Luke 17

Vs. 5, “The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”  As Jesus and the disciples were making their way to Jerusalem, He took the time to teach them many things.  In our passage today, Jesus expounds upon practical things of discipleship (vs. 1-10).  It is one thing to stumble in our own sin, but we must be very cautious about causing others to sin (vs. 1-2).   But, Jesus is quick to point out that if we are wronged because of such things, we should always forgive (vs. 3-4).  It takes faith to let go of sin and forgive (vs. 5-6).  As a servant obeys his master in all things, how much more should we obey Jesus (vs. 7-10)?  We are then given a surprise story of ten healed; yet only one would return and he was a Samaritan (vs. 11-19).  And lastly, Jesus answers a question posed by the Pharisees regarding when the Kingdom of God is coming (vs. 20-37).  Jesus gives the Pharisees a short answer, but expounds directly to His disciples.  Jesus reminds us that the most important thing is to be prepared, for we won’t know when He will come back.

Regarding application…Are You Thankful?  Vs. 18, “Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”  I was reading an article online today that addressed how most people are not happy in their jobs.  “Working for the man” and the grind of weekly work can take its toll on people.  There is always the danger of taking our lives for granted.  This Samaritan leper is humbling reminder of having a thankful heart.  Notice that the other nine who also had leprosy did not return to give thanks.  Question: Are you a thankful person?  This is a convicting question.  As we get ready to celebrate 4th of July, it should remind us to be thankful for the freedoms we have been given by those who have died for us.  Perhaps some of you saw the tragedy of 19 firemen in Arizona who lost their lives protecting people’s homes and lives.  Let’s not just be thankful in times of tragedy and loss, but make it a habit of being thankful daily!

Matthew 15

Vs. 2, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”  Seeing is believing.  The Pharisees and teachers of the law were so focused on the external, that they lost track of the internal.  Over the centuries they developed a system of oral tradition (Mishnah) that expounded upon God’s law.  This oral law became so prevalent that it was held to the same esteem that God’s law was on; sometimes even higher.  Jesus masterfully rebukes them and reminds them of what a clean/unclean person really look like (vs. 1-20).  The issue with supposedly honoring the father and mother in their old age by giving the excuse that the adult children devoted their money to God was outright disrespectful on both the parents and to God.  They would use their money and possessions and declare it to be set aside to God, as an excuse to help support their aging parents.  Sadly, they would still be the benefactors of this declared money & possessions.  Jesus and His disciples retreat to Tyre and Sidon (Gentile areas) possibly as a rest before making the long trek to Jerusalem and the cross.  The Canaanite woman encounter is a beautiful picture of persistence and grace (vs. 21-28).  Remember, Jesus’ mission was to first go to Israel to bring salvation and through Israel, the Gospel would be spread to the Gentiles.  But Jesus makes exception to respond to a woman who had such faith.  The crumbs of a dog example impresses me for she was quite witty and spiritually aware of the benefit of being a dog (Gentile) and still getting something from the bread.  And lastly in our chapter, we see Jesus do another miracle feeding (vs. 29-39).  However, this time Jesus does this miracle in the Gentile region.

Regarding application…Are You Clean?  Vs. 18, “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’.”  Certainly, we are reminded that the determination of what makes a person clean is the condition of our hearts.  The religious leaders of Jesus’ time determined what make a person clean was their “righteous” acts.  Sadly, their hearts were clogged with sin.  It is a stark reminder for us in the church, for we can relate to the religious leaders more than we would like to admit.  We have the tendency to fall upon the traditions of man (denominations, church practices, etc.).  As people who go to church faithfully all these years, there is the danger of our hearts hardening.  But it hardens not only from sin, but also from disappointment.  We all know the truth about churches; they are not perfect.  Yet the church is a gift from our Lord.  It all comes down to our hearts response; we can either become part of the solution or part of the problem.  Time to do a heart checkup!

I John 5

Vs. 3, “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.”  We have been reminded God is love.  He commanded us to love Him and to love others.  We cannot separate the two; if we love God we will love others (vs. 1-4).  John then strongly reminds us that it is Christ and His testimony that help us live right before God (vs. 5-12).  There were many false teachers claiming their testimony was just as important or more (vs. 9).  Jesus’ water and book (vs. 6) signifies the picture of His incarnation and ministry with us.  Water is the baptism and blood is the cross.  And to add to this, John reminds us the Holy Spirit also testifies of this truth (vs. 6-8).  And if that were not enough, the testimony of the Father comes into play (vs. 9-12).  In the latter half of our chapter, John concludes his letter by affirming that which he has shared throughout the letter (vs. 13-21).  It’s important to note that John is expounding on outright deliberate sin (vs. 16-19).  A true Christian is not going to say in their heart they could care less about the actions they do.

Regarding application…God Hears Us.  Vs. 14, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”  Question: Does God hear us when we call upon Him?  There days it seems like many don’t like answering their phones.  Texting and social networking seems to be the most popular way to attempt contact.  Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but next to being face to face, I enjoy speaking with another person.  We have all had times when we tried calling someone and they don’t pick up the phone.  But when we call upon the Lord, he doesn’t send us to voicemail or command us to write out a long text message. He hears us.  Brothers and sisters, this is an amazing fact that we should never take for granted.   As 2013 is still very fresh in its beginnings, let us always call upon the Lord daily because He loves us and wants to spend time with us!

I John 1

Vs. 1, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”  John writes so passionately about Jesus because He experienced life with Him (vs. 1-4).  Not only did John spend time with Jesus physically, but more importantly, he experienced Him spiritually.  For there were many who saw Jesus physically, but rejected who He was.  Five times we are reminded of the word sin in the latter half of our chapter (vs. 5-10).  But more importantly, John points out that there is no darkness in the God of light.  This was important because contrary to the false teaching of Gnosticism, Jesus did not have a dualistic evil/good nature.  Additionally, there were some that had thought hey had achieved this mystical perfection.  But John eloquently addresses this misunderstanding of sin (vs. 8-10)

Regarding application…Dealing with Sin.  Vs. 9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Though we are new creations (Romans 7-8), there are going to be times that we are going to sin.  While sin can separate us from God, it doesn’t mean that by sinning we have to go through the whole salvation process again.  Christ dealt with sin on the cross.  If we don’t feel like we are sinners, perhaps the truth of Christ is not in our hearts (vs. 8).  A truly saved Christian will confess their sins.  How wonderful that we have a faithful, loving, and just God!  Pray today if there is anything that you need to bring before the Lord.

Genesis 13

Vs. 4, “and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the name of the Lord.”  Abram, Lot, and all of their family and servants would return from Egypt back to the land of Canaan.  Though Abram lied to Pharaoh concerning Sarai, God kept His promise and Abram came back worshipping the Lord (vs. 1-4).  As God blessed both Abram and Lot, they had a bit of a conundrum: their clans and property were getting too big to stay together.  In an interesting turn of events, Abram gives Lot first choice on which land move into (vs. 8-12).  There is definite wisdom and trust in Abram’s actions towards his younger nephew (vs. 8).  The original audience who would have read this from the author Moses would have been surprised at the vibrant life of the land east (vs. 10).  Ever since the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, the land had been a desert wasteland.  Because of Abram’s humility, God would bless him and remind us what living by faith looks like (vs. 14-17).

Regarding application…Effects of Sin.  Vs. 13, “Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.”  Lot made his choice to the land in the east.  The wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah should not go unnoticed.  The more we are around the influences of sin, it can affect us in ways we certainly underestimate.  We will soon see in the following chapters the outcome of Lot’s decisions.  It’s a slippery slope we travel when it comes to how we deal with sin.  Lot could have lived in an area away from such sin, but he would eventually move his family into Sodom.  Question: Are you attracted towards people or places where sin abounds?  We poke fun at Las Vegas (Sin city), but I think we visit much more dangerous places in our work, in our schools, and in our social settings.  Choose wisely and avoid the temptations of sin that knock at our door!

Genesis 6

Vs. 5, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.”  Sadly, this should be no surprise for us, for Jesus prophesied our current events with the increase in evil during the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37).  Let us not be disheartened by the increase of evil from our reminder with the killing spree in Aurora, CO., but all the more strive to be a light to this darkened world.    One big question arises from this chapter that can be confusing.  Question: Just who are the sons of God?  Who are the Nephilim?  A few interpretations have rendered the sons of Seth had been intermarrying with the daughters of Cain.   However, the Hebrew translation of Nephilim is “Giants” and means “fallen ones.”  And the Sons of God seems to be a clear reference to angels.  There are differing thoughts on this, but I just wanted to expose you to both sides.  However, it is clear that the bigger issue was the increase of sin.  Many biblical scholars point out that the earth’s population was literally in the billions (especially in light of humans living longer).  This would have added to the increase in evil being more prevalent as well.  But we see another example of a person and his family who chose to live differently.  The Lord gave them 120 years to repent (vs. 3), but they chose to disobey.   The latter half is the instructions of the ark (vs. 9-22).  I think it’s interesting to note that these pairs of animals, etc. must have been babies so that it could house all the species.

Regarding application…Finding Favor.  Vs. 8, “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”  Question: How did Noah find favor?  Faith.  The writer of Hebrews would tell us specifically it was Noah’s faith (Hebrews 11:7).  We poke fun of those who try to be the teacher’s pet.  Sure, there are probably many who do it with ulterior motives.  But, here we are presented with an example of a Godly reason for finding favor.  I have an adopted sister who happens to be four days older than me.  Growing up, it was inevitable that there would be times we would compete for the favor of our mom.  I recall being jealous and envious of her musical talents and how my family would gush over her piano skills.  I on the other hand barely got past playing “chopsticks”, though we both started lessons at the same time.  So I realized my avenue of finding favor needed to be in a different arena.  I devoted myself to the sports side of things.  This was my way of getting the favor and attention I had hoped for.  Certainly, God is most pleased when His children faithfully trust in Him.  He knows the intentions of our hearts.  Just be honest with the Lord and let’s have very blessed beginning of our weeks!

Genesis 4

Vs. 8, “Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.”  This is the first recorded murder in the Bible.  It is especially sad because God had given Cain encouragement to do what is right (vs. 6-7), despite his lack of reverence for God in the offering he brought (vs. 3-5).  Let’s stop here for a moment and address a notable question that can arise.  Question: When God cursed Cain (vs. 11) who were these other people that Cain was worried about (vs. 14)?   Some scholars have speculated that God had created other human beings outside of Adam and Eve.  However, most scholars point to the fact that the others were children born of Adam and Eve not mentioned.  At the beginning, marriage within siblings had to transpire.  Later on, in the book of Leviticus, God would prohibit this practice of incest (Lev. 18:2, 4, 6).   We see a listing of six generations of Cain’s offspring (vs. 17-18).  Lamech is recorded that he had two wives, which points towards Cain’s offspring turning away from God’s pattern of one man and woman (Genesis 2:24).  The arrogance and pride of Lamech is also shown (vs. 23-24) in his self-defense and subsequent killing of another life.  His boastful claim that anyone who attempted to kill him would pay seventy-seven times more vengeance than even God’s vengeance on Cain’s life shows his boastfulness.  Lastly, we go back to Adam and Eve and see God working in the blessing of their son Seth (vs. 25-26)

Regarding application…Consequences of Sin.  Massacre!  Many of you might have already heard what happened at a midnight premiere showing of Batman “The Dark Night Rises”.  A young PhD student in Aurora, CO opened fire in a movie theatre killing 12 lives and injuring up to 59.  This reminds me of Cain’s first murder and the waywardness of sin.  We live in a sin-filled world where atrocities like this happen more often than we would like to admit.  Yet, we should not allow such events to lose heart or purpose.  This life is a battle and the stakes are eternal life in Heaven or eternal life in Hell.  This is all the more reason that we must come together and fight the good fight as Paul would admonish young Timothy in his letters to him.  Let’s pray for this tragedy and that Christians in Colorado would come together to be a light to this hurting community.

Genesis 3

Vs. 1, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?”  Question: Who is this serpent?  Satan.  We know this from the Apostle John’s reference in Revelation 12:9, “that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the world.”  Satan (adversary) has limited power.  He is a fallen angel (Isaiah 14:12-17) and in rebellion to the LORD God.  I believe it is important to note that while Adam and Eve sinned, their prior state was more innocence than righteousness.  God is eternal and it was the tree of life that had given Adam and Eve immortality.  The serpent used a very potent weapon: lying (vs. 4).   Giving into the lies would cause Adam and Eve to sin.  Their sin separated them from God.  Though there were consequences for sin (vs. 14-24), we still see a hope.  Many scholars point to vs. 15 as a Messianic hope that looks to Jesus!

Regarding application…God Provides.  Vs. 21, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”  This is the first recorded sacrifice.  In some ways, it was Adam and Eve who should have died, but God provided the death of another life to help them.  Certainly this has undertones of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.  Yet, we see consequences and sin come into our history, I am struck at how God provided for them.  He could have tossed them out wearing just their fig leaves, but God didn’t.  God provided.  My church has two young stray cats who have been here for the last couple of weeks.  Any of you who know me, know that I think cats are loathsome creatures.  Yet, as the days have gone by, I’ve seen them begin to look haggard and emaciated.  This Tuesday, one of the church members went and bought cat food.  They fed them.  The last couple of days, knowing there was food and seeing these cats still quite hungry…I caved in.  Yes, even though I’m allergic to cats and have no esteem for them, I’ve found myself taking the initiative to feeding them!  Arghhh!  And then I think about how God provided for Adam and Eve.  We are so much more valuable than stray cats to God.  What can be lost in this is how heartbroken it must have been for God to lose the fellowship He had with them in the Garden.  Yet, God provided for them.  If someone like me who very much dislikes cats can have the heart to provide, how much more will God provide for you?

Haggai 2

Vs. 4, “But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”  From yesterday’s chapter, there has been about 7 weeks of time that have transpired.  The people have begun the difficult work rebuilding from the rubble again.  Naturally, they were getting discouraged again.  So God would use Haggai to once again bring encouragement to spur the people on (vs. 1-9).  Another two months go by (vs. 10-19), and there is still discouragement.  Question: What was happening?  Haggai would address God’s people because they were bringing offerings, but there was unconfessed sin in their hearts.  Their sin caused their offerings to be defiled (vs. 14).  In other words, If you’re healthy…you can’t pass your healthiness on to someone.  But if you are sick, you can pass on your sickness.  We must carefully consider our actions and lives (vs. 15).  Lastly, Haggai turns his attention to Zerubbabel, Israel’s governor (vs. 20-23).  Basically, God just wanted Zerubbabel to know that He’s got his back.  Through Zerubbabel, the LORD makes some big claims that eventually will be fulfilled by Jesus.  Zerubbabel is mentioned in the lineage of Christ in the two New Testament genealogies (Matthew 1:12, Luke 3:27).

Regarding application…Do Not Fear.  Vs. 5, “This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.”  It’s important to realize that God wasn’t asking His people to do this alone.  We live in a time where we are judged by our individual successes or failures.  It’s a dog eat dog world.  But as God’s redeemed, we are not alone on two fronts.  The first is the promised Holy Spirit fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2).  And the second is that we are in community (church).  We are never alone, or at least we shouldn’t try to be or think we are.  The implication is huge when we think about the tasks that God has given to us.  For Haggai’s time, they were rebuilding the temple.  For our time, we are building the church.

Romans 7

Vs. 24, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”  Don’t fear, Jesus is here, He is resurrected…It’s Easter Sunday!  The conquering of death on the cross through the resurrection gives us the ability to no longer be living under the old Mosaic Law.  Paul uses the illustration of marriage to give us an example of a marriage whom the wife loses her husband (vs. 1-6).  If the wife loses her husband, she is no longer bound to him.  Illustrating how death can bring a new nature and relationship.  Jesus death brought a fulfillment of the Law and grace.  Our death brought a new way of life through the Holy Spirit (vs. 6).  Paul makes sure to address a natural question that would arise in the church: is the Law sinful then (vs. 7-12)?  The Law reveals our sin and in the grace of God we are able to overcome the result of our sin nature and have life in Christ.  We then transition into a very difficult passage that many seem to not completely understand (vs. 13-25).  Question: Is Paul talking about his life before Christ?  Or is Paul talking about his life as a struggling Christian?  There has been much debate concerning this passage.  Upon deep study with this passage in Seminary and looking at the full context of the Bible, I hold the belief that Paul is referring to his life before Christ.  Question: Does this mean that we as Christians no longer struggle with sin?  We still live in a sinful physical body so it still knows how to sin (Douglas Moo).  But, we now have power from the Spirit to say “no” and flee from temptation (I Cor. 10:13).  In Hebrews, we are exhorted to train ourselves to be Godly (Hebrews 4:7).

Regarding application…Jesus Saves.  Vs. 25a, “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  In tomorrow’s passage, we will be expounding upon what Jesus’ power does for us.  But in light of this difficult passage on sin and our struggles, it is Jesus who can and does change us.  He saves us.  We were once dead to sin and dying.  We tried to be good on our own, but no Law or human law could make us right.  When I was in 2nd grade, I wrote a full page of New Years resolutions.  Why?  Because, I began to realize how bad I was.  How I wasn’t good to my mom.  How I could be nicer to my sisters and brother.  So, in my human effort, I had hoped these resolutions would solve my problems.  But, my desire to be good lasted only a short while and I reverted back to my old self.  That is why we need Jesus.  As we celebrate our risen King, bring thanksgiving to Him today!