John the Baptistâ€™s call in life was to get people ready.Â He was supposed to get people ready for the Messiah.Â He was supposed to get people ready for the kingdom.Â He was supposed to get people ready for Godâ€™s work in their lives.Â A part of Johnâ€™s message dealt with the assumptions that people brought when they showed up at his meetings.Â He said, â€œTherefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stonesâ€ (Luke 3:8 NKJV).
The Jews certainly have a proud heritage.Â They are the people through whom God chose to reveal His plans for the world.Â They are the people from whom the Savior of the world would come.Â They are a people with a rich heritage of godly men and women who trusted in God.Â But part of Johnâ€™s message was to shake them loose a little from their heritage.Â They needed to be careful they didnâ€™t just rest in the fact that they were descended from Abraham, they needed to have the faith of Abraham.
We have also been blessed with a good heritage.Â I live in America, a land that still allows freedom of worship. I go to a pretty decent little church.Â I think the pastor even seems to be an okay guy.Â But I need to be careful that like the Jews that John was talking to, I donâ€™t rest on my heritage.Â God doesnâ€™t just want to work in the lives of people around me; God wants to work in my life.Â He doesnâ€™t just want to be the â€œGod of my fathersâ€; He wants to be â€œmy Godâ€.Â Are you ready for Him to work in your life today?
As Jesus was teaching the people in the Temple, various religious leaders came up to challenge Jesus and His teachings.Â Among those who challenged Him were the scribes, the fellows who were the experts in the Scriptures.Â One of the scribes actually had some good things to say.Â He talked with Jesus about the most important commandment, the command to love God (Mark 12:28-34).Â But for some reason Jesus later went on to give a warning.Â Then He said to them in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who desire to go around in long robes, love greetings in the marketplaces, “the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts, “who devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation” (Mark 12:38-40 NKJV). There are â€œgood scribesâ€ and there are â€œbad scribesâ€.
Studying the Scriptures is a necessity for the believer. The Scriptures are the fuel that keeps the fire of our faith alive.Â But if weâ€™re not careful, our studying can puff us up and twist our spirituality. Â The good scribes are those who learn the Scriptures and realize that they must work at loving God, loving people, and staying humble.Â The bad scribes are the ones who slip into the pride that demands attention.Â Their focus isnâ€™t on God or on loving people; their focus is on getting into the spotlight, demanding respect, taking advantage of people, and putting on a good show.
Beloved, as you study the Scriptures, be careful to maintain the attitudes that keep you useful.Â Love the Lord.Â Serve others.Â Walk in humility.
It was about the most amazing rescue that had ever occurred or would ever occur in history.Â Two million people miraculously rescued as the Red Sea parted and they were rescued from their enemy.Â And yet, as the people caught their breath on the other shore, things began to unravel.Â They soon found that they had run out of water.Â When they finally found an oasis, the waters were bitter, unfit for human consumption (Exo. 15).
Though this was a real, historical event, I canâ€™t help but ponder on how much the event parallels our own lives.Â We may have been through the greatest of deliverances, we might have experienced Godâ€™s touch in the most amazing of ways, and yet we find ourselves camped out and stuck in a place of bitterness.Â Oh how bitterness robs us in life.Â It poisons our heart.Â It takes the wind out of our sails.Â It stops us dead in our tracks as we sink into deeper levels of anger and depression.
But this didnâ€™t stop Moses and it didnâ€™t stop the Lord.Â When the people complained about the bitterness, he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweetâ€¦ (Exo 15:25 NKJV).Â I donâ€™t think the lesson is about herbal remedies.Â I think itâ€™s about the tree.Â Itâ€™s about the cross.Â And when our lives seemed poisoned with bitterness, we need to bring the cross into the middle of the bitterness and remember the love that God displayed toward us as His Son bore our sorrows.Â Let Him take away the poison of bitterness.Â Drink deep of His sweet, sweet mercy.
I think itâ€™s an issue of pride versus humility.Â I donâ€™t want you to think that the horrible thing he did was okay, but the attitude that led up to it is what concerns me. So what am I talking about?Â The account is found in Matthew 26, when Jesus is betrayed and arrested.Â Jesus had already warned His disciples that the time of His betrayal had finally come.Â He told them that He would be betrayed by one of them.Â But the clincher came when He said that every one of them would abandon Him.Â For Peter, that was simply unthinkable.Â Peter spoke up and said that even if others abandoned Jesus, Peter never would.Â When Jesus told Peter that Peter was even going to deny Jesus three times, Peter responded that he would not only stay with Jesus, but was willing to die for Jesus (Mat. 26:33-35).
Well, you know the rest of the story.Â Peter, along with the other disciples, did indeed abandon Jesus.Â When Jesus was arrested in the Garden, the disciples fled.Â And whatâ€™s worse, Peter found himself denying Jesus three times before the night was over.
I donâ€™t want to comment on the rightness or wrongness of what Peter did.Â My concern is that we learn from self-confident pride that says, â€œI would never do that!â€Â Because dearly beloved, the truth is we are going to sin.Â Iâ€™m not advocating sin.Â But as hard as we try, we will still sin.Â Pride wonâ€™t admit weakness.Â Humility recognizes utter dependence on God to keep from sin.Â Humility is not surprised when I sin.Â Itâ€™s humility that confesses guilt and receives forgiveness.Â Itâ€™s humility that goes on to serve Jesus.
I find it so amazing that God would use such ordinary, flawed, and sinful people. Judah was one such person. Perhaps some of Judahâ€™s troubles came from marrying a Canaanite gal (Gen. 38). She bore him sons who were described as â€œwickedâ€ and â€œdispleasingâ€. Â The oldest was married to a gal named Tamar, but he died before having any kids.Â Following after tradition, the next son married Tamar, but he also died before becoming a father.Â Naturally Judah was reluctant for Tamar to marry the youngest son, so he sent her away for awhile.Â But Tamar wasnâ€™t about to be left out of the picture, so she dressed up as a harlot and waited.Â Sure enough, Judah himself comes along looking for a harlot, and he ends up getting her pregnant without knowing who she was.Â And it came to pass, about three months after, that Judah was told, saying, “Tamar your daughter-in-law has played the harlot; furthermore she is with child by harlotry.” So Judah said, “Bring her out and let her be burned!” (Gen 38:24 NKJV)
I find it interesting that while Judah didnâ€™t seem to have a problem hiring a harlot, he doesnâ€™t want one in his family.Â Jesus talked about a danger we face when we judge others. Itâ€™s not uncommon for us to become judgmental of the very thing we ourselves have a problem with.Â Before we go out to save the world from splinters, we ought to learn to take the log out of our own eye first (Mat. 7:5).Â Sometimes we feel so dissatisfied with everyone else, when we ought to be paying attention to the person in the mirror. Learn Godâ€™s grace. Receive Godâ€™s grace.Â Share Godâ€™s grace.
â€œSome people are such jerks!Â Can you believe what that guy just did to me?Â I wish some people would get their act together.Â Why canâ€™t they just grow up?â€
Have you ever said or thought things like that?Â I have.Â All the time.Â In fact when it comes down to it, there are very few people who live up to my expectations, and Iâ€™m probably the worst offender.
Jesus and His disciples were walking through the grain fields on a Sabbath day.Â As they walked, the disciples were picking wheat and eating it. When the Pharisees saw it, they complained to Jesus that the disciples were breaking their law. Jesus went on to explain to these hypocrites that not only were the disciples perfectly okay in eating like this, but the ones who were really offensive to God were the Pharisees.Â Jesus said to them, “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.â€ (Mat 12:7)
Sometimes we, like the Pharisees, have the wrong expectations of people.Â And like the Pharisees, we can even trick ourselves into thinking that God has the same expectations that we do.Â Now donâ€™t misunderstand me, God does have expectations of us.Â But sometimes His expectations arenâ€™t like ours.Â Jesus said that a chief quality that God cherishes is mercy.Â God has oceans of mercy to pour out on me.Â And He would love it if I became so saturated with His mercy, that I in turn would be merciful to others.Â Take a deep breath.Â Forget about the â€œjerkâ€ youâ€™re wrestling with.Â Reflect His mercy.
The things Jesus taught were so strange (Mat. 5).Â A speaker can get into trouble with his audience if he doesnâ€™t talk about things that people want to hear.Â We all want â€œhappinessâ€, and Jesus taught about the path to true â€œhappinessâ€.Â Thatâ€™s what it means to be â€œblessedâ€.Â It means to be happy.Â But the path Jesus lay out for happiness was not the direction youâ€™d expect Him to take.
I think you have to admit that secretly weâ€™ve all wanted at some time to be â€œwealthyâ€.Â Yet Jesus taught that true happiness comes from being â€œpoorâ€ in spirit.Â We all want a life of â€œcomfort and joyâ€, yet Jesus taught that true happiness would come to those who â€œmournâ€ because they will be the ones receiving Godâ€™s comfort.Â I think that if you were honest with me, youâ€™d have to admit that we all like to be the center of everyoneâ€™s attention.Â Who doesnâ€™t want everyone thinking theyâ€™re great?Â Yet Jesus taught that true happiness would come to the â€œmeekâ€, not the proud.Â No one likes to be hungry, yet Jesus taught that true happiness would come to those who are â€œhungryâ€ and â€œthirstyâ€ for Godâ€™s righteousness.Â I think thereâ€™s something in us that longs for â€œjusticeâ€, when the bad guys get whatâ€™s coming to them.Â We love a good action flick where the fellow thatâ€™s been abused gets even.Â Yet Jesus said true happiness comes to the one who is merciful.
Are you looking for true happiness?Â Itâ€™s something that God wants for your life.Â God wants to bless you.Â But Iâ€™m beginning to wonder if Iâ€™ve really understood how to be truly happy.Â I hope you donâ€™t mind if I echo Tiny Tim from Dickenâ€™s Christmas Carol: â€œGod bless us, everyone.â€Â Really blessed.
“For indeed I will raise up a shepherd in the land who will not care for those who are cut off, nor seek the young, nor heal those that are broken, nor feed those that still stand. But he will eat the flesh of the fat and tear their hooves in piecesâ€ (Zec 11:16 NKJV).
Sometimes we learn the most from the bad examples in front of us.Â The prophecy of Zechariah will one day be fulfilled by an individual known as the antichrist, but he also is a great example of what NOT to do in ministry.Â Beloved, I believe that God wants to make us all into shepherds.Â God has a ministry for each of us.Â He has a flock that needs tending.Â Learn the lessons of a good shepherd.
Ministry ought to be about caring for those who are cut off.Â People are cut off from God because of their sin.Â We often are cut off from each other because of things like unforgiveness.Â A good shepherd cares about bringing restoration. A good shepherd seeks the young.Â He cares for the little lambs.Â He cares for those who are â€œnewâ€ to the faith.Â Often itâ€™s the â€œbrokenâ€ ones that give us so much grief. But a good shepherd recognizes the brokenness and seeks to bring healing.Â A good shepherd doesnâ€™t ignore those that are healthy and standing, he feeds them.Â When a shepherd butchers a sheep, the â€œfatâ€ was the best part.Â But the good shepherd doesnâ€™t live to kill the sheep and take everything for himself.Â In fact the good shepherd is the one that lays down his life for the sheep.
Do you know who your â€œflockâ€ is?Â Have you learned to shepherd your flock?
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, Loving favor rather than silver and gold. (Prov 22:1 NKJV)
There seems to be in the heart of man a huge vacuum, a hole that longs to be filled.Â We see it in people that we label as â€œneedyâ€ because theyâ€™re constantly looking for people to love them and help them out.Â But in reality, weâ€™re all pretty â€œneedyâ€. Some people try to fill that hole with things.Â Some are out at the mall right now looking for that special something that will make them feel better, at least for another minute or two.Â Others are on the eternal quest for that next dollar. Someone once asked a wealthy man, â€œHow much money do you need to be satisfied?â€Â His reply?Â â€œJust a little moreâ€.Â We tell ourselves that a little more will be enough, but once we have it, we still arenâ€™t satisfied.
Solomon was a man of great wealth, so he saw it all from a perspective most of us donâ€™t have.Â He realized that satisfaction didnâ€™t come from more stuff. One of the things Solomon learned to treasure was the â€œnameâ€ he had.Â Your â€œnameâ€ is what people think of you.Â Itâ€™s the reputation you have among people who know you best.Â Solomon realized that having a reputation of integrity, honesty, purity, and faithfulness was more precious than wealth.
Solomon also learned to treasure this thing called â€œloving favorâ€.Â You could translate the words, â€œgood graceâ€.Â Itâ€™s being loved when you donâ€™t deserve it.Â Itâ€™s receiving kindness when you deserve punishment.Â And itâ€™s priceless.Â But how do we get such a thing?Â Beloved, you already have it.Â May you find yourself overflowed with Godâ€™s grace.Â Itâ€™s the best gift.
Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time â€¦ (Jonah 3:1 NKJV)
He didnâ€™t want to go in the first place.Â He hated those evil Assyrians that lived in Nineveh.Â They deserved Godâ€™s judgment.Â And to think that God seemed reluctant to wipe them out! You know the story â€“ the first time God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, he refused.Â After spending a couple of days in a fish, Jonah gave in.Â But as the story continues, I sense that Jonah was still quite reluctant to be a part of Godâ€™s mercy to the Assyrians.Â In fact, when God showed mercy to Nineveh, Jonah had the gall to get mad at God!
Sometimes we agonize over whether weâ€™re doing Godâ€™s work well enough.Â Now donâ€™t get me wrong, I think we ought to serve the Lord with excellence.Â I donâ€™t think we ought to give God our second best. But sometimes we get to thinking that the results of the work depend on how well we perform.Â In reality, the results of the work depend on the power of the Word we speak, and the type of hearts that it comes in contact with (Mat. 13:23).Â Our biggest part in Godâ€™s work seems to simply be available to go where God sends us.Â Donâ€™t forget that Jonah was a key part of one of the biggest revivals in the history of the world, and he wasnâ€™t a very nice person.
Hereâ€™s the point:Â Is God asking you to do something, go somewhere, or say something?Â You may not sense the importance of what Heâ€™s asking you to do.Â You may not think youâ€™ve got the right words to say.Â You may not think your heart is right.Â Just do it.Â Let God take care of the results.