Matthew 10:5-15

            The compassion of Jesus is what caused him to send out his disciples into the world.  He told them to minister specifically to Jews.  Israel’s house needed to be put in order first before they could ever think of going to the Gentiles.  There were a host of lost Jewish people all around them, so Jesus made it a priority to go after them.  Our own backyard needs attention, to be reached, before the world can be tackled.
 
            Jesus told his disciples to do exactly what he had been doing:  preach, heal, and proclaim that the kingdom of God is near.  Furthermore, Jesus told them to leave all their baggage behind; don’t take anything with you.  The disciples were to be stripped of everything so that they could see people and be moved with compassion as Jesus was moved.
 
            If we take all of our pre-packaged stuff with us into relationships, we already assume we know what they need.  But if we have nothing with us, then we are able to see people for who they are, and listen to what they are saying.  People are not objects for our missional purposes; they are persons created in God’s image who have been profoundly touched by the world’s brokenness and desperately need the compassion of Jesus.
 
            Followers of Jesus have freely received compassion from God; therefore they are to freely give it away.  May you courageously rearrange your life so that compassion toward others can be your defining characteristic.
 

 

            Compassionate God, you have graciously saved me by your sheer mercy.  May I freely and compassionately give as generously as you have given to me so that Jesus is glorified, your church is encouraged, and your world is loved.  Amen.

Put Yourself Out There

 
 
“I can’t offer the Lord my God a sacrifice that I got for nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24).
 
            This seems to be one of those “lost” verses of the Bible.  No one really wants to sacrifice.  Anybody who has been around church for any length of time knows that the church is all for change – that is, everyone else should change to conform to the way we are already doing things.  People are not looking to change themselves – to offer God a sacrifice that is costly.  In fact, we want pastors and church leaders who will offer change with a minimal sacrifice on our part.  We want assurances and certainties that there will be changes made that will not disturb us, but will affect others.  After all, it’s the world that’s going to hell, not us.  They are the ones who need to change, not us, right!?
 
            Um, wrong.  Jesus did not die on the cross so that we could avoid the cost of discipleship.  The Holy Spirit was not given to us in order to fulfill all our ideas of how church and life should operate.  No, we are called to a radical life of following Jesus in a sacrificial life.  Taking up our crosses and following Jesus daily does not mean that we are suffering through media bias, or have to put up with mediocre preaching and/or pastoral care.  It means that there are demands on our lives as Christians to live sacrificially, giving our very lives for the sake of Jesus. 
 
            Let’s face it.  Living the Christian life and committing ourselves to a life of following Christ is dangerous business.  Following God got Daniel in the lions’ den; Isaac on the altar; and, Paul at the end of a whole lot of stones being thrown.  But we have no record of Daniel, Abraham, or Paul whining about how hard it all was; or, how much they would have to give up to actually change and live for God.  In fact, we get just the opposite:  “Christ has shown me that what I once thought was valuable is worthless.  Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  I have given up everything and count it all as garbage” (Philippians 3:7-8).
 
            Let’s be honest with ourselves:  We don’t put ourselves out there and live for God with complete abandon because we are afraid, risk-averse, and just do not consider it worth committing to some church thing that may or may not pan-out for me.  What we need to hear, and what we want to hear, are often two very different things.  When parishioners simply look to pastors and leaders for easy answers and simple solutions to the complex challenges of our world, the church ends up with dysfunction.  If our concept of leadership is expecting a pastor, elder, or ministry leader to solve problems with no ramifications for ourselves, then it ought to be no surprise when churches do nothing but routine management instead of boldly reaching others with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
 
            I’m not delusional.  I get it that congregations rarely hire pastors to disturb their lives.  Members expect that pastors will use their authority to provide them with right answers, and not to confront them with the need for growth, change, and completely wrapping their entire lives around the person and work of Jesus.  But the work of ministry demands disturbing people – just doing so at a rate they can absorb.  Even then, after all has been done with discernment and love, it could still all implode like a house of cards.  After all, Jesus was perfect and he ended up being killed by people who could not absorb the life he was calling them to live.
 

 

            So, you and I have a decision to make.  Will we be the kind of leaders that shrink from the rigors of ministry, fearing what people will think of us?  Or, will we be leaders who embrace the good news of Jesus and seek to orient all of church ministry around Father, Son, and Spirit?  Put yourself out there.  For we all really play to an audience of One.

Matthew 10:16-25

            “I am sending you like lambs into a pack of wolves,” said Jesus to his disciples.  Sometimes we completely lose sight that Jesus was a troublemaker and warned us about there being trouble for us in the world.  It’s not that Jesus was intentionally pressing everyone’s buttons; he was just being himself, and that sent a whole lot of people gnashing their teeth at him.  Our Lord Christ got all up into people’s grill and confronted them with the bold assertion that people can only be rightly related to God through himself, on his terms.
 
            Therefore we should expect opposition and trouble.  We ought to expect that we are going to disrupt and upset our families, our co-workers, and those around us.  It’s not that we are intentionally obnoxious; by simply loving Jesus and seeking to follow him we are going to upset people – and that’s okay.  Facing trouble is really not the worst thing to be experienced; to be separated from God is the most terrible thing that could ever happen to us.
 
            It’s okay to rock the boat, shake the tree, upset the fruit basket, stir the pot, and make waves if you are doing it because you are committed to God’s will.  So, count the cost.  Give your life away.  In doing so, you will actually find it.
 

 

            Holy God, you are jealous for your Name to be honored and adored.  My life is yours.  Use it for your glory in this fallen world.  If trouble and persecution occur, I’ll consider it a privilege to suffer for Jesus.  Amen.

Luke 18:31-34

            Soon Holy Week will be upon us, the most significant time in the Christian Year.  As we approach the unfolding of Christ’s redemptive events of that week, today’s Gospel lesson informs us of Jesus’ words to his disciples concerning that week.  “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.  For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.  And after flogging, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.”
 
            But the disciples only scratch their heads in response.  They did not understand what Jesus was saying to them.  The meaning was hidden from them for a simple reason:  the disciples tended to only hear what they wanted to hear.  All this talk of death and suffering did not fit their understanding of what Messiah was really all about and should be doing – so, they filtered it out like a bad glass of water.
 
            From our perspective on this side of the cross, it is much too easy for us to get down on the disciples for their dense and obtuse minds.  But when we want to rush through Holy Week as if it did not even exist in order to get to the triumphant day of Easter, we are more in company with the disciples than we might want to admit.  It makes me wonder if I approach God’s Word and the ways of Jesus with a jaundiced view, with a certain set of glasses that skew what is really there right in front of my face.  I don’t think Jesus could have had any more clarity about what was going to happen, yet the disciples missed it. 
 
            In light of these few penetrating verses of Luke’s Gospel, here are some sage questions to ask of ourselves:
·         When Jesus speaks, do I hear what he is really saying to me? 
·         Do I approach Jesus with a set of assumptions and pre-suppositions that prove to be obstacles in understanding his words? 
·         Am I so convinced about who Jesus is and what he should be doing that when he speaks and acts in ways different than my expectations, I am dumbfounded? 
·         Have I placed spiritual blinders over my eyes to only see what I want to see? 
·         How often do I walk away scratching my head after listening to the words of Jesus?
·         Will I sit and dwell with Jesus and his words to me instead of just moving on with my life?
 

 

Gracious Lord Jesus, you moved with purpose toward your passion.  Give me insight into your words and works so that I might fully embrace what you have done, are doing, and want to do in your church and in the world.  Amen.