Take the Long View (Genesis 49:1-2, 8-13, 21-26)

Jacob blesses his sons on his deathbed by Yoram Raanan

Jacob called his sons together and said:

My sons, I am Jacob,
    your father Israel.
Come, gather around,
    as I tell your future….

Judah, you will be praised
    by your brothers;
they will bow down to you,
    as you defeat your enemies.
My son, you are a lion
    ready to eat your victim!
You are terribly fierce;
    no one will bother you.
You will have power and rule
until nations obey you
    and come bringing gifts.
You will tie your donkey
    to a choice grapevine
and wash your clothes
    in wine from those grapes.
Your eyes are darker than wine,
    your teeth whiter than milk.

Zebulun, you will settle
    along the seashore
and provide safe harbors
    as far north as Sidon….

Naphtali, you are a wild deer
    with lovely fawns.

Joseph, you are a fruitful vine
growing near a stream
    and climbing a wall.
Enemies attacked with arrows,
    refusing to show mercy.
But you stood your ground,
    swiftly shooting back
with the help of Jacob’s God,
    the All-Powerful One—
his name is the Shepherd,
    Israel’s mighty rock.
25 Your help came from the God
your father worshiped,
    from God All-Powerful.
God will bless you with rain
    and streams from the earth;
he will bless you
    with many descendants.
My son, the blessings I give
are better than the promise
    of ancient mountains
    or eternal hills.
Joseph, I pray these blessings
    will come to you,
because you are the leader
    of your brothers. (Contemporary English Version)

Where does confidence come from?

The theme of confidence works its way through the patriarch Jacob’s deathbed prophecies and blessings – a resolute conviction in the promises of God – that the Lord will accomplish exactly what was promised.

Jacob expressed the hope and sure belief that God would bring the Israelites out of Egypt and into the land of Canaan as their inheritance – and, ultimately to the City of God, the eternal inheritance.

The Christian will find much in the blessing of Judah concerning the promises surrounding the coming of Christ. Mentioning the implements of “staff” and “scepter” are symbols of authority. And the reference to a donkey communicated a ruler was coming, as donkeys were the preferred mounts of royalty in ancient times.

What’s more, the washing of garments in wine, and eyes darker than wine, are allusions to the future blessing and abundance that will occur through the tribe of Judah. In fact, the first miracle of Jesus was turning water into wine – a deliberate attempt by the Apostle John to connect Jesus with Old Testament messianic prophecies of abundance and blessing. (John 2:1-12)

It’s important to adopt a long view of life. We must keep in mind that it took eighteen centuries for Jacob’s prophecy of Judah to occur. This long view is what gives us our confidence in life and provides the patience and perseverance we need for the here and now.

Seeing the big picture of God’s work in this world is necessary, because if we do not, we will likely become discouraged with the circumstances we face right now.

The reason Jacob makes it into the great Hall of Faith in the New Testament book of Hebrews is not because he was squeaky clean and perfect in how he lived his life; it was because he took the long view, the big picture, and saw that God was going to fulfill divine promises to Israel:

By an act of faith, Jacob on his deathbed blessed each of Joseph’s sons in turn, blessing them with God’s blessing, not his own—as he bowed worshipfully upon his staff. (Hebrews 11:21, MSG)

Furthermore, when we string the following three verses together across both Old and New Testaments of the Bible, we see the long view of God’s purposes:

It is true that you planned to do something bad to me. But really, God was planning good things. God’s plan was to use me to save the lives of many people. And that is what happened. (Genesis 50:20, ERV)

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV)       

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28, NKJV)

In the Christian faith tradition, all of God’s promises come together and are fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus.

Christ is our salvation, our inheritance, and our hope. To give our lives to following Jesus in complete trust of faith is both our challenge and our privilege.

May we live by faith, and not by fear. And may we have patience and persevere through the most challenging of situations because we have adopted the long view of understanding the God is bringing all divine promises to fruition, all in good time.

Our confidence comes from the Lord.

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through anxious times, so that we who are wearied by the changes of this life may rest in your eternal steadiness. Keep watch, dear God, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

The Ministry of Jesus (Matthew 4:12-23)

Jesus Calls His Disciples by He Qi

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali—to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:

“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
    the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan,
    Galilee of the Gentiles—
the people living in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
    a light has dawned.”

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. (New International Version)

What is “ministry”? 

For some, ministry is only about the souls of people; it is seeing as many people respond to the message of salvation in Christ as possible. 

For others, ministry is meeting the tangible needs of people because there is such a breadth and depth of human social and physical problems. 

And, for others, ministry is defined in terms of what takes place within the four walls of a church building, led by pastors and church leaders.

“Ministry takes place when divine resources meet human needs through loving channels to the glory of God.”

Warren Wiersbe

Problems, however, arise whenever we:

  • Focus on one dimension of ministry. Because, in reality, ministry is multidimensional.
  • Fulfill the outward, administrative demands of ministry – without going after the relational heart of what ministry entails. 
  • Forget about whole groups of people who are different than us. Ministry is for everyone, not some.

We need to look at the ministry of Jesus – what he did and why he did it. Christ’s purpose is to be our purpose: Minister to the total life of all people.

Jesus Preaching

Before there were newspapers, CNN, and 24 hour news cycles, ancient people heard what was happening from heralds or preachers who loudly announced in the streets the important news of the day.

Jesus had a ministry to both Jew and Gentile. Although his ministry was chiefly directed toward his fellow Jews, Christ went out of his way to engage Gentiles, as well, with a message of repentance.

Repentance is turning the whole person – body, soul, mind, will, and emotions – from sin and disobedience to God in obedience to the message of Christ. It involves humility, sorrow for sin, and a commitment to following Jesus.

To repent doesn’t mean to manage sin or clean up parts of my life; it’s a radical conversion from an old way of life to a new way of life. Repentance is not simply adding Jesus to our schedule but is a complete change of how we live.

Christianity is a life, not just an event. Following Jesus is a journey, a life-long process of inner transformation; a complete forsaking of anything that does not please God; and a desire to reorient my life around what’s important to God. 

To illustrate this in a contemporary context, I ask, “What does it mean to follow the Green Bay Packers football team?” A fan not only watches all the games from start to finish, but cheers loudly for the Packers; talks about the Packers with everyone, even strangers; and doesn’t cheer for the Chicago Bears! Fans are committed to their team.

The difference, however, between football and Christianity, is that followers of a team are fans, whereas followers of Jesus are not fans in the stands or watching the television. Instead, Christ followers are on the field of play as teammates with Jesus.

So, when it comes to repentance, we turn from being fans of Jesus to followers of Jesus, doing what he did and saying what he said. We are active participants in the kingdom of God – embracing and embodying a message of repentance to new life in Christ.

Jesus Calling

Jesus calling the first disciples illustrates the kingdom message: a radical break with the old life. Each disciple walked away from a good life and embraced of a new life following Jesus.

Some understanding of Jewish culture in the time of Jesus is helpful here. Central to the life of any Jew was the Torah, the Law. Around age 6, Jewish boys would begin to go to the synagogue for schooling in the Torah by the local rabbi. 

This first level of education was called Beth Sefer (“House of the Book”) and would last until about age 10. In those four years, the first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, were thoroughly memorized.

By age 10, some of the boys would distinguish themselves as good students and able to handle Torah. So, they would continue on in the second level of schooling called Beth Talmud (“House of Learning”). Those that did not continue with school would then learn the family trade and become an apprentice. Those that went on with school would then memorize the rest of the Old Testament.

At about age 14, only the best of the best were studying Torah. At the completion of their studies, they would apply to a well-known rabbi in order to become his disciple. The goal of this third level was to become just like the rabbi. This was called Beth Midrash (“House of Study”). The rabbi essentially interviews the teenager to find out if he has the stuff to become like the rabbi. 

If the rabbi believes the kid doesn’t have it in him, he tells him to go back to the family business. If, however, the rabbi grills the kid and finds he has what it takes, then he will say to him, “Come, follow me.” It was considered a great privilege and opportunity, and the teenager would leave everything to literally follow the rabbi everywhere he went.

Now, let’s return to Christ’s disciples. Jesus calls Andrew, Peter, James, and John. At the time, they were fishing because they were fishermen. That meant somewhere along the line they didn’t have what it took to further their education, or to follow a rabbi. 

Let’s, then, not miss the import and impact of Jesus saying to them, “Come, follow me!”  Jesus is expressing a belief that these men can become just like him. Well, of course you drop your nets and follow him! Jesus believes I can be like him! Jesus took a group of young men who couldn’t make the grade and used them to change human history. 

Jesus also says the same thing to you and me: I choose you. Come, follow me. 

Christ believed in us before we believed in him. Yes, Jesus believes you can do all the work of embodying the very words of God and becoming like him.

The attitude here is not, “Oh, geez, I have to go do ministry,” as if I were a teenager who was just asked to do the dishes. Rather, the attitude is of privilege and opportunity. If we fail to view ministry in this way, then we must come back to the message of repentance and have an attitude adjustment. People who follow Jesus do so because they get to, not because they have to.

Jesus Healing

            Envision yourself walking with Jesus and following him. You observe several things about his ministry of healing:

  • Jesus heals every problem. Christ has the power and authority to do so.
  • Jesus heals the whole person – not just the physical, or just the spiritual.
  • Jesus heals people whether they repent or not. Christ never made repentance a prerequisite for healing. He heals simply because he wants to.
  • Jesus heals to defeat the devil. Christ continually looks to reverse the hold that sin has on people.
  • Jesus chose to focus on healing the destitute, the poor, and the disadvantaged – rather than directing ministry to the higher classes and royalty to mediate his wishes to the people.

Who are the people – the least, the lonely, the lost – in need of healing in your family, neighborhood, and community?

  1. Those who are ill with various diseases
  2. Those suffering severe pain – of body, mind, emotion, and spirit
  3. The demon possessed or demonically influenced
  4. Prisoners and ex-convicts
  5. The working poor, and the elderly poor
  6. Those in the hospital with no one to visit them
  7. Those who grieve alone
  8. Those with addictions and behavioral issues
  9. Victims of verbal or physical abuse
  10. And many, many more….

Jesus had a ministry of both word and deed. To follow Christ is to become like him and pass on what we have learned to reliable people who will do the same.

Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing (Galatians 2:1-10)

Fourteen years after that first visit, Barnabas and I went up to Jerusalem and took Titus with us. I went to clarify with them what had been revealed to me. At that time I placed before them exactly what I was preaching to the non-Jews. I did this in private with the leaders, those held in esteem by the church, so that our concern would not become a controversial public issue, marred by ethnic tensions, exposing my years of work to denigration and endangering my present ministry.

Significantly, Titus, non-Jewish though he was, was not required to be circumcised. While we were in conference we were infiltrated by spies pretending to be Christians, who slipped in to find out just how free true Christians are. Their ulterior motive was to reduce us to their brand of servitude. We didn’t give them the time of day. We were determined to preserve the truth of the Message for you.

As for those who were considered important in the church, their reputation doesn’t concern me. God isn’t impressed with mere appearances, and neither am I. And of course these leaders were able to add nothing to the message I had been preaching. It was soon evident that God had entrusted me with the same message to the non-Jews as Peter had been preaching to the Jews.

Recognizing that my calling had been given by God, James, Peter, and John—the pillars of the church—shook hands with me and Barnabas, assigning us to a ministry to the non-Jews, while they continued to be responsible for reaching out to the Jews. The only additional thing they asked was that we remember the poor, and I was already eager to do that. (The Message)

The former devout Jew, Saul, had become the Christian apostle and missionary, Paul. His ministry was as radical and dramatic as his conversion to Christianity was.

The Struggle

Keep in mind that the earliest church was predominantly made up of Jewish Christians. They had to struggle with the relationship between their historic Judaism and their newfound Christianity. For many of them, Paul was doing the unthinkable; he not only purposely sought to reach Gentiles (non-Jewish people) with the message of Jesus Christ, but he also did not require them to be circumcised. For Paul, one did not have to first become Jewish before becoming Christian.

Paul doggedly sought to preserve the core essence and spirit of Christ’s message, that is, to proclaim the good news of forgiveness and new life through the person and work of Jesus – and not by means of retaining Jewish customs or laws, including circumcision.

The Main Thing

Christianity is more than set of beliefs and practices; it’s a way of life which can be summed up in three important words: faith, hope, and love. 

Both new believers in Jesus and veterans in the faith know from experience how difficult it can be to live the Christian life. One reason for this difficulty, even when we want to please the Lord, is due to the confusion that occurs between our inner feelings and our outer actions.

The Confusion

The confusion starts with the creation and fall of humanity. In the beginning, God created humans as persons with a divine/human relationship as central to daily life. (Genesis 1:26; 2:16-25) 

What’s more, God created people with the capacity to receive divine revelation through our ability to think and reason. (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10) 

Before disobedience entered the world, in the original state before humanity’s fall, all human functions were under complete control with an inner experience of unity and harmony with one another and God. (Genesis 1:31; 2:7, 16-25) 

It is imperative for us to recognize the distinction between our personal being and our personal functions. (Romans 1:21-32; 6:16-22; 1 Corinthians 9:27; Ephesians 4:21-32)

If we don’t grasp how cataclysmic the fall of humanity was, we are going to have big struggles with living the Christian life – illustrated in the way that Paul needed to fend off a bunch of professing Christians who still seemed spiritually stuck. 

The Disobedience

In Adam and Eve’s original disobedience to God, the authority for life was transferred from God to us so that our sinful bent is to call our own shots without God. The source of authority also got whacky, transferred from a holistic and synergistic approach of body, mind, emotions, and spirit to a one-dimensional approach of simply how we feel at any given moment.

If we fail to understand this dynamic, we will be continually frustrated with people because they do irrational things. For example, many church pastors are flabbergasted that parishioners do not simply take what they teach them and go and do it. Yet, if it were that simple, there would be no place for the Holy Spirit!

Unfortunately, there’s more. In humanity’s fall, we lost control of our capacity to function well. We are all now vulnerable to manipulation, too easily swayed by the surrounding culture, and, of course, Satan. (Ephesians 2:2-3; Galatians 5:16-21) 

As a result, our inner conscience has become confused. We are not always certain of right and wrong. We misunderstand what life is really supposed to be all about. 

We lose sight of the main thing. And, in that state, there’s no way we can keep the main thing the main thing.

Instead, we become obsessed with feeling comfortable and secure; so, we pursue false gods – leaving usdisappointed and with a lack of fulfillment in life.

The Good News

However, the good news is that through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, new life emerges; the bondage of sin is broken in our lives, and we are legally reinstated in a relationship with God in which the Lord is central in our daily life and the final authority. 

In this new relationship we can again receive truth through the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures. We regain control of our functions. 

Yet, unless we learn the Scriptures and growin a daily walk with Jesus, the practical experience of this relationship with all its freedom, joy, assurance,  power, and fruitfulness may be greatly limited. (Romans 7:14-25; 1 Corinthians 3:1-4)

Even though we have redemption and faith, it is still possible to regress and give in to our old ways of functioning. This is a big reason why Christians can experience conflict, doubt, fear, anxiety, frustration, disappointment, and confusion.

To live keeping the main thing the main thing means to grow in the experience and application Christ’s centrality and authority in our lives. 

The Awareness

We must, therefore, make daily decisions of faith, hope, and love based in who we are in Christ and recognize his authority in our lives. The following seven recognitions and awareness may be helpful for you in experiencing Christian freedom and unity:

  1. You are a person with the ability to function in faith, hope, and love as God’s beloved child in Christ (2 Corinthians 7:1; Romans 8:14-17)
  2. There is a difference between who you are and what you do (or don’t do).  Evil thoughts and emotions do not make you evil, anymore than fantasizing about being a unicorn makes you a unicorn.
  3. You can take charge of your actions and your life (Galatians 5:22-23)
  4. The key is the use of your will through living in harmony with revealed biblical truth. In other words, you really can make choices of faith, hope, and love, no matter the situation. (Romans 4:17-21; Psalm 56:3; Psalm 43:5-11)  
  5. Reject whatever is contrary to Scripture, reason, and conscience. Listen to your whole self. Unhealthy patterns of acting and speaking must be broken in Jesus’ name. (Ephesians 4:22; Colossians 3:5-9; Titus 2:11-12)
  6. Choose to obey the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures. Learn to think and act on the basis of truth. (Acts 27:25)
  7. Practicing the truth results in freedom, a re-patterning of thinking and functions, as well as the fruit of the Spirit. (John 8:32; Titus 2:11-14; Philippians 2:12-16)

The church is intended to be a supportive community of fellow redeemed people who worship and love Jesus together. 

Without sharing our collective learning of the Scriptures and daily struggles of faith, hope, and love, believers will inevitably be spiritually immature over the long haul. Instead, talk about your shared experiences of worship, Scripture reading, and Christian living. 

In doing so, God is glorified, the church is strengthened, and the cranky circumcisers are seen as the legalistic lunkheads they really are.

Why Did Jesus Come? (Matthew 9:14-17)

Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (New International Version)

The late Abigail Van Buren, better known in her day as the columnist, “Dear Abby,” was the person who made famous the phrase, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum of saints.”

We occasionally need words like Dear Abby’s that are reminders of why Christians and Churches exist in the first place. The Church does not remain on this earth solely for its own benefit, any more than a hospital exists for the benefit of doctors or insurance companies. 

The Church exists to extend the mission of Jesus through proclamation of the gospel, the good news of forgiveness and new life in Christ. The Church calls people who are ensnared, entrapped, and in bondage to guilt and shame, and who need the restorative touch of grace. 

Our calling is not to find out what others can do for us (e.g. tithing and attendance) but what we can do for others. That’s why we are the continuing presence of Jesus on this earth as the temple of the Holy Spirit. 

Even though I am a church pastor, it is not my church. The church is not your church. It is Christ’s Church and we are to act in accordance with that truth.

Some of you reading this blog post are unhealthy. Some of you are sick with sin; some are heart-sick; others are just plain sick and tired of being sick and tired. Jesus (nor me!) is not looking to heap on you a load of expectations and guilt for things you are not doing; but instead is pointing you to the source of healing and change and inviting you to admit your need and come to him. 

Conversely, you may be healthy, spiritually alive and well. Therefore, it’s your job to roll up your sleeves and serve, to participate fully in the mission of Jesus for the church and the world.

Why did Jesus come? 

Jesus came to set up a new structure that could embrace his mission of bringing new life to people.

Christ used the occasion of John’s disciples asking him about fasting to communicate that his mission of reaching people through mercy and forgiveness will need a significant structural change. 

The two illustrations Jesus used – cloth and wineskins – is to simply point out that old and new wineskins are incompatible; and old and new pieces of cloth don’t go together. I would put it this way: You don’t put a new collar on a dead dog.

The Lord Jesus didn’t come to this earth just to perpetuate the status quo; he didn’t enter this world through the incarnation to simply dress up the Jewish religion, or to make a few minor adjustments to what already is going on. No! Christ came to change the old and do something new so that his mission could go forward through us.

We need a structural system which can accommodate the finished work of Jesus on the cross.

The entire sacrificial system and ritual laws of the Old Testament were only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings – external regulations applying until the time of the new order.(Hebrews 9:10)

Christ is the one who arranges a new covenant, so that those who have been called by God may receive the eternal blessings that God has promised. This can be done because there has been a death which sets people free from the wrongs they did while the first covenant was in effect. (Hebrews 9:15, GNT)

Jesus canceled the first covenant in order to put the second into effect; the old is obsolete and has served it’s purpose. Now, Christ’s new covenant is in effect – a system big enough to hold the mission of the Church. (Hebrews 8:13; 10:9)

I wonder:

  • Is there anything in your life or in your church that is obsolete?
  • Is there a practice, ministry, system, or structure that is ineffective and not contributing to the mission that Jesus has for us in reaching others? 
  • Are there any dead dogs you keep trying to prop up on its legs?
  • Are you focused on what is important to Jesus? Do you know what’s important to him?
  • Do you keep performing the same rituals over and over because that is what you’ve always done?
  • What needs to change in your life to accommodate the mission of Jesus?

If the mission of Jesus is to occur we must develop:

  1. A relationship with Jesus. Engaging in spiritual disciplines of prayer, giving, fasting, reading and meditating on Scripture, are activities that put us in a position to know Christ better and respond to what is important to him.
  2. Relationships with each other that are not superficial but help one another to grow in Christ. We need to hold one another accountable for how the mission of Jesus is being accomplished, or not.
  3. Relationships with those outside of the church. This world is filled with sick, needy, hurting, lonely, unhealthy people who are stuck. They need a major change of life that can come from Jesus working through his followers. 

May it be so. Soli Deo Gloria.