Forgiveness in Discipline (2 Corinthians 1-3)

It can be a painful thing for the church to have to practice church discipline. Yet, when someone claiming the name of Christ lives in open contradiction to the gospel of Jesus Christ it is time to interviene. The goal of Church discipline is never to kick anyone out, but to restore fellowship.

In 2 Corinthians chapter two, Paul deals vaguely with someone who was under church discipline at Corinth. Paul wisely doesn’t record their name. Instead, he deals with the issue in such a way that the originally intended readers will know who he’s talking about but other readers won’t. Some issues call for discretion. We can guess that perhaps he was addressing the one who was living an immoral lifestyle in 1 Corinthians 5, or perhaps someone who had personally slandered Paul? Whatever the case, it was evident that the church discipline had worked and Paul urged the church to welcome them back in to the fellowship.

What a beautiful thing when a church forgives and embraces a former member who has repented of grievous sin. This is what is supposed to happen. The one who has sinned and repented is welcomed back. The church acknowledges the sin and they also acknowledge the repentance. Through Christ the member is reconciled.

Father, What a beautiful thing it is to forgive those who have sinned against us. We are grateful that even in your discipline there is grace and mercy. We need only to come home and we will find you running while we are a long way off. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Confident in the Promises of God (Acts 26-28)

A few things really jumped out at me today. First it appears that Paul befriended the Roman centurion, Julius who was overseeing the prisoner transfer. We don’t know the details of their conversations but we are given enough clues to deduce some sort of friendship or at least appreciation developed along the way. I’m sure Julius heard the gospel from Paul in that time, but it must have traveled along the lines of genuine care and concern. I wonder how intentional we are to develop genuine friendships with those the Lord has placed in our path and how we might be honest about our faith with our friends?

The next thing that really jumped out today was how in the midst of trying times, Paul held close the promises of God. When everything looked bleak, Paul pressed in to the Lord, he didn’t run from Him or drift. I know when I was in the hospital, keeping the television turned off, reading my bible, and being faithful to pray are the disciplines that drew me closer to the LORD and caused me to witness to those around me almost out of second nature.

Finally, Paul was a man on a mission. He knew the next step that was ahead of him and he was confident the Lord would bring him there. When the boat was driven by a storm for two weeks, Paul knew he’d survive. When a snake came out of the fire and bit him, he shook it off. He knew he would not be detoured from his mission. He was immortal until his purpose on earth was through. How many of us walk with that sort of faith and confidence in the LORD?

Father, Thank you for your Word that speaks life into us. We rejoice at how you used Paul both to plant and start churches as well as to take your gospel across the Roman Empire. We pray that you would use us in the places you have placed and called us to take the gospel around the world. We pray that we would press into you even closer in the days ahead and that we would remind one another of your promises and goodness. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Congratulations if you’ve been following along from the beginning! In the first 40 days of 2021 we have read all four gospels and the book of Acts!

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Father, Forgive Them (Luke 22-24)

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

Luke 23:34

The point of the gospels is to lead us to the crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. These are the historical and theological realities on which the Christian faith hangs. Jesus utters several statements on his way to the crucifixion as well as from the cross that help us understand his mind. He knew exactly what he was doing and exactly what was taking place. He knew He was an innocent man dying at the hands of guilty sinners. Yet, even from great physical and emotional agony He has the presence of mind to care and pray for those who torturing Him.

A seminary professor once told me that ignorance and arrogance look the same in a person. When someone hurts us it is easy to ascribe to them all sorts of arrogant motives. However, many times the injury comes not because someone is maliciously against us, but because they are ignorant of what they are doing. They may not even know they are hurting us. Certainly ignorance isn’t innocence, but it isn’t also necessarily malevolent.

How clearly Jesus sees the issue of sin even from the cross. He is literally in the the midst of paying for their sin as he intercedes for them. They didn’t know what they were doing that day, but they would know one day. And on that day, there would be mercy for all those who would come to Jesus in repentance. He was willing to forgive them even while they were crucifying Him.

As I reflected on this verse this morning I couldn’t help but contemplate the way that I have seen and understood some sins in my own life. There are things I’ve done in the past and that I understand more about now. At the time I thought they were no big deal. I look back and realize I was ignorant. I didn’t see everything rightly. I am thankful that God in His overwhelming grace chose to love me despite my sin. As I contemplate how God loves me, that even while I was sinner Christ would die for me (Romans 5:8), I can’t help but examine how I deal with those who sin against me. Certainly I don’t see with the clarity that Jesus sees sin, but there are moments where others have sinned against me that I need to recognize that sometimes people sin out of ignorance and that at the end of the day, forgiveness is more important than offense.

Father, thank you for loving me so much that while I was still dead in my trespasses and sin that Christ died for me. Thank you for the hope of the resurrection. Thank you for the amazing grace poured out on my life each day. Please continue to cultivate the character of Christ in my life. Let me be quick to forgive. Let me be concerned with the wholeness of others more than I am about perceived offenses today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Whose Kingdom is it Anyway? (Luke 19-21)

Every night when I tuck our youngest child to sleep we whisper the Lord’s prayer together. Right now it’s the only way she knows to pray. When I started to teach it to her I was worried it would become something she would just vainly parrot from memory. Certainly she doesn’t understand everything she says in that prayer yet. I was worried it would lose meaning, but as we have prayed together every night I have noticed that as I repeat this prayer that the themes are never old. It is always fresh. Some nights I remember I am in need for forgiving others as Jesus teaches in the prayer. Other days I realize I’ve not been seeking His Kingdom to come and His will to be done and so I repent. These simple words that Jesus has given us as a model prayer have served to keep my focus when I have stopped and prayed them with intention.

I have come to admire the first part of the prayer in particular where he teaches us to pray, “YOUR kingdom come, your will be done.” It places the focus back squarely on the Lord. At this point in the prayer I haven’t even asked for daily bread or even the forgiveness of my sins. To pray the rest of the prayer you have to first bow a knee and recognize Jesus as Lord. When Jesus is Lord, everything else falls into place.

The problem in today’s reading was that there were several men who didn’t want Jesus to be the Messiah. they didn’t want him to be Lord. They were well known. They were wealthy. They had built small little kingdoms based off of their knowledge of the scriptures. When the real messiah came to town rather than honoring the Lord, they wanted to murder him.

Jesus has made a be-line for Jerusalem. He is headed to the cross and on his way he preaches and shares a few parables aimed at demonstrating the incompetence and cowardice of the religious leaders. In the one parable (Luke 19:11-27) he talks about stewards who are given charge over the masters money and given a task to multiply it through whatever means they might have a mind to. The point is that these men were stewards. They were handling someone else’s resources. Those who handled things well were rewarded, those who didn’t faced severe consequences.

Jesus shares a more explicit parable (Luke 20:9-18) aimed right at the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees. He compares the leaders to murderous tenants who had leased a vineyard from a wealthy land owner, but don’t want to share the fruit of their labors. They very obviously step across the boundaries of being tenants to the point that they even murder the land owners son. They forgot their place. It wasn’t their vineyard. It belonged to the master and he would set his house in order.

So often in ministry and life we want to tell the LORD what to do. We forget that we owe Him everything. We are just stewards and tenants. We really are to pray for HIS Kingdom to come and HIS will to be done. The religious leaders had forgotten that along the way. They stopped being good stewards, they had stopped being good tenants, they found themselves complicit in a conspiracy to murder Jesus.

Father, we freely confess and pray for your kingdom to come and your will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We recognize that your kingdom is breaking into this world. We recognize that we are stewards and tenants of the kingdom. We don’t call the shots, you certainly do. Give us grace today to bow a knee, humble trust you and see you move in our lives. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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He Knew (Matthew 25-27)

There is a lot that takes place in these chapters leading up the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. What strikes me the most is that Jesus knows everything that is going to happen. He knows the small things like where to have the Passover meal. He knows the bigger details like who will betray him. He knows and cares about what impact everything will have on the disciples. He tells them they will flee. He encourages them to pray. He has already told Peter that he will will deny Him before the rooster crows. Most importantly He knows He is going to the cross. He is going to lay His life down.

On the one hand we are to see the intentionality in which Jesus went to the cross to save us from our sins. This was clearly the purpose.He willingly submitted Himself to the cruelty of death by crucifixion for the sake of offering new life by His resurrection.

I think what is also intreaguing and comforting to me out of all this is that He wasn’t so focused on the crucifixion that he lost sight of his disciples for one moment. Just as he knew and followed the divine plan set before the foundation of the world, He also intimately knew each one of his disciples and demonstrated great care for them through the whole process.

If Jesus cared for His followers then, He certainly cares for His followers now. No matter what we may face in this life, we know that He knows us better than ourselves and what we need more than anything. I am grateful Jesus knows me better than I know myself.

Father, Thank you for the cross. Thank you for your love poured out. Thank you for your purpose in redeeming a people to yourself. Help me to trust you with all my burdens and cares, knowing you care for me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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When Jesus asks you a question. (Matthew 22-24)

I am working through the Cornoa virus. It’s no fun. Lots of fever, chills, and all the other stuff. If the last serveral days and next several days seem off. I’m probably writing with a fever. One of the things I found most difficult about maintaining a daily bible reading time while I’m sick is that reading has become more wearysome. Several years ago I downloaded an app that reads the bible to you. Today instead of reading the text myself I let the app do it and it was easier to concentrate.

The story is told of a young man who showed up at the Louvre museum one day. He came to the Mona Lisa, perhaps the most famous painting in the world and a masterpiece. He begins to make fun of the painting. He points out what he thinks are flaws and inconsistencies. A large crowd gathers as he mocks the painting and it’s artist, Leonardo Da Vinci. Just then the curator to the museum walks up to hear the comotion. Finally when he can take it no longer he says, “Young man, the Mona Lisa is not on trial here today. It is recognized around the world as a master piece. But you are on trial today, because while you made your accusations and assumptions your ignorance became evident to everyone.”

Jesus and the religious leaders get into it in these chapters. The religious leaders question him, hoping to trip him up and make him stumble in what he says. However, his responses reveal how little the religious leaders really knew. Somewhere along the way the religious leaders fell in love with the idea of appearances, but they missed out on the real thing. Jesus compared them to white-washed tombs. Pretty on the outside, but full of death and decay. The sad things is all these leaders had to do was recieve Jesus. But they loved their power and postition so much that they knew who he was and they rejected him.

Father, guard me from thinking too much of myself or doing things for mere appearances. Certainly we should live godly lives, but I pray that godliness is found in a transformed heart, not a thin vinere meant to impress others. In Jesus Name, Amen.

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Would You Go After One Lost Sheep? (Matthew 16-18)

We all have a tendency to be delusional about some things. Some of us like to think that calories through the holidays or birthdays don’t count, or that we’ll make up our missed bible reading, step count, etc…. later. My brother did a good thing for me the other day. I’m accountable to him for how many steps I walk each day. He texted me to let me know that I was down in my step count. I shared some sort of excuse (delusion) on why I was the exception to the rule that day and he lovingly but firmly said that I needed to figure out how I could avoid the scenario leading to less steps that day. It was the kind of confrontation that I needed. The next day I was right back on track.

I forgot how close together the passagas about a lost sheep (Matthew 18:12-14) and church discipline (Mattew 18:15-20) are to each other. I know certainly it seems like the page is being turned to a different subject. I think though that these passages are side by side for a reason. If we really love our brothers and sisters in Christ, when they sin against us we will lovingly confront them with the goal of reconciliation. (And when we sin against them, we should expect them to come to us as well).

That is how you pursue lost sheep. If you really leave the ninety-nine to go after the one, you aren’t just leaving the pen door open hoping the lost sheep will wander home one day. You are be out in the elements to find the sheep and bring them back. You confront them, you plead with them. You seek reconciliation.

Father, thank you that when I was lost that you sought me. Thank you for lovingly confronting me about my sin, so that I might be reconciled to you. Help me to love like you today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Touch (Matthew 8-10)

I miss hugs, handshakes, and high fives. We are physical creatures and we were meant for physical touch. There is something reassuring about holding the hand of your spouse, hugging your friends, and even greeting folks you have never met before with a hand shake. It means even more to hold the hand of a friend in prayer as you face some of life’s scary moments like surgery, illness, or in a room waiting to hear news about a loved one.

Physical touch outside of family has been kept to the bare minimum this last year due to the virus. The fact that Jesus touches so many people in Matthew 8-10 jumped out at me as I read it today because touch has taken on a whole new meaning in our culture. I’ve read all of these verses before, but I saw this aspect of more clearly because of what we are going through (social distancing, lock-downs, changed plans, etc.). That’s the way it works with reading through God’s word. It never changes, but you do, and as you come back again and again you see new insights you have never seen before. Today I saw that Jesus definately takes a hands on approach.

It’s not like he wasn’t dealing with illness either. He touched a leper at the beginning of Matthew chapter eight! Even in those days folks knew not to touch people with Leperosy. Jesus wasn’t afraid because he brough healing with his touch.

Throughout centuries he has used touch to heal people. Where the gospel went, hospitals were established. One of the key ways the gospel still goes out today is through medical missions. Some of our Christian organizations are still serving on the frontlines of the epedemic offering sites for testing and now some are opening up places to recieve the vaccine.

Jesus touched people because he cared for people. Those who have placed their faith in Christ are called to care for one another. In the midst of a pandemic our care sometimes that means we are withhodling physical touch but withholding physical touch should never mean withholding care. I’m grateful many have found old and new ways to bless and encourage one another. I look forward to the day when touching won’t have such a stigma and we can shake hands, hug, and highfive again. Until then, I am grateful for a God who cares for us.

Father, thank you for the gift of touch. Jesus could touch because he was fully human. He could heal because he was fully God. Thank you for the way you have used your church to be the physical hands and feet of Christ ministering in my life this week. Thank you for how you use me to minister to others. I pray for healing from this virus and I pray your Gospel goes out with boldness. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Peace in the Midst of Tribulation (John 16 – 18)

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33, ESV

Some of the quietest moments of my life, where I have heard the voice of God the loudest, weren’t while I was catching coffee at sunrise, but were when I was facing the fierce opposition or dealing with the issues of health (like open heart surgery at age 39). In those moments I had a peace that transcended my external experiences. I saw all the turmoil going on, knew the questions I had, but simply had a peace and confidence the Lord was with me. I remember facing the most challenging day of my life when I found out I had a stroke with complete poise and calm knowing that God in his sovereignty had allowed this to happen.

Sometimes we look for peace in the wrong places. We imagine that there will peace if we don’t face tribulation or conflict. We can think that if we “don’t rock the boat” everything will be ok. But Jesus had a different kind of peace, a deaper peace to give to his disciples. He fortold all that he would face so that they would know that even in the mist of the earth shattering, world rocking moments ahead, that they could have perfect peace in Him.

The disciples needed to know that He was laying down His life, it wasn’t being taken. They needed to know that this was God’s plan all along and that God always does what He purposes. They needed to know that when they abanoned Him, He wasn’t alone and when they would later face persecution, He wouldn’t abandon them. They needed to know that He knew they would abandon Him, and He still loved them.

Father, thank you for your perfect peace that transcends the turmoil that we often find ourselves tangled up in. Thank you, “that even in the presence of our enemies you prepare a table before us.” Peace doesn’t come to us in the ways we would always want or expect, but peace come through you. Thank you for being my peace today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

RESOURCES

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Mary at the Feet of Jesus (John 10 – 12)

A few years ago I made a 3-4 hour journey to purchase a puppy for our family. Somewhere along the trip back we bonded. I became his master and he became my dog.

In the evening my wife will let him out to go do what dogs do in the yard one last time before bed. Then She will call him to come in, but often he ignores her. She can get kind of frustrated waiting for him to respond and so I’ll go to the back and call him in. As soon as he hears my voice he comes running back in. He knows my voice. He knows who he belongs to and he responds when I call.

Jesus wasn’t worried about the religious leaders who were posing as gateways to the kingdom of heaven. He knew they were frauds and He knew those who belonged to Him would respond when He called. Those who didn’t, wouldn’t. At the end of the day there were only two real responses to Jesus and that was to either follow Him to eternal life or don’t.

We see this dynamic continue to play out through the gospel with religious leaders (the very people you would expect to receive Him) rejecting Him and common, ordinary folks trusting Him. Folks like Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Every time we see her, she is at the feet of Jesus. Grieving her brother and anointing Jesus’ feet here in John but also learning at his feet in the gospel of Luke. Mary knew Jesus’ voice and reponded when he called. Do you?

Father, thank you that when you call your sheep they hear you and respond. Thank you for the amazing work you did in my heart to respond to you when you called. I pray that I would always have ears to hear what you would say and that I always respond with trust and obedience. Thank you for the power of the resurrection demonstrated in Lazarus, perfected in Christ. In Jesus Christ Name Amen

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A Few Tips on Consistently Reading the Bible

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