Monday, January 29, 2018

A Study in Luke - Ch. 5 Renewing the Passion

When we got our boys a swingset years ago, I was surprised that this massive structure came in a long, narrow box. Nothing was together. There were hundreds of parts, bags of screws, bolts and attachments…and pages of instructions. It took hours to put it together. But finally there it was. The boys loved it. I was proud. And then as I was gathering up the leftover parts, I read the final note on the instructions: retighten all bolts once a month as long as the swingset is in use. In other words: for the rest of my natural life.

I wasn’t providing my kids a play toy, I was making a lifetime commitment to a metal monster.
Making a commitment involves dedicating yourself to something or someone and assuming the obligations and responsibilities of that commitment.

Probably the best picture of commitment is marriage. What begins with vows or promises that establish the foundation for building a life together is intended to continue for the duration of the marriage.

We are so happy making our vows, then life starts. We settle down. Routine, busyness, illness, kids, moving, in-laws, disagreements, change. After a while our commitment grows cold and the vows become a faded memory. We are consumed with duties and responsibilities. The relationship goes stale. What had started as a fiery hot volcano of passion, now is only a Bick lighter that doesn’t always work. Where are the flames, where’s the passion?

Woman asked her husband—“Why don’t you ever nibble on my ear anymore? I loved it when you nibbled on my ear. They’re dangling.” He said, “Well, just a minute, let me go get my teeth.”

Our marriage commitment obligates us to not settle for less but to press on to what’s best. To live out our devotion. To love and be loved and do the actions that demonstrate that love.

If you’ve ever played with fire, you’ve taken a fully enflamed log out of the fire and watched it slowly quit burning and grow cold.

Well, what if we’ve pulled away from the fire? What if we’ve grown cold and somewhat indifferent? What if we’re just going through the motions? How do we get back what we once had? How do we renew a commitment back to how it was in the beginning?

In the Revelation of John, Jesus told the church of Ephesus: But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first. (Rev 2:4)

The issue Jesus had with the Ephesians was they had grown cold in their devotion to Him and were no longer doing the things that they used to do that expressed that love. So He told them, “Think back to the earlier days when what drove who you were also driving what you did. When you lived out the excitement of belonging to Me.”

First rule of fixing a computer that’s quit working is to reboot. To turn it off and restart it to what it was like before things messed up. To bring us back to where we were before we drifted away, often God reboots our commitment, by reminding us how this all got started and what life was like when He was our first love.

Then He gave them the process of renewal: Change your mind, turn your face back to look at what consumed your passion and start doing the things you used to do. Things that expressed your love for Me. I’m not asking you to just change your behavior but renew your mind to the love that used to drive your life. Then live that way.

Deep inside them was life-giving evidence of a changed heart.

Prov 4:23 Watch over your heart with all diligence for from it flows the springs of life.

The heart drives the actions. Reviving the heart will change how we live and what we do.

Paul said: And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:2)

What initiates the transformation? Renewing or reviving the place within your heart that holds your commitment. Jesus called that place your first love. Go back there, let the love grow hot again and let that love control your attitudes and actions. Returning to your first love. That works in marriage. But that process was designed for rekindling our relationship with the Lord.

God used that method with many people in Scripture. Each had a significant moment of commitment but had strayed away. He brought them back to a memory where they first made their commitment and then gave them the opportunity for a second chance.

Jonah 1:1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me."  But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. So he went down to Joppa… Then the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land. Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, "Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you." Let’s go back to that moment before the fish…

Jdg 13:5 "For behold, you shall conceive and give birth to a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the boy shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines." Jdg 16:17  So he told her all that was in his heart and said to her, "A razor has never come on my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother's womb. If I am shaved, then my strength will leave me and I will become weak and be like any other man." Jdg 16:20 She said, "The Philistines are upon you, Samson!" And he awoke from his sleep and said, "I will go out as at other times and shake myself free." But he did not know that the LORD had departed from him. Jdg 16:22 However, the hair of his head began to grow again after it was shaved off.  Let’s go back to the promise from your birth…

Mar 16:7 "But go, tell His disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.'"

But while they were supposed to be waiting for the LordJohn 21:3 Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will also come with you." They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing. But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. So Jesus said to them, "Children, you do not have any fish, do you?" They answered Him, "No." And He said to them, "Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch." So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish.

Joh 21:11 Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn.

John’s memory of that moment was the net didn’t break. Peter’s memory was of a seashore and a different boatload of fish—153 to be exact. There was no other reason to number them. It was a number Peter remembered.

Luke 5:1-11

What was Jesus doing? Tying the two events together to bring Peter back to when his heart was softer and more excited about following Him. Back when he made his first decision to make Jesus his first love, to leave everything and go with Jesus.

In John’s story, the crucifixion had taken the wind out of Peter’s sail, doused water on his fire (use any cliché you like). He was loose from the dock and drifting and Jesus knew it. It was too easy for Peter to go back fishing instead of waiting for Jesus.

Same things as with Ephesus: “Your love has lessened. I can see it in your actions. Don’t tell me you love Me and live like this?” But He wouldn’t leave them there. He offered the way back. “Remember when you first believed, renew your mind to what that was like and start doing again the things you did at first, the things that demonstrated your love.”

What things: Remember…
·         When Prayer became important – Prayer changed from saying words to speaking with God. It was the time in my day I acknowledged God’s presence in my life.
·         When the Bible became alive – When I would intentionally seek insight into the ways of God. Reading to discover something that would help me know God better and live more effectively for Him.
·         When you would Worship – Worship isn’t attending a worship service. It is a heart connected with God expressing praise and devotion. It is telling Him you love Him. Thanking Him.
·         When trusting God with the details of your life was easy – Back when your first thought in a crisis or trouble was God help me.
·         When you would let God help others through you – When you looked for ways to minister and serve—to be of use to the Kingdom.

Commitment speaks of obligation. There are things we do when we’re committed. There are things we don’t do if we’re not committed.
·         The swingset never was retightened again. I wasn’t committed.
·         Marrying my wife was a good thing. That commitment changed my life and continues to change my life for the better.
·         Following Jesus is a commitment that has obligated me to live within the delight of His love. It is renewed daily with an on-going response to continue doing the things that show Him I love Him.

To rekindle our love for Him, God often takes us back and reminds us of those early days of our commitment, reminding us how this all got started and what life was like when He was our first love.

  1. Commitment is an obligation that begins in our hearts and spreads throughout our whole lives.
  2. When we choose to live out our commitment, the evidence of that choice becomes obvious.
  3. If the things of God are not obvious in my life, it is because I have moved away from the fire and lost the passion I once had for Him.
  4. The journey to renewal reignites that flame, rekindles my love, redirects my thoughts and revives the practices that once expressed my devotion to Him.
  5.  A renewed commitment—like a renewed marriage—can be even more life-changing than the original. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

A Study of Luke - Ch 3

The very last thing said in the Old Testament is: Mal 4:5 Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers…

400 years later…Luke 3:1  Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar [began reign in 14 A.D. this would be approximately 28 A.D.], when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea [began in 28 A.D.], and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, Luke 3:2  in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. Luke 3:3  And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins;

Mat 11:9-10 "But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, 'BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.' "Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptizer! Mat 11:14 "And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.

Role of prophets – to speak in behalf of God. To bring God’s purposes into whatever the people faced. To stand and declare Thus saith the Lord

People need rallying points, they need leaders who will stand up and say, “This is the way.” John was that kind of leader.

Churchill was as well: “You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea, and air. War with all our might and with all the strength God has given us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs - Victory in spite of all terrors - Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival. Let that be realized. No survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge, the impulse of the ages, that mankind shall move forward toward his goal. I take up my task in buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. I feel entitled at this juncture, at this time, to claim the aid of all and to say, "Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength."
Churchill prepared an unprepared people for a war that proved to be, by his own words, Briton’s finest hour!

But there was no prophet’s voice for 400 years. With no word from God of substance enough to write down, the people lost enthusiasm for loving God with their whole hearts, minds and spirits. They’d become lazy in expectation. 400 years with no one saying, “Come, then, let us go forward together to the heart of God. Then the time came.

Mark 1:4-5 John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. 
How do you distinguish a fresh work of God? Change. Change of attitude, change of direction, change of heart. When God acts, there is a difference.

Baptism wasn’t unusual. In fact it was common practice for a variety of Jewish purification rituals. Gentiles becoming Jews would be baptized.

Luke 11:37  Now when He had spoken, a Pharisee asked Him to have lunch with him; and He went in, and reclined. When the Pharisee saw it, he was surprised that He had not first ceremonially washed [baptized] before the meal.
But a baptism of repentance was new. It went beyond the cleansing ritual for sin. It accompanied changing your mind or changing your direction. Specifically, it was to give evidence you had turned your life toward God, given your heart (or the control center of your life) to Him.
The use of the word repent is limited, however. In the Gospels and Acts, repent or repentance is only used 18 times. In the rest of the New Testament you will not find repent but you will find repentance used 8 times.

2Co 7:10  For the sorrow that is according to God produces a repentance [desire to change] without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.

2Ti 2:24-26 The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance [the desire for change] leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

2Pe 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance [the process of change].

Repentance is that moment of surrendering to God, declaring He has the better life for us than the one we are living on our own. We act on the desire to change the direction of our life from us to Him.

Rom 2:4 Do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? The kindness of God creates the desire for change and points us to the opportunity to change.

Change is a process. It begins with the desire for change—repentance—but doesn’t stop with just the desire. The second part of repenting is confessing. I am confessing how I have missed God’s intentions by going my own way. I’m not dealing with sins but sin—the driving force within me leading me away from God. God there are desires inside me that take me away from You, and I have given in to them.

Mark says John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The word for isn’t in the original. It is the word into (which we’ll deal with again in a few minutes). A person didn’t get baptized to get forgiveness. The baptism was because their repentance led them to confess their sin and God forgave them.

They confessed their sins. To whom? John? Why would John care about hearing how they had sinned against God. What could he do about it? They were confessing to the only One who had the power to forgive—God, Himself.

1Jn 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Why baptism? Why not just have them stand on a rock and shout out loud, “I am turning my life toward God.” Baptism was symbol and a challenge.
·         Leaving an old life, entering a new.
·         Dying to the old self and embracing the new.
·         Having confessed my sin, I am declaring it washed away.
·         Stating for the record, I’m all in, immersed completely surrendered to God.

It was a practice even the Pharisees couldn’t argue with. They used water in a purification ritual. Problem: they thought the water was what cleansed them.

It was the difference in rinsing your hands or washing with soap. Rinsing may make us think we’re clean but stuff remains that won’t come off without soap.

Rebecca told of Joe washing his hands. With soap? He went back to wash again.

John’s mission was to prepare the way for the Messiah, not create rituals. He knew that people needed to be prepared and they weren’t. The war for the souls of mankind was at hand. The first part of that preparation was repentance – turning away from an old and empty life. He started there.

John preached steps for the people to follow:
  1. Repent (and confess)
  2. Be baptized
  3. Live in anticipation that the Messiah was coming

Step three was where John and the people he baptized lived. Some baptized by John took this message to other parts of the world. But the message was limited to Step 3.

Act 18:24  Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John; and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

Act 19:1  It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples.  He said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said to him, "No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" And they said, "Into John's baptism." Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus." When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Their understanding was limited because of a lack of information. They had repented of their sins and were baptized, prepared for what God was planning to do. They simply didn’t know that He had already done it. Their picture wasn’t complete. They believed up to the limit of their knowledge but needed the rest of the story to fully come into the Kingdom. Priscilla and Aquila as well as Paul filled in the blanks. The men believed, were baptized into the Name of Jesus who fulfilled the promise for which they were prepared.

Difference between in and into: In is a word of agreement with. We agree with a plan or purpose so we believe in it. We agree with something we’ve been told so we believe in it. We agree that Jesus is who He says He is so we believe in Him.

Into indicates that a point has been reached or entered. We have moved into the house. We have gone into the church. It is a preposition of location.

Where are we with Jesus? Are we in agreement with things we know about Him? Or have we entered into a vital relationship with Him personally?

Jn 3:16: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes into Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

Believing in simply means I agree with what’s written about Him. Believing into means I have entered into relationship with Him.

That’s how I spent my teenage years in church. Believing in but never moving into.

John wasn’t a converter or an evangelist, but one who prepared people for what God had coming. He wasn’t given them a religious experience through baptism but wanting evidence they have made a life-changing decision to turn their lives toward the Lord so they would be ready for what God was going to do.

That was the promise at John’s birth: Luke 1:16-17 "He will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

But God had a step 4 for John: John 1:31 "I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water."

The ultimate purpose of John’s mission was to identify the Messiah. Later, he’ll say, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” God had told him, when I show you who the Messiah is, your ministry will be completed. The time to prepare is over. Now, it’s time to receive who He is.

Want to know why Jesus was baptized? It was for John. It was the sign John was to see to declare Him the One. It served no other purpose.

John 1:32-34 John testified saying, "I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, 'He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.' I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God."
Seeing that convinced John—God was saying to him, “John, this is why you were born. This is your defining moment. John moved into Step 4—meeting Jesus and acknowledging Him as Savior and Lord.

God has that same moment for each of us to discover we were born to meet Jesus.

What happened to John? Luke 3:20 Herod had John put into prison. John never walks free again but will die a fulfilled man.

There is a fulfillment that comes when we know who Jesus is and give our hearts to Him. He blesses us then and continues to bless us throughout our lives. That anticipation John called the people to live with, knowing Jesus was coming, is how we live every day. We live in the assurance He is here.

2018 is going to be a significant year for us. We will see God do amazing things in and through our church. I want you to join me in living in anticipation of what He will do.

  1. John’s life demonstrated the power and purpose of God.
  2. He expected that the people who came to him for baptism had repented: chosen God’s way over their own.
  3. The evidence of repenting is a changed life.
  4. Believing in Jesus can change our perspective but believing into Him begins a relationship that changes our lives.