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Does The Prodigal Son Parable Mean Christians Can Be Prodigals?​

What was the parable of the Prodigal Son about? Can Christians become prodigals?

A Prodigal​

Who or what is a prodigal? A prodigal is often characterized by someone who lives in an extravagant and wasteful lifestyle and lives with no responsibility. It can also be considered someone who loves lavish living but not actually having the right to that living. In the case of the Prodigal Son, the son had nothing to leave home with, so he desired to have his inheritance ahead of time, before his father died. That was similar to wishing his father were dead, so the father gives the son what would be 1/3rd of the father’s total estate, while the elder son would inherit the remaining 2/3rds.

Even though the word “parable” doesn’t appear in the text, and neither does the title, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, most call it that anyway because of the story. The word “prodigal” comes from the Middle French word “prodigal,” but is directly taken from the Late Latin “prodigalis,” meaning “wasteful,” and comes from the word “prodigere” which can also mean, “drive away, waste.” This is why the word “prodigal” is used in referring to this story.

The Parable​

Jesus gives the Parable of the Prodigal Son right after “the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him” (Luke 15:1), so they are His intended audience, but so too are the Jewish religious leaders, who were also present, and most believe that the older brother in the story refers to the established Jewish leadership who are the Pharisees and teachers of the law, and those who have the power and authority. They see themselves as the rightful heirs of Abraham, whereas the tax collectors and sinners are unworthy of such rights, so the prodigal apparently represents the tax collectors and sinners (us!), and who the “religious elite” believe have no rights to the inheritance promised to the children or descendants of Abraham. The “prodigals” of Jesus’ day certainly had no power within the Jewish hierarchy. In fact, the tax collectors and sinners wouldn’t even be allowed in the temple because of their status. That’s why the context and historical setting are important in this parable and why the Jewish leaders must have felt the sting of Jesus’ parable. Guilt has a way of doing that. The truth sets you free…or it makes you really mad.

We’re All Prodigals​

The prodigal’s father represents God, but it also represents the calling if each person who trusts in Christ. When the younger brother squandered all he had in wasteful living, as prodigals do, “he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything” (Luke 15:15-16). What could be worse for a Jew than to be a keeper of pigs? Plus, “no one gave him anything,” meaning all his fair weather friends had left him when the money ran out. The young man had to hit the pigpen before he realized he had sinned, so “when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger” (Luke 15:17), but I don’t think he came to himself, by himself (John 6:44, 70; 15:16), because God is the One Who grants repentance (2nd Tim 2:24-26).

Hitting rock bottom compelled the younger brother to think, “I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you” (Luke 15:18), and tell him, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants” (Luke 15:19). To be associated with sinful living and being a keeper of pigs, considered to make someone unclean to the Jews, would have made him even less worthy to go back home. What the man didn’t expect was “while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).

The father, representing God the Father, runs out to embrace us because He had been looking for us, as it were, “while [we were] still a long way off.” The fact that the father had been watching and waiting also indicates that the father knew the exact time of his return. Even so, the prodigal admits that he had no right to the inheritance, and says, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21).

Lost and Found​

When the younger brother is embraced and kissed by his father, he rejoices and orders a big feast to celebrate and says, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:22-24). The son didn’t deserve to be called his son because he had insulted the father by demanding his inheritance and then squandered it all on loose living, but that’s just the point. None of us deserve to be called the children of God, but “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

The Jewish religious leaders heard that the common people (tax collectors and sinners) could become the children of God, which is what the gospel was all about, and that’s why they reacted in anger, much like the older brother who “was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him” (Luke 15:28-30). The angry” Jewish leaders also refused to “go in” to the great feast in the coming kingdom because they didn’t consider themselves sinners and would never humble themselves, and if they never humbled themselves, they would never come to the end of themselves or to repentance.

That’s when the father, representing God, said to the “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours (so) it was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:31-32). God was trying to tell them that they could also “go in,” but like their ancient fathers, they were stiff-necked, meaning they wouldn’t lower their heads in humility or look up to heaven and confess their sins. They couldn’t confess what they didn’t think they had!


Can we become prodigals? Yes, I believe we can, but that’s not what this parable is really about. We can get in the pigpen, but we don’t stay in the pigpen.For everyone who has been brought to repentance and trust in Christ, we must remember to have compassion on those who are still lost, because we too were once lost but now are found, so the Parable of the Prodigal Son is also about our own salvation. It wasn’t that we found God. He wasn’t missing. It was God Who found us. We were the lost ones, and why it is said that “God made foolish the wisdom of the world” (1st Cor 1:20), since “it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1st Cor 1:21).

The Apostle Paul knew that we were all prodigals at one time, and had no rights of inheritance in the kingdom, and in order to keep us humble, we realize that God’s Word says, “not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1st Cor 1:26-29). The Parable of the Prodigal Son is also about our own salvation.



What The Bible Says About Love And Relationships​

The Bible speaks about the love of God, but also about human love, so here’s what Scripture says about love and relationships.

The Love of a Spouse

Jacob and Rachel is one of the greatest love stories in the Bible. In fact, Jacob was so consumed by Rachel, that “Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her” (Gen 29:20). Much earlier, after Isaac’s mother died, “Isaac brought [Rebekah] into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death” (Gen 24:67). Those who love us can comfort us like no others, which is why we believe that “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow.

But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up”
(Eccl 4:9-10), and “if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccl 4:11-12). Therefore, the admonition is, “Above all things “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25), so husbands, “ let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Eph 5:33). When a woman feels loved, she feels respected; when a man feels respected, he feels love.

The Love of a Friend

A friend’s love is like no other. In many cases, our friends can be closer to us than our blood brothers or sisters. We might be able talk to them and tell them things we wouldn’t tell anyone else. Jesus said one way that friends display their love is to lay down their lives for them. Laying down their lives may not mean giving dying for our friends, but we give them our time, and in this life, that’s a precious commodity. Jesus reminds us, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Jesus Himself displayed the greatest of love by laying down his life for us, so we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers and sisters in this life (1 John 3:16). Proverbs 17:17 states that “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity,” meaning friends stick with you, through good times and bad, meaning, they stay with their friends and love them “at all times,” good and bad, but also God has sovereignly placed friends in our lives for just such a purpose. David saw his share of bad times, and yet Jonathan’s friendship helped him endure, as David says, “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; You have been very pleasant to me. Your love to me was more wonderful than the love of women” (2 Sam 1:26). Prior to this, “Jonathan made David swear again by his love for him, for he loved him as he loved his own soul” (1 Sam 20:17), so this was one of the greatest friendships in the Bible.

The Love of Brothers and Sisters​

We are to love one another, including our brothers and sisters. The author of Hebrews states “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb 13:1-2). The Apostle Peter admonished us to “have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Pet 3:8), so we ought to “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom 12:10). Otherwise, “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).

Believers have no excuse not to love their brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul told the church at Thessalonica, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more” (1 Thess 4:9-10). Since we are all still very much human, we’re going to irritate people, however, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7), so “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32).

The Love of God

Want a quick glance at the love of God? The Apostle John wrote that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The sinless Lamb of God is the good shepherd who “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). One reason why the love of God seems so radical to the world is that “one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:7-8).

That godly love should compel us to “be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Eph 5:1-2). The very reason Jesus came was “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). God loved us first; we who were wicked, ungodly enemies of His (Rom 5:6-10), so Jesus commands us to “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28).


One of the most powerful ways we can attract people to God is by loving others. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). This kind of love generally “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:7). If we love people on a consistent basis, then “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14). Then, we can have confidence we’re a child of God, for every child of God keeps “loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8).



Whose Purpose In Your Suffering Will Prevail?​

If we recognize God’s sovereignty even over Satan’s work, it changes our perspective about our lives and suffering. Satan and God intend the same suffering for entirely different purposes, but God’s purpose triumphs. Satan sought Job’s ruin and loss of faith; God sought Job’s refining and faith-building. The very thing Satan intended for Job’s destruction, God intended for his betterment and ultimate reward (though certainly at a terrible cost).

Second Corinthians 12:7 gives us a striking picture. We see God sending a physical disability for His purposes and Satan sending the same disability for his. Paul says, “To keep me from being conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given to me a thorn in my flesh.” If the text stopped here, it would be obvious who gave the thorn in the flesh—God, who wanted to keep Paul from becoming conceited. Certainly the devil would not lift a finger to prevent Paul from becoming conceited.

But Paul continues to describe the thorn in the flesh as “a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” Two supernatural beings, adamantly opposed to each other, are said in a single verse to have distinct purposes in sending Paul a thorn in the flesh. God’s purpose is not to torment him, but to keep him from becoming conceited; Satan’s purpose is to torment him, likely in the hope of turning him from God. Whose purpose will be accomplished? Who will win?

Paul says, in the next verses, he asked God three times to remove the “thorn,” but God refused. He did, however, reveal the purpose behind Paul’s unanswered prayer: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
How did Paul respond? He said he rejoiced in his afflictions. Why? Because he knew God had a sovereign and loving purpose.

Joseph’s brothers intended his suffering for evil; God intended it for good. Satan intended Job’s suffering for evil; God intended it for good. Satan intended Jesus’ suffering for evil; God intended it for good. Satan intended Paul’s suffering for evil; God intended it for good. In each case, God’s purpose prevailed.

Satan intends your suffering for evil; God intends it for good.
Whose purpose in your suffering will prevail? Whose purpose are you furthering?
Satan attempts to destroy your faith, while God invites you to draw near to Him and draw upon His sovereign grace to sustain you.

Some Christians constantly assign this mishap to Satan, that one to evil people, another to themselves, still others to God. Sometimes they are right, but how can they be sure which is which? Second Corinthians 12 makes clear that God works through everything that comes our way, no matter whom it comes from. If God can use for good “a messenger of Satan,” then surely He can use for good a car accident or your employer’s unreasonable expectations.

You might not know whether demons, or human genetics under the Fall, or a doctor’s poor decision, or God’s direct hand have brought about your disease, but you know as much as you need to—that God is sovereign, and whether He heals your body now or waits until the resurrection to heal you, He desires to achieve His own good purpose in you.


He Calls Us Still

[ 1 min read ★ ]

. . . for all have sinned
and fall short of the glory of God—Romans 3:23

As his men, we’re called to be like Jesus. We’re commanded to love just like he does (John 13:34-35). That’s a tall order. It’s easy to feel less-than-qualified, what with all our faults and bad choices, both intentional and unintentional. In fact, it’s easy to feel totally disqualified. Our mistakes—we carry their shame, we try to forget them. But we can’t forget. So we hide them instead, hoping, at least, to appear qualified. But they’re always there. And the thing is, when everyone else is hiding their mistakes too, it can feel like we’re the only ones with failings. So, not only do we feel disqualified, we can also feel separate.

But our mistakes don’t separate us from everyone else. They actually connect us. Whether we admit them or not, they’re one thing we all share (Romans 3:23). Our mistakes make us human. They also don’t disqualify us from the call to love like Jesus. You see, Jesus knows our mistakes; we can’t hide them from him. And yet he calls us still. We must confess and repent the mistakes we’ve made—and try to make fewer going forward—but Jesus doesn’t give up on us because of our mistakes (Mark 2:17). And, in fact, our mistakes (and the darkness that follows) can actually prepare us for his call. They can prepare us to love. They can teach us compassion and humility. They can also give us the authority to speak, as men who’ve been through darkness and pain, and who’ve returned.

Okay, so what do we do?

Make a list. Write down mistakes you’ve made. Pray over them. Consider how you’ve grown from them. Consider how God might be redeeming them—how they might have actually prepared you to love and help those people for whom your heart moves.



Living Out Peace In An Anxious World​


It is possible in spite of great grief, sorrow, loss, discouragement, confusion, pain and broken relationships, to learn how to live in the peace of Jesus and return to peace when ambushed by the anxieties and the brokenness of this life.

All of us battle anxiety.

All of us struggle to live in the peace of Christ. All of us struggle to remain in perfect peace.

However, the Prince of Peace, Jesus, can restore peace to you regardless of how the world around you tries to take it from you.

The Apostle Paul told the Philippians in Philippians 4:6 not to be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

If you and I are going to live in peace we have to stop worrying.
That is easier said than done, right? When you are laying on an operating table or sitting at your kitchen table trying to figure out how to make ends meet, or saying goodbye to a love one, or trying to save your marriage or rescue a wayward child. These moments are not easy moments. It is hard in these moments to turn off the mind, to trust the Lord with it, and live out peace in your life.

It is easier to give up, give in, and just worry ourselves to death.
The Apostle Paul wants to teach us from God’s Word how to break these cycles of worry that create chronic anxiety in our lives that cripple our emotional abilities to function in healthy thought patterns. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:7 that the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

You have to let the peace of God guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.
How does this take shape in us?
It took me a LONG time to learn this, but now that I am almost fifty years old, I’m a lot smarter.
I hope.

When you are in the midst of a crisis or consumed by worry, ask yourself this question: “Do I want to understand and control my life, or do I want the peace of God?
Here is the catch, you can’t have both. This is the fundamental decision that will determine the level of peace in your life.
I have decided I would rather know that God’s got it than to know what God’s doing in my life.
And when I reach this place, His peace consumes my fear because my control has been released to Him. And then I no longer want to know what is going to happen, I am just comforted to know that whatever happens, God’s go it! And more importantly, God’s got me! It is at that moment when His peace passes my understanding.

I would rather have God’s peace in my life than the knowledge of knowing what He is doing in my life.
My knowledge only complicates my life. His peace simplifies my life. It gives me hope, regardless of the circumstances or the eventual outcome. This enables me to return to peace quicker and live out peace in my life more effectively.

As you practice letting go of needing to understand your life, you realize, what you think about, has a lot to do with how effective you will be at living in the peace of God.
Paul tells us in Philippians 4:8 that whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy to think and meditate on these things in your life.
It is important that you and I practice good mental health.

It is unhealthy to focus on dishonorable, unjust, impure, unlovely, uncommendable, things that lack excellence, or are unworthy of praise. However, God wants us to practice healthy things and to think on healthy things.
So, are you practicing what you think about? Are you thinking on healthy things or do you focus on unhealthy things in your life? Do you focus on how people have wronged you, the relationships that you wish were different but can’t do anything about them, and the pain and destruction other people have caused you? Are you getting better or bitter with age? Only you know the answer to that question.

No one wants to be a negative thinking or acting person but many of us find ourselves in this rut. We feel out of control, which leads to negative feelings that then leads to negative thinking on negative things. This negative thinking eventually leads to negative acting. Once this occurs, our behavior begins to destroy the fabric of our mental health.
Negativity is not a healthy thing to focus on and it will negatively affect your walk with the Lord and even your physical and mental health over time.
Who in your life models for you good mental health? Paul encourages us in Philippians 4:9 to focus on those people in our lives. We are to put into practice the things we have learned, received, heard, and seen in them and if we do the peace of God will be with us.

If you and I want to experience the peace of Christ, we have to practice the presence of Christ we have seen lived out in other’s lives. As we do this, we have to remain positive about what God can and will do through us. He tells you in Philippians 4:13 that you can do all things through Christ. What does that mean? It means you can handle success and failure. You can handle gain and loss. You can handle good times and bad times at the same time.

Ask God for the strength to do it, He will give it to you. And sometimes that strength will come through the help of others. Paul was grateful for the help he received from the Philippians. He told them in Philippians 4:13 how kind it was for them to share in his troubles. All of us need someone to share in our troubles. It is how God made us.

One of the first things anxiety steals is your attitude of gratitude. It is easy to feel alone, overwhelmed, and defeated. It is important you remember how others are with you. Who in your life are you grateful for? Remember them, it will give you the strength you need to go on.

God will give you the strength to do what He has asked you to do or endure. He will bring just the right people in just the right time to help you shoulder what He has asked you to carry in this season. I have experienced this many times in my life over the past twenty-four years of being a pastor.
We know from Acts, God called Paul to share the Gospel in Rome. Philippians 4:22 tells us Paul was effective because he remained faithful regardless of the cost, even if that meant His life.

Paul went to Rome and spent quality time with the Lord in a jail cell. I wonder if he ever thought to himself, “so this is what my ministry influence has come to? I expected more in the later years of my life.”

What little did he know that Rome would become the vehicle by which God would use to disperse the Gospel to the entire world. As they say, “All roads lead to Rome.” And if all roads lead to Rome, then that means all roads from Rome lead to the entire world.

God used Paul in that little jail cell to send the Gospel to the household of Caesar. From there, the household of Caesar took the Gospel to the entire world. This is why you and I get to know of Jesus today.

Sometimes looks are deceiving, sometimes, our “insignificant moments” turn out to be our most significant moments in life.

Maybe you feel like Paul may have felt, maybe you feel like your ministry or the significance of your life has been narrowed to little or nothing of what you expected.

Remember this, God sees, and He hasn’t forgotten what you have done for Him.

He remembers and He is a rewarder of those who diligent seek Him.
It worked for Paul, and it can work for you too.
Can you say, “I don’t understand what God is up to in my life, but I trust Him.”
If so, the Gospel of Jesus Christ will go forth in your life in a more effective way, in spite of the anxious filled circumstances of your life, because you have chosen to live a life of peace through the power of Jesus Christ.

Pastor Kelly


Who Are Your Fellow Conspirators?

[ 1 min read ★ ]

For where two or three are gathered in my name,
there am I among them—Matthew 18:20

For many of us men, our default is go-it-alone. We prefer to work alone, make decisions alone, muscle through struggles alone, get credit for our accomplishments alone. Go-it-alone gives us control and allows us to avoid vulnerability. The problem is, our King, Jesus Christ, doesn’t think much of the go-it-alone approach, especially in the service of others. He didn’t go-it-alone during his time of ministry; he doesn’t go-it-alone now (John 10:22-39; 14:7-14). And when he sent followers to preach and do miracles, he sent them in pairs, so they wouldn’t go-it-alone either (Mark 6:7-13; Luke 10:1-12). Clearly this is important. But, why are pairs or groups such better units for service than is one man, on his own?

Well, the reasons are a few—and each is as compelling as the ask-for-help approach is counter to our nature. First, and most importantly, Jesus is uniquely present when two or more people join together in his name (Matthew 18:20). Moreover, two or more people, joined together, working together, in friendship and trust, are often more confident and more impactful, than is just one man (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12). And, two or more people, joined together, who know one another, who pray together and pray for one another, are more supported and more protected (from sin and from opposition), than is that same man, on his own (Ecclesiastes 4:10-12; Hebrews 3:13).

Okay, so what do we do?

Do you go-it-alone, brother? Take a moment. Wherever you’re serving now, serving God and serving others—in ways large or small—consider whether it might be advantageous to pair-up with another follower of God. Pray and listen too. If the answer is yes, betray your instincts and your pride and ask God to send the right person. Then, begin to look around.


The town of Discord was an unusual town, to say the least. It was filled with instruments–oboes, clarinets, violins, guitars, and more roamed the streets. All day long, they each attempted to play their own tune by rubbing or twisting their instruments as best they could. The result was the most disharmonious sound you could imagine–and some badly twisted instruments!

It hadn’t always been this way. Originally, all the instruments had been in perfect harmony. The Master Conductor had played each one with expert skill. But the Great Deceiver thought he should be the conductor instead. When he failed, he set out to destroy the instruments the Master Conductor loved. He convinced them to play themselves and make up their own tunes. The instruments that had been made to be part of a great concert of music chose instead to listen to the Great Deceiver, exchanging the Master Conductor’s beautiful tones for their own discord.

Jammy, a run down guitar, was one of these instruments. He was as good as all the others at making up his own discord, breaking one string after another in the process. Then one day, he met the Master Conductor. He learned he’d been fashioned for a different purpose. The Master Conductor gave him a beautiful song to play instead of the discord.

Jammy wanted to play that song wherever he went, so others would learn of the Master Conductor. But Jammy found this a challenge. He’d gotten so used to playing discord, that he didn’t know how to play anything else.

He ran back again to the Master Conductor, listening to him play the harmonious tune and attempting to imitate it. But his attempts to imitate on his own failed.

“You have to let the Master Conductor play the tune on you,” his friend Melody explained.

Jammy was taken aback. “You mean we were designed to be played?”

Melody nodded. “Yes! Instruments aren’t supposed to play themselves or make up their own tunes. We were all designed to be played! Only in the Master Conductor’s hands can our proper music soar.”

To Jammy’s great delight, as he yielded himself to the Master Conductor, the Master Conductor poured out his beautiful song through Jammy’s strings.

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. Romans 6:13
(The Greek word in this passage probably referred to an instrument of war or work instead of music, but the point remains that we’re to yield ourselves for God to wield.)


Nothing But Smoke

[ 1 min read ★ ]

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and rust destroy—Matthew 6:19

This world, and everything in it, is characterized by defect and decay (Genesis 3:17; 1 John 2:17). Everything. Nothing is perfect—as much as we’d like to believe some things will be perfectly satisfying. Nothing lasts forever—as much as we’d like to believe some things can be with us always. Whenever we trust a created thing too much it lets us down, eventually. Whenever we put too much stock into a created thing it breaks our hearts, inevitably. We’ve all experienced this. Maybe we’ve trusted too much the ability of work to give us security. Maybe we’ve trusted too much the ability of achievement to give us meaning. Maybe we’ve trusted too much the ability of sex to give us comfort or adventure. Maybe we’ve trusted too much the abilities of houses or vacations or cars or tools or gear or gadgets to give us joy.

"Smoke, nothing but smoke" (Ecclesiastes 1:2 MSG).
Created things can be gifts from our Father God, of course (Ecclesiastes 5:18-19). Even those, though, cannot deliver everything we need. We’re to enjoy them during their moments, but our enjoyment is meant to be fleeting. If we begin to think the gifts themselves will fill us up, complete our lives, we invite grief. We’re meant to focus our lives, not on the gifts, but on the Giver. We’re meant to focus our lives, not on created things, but on the Creator. Only he is perfect and eternal.

Okay, so what do we do?

If you’ve allowed yourself to trust any created thing too much—money, status, material things, sex, another person—it’s time to confess to God and to others. It’s time to repent. Declare that you want to be reliant on God alone . . . the Giver behind all gifts, the Creator behind all created things.



‘Do Not Despise These Small Beginnings’: Billy Graham’s First Sermon​

Images via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0 and Public Domain

By Greg Laurie
The Scriptures are filled with God’s promises, and throughout our lives, we must learn to rely on them. This is especially true in the small beginnings when we first step into the calling God has placed on our lives. Even Billy Graham had to learn this as he was getting started.

In the spring of 1937, Billy was a student at the Florida Bible Institute in Tampa, Florida.
After a rocky fall semester at Bob Jones University, Billy eagerly formed a relationship with Reverend John Minder, the nurturing and gentle dean of men at the Florida Bible Institute. That semester, Minder invited Billy to accompany him on a three-hour jaunt north to Lake Swan Camp, a Christian retreat center opened by Minder’s family in 1927 in Melrose, Florida.

Billy recalled in his autobiography taking a drive with Minder to see his friend, Cecil Underwood, a part-time Baptist preacher and interior decorator. Underwood was in charge of the Peniel Baptist Church, five miles west of Lake Swan. When they arrived, Underwood was setting up the pulpit for the next night’s sermon.
Shortly after they exchanged greetings, Underwood asked Minder to speak that evening at Bostwick Baptist Church in Palatka, Florida, a nearby church for which Underwood had taken responsibility.

“No,” Minder replied. He had a much better idea: “Billy’s going to preach.”
I would have loved to have seen Billy’s reaction when Minder offered him up to preach right then and there. This is one of those moments a preacher both dreams about and dreads.

When God has gifted you and you have something to say, you want to take that opportunity when it presents itself. At the same time, you find yourself not feeling up to the task. And add to that the weighty responsibility of knowing you are, in fact, speaking on behalf of God himself (no pressure there!).
Billy’s theological repository was extremely limited at the time. It consisted of four borrowed sermons. When Billy stammered that he had never delivered a sermon in front of a live audience before, he didn’t get much sympathy from Minder and Underwood.

They actually laughed in unison then said they’d pray for him.
There wasn’t much Billy could do other than grin and bear it. He wanted to preach, and here was his moment. Billy’s nerves ensured no rest for him the night before. He spent the evening studying, praying and rehearsing aloud. When it came time to speak, Billy was confident one of his sermons might last between 20 and 30 minutes.

The white clapboard church built in 1909 was populated with characters who looked to be right out of central casting. They were a humble congregation of up to 40 people — cowboys and ranchers in denim overalls and women in cotton dresses. For whatever reasons, they even brought their hounds with them for the evening service.

The meeting room where Billy was to deliver his first sermon was, shall we say, modestly sized. A pot-bellied iron stove was strategically placed near the front door to keep the cold weather at bay. The song leader was a non-career type. That means he held a variety of odd jobs, from collecting junk to fishing. He led the congregation in hymns, pausing occasionally to spit tobacco juice out the front door. I’m surprised there wasn’t a spittoon in the place. Billy found none of this humorous because he was a bundle of nerves.
Underwood gave him a proper introduction as the skinny, tall teen took his place behind the small wooden pulpit. Neither his message nor the delivery took the world by storm, but it was a start.

Billy zipped through all four of his sermons in eight minutes, falling way short of the goal he had set for himself. He then quietly sat down, feeling totally deflated. He questioned in his heart if he truly was meant to preach the gospel.

But Billy wasn’t as bad as he imagined, according to Underwood. “He had a bit of difficulty, but he got through all right,” Underwood said to Billy’s biographer, John Pollock. “He ran out of words. He ran out of thoughts. His delivery was impressive, even that first sermon, because of his sincerity.”
Today a historical marker sits in front of Bostwick Baptist Church to commemorate what took place on March 28, 1937, Easter Sunday night in that tiny church — all eight minutes of it.
Zechariah 4:10 says, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin….” Billy had a long way to go after his first sermon, and so do many of us. But big doors swing on small hinges, as Billy would soon discover.
Be encouraged. God used Billy’s small beginning, and he can use ours, too.



Beware Of These 5 Ways You May Unintentionally Push Your Man Away​

I functioned like a chauffeur early in my marriage. I was constantly doing stuff to drive my husband away. Are you aware of how wives drive husbands away?

Do you wonder why your husband isn’t as attentive as he used to be? If he seems more interested in fondling his PS4 controller than you, you might be putting distance between the two of you without realizing it.
I’ve wasted a lot of time trying to change my husband. As a result, I was driving him away.

The more I complained, compared and criticized, the more distant he became.

5 ways wives (unintentionally) drive their men away​

Many women I coach are unintentionally pushing their husbands away. The techniques they use to try to get closer to him, actually drive him away.

Here are 5 common ways I unintentionally pushed my husband away. Are any of these familiar to you?
1. Think “he’s a big boy”
“He’s a grown man. He can take care of himself.” Like many women, I made the mistake of thinking this and unconsciously put others needs before my husband’s needs. As a result, he’s-a-big-boy attitude put distance between us. Spending time with your husband and paying attention to what he needs, lets him know he’s important to you. “Big boys” can take care of themselves, but they marry for companionship. He can take care of himself, but he married to feel like someone else is caring for him, too.
2. Compare him to others

Even though we didn’t have social media when we got married, I was never short of ways to compare my husband to other people. As a result, I wasted time being mad. Today social media makes it so easy to compare. Comparison is another common issue that arises in coaching. It’s unfair. I wouldn’t like it if my husband did the same to me. “Jack’s wife exercises regularly and is careful about what she eats.” Comparing me to someone else’s wife is a sure way to start a fight. However, I thought if I told my husband what other people’s husbands did, he’d get the hint and do the same for me. He didn’t, which became a point of frustration for me. Comparing is a sure way to set yourself up for disappointment and make him feel like he can’t please you.

What spends more time next to your lips?

3. Think I’m right all the time
By constantly correcting or criticizing my husband, I sent him the message “I’m right all the time.” And honestly, I did think I was right all the time. However, if I’m right all the time that means he’s wrong all the time. That’s a problem. When I’m right all the time, I make him feel like like I can’t trust him. Nothing will make your husband more confident than thinking you trust him. Nothing will make him feel less confident than thinking you don’t. He interprets a lack of trust as disrespect. As a result, he’s unhappy. As much as I didn’t want to accept it, no one is right all the time. Not even me.
4. Spend too much time on the phone

Does your cell phone spend more time next to your lips than your husband? Cell phones make it so easy to talk to people or look things up or entertain yourself. Anything we want to know is at our fingertips. In addition, phones make it increasingly easy for husbands and wives to lead separate lives. The Internet increases temptation and encourages secrecy. Spending too much time on the phone may make my husband feel like he’s not a priority or that I’d rather spend time doing things other than being with him. There’s nothing wrong with spending time on the phone. However, it’s important to learn how to maintain balance in our marriages by putting boundaries around our time. I don’t want anything spending more time next to my lips than my husband (excluding chocolate, of course.)
5. Keep a record of wrongs
I’ve been guilty of this more times than I’d like to admit. Do you hold onto things so you can bring them up during arguments? If you keep a record of your husband’s mistakes, it becomes harder to let them go. A woman I coach told me she keeps a list of her husband’s offenses on her cell phone. As a result, her hurts are fresh because she has a constant reminder. And when we’re constantly reminded of how someone hurt us, we grow resentful. Resolve issues quickly and let them go. You’ll find new things to fight about in the future.
Don’t act like a chauffeur. Which of your habits may be driving your husband away?​


Wake-up Call

[ 1 min read ★ ]

. . . faith apart from works is dead—James 2:26

Imagine yourself, for a moment, standing before our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Imagine feeling, at first, a bit apprehensive. Imagine lifting your eyes to his. Imagine his face, when you meet his gaze. Imagine his strength, his goodness. Imagine the sound of his voice as he, like the master in his Parable of the Talents, speaks these words: "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:14-30). How would that feel—from the one who sacrificed his life for yours—that he’s pleased with the life you’ve lived?

Each of us has work to do before we actually stand face-to-face with Jesus. "He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing" (Ephesians 2:10 MSG). Like the servants in the parable, we’re too given resources for the Master’s work. They were given money; we’re given money too, but also time, energy, natural talents, spiritual gifts, and help from the Holy Spirit. We must waste these resources no more. We must spend them for his work—not just for ourselves.

We must also, though, check our hearts. Doing "good work" isn’t about earning our way into Heaven (Ephesians 2:8-9). Rather, it’s about trusting our Master and following him into a better kind of life.

Okay, so what do we do?

Take a few minutes to list the extra resources you’ve been given. Write down everything you possibly have to give, just as you are, right where you are, right now. Next, pray and see if you can connect a person (or group of people), and a need, to each resource you’ve listed. What you’ll end up with is the beginnings of a roadmap toward Jesus’ kind of life.



Jesus The Master Physician: Every Patient An Exception To The Rule​

Gabriel von Max, The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter (1878), Thomas1313, Creative Commons

Every patient, who is also a person, is the exception to the rule. My colleague Dr. Robert Lyman Potter (M.D., Ph.D.) highlights this point in his treatment of people as a medical ethicist. We must approach each person uniquely, including their treatment and prognosis.

I have been thinking increasingly about this theme. Certainly, this point applies to my son Christopher’s critical care situation resulting from a traumatic brain injury he suffered. It should also bear on how we treat one another as persons in every-day matters. Statistics and demographics only go so far. The mystery and dignity of each person goes as far as “the starry sky above” (to riff on Immanuel Kant in a new chord). With this point in mind, I have always admired my son for how, since his youth, Christopher has cherished the mystery and dignity of people who others would easily discount. They count to him. Son, your character and your person count of infinite worth to me!


The preceding reflections also call to my mind the Lord Jesus. He treated everyone he met as an exception to the rule. Here I recall his various individual encounters: from the Jewish religious leader Nicodemus (John 3) to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4); from the man who was lame by the pool of water (John 5) to the man born blind (John 9); from the leper whom he healed with the touch of his hand (Luke 5) to the woman with the issue of blood who was healed when she touched the edge of Jesus’ cloak (Luke 8). The list goes on. More than anyone I have read about, come across, or encountered, Jesus cherished the mystery and dignity of each person, especially those others would easily discount.

Jesus met people where they were and affirmed their inherent dignity so much that he called upon them wherever possible to exercise their agency to experience healing. Take for example what Jesus said to the man who was lame, who could never make it into the pool of Bethesda when the waters were stirred: “‘Do you want to get well?’…Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked” (John 5:6, 8-9; NIV). Consider, too, Jesus’ interaction with the man he healed of blindness: “After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some m&d with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. ‘Go,’ he told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam’ (this word means ‘Sent’). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing” (John 9:6-7; NIV).

In each of these instances, Jesus involved them in the healing process, thereby affirming their human dignity. The man who was lame needed to get up. The same Jesus who asked this man if he wanted to be healed did not lift him up. Rather, he called upon this man who was lame to stand in response to Jesus’ healing power. The man who was born blind had to go wash off the m&d in his eyes if he wished to be healed. Of course, there are times when Jesus simply healed people without requiring any involvement on their part in the healing process, as in raising Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus from the dead (John 11), or in raising the synagogue ruler’s daughter from the dead (Luke 8).

Still, he called on Martha to believe and for the people to remove the stone from Lazarus’ tomb regardless of the stench of Lazarus being dead for three days (John 11). Jesus also called on the synagogue ruler to believe even as someone told Jairus to stop bothering Jesus since the ruler’s daughter was dead. Mourners also laughed at Jesus when he told them to stop crying, claiming the dead girl was only asleep. Jesus paid no attention to the mocking mourners. He fixed his attention on the dead girl (Luke 8). Not only was he the attending physician. He was also the attentive physician.

I find these two accounts so moving, especially in my present time of need with my son’s critical care situation, that I will quote the texts here. Here is the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead:
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (John 11:38-44; NIV)

Here is the account of Jesus raising the synagogue ruler’s daughter from the dead:
While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher anymore.”
Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”
When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.”
They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened (Luke 8:49-56; NIV).
Jesus was the great physician of body and the soul who cares for every person’s sickness, whether physical, emotional, mental, social, or spiritual. He treated every human patient as being inviolable and incommunicable in worth and fundamentally unique. No matter our occupation, whether we belong to the health care profession or some other field, we can deepen our engagement with others. Everyone we meet is the exception to the rule. Jesus engages us in this manner. Each of us is the exception to the rule. Jesus encounters each of us uniquely. He calls upon us in our various life situations to believe—no matter the circumstances, no matter if there are large grave stones and putrid odors, no matter if people are telling you to stop bothering Jesus or laughing at him. Will we lift our hearts, rise from our beds, and believe?



Beware Of Wolves In Shepherds’ Clothing — Jeremiah 23:1-4​

“Beware of Wolves in Shepherds’ Clothing” is a sermon I preached to students in the ELCA’s Theological Education for Emerging Ministers (TEEM) program at a worship service on Feb. 9, 2022, hosted by the Indiana-Kentucky Synod. The texts were Jeremiah 1:1-10 and Jeremiah 23:1-4.
Let those who have ears hear.

It was a tough time to be the sheep.

The shepherds they had trusted to protect and guide them with God’s commands of justice and righteousness turned out to be wolves in shepherd’s clothing. They cared only about preserving their own power. They exploited and abused the sheep. And no one seemed to be doing anything about it!

There was a whole system of corruption among the shepherds that enabled them to cover for each other. They got away with violating God’s covenant without any consequences. Not only that, but the leaders sold them out! Powerful entities got their claws into the shepherds and convinced them to betray key leaders in order to save their own skins.

The sheep wondered, where was God in all this?

Didn’t God see what was happening? Didn’t God care? Wouldn’t God do something, anything to help them?
They were understandably losing faith. No one seemed to have courage to tell the truth about what was happening and to stand up for what was right. The sheep were afraid. Frankly, the shepherds were afraid, too.

This was the situation Jeremiah faced when God called him to be a prophet to the people of Judah.

From 626—587 BCE, Jeremiah witnessed horrendous events resulting from the corruption of the kings and idol worship. He watched the military invasion of his country, desecration of their holy places, and even the sacrifice of children. The book of Jeremiah is a collection of writings about his early life, his call to be a prophet, and what it was like to witness the destruction of his people.

The importance of telling the story

Historically, the book was actually compiled during the Babylonian Captivity after Jerusalem had been destroyed and the people were forced into exile in that foreign land. We don’t know who pulled it all together, but the writer (or writers) knew it was important to tell the story of what Jeremiah tried to do and what he suffered. Why? Because they had faith that God would bring them through this exile and return them to their homeland. And when that happened, the people needed to know the story. They needed to know the truth about what their leaders did so that they wouldn’t make the same mistakes in the future.

The book begins with Jeremiah reluctant to take on this prophetic work.

Maybe you can relate to Jeremiah’s feelings of hesitancy.

Maybe you, too, have tried to convince God that you weren’t the one for this job. “I can’t do this! I’m still wet behind the ears. I don’t have the experience, the credentials, the degree, the tenure to do this. God, I am not the one you want to be a ‘prophet to the nations.’”

But God assures Jeremiah that there is too much sinning going on for him to cower behind his excuses.​

“Gird up your loins!” In other words: put on your big boy and big girl pants!
“I am sending you to announce my judgement. If they hear your words, they may turn away from their sin. But don’t worry, even when the leaders oppose you – and they will – they will not ultimately prevail, because I am with you.”

With this assurance, Jeremiah sets out to give his oracles to the king. Jeremiah tried to warn the king and his court that it was their actions that had would lead to the destruction of the Temple and the exile. But he was banned from the Temple and the king’s court for speaking truth to power.

Jeremiah was calling out their unfaithfulness. So they tried to silence him.

Not one to give up, Jeremiah sent Baruch, his partner and scribe, to read the oracle. And do you know what the king did? He scratched out God’s name and burned the scroll. Not to be deterred, Baruch and the later compilers wrote it again. And that’s why we still have these writings today.

One of them is this passage in Jeremiah 23:1-4.

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture, says the Lord” (v.1).

My how those words resound today. Because, once again, it is a tough time to be the sheep.

In one flock, the shepherd abandoned the sheep for weeks on end.

When the shepherd finally came back, the sheep were silenced, abused, mocked, and pitted against each other. This was all to distract from the shepherd’s negligence and violation of the covenant. The flock scattered. Some of the sheep escaped, but none of them emerged without wounds. To make matters worse, the head shepherd simply moved that shepherd to another unsuspecting flock where they could continue the pattern of abuse all over again.

In another flock, the shepherd took the lambs’ food for themselves.

When the sheep tried to defend the lambs, the shepherd scattered the flock. There was no place for them to return, because this shepherd rose through the ranks to become a head shepherd and closed off the pasture completely.
To make matters worse, they removed one of the good shepherds who was taking care of different flock. All of this was to distract from their own corruption. Once again, they scattered the sheep. And because they are a head shepherd, there are no consequences. There is no accountability. Why? Because the other head shepherds cover for each other and allow the abuse to continue on and on.

The shepherds who were trusted to protect the sheep and guide them with God’s commands of justice and righteousness turned out to be wolves in shepherds’ clothing. They cared only about preserving their own power. They exploited and abused the sheep. And no one seemed to be doing anything about it!

It’s Jeremiah’s story told in a different time.

So the sheep wonder, where is God in all this? Does God see what is happening? Does God even care? Won’t God do something, anything to help them?
These were the central questions the people of Israel asked and which we echo today. What is God doing to respond to the unfaithfulness and corruption of the leaders? What is God doing about the scattered sheep?

These verses in Jeremiah 23 give us an answer.
In verses 1 and 2, God says, I see exactly what is going on. You have scattered the flock and driven them away. They do not trust you. You have not attended to them.
Ah, let’s pause here at that word “attend.” The Hebrew word for “attend” is paqad. What’s interesting is the intentional play on words. God is basically saying, “You have not paid attention to my people, so now I am going to pay attention to you for what you’ve done (or failed to do).”

In other words, God does indeed see what has happened.

God is paying attention to the corruption and negligence of duty. Some of the shepherds may not care about the sheep, but God still does. And God is going to do something about it.

Remember, the original readers of this text in Babylon already know what happened to those leaders. They were destroyed by the powers that they tried to align with. They pledged allegiance to other forces instead of being faithful to God’s commands for ethical and accountable leadership. And it led to the destruction of the nation.
That’s the tragedy – when the shepherds go down, they drag the whole flock with them. Some escape, but no one emerges without wounds. Everyone is injured by fear – the lambs, the sheep, the shepherds, and yes, even the head shepherds.

Yet, Jeremiah does not leave them without hope.

Through this oracle, God assures them, “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold and they shall be fruitful and multiply” (v. 3).
We might imagine God as a sheepdog always with an eye on the sheep. The sheepdog drives them to safety, always nipping at their heels. She eventually rounds them up and brings them home once a trusted leader is in place.

This is exactly what God promises.

“I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord,” (v.4). The theological claim here is that God raises up leaders over the people. And you’ll know they are good leaders because there will be no more fear, or dismay, or lost sheep. You shall know the tree by its fruit, and you shall know the shepherd by their sheep.

More broadly, the theological assertion of this passage is that God cares about how the community’s leaders conduct themselves and how they govern.

God cares about what the leaders model in terms of right relationship with God and others. When leaders refuse to follow God’s commands, the consequence is that the whole community suffers, as evidenced by what happened during Jeremiah’s tenure.

Here’s why this passage matters to those of you who are “shepherds in training.”

When God calls someone to serve as a prophet, God equips them with the words they will need. And God stays with them for the work they are called to do.
One of the things we have to understand about this passage is who it was addressed to in the first place. As Dr. Jerry Sumney explains in his book, The Politics of Faith, “Clearly, these prophets are not speaking primarily to the average person on the street. Their messages are spoken most directly to those in power” (27).

That includes the people who run the government, who run the corporations, and yes, who run the church.

This practice of speaking truth to power has its roots in ancient Israel. This means that clergy and congregations should also speak up. We must call for our leaders’ actions, policies, and governance to come closer to reflecting God’s justice for the powerful and mercy for the powerless. Jeremiah’s text helps us find language for doing just that.

Shepherds in training, gird up your loins!

There is corruption in the land, and God is equipping you to call it out. You will face head shepherds who will try to silence you and threaten your position. Some of them will leave you hanging when you try to speak truth to power. Others will find ways to punish you or sideline you or gaslight you. Or they may try to remove you when you speak that truth.
But God is calling you to shepherd the flock, to feed the sheep, as Jesus told Peter (John 21:15-17). When you see neglect, abuse, misconduct, gaslighting, manipulation, or threats, be assured that God has your back as you face front to call for accountability. God is with you as you point out the ways that the leaders’ actions are not aligning with God’s will.

The good news is that God is paying attention to those who are responsible.

God is working among the remnant, identifying good shepherds, and providing them the training they need to lead God’s people. That’s why you are here, shepherds in training.
You are intended to be a fulfillment of God’s promise to raise up shepherds who will be honest and courageous, ethical and accountable. Have faith that God will bring us through this exile. Don’t be afraid to tell the story, because people need to hear the truth.

Remember, God gives this oracle to Jeremiah because of God’s love for all of them – for the sheep and the lambs, for the shepherds and the head shepherds.

God’s love is God’s justice. And God’s justice is God’s love. God’s desire is for the shepherds – and the head shepherds – to do the right thing. Because truth-telling and accountability are manifestations of God’s love.
God will bring back the scattered sheep, the wounded sheep, the sheep who are losing their faith. And when they return, they will need you, shepherds in training, to rebuild trust and help them thrive.
So tend the lambs. Care for the sheep. And follow the Good Shepherd. Amen.



The Beatitudes And The End Of Adequacy​

Jesus came down with the twelve apostles and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.
Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”
“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
“Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” (Lk 6:17-26)
I’ve never been terribly happy about the ways in which the Beatitudes are interpreted.
There are some who treat them as entrance requirements. You can get into the Kingdom of God if you are poor. You can get in if you are hungry. You can get in if you are hated. The people who do are quick to note that we can’t earn God’s love. But the fact that they treat the Beatitudes as entrance requirements would seem to suggest that they are not really sure about that. They usually end up saying, “Well, life in the Kingdom of God is about faith and works.”

There are others who treat the Beatitudes as a political manifesto. Here is what the world will look like if it’s run the way that Jesus wants it run. The poor and the hungry will get preference. The rich, well fed, and happy will get their comeuppance. And they almost never talk about being hated for witnessing to the Son of Man because you’ve never seen a political platform that includes witnesses for Jesus. The problem is, they ignore the fact that Jesus explicitly argues that “his Kingdom is not of this world” and the fact that Jesus did not attempt to seize control of the Temple, Jerusalem, or Rome.

Then there are those who treat the Beatitudes as God’s preference for a certain category of person, especially the poor. They talk about God’s “bias” or “preference” for the poor. But the same people also talk about how important it is for the church to “end poverty”, so it is never quite clear what God’s attitude toward the poor might be if we succeeded. And anyone who has ever been poor knows that is neither easy, nor does poverty nurture sanctity or generosity. They also never talk about a divine preference for those who grieve or who are hated for their witness. So, it’s a strangely selective reading of the Beatitudes.

As I sat with these interpretations this last week, I realized why I don’t think these readings of the Beatitudes work:
One, the Beatitudes are not entrance requirements or anything like them. Jesus doesn’t frame them in that way. The Beatitudes are not conditional statements. He offers them up as descriptions of a new order that is recognizable only if one realizes that God reigns. So, to suggest that they are just doesn’t ring true.
Two, the Beatitudes aren’t about politics. Jesus was not a nation-builder or a community organizer and – if he was – he was pretty poor at it. But, more to the point, alarm bells ought to go off in our heads whenever the teaching of Jesus suddenly begins to sound just like the position of any political party in twenty-first century America. Jesus did not set out a picture of the reign of God in the first century, just to wait 2000 years to have Democrats or Republicans finally discover what it was all about – in a country that hadn’t been created, on a continent that hadn’t been discovered, under circumstances no one could imagine.

But the third and deeper problem with all three interpretations is that they try to quantify descriptions of the Kingdom that are not meant to be quantified and, for that reason, they just don’t sound like Jesus. “Do this to get in.” “Follow this political formula.” “Be poor, hungry, or hated to signal that you side with Jesus.” None of these remotely represent what Jesus taught.
Instead, if you look at what Jesus has to say about the reign of God, he regularly announces that the coming of the Kingdom signals the end of human notions of adequacy. You can’t earn, build, laugh, eat or buy your way into the reign of God. He tells the Pharisees it won’t work to just keep the Law. He tells the Saducees that it won’t work to gatekeep at the Temple. He tells the Zealots that the solution is not nation-building.
Instead, Jesus insists that with the coming of the Kingdom everyone finds themselves confronted with four truths:
  • No one is lost to God’s love and mercy.
  • No one can earn God’s love and mercy.
  • No one can live without God’s love and mercy.
  • No one can fully understand life in the Kingdom without opening themselves to God’s love and mercy.
Jesus doesn’t put it this baldly, of course. He isn’t given to propositions and summaries. The genius of his teaching is that it takes us into God’s presence and demands that we evaluate and reevaluate our lives in God’s presence. I can’t do that for you. You cannot do that for me.
But let me try to help you understand what Jesus is saying. Here is my paraphrase:
In the Kingdom God’s attention and care extends to the poor and God will lift them up, but grief is coming, if you think that wealth can save you, because you have all that you are going to get.
In the Kingdom God’s attention and care extends to the hungry and God will feed them, but grief is coming, if you think that satisfying your hunger now can save you, because you will discover you are hungry, but not the way you think.
In the Kingdom God’s attention and care extends to those who grieve and he will help them to laugh one day, but grief is coming, if you think that tending to your own happiness is enough. One day, your laughter will turn to tears.
In the Kingdom God’s attention and care extends to those who are hated for their witness to his Son’s coming and they will celebrate with joy, but you will have no more than what you have, if you think that winning the approval of your neighbors will do, you will find yourself numbered among the liars.
Drawn out in this fashion a number of things become clear:
One, the Beatitudes are a description of the Kingdom of God. It is almost always safe to assume that the Kingdom of God is what Jesus is talking about in one form or another. But that is certainly true here.
Jesus brings the Kingdom. And because Jesus brings the Kingdom, Jesus is its agent, its messenger, and its provocateur. The signs and wonders he works reveal truths about the kingdom. His teaching explores the nature of the kingdom. His parables offer insight into the Kingdom.

And what is the Kingdom? It is the place where God reigns. Where God’s will is what ultimately matters. So, in one sense, the Kingdom of God is the whole of creation. There is nothing material or immaterial that is exempt from God’s reign. But because we live in a fallen world, in another sense the Kingdom of God is present where people choose to invite the reign of God into their lives.
In the Beatitudes and elsewhere, Jesus is effectively saying, where God reigns, where people realize that God is present and in charge, where people figure out that all the passing distractions of life are just that – distractions – then they will discover what really matters. They will discover that God is in charge. They will discover what life is all about. They will discover what they thought was important is not important at all. And, if they don’t, then they will discover that they have run headlong into reality. And in that moment, grief is coming.

This is why, when you think about it, the Beatitudes are a challenge to endless vulnerability before God and why they don’t describe a fixed group of people – and, preferably other people.
Who thinks their possessions can save them? Who is satisfied with the next meal? Who is satisfied with caring about their own happiness to the exclusion of the needs of others? Who gets ahead by winning the approval of the people around them, but never thinks about what God may want from them?
I don’t know and I can’t say. It is not my business to answer those questions for you and you can’t answer those questions for me. They can’t be answered by joining a political party. They can’t be answered by voting that the government do this or that. They can’t be answered by getting on “the right side of history” – because there isn’t a right side to history. There is God’s side and not God’s side.

All I can do is ask God to help me to be open to those questions about my life. All you can do is ask God to help you be open to those questions about your life. And, together, all we can do is ask God to help us be open to those questions about the life of our church – because it is in the body of Christ that life lived out in that fashion is meant to be manifested.
And here is one more important point to keep in mind: Those questions can’t be answered once and for all. They can’t be answered in the abstract. They are answered moment by moment, day by day.
That realization should lead us to pray:
Gracious Savior, lead us into the beatitudes of the Father’s kingdom.
Save us from the anxious preoccupation that attends the life of the self-made man and woman, that tempts us to believe that we can save ourselves, that blinds us to the needs of the poor and lives at a distance from those who live on the threadbare margins of life.
Save us from the hungry consumption that makes appetite our God, that prompts us to ignore the emptiness of our souls and inures us to the hunger of our neighbors.
Save us from the voices that insist our happiness is the measure of a life well-lived, that confuses its siren song with the joy that attends a life lived in conformity with your purposes for us, that is deaf to the tears of those who mourn.
Save us from a life scripted to win the world’s approval, that stifles our witness to your love, because one day the truth will be evident, your reign will be visible everywhere, and we will long for the one thing that matters: Your blessing. Amen.


Speak Responsibly

[ 1 min read ★ ]

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.
Let all that you do be done in love—1 Corinthians 16:13-14

Whether it’s two of us or twelve of us or more, when we gather in Christian community, we’re to speak truth to one another, truth motivated by love (Ephesians 4:15). Truth in love—it sounds simple, actually . . . straightforward. And sometimes it is. Many times, though, it’s anything but simple or straightforward. And, in those times, we men don’t typically fare too well. I mean, the mess and complexity of life can make speaking truth in love daunting and uncomfortable—for example, when it requires we challenge a brother or admonish him; when it requires we call-out a brother or call him back from sin. So it’s a rare group of men indeed who are willing to speak truth in love even when it’s hard. We’ve got to be that kind of men.

For us to be that kind, though, we must first be another kind: men who take time to know one another. You see, except in a few cases, it’s irresponsible to "speak truth" to any man without knowing his story. We’re one body, all following our King, Jesus Christ, but we’re also all different, with different designs, different functions, different experiences (Romans 12:4-5). For community to work, for truth to flow properly, we must understand and appreciate each other. And we begin by telling our stories. If we don’t begin there, we’re likely to damage community and to do damage to each other—like when we give advice and try to "fix" a person, or a situation, we don’t fully understand.

Okay, so what do we do?

Do you know your brothers’ stories? If you haven’t already, give each man an hour—at least—to tell his story, completely. Have each man start at the beginning and bring his story current. Encourage transparency. Ask no questions. Give no advice. Just listen.



Pastor, Give The People What They Need, Not What They Want​

My pastor has long used the phrase, “Preach the Word and let the chips fall where they may.” In a nutshell, this encompasses his philosophy of ministry (and my own). The central task of the preacher is to preach. This should be a relatively uncontroversial statement to make in one sense, but in our current church culture, where the pastor is more often seen as a CEO or “brand builder” rather than a shepherd, it is an unpopular statement to make. The expectations placed on pastors are often flatly unbiblical ones, partly owing to the congregant’s lack of biblical wherewithal, yet partly owing to the pastor’s neglect to preach the full counsel of God (Acts 20:27).

There are obviously many other duties tasked to the shepherd of God’s flock, but they all invariably flow from the ministry of the Word and prayer (Acts 6:4). Visitations, funerals, weddings, counseling, even administrative duties, all must fall under the auspices of this primary duty. When they don’t, these duties invariably transform into something other than what is intended of them. In other words, these duties, when done rightly, are an extension of the pastor’s primary task of preaching and teaching. Counseling, marrying, burying, and more, are to be born out of the pastor’s obligation to the Scriptures rather than simply a perfunctory duty, and especially the main duty.

There are constant temptations to let the central task of the preacher be something other than the ministry of the Word and devotion to prayer. The obvious example of becoming the next big name in celebrity evangelicalism is relatively low-hanging fruit to identify, but it is nonetheless something the broader church culture places high currency on. However, the more subtle examples of this abound in the various ministries that churches can participate in. That is not to say it is inherently evil that someone desires the church to have a soup kitchen, for example, but good social deeds are not the primary focus of the church. Rather, the Great Commission is (Matt. 28:16-20).

Yet if you were to ask the average layperson what the primary duty of the church is, it is highly doubtful the Great Commission would come to mind for many. Some would say social justice is, others would claim that a vibrant youth group is what’s needed. For many though, the last thing that would come to their mind is making disciples of Christ. Even for those who would lift up the Great Commission as the primary task of the church would not adequately define what that actually means or would place heavier emphasis on one of the three means Christ has given us rather than encompassing evangelism, baptism, and teaching as the way one makes a mature disciple. I have sincere doubts that many pastors would even adequately define this as the church’s primary duty; after all, the positions of those in the pews is often a reflection of what comes from the pulpit.

It is of no small consequence that Paul’s dying exhortation to young Timothy was to, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2). The reason? “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4).
Brothers, we are living in this “out of season” time, where the multitudes prefer fables fit for old women to sound doctrine. Nonetheless, the charge to pastors is still that they preach the Word, and that is precisely what we must do. We must feed Christ’s sheep (Jn. 21:15-17). Yet in order to do that, we must be a workman approved, who accurately handles the Word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). This is particularly where I sense many have failed in their confusion of what it means to be a pastor.

The people don’t need self-help.
The people don’t need to discover their true inner self.
The people don’t need motivational pep talks from the pulpit.
The people don’t need entertainment.
The people don’t need to be spurred on to inclusivity, encouraged to rally behind pet social causes, or even urged to participate in ten step programs that promise them a better life if they follow Jesus.

The people don’t need topical sermons born out of spurious proof-texting, nor do they need “expositional” sermons that are little more than using the text as a springboard for their faulty theological positions.
Christ’s sheep need His Word.

They need to be taught those ancient truths of Scripture that transcend time itself and will stand for all eternity. They need pure, expositional preaching that doesn’t shy away from a single verse in God’s Word. They need men willing to stand or fall on every jot and tittle of the Scriptures, seeing these as the inspired truths of God Himself, in whom there is no guile. The church needs lion-hearted preachers who refuse to tickle the ears of their congregants. They need bold-hearted pastors who aren’t afraid of controversy generated by simply preaching the Word as it unfolds, verse-by-verse, and letting the chips fall where they may.

What we need then is not to give the people what they want, but what they need. The reason for this is simple: God’s Word is the only thing which will accomplish His desires in us, through us, and for His glory. The sad reality is that many have forgotten this beautiful truth and chase after various other things that fail to deliver on that which they promise. And this, at the heart of it all, is what it truly comes down to. We fail to take God at His Word, that the Word itself is the means by which the Spirit has promised to work and accomplish His will.

It should be of little wonder then to see why the broader church is in such a sorry state as it is, where many cannot articulate the truths of the faith, let alone the gospel. It should be little surprise to find many who are double-minded and unstable in all their ways (Ja. 1:8), who are tossed about by every new wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14), and who are infants struggling to take in even the most elementary teachings of the faith (Heb. 5:11-14). While many are baffled at the surge of deconstruction stories in the church—should we really be all that surprised by it when we’ve sold our birthright for lentil stew?

It grieves me to see so many caught up in the throes of an authority other than the Word, yet I believe this is simply an unraveling of what has long been the practice of many who purport to be Christian. We have an abundance of Bibles available to us and a myriad of ways to properly understand the text—yet when it comes to what the Bible teaches, what often gets shouted rather than whispered is, “Has God said?” Yet unlike Eve, many are so ignorant to the Word that they are even more susceptible to the lies of Satan than she was. Couple this with the hordes of “teachers” who will happily teach contrarywise to the Scriptures, and the situation is quite bleak.

Yet there is a remedy to this. Preach the Word, in season and out of season. Submit yourself to the authority of the Scriptures in every manner and then demand no less from your hearers. Everything under the Sun must be brought into submission under the Word of God. Everything. We preachers are those tasked with handling the sacred truths of God, in such a way that we can indeed “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with great patience and instruction.” All of this, of course, presumes that we actually believe we have the market cornered on the proclamation of truth, and that we don’t shrink back from that awesome task in the marketplace of ideas. We, of all people, have the ability to say, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Many will not desire this in an out of season time such as ours, but who cares? This is the task to which you were solemnly charged in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom. Give the people what they need, not what they want. If they are truly Christ’s sheep, they will hear His voice (Jn. 10:27-28). If you’re not preaching to those who will hear His voice, to whom are you preaching? Is it not far better to accurately handle and proclaim the excellencies of His Word for His sheep than to try and feed the goats, whose bellies will be destroyed on the Last Day? Feed His sheep.



Bigger, Better, And Faster Are Not Essential For Church Planting​

Today’s post comes from guest writer, Matt Rhodes. It’s Part 2 of a series where he introduces key ideas from his new book, which I enthusiastically endorsed. He has lived in North Africa since 2011. He and his wife, Kim, serve as part of a church planting team to a previously unengaged people group. For part one, click here.

Welcome to the brave new world of modern missions.

What matters most here is speed and numbers. Nothing could be clearer:
We see this in our missions literature. Today’s best-selling missions books invariably begin with stories of movements: thousands or millions of people being baptized in a few short years.[1]
We see it in the proliferation of plans to disciple unreached peoples through short-term missionaries.
We see it in new ministry approaches that have come to dominate established missions organizations so fully that even leaders in these organizations are often unaware that other approaches exist. These new approaches are geared for the most rapid church growth possible: brand new believers—or even unbelievers—are considered adequate to plant churches.

Churches are expected to beget other churches every six to nine months. There is no need for teaching to interfere with this rapid expansion—in fact, teaching is avoided. Instruction from trained missionaries or teachers in the knowledge of God is seen as toxic—it slows down the reproduction of churches, and might lead new believers to depend on human teachers rather than the Holy Spirit.

We see it in the lack of emphasis that missionaries now put on language and culture acquisition. Once, missionaries were expected to spend a minimum of 30 hours a week in language study for as many as five years. Once, China Inland Mission would not even allow single women to marry until they finished their language study. Now, even organizations that claim to value language study generally give new recruits only two years—if that—of fairly part-time study before encouraging them to move into “ministry.”

Speed and numbers may seem like crude motivations, but we can understand the concerns that drive them charitably. Speed is important because life is fleeting. We want to get the gospel to people as quickly as possible. Numbers are important because we are counting souls.
But there’s a danger here. We could become so concerned with speed and numbers that we no longer take adequate time to offer people anything of real value.

The Danger We Face

This is precisely the trap that much of today’s missions community has fallen into. In our concern to evangelize the world as quickly as possible, we have slowly rejected the most time-consuming aspects of ministry. Do you see the predicament this puts us in?
People need time and patience, and those of us who work most closely with people will recognize this. While God certainly could—if He wanted—miraculously bypass the slow frailness of our humanity, He chooses not to. Instead, He works through our feeble humanity—just as He worked through Christ’s—to spread the knowledge of Him.
I don’t know. In the same way, I don’t know all the reasons why God waited until He did for Christ to be born. I don’t know all the reasons why He has allowed parts of the world to grow up without ever hearing the gospel. We are answerable to Him, not He to us.

But while I don’t know why things are exactly as they are, I know the solution has to place less emphasis than we often do on speed and numbers. Isn’t that what Christ did? In John 6, a crowd of thousands wants to make him king. Surely there is room, here, to start some sort of rapid movement, right? But He turns them away.
Jesus was not remotely insecure about the power of his message to change the world, even if it mostly communicated only to a small band of followers. He knew if he took the time to teach people using human words and to love them in human ways, his gospel would reach the ends of the earth.

Essential Time-Consuming Tasks

What are some of the time-consuming human tasks that might still be essential today?

1. Missionaries who intend to evangelize or disciple people need scriptural training.​

This training need not always be formal– though it may need to—but it must be enough for missionaries both to explain God’s story and to understand and apply His commands in cultures very different from their own. This includes both explaining what it means that Jesus died for people’s sins and why it is that Jesus’s teaching provides us with a good way—with the only feasible way—of living life.

2. Missionaries need years of dedicated language and culture study.​

New Testament missionaries are constantly described as giving powerful and persuasive arguments. They do not assume people’s questions are insincere. They take such questions seriously and offer answers people can believe in. This is impossible when we do not know people’s languages or understand the cultural concerns driving their questions. New Testament missionaries are ready to answer both Gentile and Jewish concerns fluently and precisely.

3. Missionaries need to set aside years to teach and disciple elders.​

Jesus spent three years with his disciples, though they already knew the Jewish scriptures, an advantage few unreached peoples today have. While Paul is sometimes portrayed as shortening this process after the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, his pattern is actually to stay in the cities where he plants churches until he is forced to leave. When he is able, he is happy, as in Ephesus, to stay for years.
I describe these processes and others in greater detail in my book.
For now, I simply want to look at the list above and admit that the tasks above might seem for many to be too humdrum, too every day, too academic or clinically professional to really be used by God’s Spirit. I’ll address this concern in my next post.



Read Matt 16:1-20

The passage begins with the Pharisees and the Sadducees asking for a sign (1). They were primarily concerned with whether Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah. If He was, this was a matter of serious concern for them. They would have to give an account to Rome. Thus, they needed to decide if they were going to back Jesus or not. Of course, their concerns were self-centered. They did not like Roman rule. But, and this is especially the case with the Sadducees, as those whom Rome had put in charge to rule over Judea, they benefitted from Rome’s rule.

Jesus responds that none will be given; except the sign of Jonah (4; cf 12:38-40). If they would not believe all His previous work, then it is presumptuous to suppose that one more miracle would be sufficient (cf. 11:21-24)

Jesus warns of the “leaven”/yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees (6). Leaven was a small batch of dough leftover to make the next week’s bread (cf Gal 5:9; 1 Cor 5:6-8). Jesus and Paul use leaven to refer to the corrupting influence of false teachings. In this case, false teaching refers to the corrupting influence of those who want to compromise with the powers of the world in order to minimize or eliminate suffering and persecution.

Jesus then brings them to Caesarea Philippi near the base of Mt Hermon (far north). As in Mark (8:27-29) and Luke (9:18-20), Jesus asks, “Who do the people say that the Son of Man is?” (13). The disciples’ reply is the same as in Mark except Matthew includes “Jeremiah” (14; Mark had said “one of the Prophets”). Matthew’s addition of Jeremiah perhaps is because Jeremiah’s ministry also included the demand for repentance. In addition, both Jesus and Jeremiah spoke words of judgment against Jerusalem and suffered for doing so (see Jer 7).

Peter’s confession and Jesus’ affirmation of Peter has been the source of much controversy. Many view Matt 16:18 as either having a Catholic interpretation (Peter is the rock on which Jesus is building His church) or a Protestant interpretation (Jesus is the rock).

The argument that it is Jesus is based on 7:24-25 as well as the affirmation that Jesus is the cornerstone of the new Temple (21:42). The argument that Peter is the rock is more tenuous in that Peter’s name in Greek (“Rock”) is masculine in form and Jesus’ affirmation that He will build His church “upon this rock” is the feminine.

I would suggest that perhaps it is neither of these. Jesus’ mention of “this rock” may be a reference to the geographical rock (at the base of Mt Hermon) upon which they were standing. That Matthew and Mark both place this exchange in “Caesarea Philippi” (13; Mark 8:27), which is at the base of Mt Hermon, has led some to note that this was the location of the “gates of Hell” in some Jewish literature (e.g., 1 Enoch 6:1-6 this is where the Sons of God descended [cp Gen 6:1-4]). Was Jesus saying, “Here, at the ‘gates of Hell’ is where I will begin the building of my church and even the ‘gates of Hell’ will not stop Me?” Note: the “gates of Hell” are defensive and not offensive. It is not that the “gates of Hell” will threaten to advance and defeat the Church, but that the Church will advance, and the “gates of Hell” cannot stop it.

Regardless of what we think of this, we can all at least agree that Jesus is the foundation of the Church!

Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • How often do we demand “signs” from God? Is your faith stronger when God answers a prayer request, or you “see” Him working in your life? This is natural and somewhat to be expected. The danger is what happens when God doesn’t seem to answer your prayers? Or God doesn’t appear to be working in your life? What do you do when God seems silent? Pray that God would increase your faith so that you remain strong in your convictions even when He seems absent (He of course is never absent—Matt 28:20. It is merely our perceptions).



Read Matt 16:21-17:13

As in Mark 8, Jesus explains that He is the Christ and that He will suffer (17, 21). And, as in Mark, Peter rebukes Jesus: “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You” (22)—”this is not the kind of King we are expecting and perhaps that we even want!” Matthew adds to Jesus’ reply to Peter the statement, “You are a stumbling block to Me” (23).

NB: this may be used to question the notion that Peter is the “rock” upon which Christ is building His Church. Peter is a stumbling block.

Matthew also adds, “For the Son of Man is going to come . . . and will then repay every man according to his deeds” (27). Matthew is reminding us of the human proclivity towards deeds that eliminate suffering instead of deeds that confront suffering and persevere through it.

Matthew 17:1-13 depicts the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matt, Mark, and Luke all place this event after the confession of Jesus). Matthew adds to Mark’s account (which is quite strange because Matt’s account is almost always shorter than Mark’s) that the Father also says, “with whom I am well-pleased” (5). The quote comes from Isa 42:1, which is about the suffering servant.

The presence of Moses and Elijah (3) likely indicates that the entirety of the OT witness is pointing to Jesus (Moses represents the Law [Gen-Deut] and Elijah, who is often considered as the first prophet—i.e., the forerunner to the prophets—represents the rest of the OT witness).

Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • Jesus’ rebuke of Peter, “You are a stumbling block to Me” is an incredibly damning statement and one that we should not gloss over lightly. Regardless of your views toward Catholicism, Peter was the leader of the 12—that is why He took the initiative to rebuke Jesus. Jesus may be the Rock, but He is still building His Church through His people. And this begins with Peter and the 12 and it continues through us today. How often have we been a stumbling block to the work of the kingdom? How often is the Church a stumbling block? Pray for the global Church today: that God would purify it; that God would revive it; that God would help those that have to support those that do not; and that the Church may be one.



Read Matt 17:14-18:14

The stories that follow the confession of Jesus and the Transfiguration may seem random and unrelated. Be assured that the Gospel writers were literary geniuses, and nothing was random. Jesus has affirmed His Messianic identity and explains that even the “gates of Hell” cannot withstand the coming of the Kingdom. Yet, the disciples are unable to cast out a demon (16-18). The disciples could not cast out the demon “Because of the littleness of your faith” (20).

Then, in 17:22, Matthew again records Jesus’ prediction that He will suffer, die, and rise again on the 3rd day.

This is followed by the question of tax-paying (this is a different account than what we find in Matt 22:15-22, Mark 12:13-17, and Luke 20:19-26). This “two-drachma” tax (24) is also known as the “temple tax” (see Exod 30:13). One might think that paying a tax prescribed in the OT to the temple and not to the Romans would be acceptable to Jesus. This reasoning, however, fails to recognize that Jesus is the new temple.

Note: this tax only increased the burdens on the average Israelite. They were paying taxes to Rome (which was more than enough of a burden) and to their own temple establishment.

Jesus has them acknowledge that such taxes are paid by “strangers” (25)—i.e., subjects of Rome and not Roman citizens. Since Jesus is indeed a “son” of the kingdom, He should be exempt. He pays anyways (26-27): God provides the payment in the mouth of a fish.

Finally, in Matt 18:1-14, Jesus explains that in His kingdom the least are the greatest.

Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • Why do you suppose that so many see so little evidence of the advancing of the kingdom today? (discuss)