Luke 11:29-32 – Going Against the Crowd

As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom; and now something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and now something greater than Jonah is here. (New International Version)

Just when we think we might have a handle on Jesus as the meek and gentle Savior we get a picture of Jesus behaving badly. When the crowds begin increasing we might expect Jesus to be pleased. After all, we might reason, Jesus can reach more people, have a wider influence, and greater impact with a crowd. It’s good for kingdom business. 

But Jesus isn’t down for all the people following him around. He opens his mouth and tells them they are an evil generation. 

“The crowds” continually get a bad rap throughout the New Testament Gospels. That’s because Jesus isn’t much of a crowd kind of guy. Although he loved people deeply, the Lord Jesus typically had some hard words for the masses.

“It’s better to walk alone than with a crowd going in the wrong direction.” 

Mahatma Gandhi

Maybe it would help if we used the word “mob.” This is likely the more nuanced understanding of “crowds.” It’s the herd mentality which tends to rub Jesus the wrong way, that is, doing something without understanding why you’re doing it, just because other people are doing it. A mob of people acting in concert never ends well, which is why Christ confronts the crowd.

Jesus chided the people who were looking for a cool miracle, a clear sign of his power, and nice clean lines of spiritual authority. Christ didn’t give it to them. Instead, Jesus let the mob know they have ample opportunity to accept him – yet they aren’t doing a dang thing to move in that direction.

Sometimes, we might so desperately want to make Jesus as Joe Cool so that others will follow him. If only Jesus will heal this person in a big audacious miraculous way, we wrongheadedly think, lots of people will believe. 

Or, if only Jesus will compassionately and powerfully perform some grand universal sign that nobody can miss, we believe, the world will have to take notice and put their trust in God. 

However, that’s not how Jesus rolls. Christ simply pointed people back to characters in the Old Testament. Jesus insists that if people won’t take notice of what they already have, they are not going to be swayed with a shiny new miraculous sign from heaven.

Jesus defies any stereotype we might try and corral him with. And that’s as it ought to be – since Jesus is the rightful and sovereign King. 

So, this is why we need a steady daily stream of God’s Word to help ground us into the ways of Jesus. The more we allow the Scriptures to shape our spirituality, the more our lives will be formed into the likeness of Jesus. 

Spiritual growth and maturity is a process. It is often slow. There are not a lot of bells and whistles to it. On most days, there is not a lot of drama – just the pedantic plodding of a faithful believer trying to make sense of living the Christian life. 

And those are the people I think Jesus most likes to hang-out with.

“A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.” 

Max Lucado

The popular thing isn’t always the right or best thing. Rather than being a lemming which ends up running off a cliff, we have other options, especially when it comes to thinking spiritually and theologically about things:

  1. Stop and think. It’s easy to go through a typical day on autopilot and do things out of habit. The best way to avoid this is to consciously stop and think about why you’re doing something or holding tightly to a particular belief. Does what I’m doing jive with the words and ways of Jesus? Why am I believing or living in this way? What is my purpose?
  2. Take the necessary time to make sound decisions. Avoid copying other people and taking shortcuts. Instead, pray, consult, collaborate, seek wisdom, and make a deliberate and well-thought decision based in the ethics of God’s kingdom. Am I doing my due diligence with properly searching the Scriptures and praying before I act? Have I interacted with some trusted and sage people?
  3. Be willing to stand out from the crowd. If what you believe and the way you need to live your life makes you stick out, well then, it makes you stick out. Giving up your power by letting others make decisions for you isn’t going to end well. To be a faithful followers of Jesus, we will likely have to go against some social norms and stand out as individual believers.

Astounding God, you sometimes shake us out our pre-conceived notions about you and invite us to see Jesus from a different viewpoint. Help me to see Jesus so that I might more fully embrace him and walk in his ways and in the strength of the Spirit. Amen.

Matthew 6:25-33 – Do Not Worry

“Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (New International Version)

Jesus cares both about what we do, and why we do it. That’s because he cares about our whole selves – our physical needs and our emotional/spiritual needs. In our anxiety about the future, Jesus guides us toward a non-anxious presence for our daily lives.

We all know what worry is. It’s that unsettling feeling in the pit of your gut about what’s going to happen tomorrow. Whenever we worry, we display an inability to see beyond our own little world. Worry bogs us down and saps our faith. Our worry is significant enough to warrant Jesus repeating the command to not worry six times. And he gives six reasons why:

Life is more than food and clothes.

When we are beset with worry, we need a big picture view of what’s going on. Being overly concerned about how the necessities of life are going to be met, we need a reminder that God cares for life itself, including us. If God cares about life, which is so valuable, he will sustain us with what we need to live that life.

God cares for the birds in creation. 

People are the apex of God’s creation. And, since God cares for every other creature on this earth, and sustains their lives, God will certainly care for us, as well.

Worry begins to melt and be replaced by faith, not when we try and work up feelings of trust, but when we take the time to observe creation – watching the birds and seeing how God takes care of them. Birds don’t worry; they just enjoy God’s providence. Birds work hard, but they aren’t farmers who plant and harvest. Yet, God sustains them. So, if God will provide for small creatures that don’t plan to avoid starvation, how much more will God sustain you!?

Worry accomplishes nothing. 

Worry is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere. Worry is simply unhelpful.

Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia.

Charles M. Schulz

God cares for the flowers and grass in creation. 

God clothes the flowers better than we ever could dress ourselves (which is what my daughters have told me for years). Jesus specifically identifies flowers and grass because they illustrate a short and precarious lifespan. Christ’s logic is from the lesser to the greater: If God cares for something as fragile and temporary as flowers and grass, how much more will God care for you?

Jesus links worry with a small faith. We have expectations in life about how things ought to go. If those expectations are grounded in God’s promises, then whenever adverse circumstances come, we will likely respond with peace and trust. However, if we are anticipating the future to turn out a particular way, then the worry sets in. 

While we worry, we begin taking matters into our own hands. If the situation goes against our expectations, then we start to question if God is good or not, or if the Lord really has our best interests at mind. We must not tether ourselves to a specific outcome, rather, we need to rely on God’s care for us, no matter what the outcome will be.

Your heavenly Father knows your needs. 

Unlike the ancient pagan deities who were aloof, fickle, and did not pay much attention to people, God is always watching us, always attentive, always knowing our every need. Pagan worshipers keep worrying about whether the gods will really care, or not.

However, with God there is no need for worry because we know the Lord has our backs and is trustworthy. Just as my girls used to jump from the stairway in a leap of faith because they knew for sure Dad was going to catch them, so also your heavenly Father is a reliable God.

The necessities of life will be given to you. 

God’s business is to provide for our necessities; our business is to seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. 

The verb form of “seek” is a continuous action of seeking. We are to daily seek God’s kingdom and submit to Christ’s lordship. We are to continually pray for God’s kingdom to come and bring all the world under the gracious authority of Christ.

We need to keep seeking social, political, cultural, institutional, and ecclesiastical reform because God cares about it all coming under Christ’s lordship. Continually seeking God’s kingdom means we dethrone wealth and possessions as our first pursuits, and instead seek heavenly treasure as defined by Jesus.

We are to continually seek God’s righteousness by seeking peace where there is discord; forgiveness when others sin against us; mercy instead of judgment; right relations with people in our family, at work, in the neighborhood, and in the church. 

The will of God is clearly stated: Seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness.

Conclusion

If we are busy with kingdom business, there is then no room for worry. Anxious fretting sets in whenever we are diverted from seeking the kingdom. There’s no need for worry about tomorrow because I am busy today doing God’s will.

So, how then do we overcome worry?

  1. Confess and renounce worry. Call worry for what it is: a lack of faith.
  2. Observe creation. Take regular walks in nature. See all the flora and fauna around you. Perceive how God cares for all of it – and you.
  3. Get to know the God of the Bible. Spending time with God increases our faith and reliance upon the Lord. Knowing that he is trustworthy, increases our faith. Engaging in the spiritual practices of prayer, giving, and fasting build our trust in God.
  4. Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. Busy yourself with kingdom pursuits, instead of worry.

May God’s blessing rest on you, as you value what Jesus values, and as you seek the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

John 16:25-33 – I Have Overcome the World

“Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”

Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”

“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (New International Version)

Imagine you are with Jesus in the Upper Room celebrating Passover. And your Lord tells you he is leaving – going back to the Father. After three years of hard and incredible ministry, there is palpable grief in the room. It’s as if you got sucker-punched. You want this time with Jesus to never end….

Jesus Christ, Son of God, Son of Man, Savior of the world, does not forget you. The Lord is concerned and careful to provide wonderful words of assurance: Father God loves you. I give you my peace. I have overcome the world.

Whenever we encounter trouble; in those times when grief seems to be swallowing us whole; and when all is dark and we cannot see our hand in front of our face – it is in these moments the Lord comes alongside us and communicates a loving divine presence which grants us the peace of settled rest, even if and especially when our troubling situations do not change.

If you have had a life largely free of struggle, the privilege of knowing where your next meal is coming from, and the assurance of having your most basic needs met, then understand many people throughout the world know nothing of this experience.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean those needy persons are unhappy, discontent, or bitter. Love and peace are neither bound nor limited by adverse circumstances. In fact, we know love and peace in a much deeper way whenever we have been hated and in conflict. That’s because love thrives and flourishes in an environment of hate; and peace takes root more surely where there is disharmony and misunderstanding.

If everything always goes our way, how then would we know the Lord’s great grace to us? How would we ever know God as Provider unless we were in want? How would we know Christ as the Healer unless we were broken? How could we ever know resurrection unless there was a crucifixion?

Jesus specializes in the improbable and the impossible, in landing on the Island of Misfit Toys and airlifting the discarded to be a gift to the world. You see, this is precisely how we overcome the world: We love and serve, just as our Lord did. Since he overcame, we walk in his footsteps.

The acquisition and presence of peace is anything but passive. Peace has been achieved through a bloody cross and settles within the spirit through an active pursuit of harmony, wholeness, integrity, and love.

Now that we have been put right with God through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. He has brought us by faith into this experience of God’s grace, in which we now live. And so, we boast of the hope we have of sharing God’s glory! We also boast of our troubles, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance brings God’s approval, and his approval creates hope. (Romans 5:1-4, GNT)

For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. (Romans 14:17-19, NRSV)

God’s peace and love is free, but it is not cheap. It is obtained smack in the middle of worldly troubles.

May the peace of God be with you, my friends.

Almighty and everlasting God, you are the fountain of all peace, spiritual and temporal. We humbly pray, in your great goodness grant us that peace which the world cannot give, that we may ever live in your fear, obedient to your commandments, to the end that you may deliver us from all our enemies, through your dear Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

John 3:31-36 – Believe the Son

The Trinity by Alex Rapoport, 1994

God’s Son comes from heaven and is above all others. Everyone who comes from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things. The one who comes from heaven is above all others. He speaks about what he has seen and heard, and yet no one believes him. But everyone who does believe him has shown that God is truthful. The Son was sent to speak God’s message, and he has been given the full power of God’s Spirit.

The Father loves the Son and has given him everything. Everyone who has faith in the Son has eternal life. But no one who rejects him will ever share in that life, and God will be angry with them forever. (Contemporary English Version)

When Jesus ascended to heaven, he left instructions to his disciples to pray and to witness (Acts 1:1-11). Jesus asks of us what he himself does or has already done. The life and ministry of Christ on this earth was marked continually with prayer and bearing witness. Just as Jesus bore witness to what he saw and heard as the Divine Word, so his followers are to do likewise. The evidence and the veracity of Christ’s witness is the giving of God’s Spirit – the One whom confirms this testimony to us.

I, personally, have found Jesus to be precisely whom he claims to be. I have come to accept his testimony as gracious, truthful, and life-giving. I have wholeheartedly embraced the New Testament Gospel accounts of his birth, life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension. This belief came neither quickly nor easily for me – it resulted from an honest straightforward reading of the Bible, along with the gracious wooing of the Holy Spirit.

It really isn’t my job to convince you of Jesus Christ’s authenticity and trustworthiness. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. Instead, it is my task to bear witness of the things I have seen and heard concerning Jesus. 

My life has been thoroughly turned upside-down because of Jesus. With Jesus, I have been invited into the life of God. By the wounds of Jesus, I have experienced healing of damaged emotions and recovery from spiritual hurts inflicted by others. Through union with Christ, I have grace and forgiveness of things I have done and left undone. With Brother Jesus as my friend and companion, I enjoy loving attention and am never dismissed by him.

The Trinity by Jyoti Sahi

For those who have not read the Gospel accounts and refuse Christ, then, for honesty’s sake, please have the integrity to give Jesus a hearing before you dismiss him with a slight of hand. It is one thing to genuinely no little about Jesus, and it is quite another thing to ignore him when you have knowledge about how to discover him.

For those of us who have read the New Testament Gospels and accept the testimony of Jesus, we come back again and again to his life-giving words and seek continually to follow him in his way of mercy, purity, and peace. We bear witness to how Jesus has changed our lives and offers a life worth living.

Everyone with faith in Jesus has a life-giving connection with God. Those who don’t, don’t. If you disagree with this, then contend with Jesus himself. Give him a hearing. Watch him in action. Observe how he deals with people. See if he lives up to his words. Then, bear witness to what you have seen and heard.

Christian faith is a complete trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Because God has been revealed as faithful through steadfast love, the Lord gifts people with faith to know the Divine.

Faith, a noun, is closely accompanied by it’s verb, believe. Together, as identical twin sisters, they let us know that both knowledge and action are needed. We need information in knowing what step to take, and an active commitment to actually take that step.

Others’ faith in Jesus led to a man’s healing of both body and soul:

And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 9:2, ESV)

The size of faith is irrelevant; even a smidge of Jesus has incredible power:

“I [Jesus] assure you that if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Go from here to there,’ and it will go. There will be nothing that you can’t do.” (Matthew 17:20, CEV)

Human weakness and inability is no problem because of faith in Christ:

Everyone who believes has God’s approval through faith in Jesus Christ…. We conclude that a person has God’s approval by faith, not by his own efforts.

Romans 3:22, 28, GW

A person acts upon knowledge of Jesus with total trust in Christ’s finished work of deliverance from all which is evil:

It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God — “Jesus is my Master”— embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!” (Romans 10:9-12, MSG)

Faith is not an event; it is continual trust in the person and work of Christ for practical living and compassionate serving:

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:19b-20, NRSV)

Outward rituals only have their proper place as they help inform belief in order to engage in loving actions:

For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6, NAB)

You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives. (Ephesians 2:8-10, CEB)

Understanding and experience go together like a hand in a glove:

I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people.  And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. (Philemon 5-6, NLT)

Absolute certainty isn’t in the realm of Christian spirituality – there’s always more information one could obtain. Faith discerns, intuits, and knows God is there, and orders it’s steps accordingly with faithful activity:

And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, NRSV)

My brothers and sisters, if people say they have faith, but do nothing, their faith is worth nothing. Can faith like that save them?… Just as a person’s body that does not have a spirit is dead, so faith that does nothing is dead! (James 2:14, 26, NCV)

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, I pray to you, the God and Father of all:

For empowerment by the Spirit, that I may be a faithful witness

For those who wait on You, that they may find renewal

For all people, that they may acknowledge the kingdom of the ascended Christ

For all who are struggling with broken relationships

I commend myself and all for whom I pray, to Your mercy and protection through Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. Amen.