Mark 9-10 (NLT)

Discover His heart: He welcomes all who minister in His name

When I’ve worked hard on a project from the beginning, knowing all the ins and outs of it, I tend to take ownership – it’s my baby! Others may come along to work on the project with me, but they always seem to do things differently. I have the tendency to think that without following my expertise, everything could be ruined. Most of us have felt this way at one time or another, and we’d almost rather go it alone. Because of this, we can somewhat understand the disciples’ hearts when newcomers on the scene started preaching about their Jesus.

@ Mark 9
“Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.” (38) He wasn’t in our group sounds cliquish and juvenile, but the disciples were more than likely concerned about protecting the name of Jesus. Perhaps they were questioning why this man wasn’t in their group? What group was he representing? What if he prays in a different style than ours? How will this affect our Lord?

Jesus was not terribly concerned about His reputation in His response. “Don’t stop him!” He said with emphasis. “Anyone who is not against us is for us. If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded.” (39-41) To spread this Gospel, to reach the lost around the world, the disciples were going to need all the help they could get. Many of their encounters had been met with much opposition to the message of Jesus, but this man appeared to have faith in His very name.

We face this same issue in spreading the Gospel today. We need all the help we can get! The churches down the street or other ministries so often have a different style than we do in reaching the lost. Some are hard-sell, some are soft-sell and some, like us, get it just right. While we can appreciate the humor in that statement, why would we ever criticize a genuine move of God just because the method is different than to what we are accustom?

The criterion, according to Jesus, is not the style or method we use, but in whose name we are ministering. (39) Rest assured, He knows who belongs to Him and exposes charlatans and cons in due time. We all answer to Him directly, bypassing the opinions of others, and it’s His acceptance of our methods and results that have eternal value. So, I relinquish any ownership to the message of the Gospel and pray for all who minister in His name.

Moving forward: I’m thankful today for all who minister in the name of Jesus with pure hearts, regardless of style or method.

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 15-16

Mark 7-8 (NLT)

Discover His Heart: He calls us to surrender everything so that we may receive everything

I give up! Or, I should say, I gave up! Many, many years ago this reluctant college-bound student knelt at an altar and gave up her plans and aspirations for a career in decor and design in exchange for His plans and aspirations for her. It was a struggle, but He won – and so did I! There’s nothing wrong with a career as a designer. It just wasn’t His plan for my life. The life I’ve walked since that day of surrender hasn’t been without its challenges, but His abiding peace and guidance has been with me every step of the way. I’m so glad I gave up.

@ Mark 8
“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross and follow me.” (34) Mark was writing to the Romans who understood the significance of taking up the cross as surrender to Roman power, and it was important for Mark to relay these words of Jesus. Jesus was calling those in the crowd that day to follow Him, to lay down their own aspirations in surrender to His guidance and to accept Him as their Savior. And He is calling each one of us today to do the same.

This challenge from Jesus includes our willingness to allow His will for our lives to take preeminence over our own will. Is the trade worth it? If we think about it, this struggling over decisions and direction in life all on our own and then living through the consequences of wrong choices is not all that appealing. Instead, receiving guidance from One who knows the future and who has our best interests at heart, while offering sweet fellowship here on earth with the promise of eternal life in heaven…well, how do you improve on that? Wisdom would say the trade is worth it.

Jesus took commitment a step further, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (34-37) Jesus taught by example. He gave up – He gave it all through His death on the cross so that we may have eternal life.

At least ten individuals, His disciples, listening to Him that day ended up giving up their lives as martyrs, for His sake and for the sake of the Good News. A sobering thought, to say the least. While our surrendering to Him today does carry this potential, most of us will continue on as businessmen and women, doctors, nurses, sales clerks, grocers, missionaries, ministers or whatever He has guided us to do. But for the sake of our souls we will continue on our journey, ever surrendered to Him “for His sake and for the sake of the Good News.”

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  These are the words of Jim Elliot, a man who gave up everything in the jungles of Ecuador for the sake of the Good News!

Moving Forward: With joy I repeat, I gave up! I surrendered it all to Him, and I’ve gained it all! With His help, I’ll never take it back.

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 13-14

Job 23-24 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He desires our trust even in His silence

Xenophobia. Now isn’t that a scary word.  Most often referring to the fear of strangers or foreigners, it is also a term for fear of the unknown.  It’s not a fear based on what is, but rather on what could be.  Fear of the unknown is a natural fear that everyone experiences at one time or another; but when it becomes life-controlling for individuals, they may be labeled as xenophobes. This would not look good on a resume’ to be sure.

In reading the book of Job over the past several weeks, we find an increasing determination in Job to find the reason for his trial. Chapter 13 was significant in his quest to discover the unknown, but in today’s reading, we find him overcome with fear about what he does not know.  However, my heart doesn’t want to label him with a phobia.  No, my heart goes out to him. 

@ Job 23
After defending himself against the accusations of Eliphaz in Chapter 22, Job pleaded his innocence once again, “I have stayed on God’s paths; I have followed His ways and not turned aside.  I have not departed from His commands, but have treasured His words more than daily food.” (11-12) Along with his defense came an even stronger need to know what he didn’t know.  Why did all this happen to him?  Then Job admitted his tremendous fear.

“Whatever He wants to do, He does. So He will do to me whatever he has planned.  He controls my destiny. No wonder I am so terrified in his presence. When I think of it, terror grips me. God has made me sick at heart; the Almighty has terrified me.” (13-16)  I must admit that I wonder, at this point, of what was Job afraid?  Having lost everything he possessed except a crabby wife and his own life which was, by his own admission, at death’s door, what impending loss was left to terrorize him?  What did God have left to do with Job?  What unknown was hanging in the balance?

Perhaps Job’s greatest fear was eternal divine silence.  God had been silent to Job throughout his trial, but what if God never revealed Himself to Job again, what if he was eternally separated from God?  I can understand the very thought of this bringing terror to a heart!  Once we have known the fellowship with God as Job described above, the fear of eternal separation is an unknown we never want to experience.

That thought alone should compel us to reach the lost, our friends and loved ones who do not know Him. “He will come with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, bringing judgment on those who don’t know God and on those who refuse to obey the Good News of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power.” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9)  The world today groans with a terror they do not understand, and this is it!  It is separation from God. This terror, however, is not for those who know and love God.

Job declared, “But [God] knows where I am going.  And when He tests me, I will come out as pure as gold.” (10)  Good preaching, Job!  Unfortunately, the fear of the unknown hand of God robbed Job of this message.  We have this known promise to carry us through the trial even when it seems like we are facing divine silence: “So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” (I Peter 1:6-8) No fear.

Moving Forward: We can cling to His promises today, not focusing on those things that are unknown, but claiming the known promises of God.  When we come through the fire, we will be purer than gold.

Tomorrow @ Isaiah 62-66

Mark 1-2 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He sees and responds to our faith

Youth today often get a bad rap in the press.  Yes, they are facing some significant struggles because of the evils of our day, but not all have bowed to the god of this age.  Across the country on any given day, thousands of teenagers will gather to worship the true and living God.  They gather in churches, at school flagpoles and anywhere the name of Jesus is lifted up, gathered to pray for their country, their homes and their friends.

Many teenagers work all year long and save money to travel to foreign lands during their summer breaks, not as a tourist, but as missionaries delivering the Good News.  They give their strength and energy to aid in disaster relief around the world.  Nothing thrills me more than to see thousands of youth gathered together in rowdy praise and worship to the Lord – I think it makes Him smile. Mark was older when he wrote his gospel, but at one time he was a young follower of Jesus and some of the participants in our reading today were young and full of faith. 

@ Mark 2
Mark was not one of the twelve disciples, but it is evident that he was a disciple of Jesus, a young follower, who recorded more miracles of Jesus in his book than the other gospels contain.  Even today in this world of skepticism, nothing excites a group of young people more than a bona fide miracle like the one told by Mark in Chapter 2.  A paralyzed young man’s friends tore open the roof of the crowded home where Jesus was speaking in order to lower him down right in front of Jesus.  Awesome!

“Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’”(5)  Although He knew that the man was placed in front of him for physical healing, Jesus chose to bring healing first to his soul by forgiving him of his sins.  Sitting in the house that day was a group of religious leaders that probably was not there in a supporting role, but rather one of judgment and criticism of this new teacher in town.  In light of Jewish custom, it was their view that forgiveness of sins was necessary before a body could be healed, sin being the original cause of all sickness, pain and suffering.  In forgiving the sick man, Jesus had their attention. The religious leaders were correct in saying only God could forgive sins – they just did not accept that they were talking to God.

Now that Jesus had the attention of everyone present, He healed the man’s body as well, and the miraculous healing of his body added credibility to the miraculous healing of his soul.  The crowd was stunned with shock and awe! They praised God for this miracle, but most of them did not understand that it was Jesus they were praising as well.

“Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, ‘My child, your sins are forgiven.’” Apparently, Jesus knew the paralyzed man believed in Him, or his sins could not be forgiven, but the word says He saw their faith – those tenacious men who so believed in this miracle worker that they tore up the roof to get their friend to Him.

This causes me to question – will I tear up the roof, so to speak, on behalf of those who are in need of healing, whether physical, spiritual or emotional?  Will He see my faith and confidence in Him?  When I pray for others, do I really believe He will heal them? The bottom line according to Mark 2 is that He sees when I believe and He responds to that belief.  Jesus is never fooled.  It humbles me to know that my faith carries this potential. 

Moving Forward: Unlike the religious leaders, I know who I am talking to when I pray – the true and living God!  I will tear up the roof on behalf of those who need healing of any kind today because I know He sees my faith. 

Tomorrow @ I Corinthians 7-8

Isaiah 56-61 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He has anointed us to bring Good News

Several years ago I was waiting in my car for my daughter to finish her music lesson and reading my scripture portion for the day that happened to be in Isaiah.  I was going through a difficult time, dealing with some minor health issues and also with some ministry challenges, and I remember saying, “Lord, can’t we do better today than Isaiah.  Come on!”

While Isaiah seems to be mostly about judgment, my reading that day happened to include Isaiah 61.  As I began to read the first verse, I felt His Spirit fill my little car, and before I knew it, I was singing the Word, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.  He has anointed me to preach Good News, Good News. To bind up the brokenhearted, to set the captives free, to deliver the prisoners from darkness and to comfort those who mourn.”  I sang it over and over again until my spirit was soaring with His.  I believe He gave me a song that day to highlight His mission and to remind me of my mission. 

@ Isaiah 61
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed.  He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come…” (1-2)  These words in Isaiah repeated by Jesus in Luke 4 sent a shock wave through those gathered in the synagogue of Nazareth in Jesus’ day when, “He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. ‘The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!’” (Luke 4:20-21)  This was how Jesus announced His earthly ministry.

Jesus did not complete the scripture in Isaiah which continued, “…and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.” (2) Most feel he stopped because the day of God’s judgment had not yet come, and the next time He came to earth would be the Day of Judgment.  Today we are living in the time of the Lord’s favor, the time the Lord has given to save the lost, the acceptable year of the Lord, the year of Jubilee!  This was His mission.

What did Jesus come to do?  Anointed by the Spirit of Adonai Yahweh, the Sovereign Lord, His mission was clear:  He came as Prophet to preach the good news, the gospel of the Kingdom, to all those who would humbly listen.  He came as Priest to heal the brokenhearted, all those who were broken and sought healing for body, soul and spirit.  He came as King to deliver, as only a king could do, all those who were held captive by sin and sinful enemies.  He came as Comforter to comfort all those who mourn.

This was His mission, and so it is ours as well. As Jesus was leaving this earth, He told His followers, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.’ Then he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:21-22)  Isaiah prophesied that those who accept the One who sends us will receive “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” (3, KJV) How can we help but share this good news!

On that day so long ago when the Lord gave me His song, He was reminding me of His mission, my mission.  He was encouraging me to not get bogged down with the challenges or heaviness of the mission, but to allow Him to breathe on me and receive help from His Holy Spirit.  We are not alone in our mission; He has anointed us to bring Good News. 

Moving Forward: All I can say today is, Holy Spirit, breathe on me and pour on the oil of joy. 

Tomorrow @ Mark 1-2

I Corinthians 3-4 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He causes the seeds planted in our hearts to grow

There are several components to growing a healthy garden.  Nutrient-rich soil is essential along with plenty of sunshine and rain, but we won’t yield a harvest without the seeds.  It’s really all about the seed and how God guides it along to fruition.

@ I Corinthians 3
“Who is Apollos? Who is Paul? We are only God’s servants through whom you believed the Good News. Each of us did the work the Lord gave us. I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.” (5-7)

It seems the Corinthian church members were arguing and determining the degree of their spirituality by who ministered to them, looking to who planted and watered rather than to the seed – the Good News of Jesus.  It’s human nature, I guess, for us to be attracted to the tangible man or woman and how they present the message rather than the message itself, but it’s not the messenger that gives life to us.  It’s the Jesus of the message, the power of the message that gives life and causes us to grow.  If we depend only on the messenger for our growth, and then the messenger fails, we might shrivel up and die.

In most ministry situations, I prefer to be invisible, behind the scenes assisting wherever I can.  Nothing makes me happier than to be unnoticed, but when I am speaking and ministering to others, my goal is to be invisible to where the listeners see only the Lord, drawn only to Him.  The task of the messenger is daunting.  “But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward.  But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss.” (13-15) Whether we are preaching a sermon, teaching Sunday School, singing or leading a Bible Study, may our work bring honor and glory to Him alone, never to ourselves – may it be considered of great value on judgment day.

Paul was saying to the Corinthians that there is a responsibility for the listener to focus on the message, the seed, rather than the messenger.  And he was saying that there is a responsibility on the part of the messenger to keep motivations pure and to keep the focus on the message.  When we do this, we won’t be like the Corinthians, “I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger.” (2) We want to look past the charisma of the messenger and sink our teeth into something substantial – bring on the meat! 

Moving Forward: Checking my motives today so that they will withstand the fire, and focusing on the message and the growth it will bring to my life. 

Tomorrow @ Genesis 36-39

Romans 15-16 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He burdens our hearts to ambitiously reach the lost 

@ Romans 15
I’ve been blessed with the opportunity on several occasions to share the Good News with those who have never heard it before and there’s nothing quite like that experience.  It was difficult for many of them to accept that there was a hope, a help and a future for the miserable existence they were living out, but when the Lord came and touched them, everything changed.  This was the goal of Paul, “My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else.” (20)  Paul’s ambition was a difficult ministry road, but the joy he reaped was immeasurable.

Many missionaries today are sent to areas of the world that have had the Good News for centuries.  The world’s cities are filled with ornate empty cathedrals, and most individuals no longer have even a memory of their function nor do they have a relationship with God.  Their hearts have become cold and dark to the gospel.  In fact, there are children in the United States that only know Christ as a curse word.  And this, too, is a challenging mission.

In Paul’s personal notes in Romans 15, I think we see the heart of a true missionary.  We have the impression that an ambitious person is someone only concerned about personal gain, numero uno.  But Paul had an ambition, a goal>aspiration>objective, that we can only admire, and it begs the question today what is my ambition?

Paul concludes Chapter 15 with a simple request, “Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me…” (vs. 30)  Paul did not have the advantage of slick colored prayer cards to hand out everywhere he traveled, nor did he have a website, facebook or twitter.  But even with these wonderful tools that our missionaries enjoy today, they are making the same request, Dear brothers and sisters, I urge you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to join in my struggle by praying to God for me.  I’m confident that every second of every day there is a missionary somewhere in the world facing a struggle that is more difficult than we can even imagine.  Will I join in their struggle and pray for them?

“I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome. And after I have enjoyed your fellowship for a little while, you can provide for my journey.” (24)   Paul, so filled with ambition to get the Good News to Spain, allowed the Romans the privilege of assisting him on his journey. When our missionaries present to us the challenge of their righteous ambition, how can we resist the privilege of helping them on their journey to reach the lost?  “How can anyone go and tell them without being sent?” (Romans 10:15)  I think we have an assignment, an ambition, a mission if you will. 

Moving Forward: What is my ambition today?  Is it righteous?  Today I will join in the struggle with our missionaries through prayer, and I will give my offerings with joy to His sent ones. 

Tomorrow @ Genesis 28-31