the Pharisees? They wanted to see the coming of the kingdom. But it came not in the way they were looking.

Everyday Living (Days of Noah and Lot)

Jesus will go on to explain, for his disciples, what the days will be like when he returns. And he compares these days to the days of Noah and the days of Lot (when he lived in Sodom). What were those days like? The Bible tells us that those days of Noah were when “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).

But listen how Jesus characterizes the days of Noah and the days of Lot. Luke 17:26-29. People were eating and drinking; dating and getting married; buying and selling; planting and building. What does that mean? The days looked so…normal. The sin and godlessness was and is profound. But Jesus characterizes those days as being so normal – grocery shopping; Food Network; e harmony and say yes to the dress; HGTV; working for a living; and planning for the future. It is everyday, relatable living. When will Jesus return? It is when life feels so normal.

Now the day Jesus returns disrupts the normal. He brings both salvation and judgment. But keep in mind how Jesus characterizes the days. The days look and feel so normal. It is everyday living. And so to his disciples, Jesus says this one thing: remember Lot’s wife.

Remember Lot’s Wife

How are we to remember Lot’s wife? When she fled the destruction of Sodom, she looked back and perished. She turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26). Listen to how Jesus puts it in Luke 17:33. “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” What was Lot’s wife doing when she looked back? She was seeking to preserve her life. What does that mean? What was “her life”?

Why was she fleeing Sodom? Destruction was coming. She was running to safety. So when it came to safety or destruction, she was choosing safety.

In 2 Peter 2:5, Noah is called a herald of righteousness as he built the ark. His message was one of judgment. The day of judgment is coming but there is safety. Enter the ark! How many chose safety? Seven other than Noah. Why did so many not choose the ark (safety)? They knew judgment was coming, so why did they not choose safety? Lot’s wife ran toward safety, saw the destruction coming, but looked back “to preserve her life.” Why?

The parallel or picture of rescue and destruction is that of salvation and judgment, heaven and hell. When given the choice, how many people will rather go to heaven  than hell? Lot’s wife was choosing salvation but perished. Why?

This is not a choice of heaven or hell. This is a choice of heaven or everyday living. “Life” here is everyday living. This is about the powerful appeal of everyday living. When faced with the return of Jesus or marriage; or raising a family; or retirement or a house on a lake with mountains in the background in big sky country, how many choose the return of Jesus?

Choosing everyday living is “where the corpse is” (v. 37).

Everyday living is everything you could ask for in this life. So, how do I get to the point of experiencing that it does not compare to Jesus?

Did you notice that before Jesus talks of this “day” he first mentions the cross (Luke 17:25)?

I think the key is beholding the cross in everyday living.

And when I think of God, his Son not sparing
Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in.
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin.

My God, how great Thou art!

Watch Out…For Yourselves

Luke 17:3

Coffee tastes the same with or without sand. It is better with sand and water and a beach chair as the sun expands over the horizon. But coffee tastes the same anywhere (or so I kept telling myself each morning of vacation).

There is something that is of greater consequence than the taste or experience of coffee. There is something each of us need to ask ourselves and answer ourselves, all the while looking at one another.

What would I do without you?

This Pandemic is For Our Good

There is the film Somewhere in Time. My parents like this movie because it takes place at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island where they spent part of their honeymoon. I like this movie because it stars Superman, also known as Christopher Reeve.

Superman’s character lives in 1980 and for rest and relaxation he heads to the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. While there he walks their hall of history and is captivated by a picture of a woman from 1912.

He begins to research who she was and in so doing he falls in love with her. There is much, much more to the story so far, but he decides to travel back in time to meet her. Through self-hypnosis he does it, is successful and meets her in 1912. He woos her and they fall in love. One evening while with her, he reaches in his pocket to discover a penny from…1979. And he vanishes, back to his own time.

Christopher Reeve unsuccessfully does all he can to duplicate the time travel and get back to 1912. All fail and he ends up dying from what a doctor suspects a broken heart. I know, it sounds like a must see movie.

In recent months, the Cleveland Clinic has discovered a rise in cases not to the coronavirus itself, but a consequence of this pandemic. It is patients suffering from broken heart syndrome, one cause being isolation from friends and family.

Listen carefully. This pandemic is for our good (cf. Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28). And by “our,” I mean us, our church family. In this pandemic is something for our good and it is something that is already happening among us. And it is something each of us need to ask ourselves and answer ourselves, all the while looking at one another: what would I do without you?

Watch Out…For Yourselves

As we continue in our study of the Gospel of Luke, I want us to go back in our study of the Gospel of Luke, but just a few verses. Listen and note carefully Luke 17:3. “Pay attention to yourselves!”

First, notice that this is something that Jesus is saying to his disciples. See Luke 17:1. So, this is something his disciples do, those who want to grow in their walk with Jesus and help others do the same.

Second, and this is a quick observation, those four words are the big idea of Luke 17:1-10.

Third, notice that these four words are a command. This is something that Jesus demands we do. Pay attention to yourselves. Notice the command. There are two parts to it. The first part is pay attention. Some translations read take heed or be on your guard or watch. And it is not defensive, like be on your guard against something. It is offensive, like be on your guard for someone. So, there is the first part and it is plural. It is not one of you do this, but all of you do this. All of you disciples, pay attention to someone.

Now notice that second part of this demand. Pay attention to yourselves. This second part is plural, too. So, all of you pay attention to all of you. I would like us to think of it this way: Each one of you watch out for each one of you. Each disciple is to watch out for each disciple. Think about it as a church family. We are responsible for one another. Look at one another. What would I do without you?

The context of the reason Jesus gives this demand is verse one. “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!” These temptations are stumbling blocks, things which cause disciples to stumble. And these things are put there by someone. It seems these things are most often, contextually, false teaching or the mishandling of God’s Word by those teaching and handling God’s Word (cf. 2 Peter 2:1-3).

Why do we stumble? Often it is because we do not see the stumbling block. It is like a mouse trap. The mouse sees the bait and not the trap. Why? Because the bait looks good. So it is with us. We see the bait because the bait is good. We do not see or notice the trap. What then do we need? We need someone with us who sees the stumbling block. And we are to find this someone or somebodies within our church family.

So, How Do We Do It?

How then do we do it? How are we to make sure that each one of us is watching out for each one of us? We look to the Bible.

We look to the Bible and see that God has given us a pastor. See Acts 20:28-30; 1 Timothy 4:16.

We look to the Bible and see that God has given us deacons. See Acts 6:1-7.

We look to the Bible and see that God has given us one another. See Acts 2:42 and 1 John 1:7. We have fellowship with one another. This fellowship involves spending time together because we share life in Christ together. And our spending time together is to put truth into practice.

And we need to look and see that this is already happening among us. It is something that has been happening during this pandemic…for our good.

Calvary Community Groups

Currently, there are five of what I am calling community groups meeting within our church family. The word community comes from the word fellowship. These five community groups have happened naturally, out of need. One group meets to have breakfast together. Another group meets to connect with each other. Another group meets for Bible study. Another group meets to pray together. Another group meets to think through the Christian life together. These five groups are practicing truth together!

Notice that each group is different in function. But each group is the same in purpose: each one of you watch out for each one of you.

Beginning the week of September 20, I would like us to intentionally have more community groups. Intentionally means that anyone who calls Calvary Community Church home or their church or the pastor their pastor, would know and experience each one of you watching out for each one of you.

A community group will meet regularly with a schedule that bests serves the group.

A community group is to consist of two people or more and ten people or less. What happens when the group grows to ten or more? Praise God with a loud voice and start a new group. This is called multiplication.

A community group can meet in a home, at a restaurant or in the church building.

A community group is for two kinds of people: you and the unchurched (those without a church home or those who are not Christians). This is how a community group grows.

No group is to be same, but each group must do the same. Each one of you watch out for each one of you. What would I do without you?

9 Ways to Start the New Year

Our church is 9 days into the second year of a two year Bible reading plan. In two years, this plan will have taken us through the Old Testament in two years and through the New Testament twice.

This second year is a little creative. We picked up our Old Testament reading with Ezra 1. Our second time through the New Testament began with Acts 1. In 2020, we begin the New Testament in Acts, keep reading all the way through Revelation and then finish the year reading the four Gospels.

But it is Ezra that has me…refreshed. I have read it a few times before. But I think the difference this time is that I am reading it prayerfully. I did not intend to read it prayerfully, but doing so has been one of those wonderful, providential surprises.

It begins with God stirring up the heart of the king of Persia. A few verses later, the collective heart of God’s people is, too, stirred up (cf. Ezra 1:1; 5). This helped me to pray for me and our church. Stir up means to have the eyes opened. The context here is about something God wants done. So my prayer has been to have our collective heart stirred up to what God wants done and then to do it.

The book is about God’s house, the temple in Jerusalem, being rebuilt. It is being done by the order of this foreign king and his blessing. After a couple of years, adversaries of Israel take notice of this rebuild. A new king of Persia is in place and these adversaries write a letter imploring him to have this rebuilding stopped. In their view, when this project is finished, the people of Israel will become strong and be a force to be reckoned with; “look at their history,” these adversaries implore (cf. Ezra 4:7-16).

The king orders then that the rebuilding cease, but God’s people do not cease. Instead, they tell him to check the records. By decree of the previous king, this rebuilding is to be done and not stopped. He checks the records, rescinds his own order and then orders these adversaries of Ezra 4 to pitch in with monies to help the completion of this great work! (cf. Ezra 6:1-12).

Then in Ezra 7 we get introduced to…Ezra. The hand of God was upon this man. And why? “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (7:6; 9-10; 28). What does this mean for own Bible study; gathering together each Sunday to hear Bible teaching; and, do not miss this, applying God’s Word to our lives?

Ezra is basically commissioned by the king to go to Jerusalem to get this job done with all the provisions he needs. Whatever Ezra asks for from anyone, he is to receive (Ezra 7:21-26). There is just one thing Ezra did not ask of the king: safety. He never asked the king to provide soldiers to protect Ezra and all with him as they made their way to Jerusalem. Listen to why: “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'” (Ezra 8:22). He had told the king that God was with them and even in this confidence, Ezra led all with him to humble themselves before God and entreat him for his help all the way (Ezra 8:23). This humility and reliance upon God, reminding others of this reliance and to entreat God, seems to be absolutely necessary for leadership. What does this mean for our pastors, in caring for and leading local churches?

Then comes Ezra 9. It is really about repentance. God’s people enjoying once again God’s provision and care and grace, are once again sliding into the temptations of sin. What does Ezra do? He repents. But listen to this repentance. “O LORD, the God of Israel, you are just, for we are left a remnant that has escaped, as it is today. Behold, we are before you in our guilt, for none can stand before you because of this” (Ezra 9:15). Notice that Ezra says “our guilt.” Ezra has done nothing wrong. Yet, he does not pray that the people repent. He does not point the finger. Instead, he humbles himself and calls their guilt, our guilt. When their is sin in a local church, how should a pastor pray? How should a pastor be praying for the church he pastors?

I have seen these 9 chapters as 9 ways to start the new year.

Thankful.

Worship God

Maybe you are worried about expanding government control and rising taxes. Maybe you are worried about the loss of religious liberty in this country. Let me encourage you: if you have been born again, no one can undo the new life God has wrought in you. If you trust in Jesus, no one cane make you stop believing him. If the Holy Spirit lives in you, no one can take him away. If others take all your money and use it to persecute Christians, even imprisoning and martyring some, they cannot take from you the hope that Jesus will come. 

Jesus will judge. Jesus will do righteousness. Jesus will come for his bride. God will grant access to the Edenic temple-city of the new heaven and new earth, and all who have called on the name of the Lord will see God’s face. The best thing about your life then – namely, God – is the best thing about your life now. 

No one can take God’s love from you. No one can remove the fact that God did not spare Jesus, that God has accomplished his elaborate plan to redeem his children. 

Do you live that way? Does your study of the Bible reflect these realities? Do you pray like God is the best part of your life? Do your desires show it to be so? Pray that God would make it so right now. Pray that God would help you to know him as the best part of your life. He is. So pray that he would make you feel it and know it and live it.

Reflecting on Sunday

My favorite Sunday is communion Sunday. At Calvary, the first Sunday of the month is set aside to proclaim the Lord’s death until returns and we do this at the Lord’s Table or at the Lord’s Supper or communion. Each of those designations all refer to eating the bread and drinking the cup, doing so in remembrance of Jesus Christ.

But this past Sunday was different. I did not hear or know why it was different until later that day. Following communion, Calvary enjoyed lunch together. It was great experience of having communion followed by lunch. And at lunch, a father shared that his daughter recently referred to communion as community. “We are going to have community together!” she said. And she could not be more right.

The words community and communion are related. Do you see it? I think this is part of Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34. Read that passage and reflect on how community and communion are related. The Apostle John calls community “fellowship.” That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete (1 John 1:3-4).

The Lord’s Supper, communion, is something to remember together; that is, as a church family. And how we treat and treasure the Lord and the Lord’s Supper is to be evident in how we treat and treasure one another. This is community.

And so, on November 3, Calvary Community Church will be gathering at the Lord’s Table, doing so in remembrance of Jesus Christ. And I cannot wait to have community together.

And As They Sailed He Fell Asleep

The Backyard Carnival is happening. It is happening in just under one hundred forty-five hours and thirty minutes. It is happening with one hundred fifty hot dogs and a couple hundred bottles of water (there will be lemonade, too). It is happening with cotton candy and popcorn and snow cones. It is happening with face painting and prizes and gifts. It is happening with thirty or so volunteers. Three hundred homes have been told that it is happening. It is happening to love people by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.

And the big question we must be asking is, what are we to learn? Or better yet, what do we need to learn? Pay close attention to how we are asking this question.

And As They Sailed He Fell Asleep

Luke 8:22-25 is short. Matthew tells of this moment and it too is short (Matthew 8:23-25). Mark also tells of this moment and it is longer, but not by much (Mark 4:35-41). Why do all three of these Gospels share with us such a short moment?

This is reminiscent of Jonah chapter one in the Old Testament. There Jonah boards a ship. It sets sail and Jonah sleeps. A massive storm comes down upon it and Jonah still sleeps. He awakes only at the urging of the captain. The end result is that God calms the storm.

In all three of these Gospel accounts, Jesus boards a boat with his disciples. The disciples set sail and Jesus sleeps. A massive storm comes down upon them and Jesus still sleeps. He awakes only at the urging of the disciples. The end result is that Jesus calms the storm.

Again, all three of these Gospels share for us this moment – Jesus in a boat with his disciples. They sail. Jesus sleeps. This is the only record of Jesus sleeping. Why did Jesus sleep? The answer seems obvious, right? In Luke 4, there was that day that Jesus healed and restored lives, seemingly that of an entire town, and he did so all evening through dawn the next day. In Luke 6, there was that day Jesus prayed all evening through dawn the next day. Then throughout Luke 6 and Luke 7, Jesus gives so much time to people, teaching and meeting their needs. He is tired by this point, exhausted even! Mark tells us that he got to enjoy a pillow (Mark 4:38)! It is significant that he slept, but more than simply because he was exhausted.

He Got Into a Boat With His Disciples

Notice Luke 8:22. “One day he got into a boat with his disciples.” This could be the most important verse in this short moment. Who was in the boat? Jesus and his disciples. More importantly, Jesus is with his disciples in a boat. Who are these disciples? Simply, a disciple is a student. Jesus is with his students – those learning from him – in a boat!

The word disciples is only used twice in Luke 8. It is there in Luke 8:9. Jesus tells his disciples a parable and his disciples ask a question. “What does it mean?” He tells what the parable meant. It was about hearing the Word of God and the four kinds of people who hear the Word of God. Sundays are filled with those who hear the Bible. And his point in telling the parable is for his disciples to take care then how you hear the Word of God (Luke 8:18).

After this Jesus gets into a boat with his disciples. The boat immediately follows the parable. Why? There was something more to learn. The parable was for their learning. What could the boat, this lake, this storm be for?

Keep looking at Luke 8:22. Jesus got into a boat with his disciples and said, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” Jesus is with his disciples. Jesus said to do something. And Jesus is with them as they do it (he is just asleep). Note those three things.

So, why share this moment with us? There is something to learn. Keep in mind that these disciples knew this boat; were familiar with it. It was someone’s boat, one of these disciples. These disciples knew this lake; were familiar with it. These disciples knew how to sail this boat across this lake; were familiar with it. I would say that these disciples knew all the “pitfalls” of sailing a boat across this lake. And they most likely could see the destination.

But I also want to stress that the disciples were in the same boat together. So, there was something for them to learn, yes individually, but also collectively or corporately. It is why we asked the question the way we asked it. When it comes to this carnival, what do we need to learn? Do not lose sight of this, though: who else is in the same boat? Jesus. Jesus is with them; he is asleep, but he is with them. What does that say about Jesus?

And Then Came the Windstorm

The disciples do what Jesus said to do. And then came the windstorm. It was a literal storm. The word for windstorm is what describes a hurricane. This is a lake, but not unusual for this lake. Sudden, terrifying, unexpected, threatening storms were and are normal for this lake – the Sea of Galilee. The wind is just half of it. With wind comes waves. Luke calls them “raging” (v. 24). Matthew calls this a great storm (Matthew 8:24) which is the Greek word seismic. This was an earthquake on water!

These disciples knew this lake and knew these storms. It reminded me of something Jesus said in John 16:33. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Notice the disciples never hesitated; never objected; never paused to remind everyone, including Jesus, about the unexpected storms famous for this lake. No one said, “Hold on everyone, just a second. Let’s remember and consider that although it is sunny and pleasant now, things could change in a second.”

Why not? Who expects a storm doing what Jesus said to do?

We have these kinds of storms; not lake storms, but doing the work of the ministry storms. These are storms when doing what Jesus said to do. But remember: Jesus is with his disciples. Jesus said for them to do something.  And Jesus is with them as they do it.

These storms can be anything, anything that I end up describing as frustrating, disappointing, discouraging, disheartening, not going as I thought it should go; maybe even devastating. And the storm gets bigger and more intense the longer I keep looking at the storm, thinking about the storm and its effects.

Look at the storm’s effects: the boat is filling with water and now the disciples, the boat, and the mission are all in danger.

The disciples have been doing all they can, in their own ability, to maintain survival, until they come to this undeniable end: we no longer can do it. We now need Jesus.

What is there to make of Jesus still being asleep? He has been asleep the whole time! No storm worries Jesus. The course of things get disrupted and he is always at peace. He is always perfectly calm.

Where is Your Faith?

Notice Luke 8:24. “And they went and woke him…” What is it that finally wakes Jesus? His disciples! “We are perishing!” It was his disciples and their urgent plea which woke him, finally. And it was not until they realized “We are perishing!” They accomplished with their urgent plea what the storm could not do – they woke Jesus up! The storm never disturbed Jesus, but something did.

Jesus awakes. Rebukes the wind. Rebukes the raging waves. “Peace. Be still.” And it all halted at that very moment. The monster wave about to crash into the hull of the boat never made it. All was calm at the very moment Jesus spoke. All was calm. All was bright. Birds were chirping. There was calm. His disciples were a mess, but all was calm.

Now Jesus will ask a question. “Where is your faith?” Notice his disciples’ response: fear. Jesus just did something that no one in the history of the world has done, is doing or will ever do. He controlled the weather (cf. Psalm 107:23-32).

In Luke, Jesus has demonstrated his power and authority over the natural; his power and authority over the supernatural. In Luke, he has met the need of a man by the power and authority of his bare word. In Luke, he has met the need of a mom by the power and authority of his bare word. There is power and authority in his bare word.

This same power and authority applies to going across to the other side of the lake. Notice verse twenty-six which belongs to this short moment: they get across to the other side of the lake.

Listen to the response of his disciples. “Who then is this?” He is the Creator. He is God. He is the Lord who will provide. He is the God who is with me. And there is power and authority when he calls us to do something like Matthew 28:16-20 or Matthew 5:13-16 or John 13:34-35 or Matthew 6:34 or Acts 1:7-8. And so what do we do when storms arise?

Jesus is with his disciples. He has called us to do something. And he is with us as we do it. Why, though, did he question their faith? They lost sight, in the storm, of Jesus’ power and authority. They witnessed it with the storm, but lost sight of it in doing what he said to do. He was with them. And he was with them as they did it.