What Is That In Your Hand?

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” Mark 1:16-17

Ron’s father was a well-known evangelist. His sermons were simple but powerful and memorable. The one I remember most was the one entitled, “What Is That In Thine Hand?”

Scene 2/53 - Ext Egyptian desert; Joshua (SEAN KNOPP) questions if Pharoah would risk God's anger again.

He re-told the story of Moses holding a shepherd’s staff in his hand. God called him to become a leader of His people but Moses declared himself unqualified. God asked him what that thing was in his hand? He answered, “A staff.” God didn’t intend for Moses to leave his shepherding skills behind. Moses would use that same staff to lead people out of slavery.

Simon and Andrew were fisherman. It’s all they knew. Jesus didn’t tell them to stop being fisherman. They would keep fishing but would fish for men instead of fish. Their fishing skills would be translated into the kingdom counterpart. God gave them two decades of experiences related to fishing. He wasn’t going to waste their knowledge. He would expand it. Fishing is about timing. Fishing is about using the right bait. It’s about catching a few one day but then hitting a windfall the next. Doesn’t this sound like evangelism?

What was in my hand as a teenager? A piano and a flute. A love for telling stories. A love for hurting people. Instead of going into social work or attending music school to play the flute in a symphony, God called me to relinquish control of what I was grasping for myself. A ministry was born. Today, I use all the skills and experiences of my childhood.

Perhaps you’ve wondered how your love for a certain ‘thing’ could have anything to do with a ministry. Maybe you’ve felt like your past experiences (painful ones) were wasted. No. God doesn’t work like that.

Today, someone’s eyes are flying open to put the puzzle pieces of their life together. In God’s work, even with suffering, there is joy and wonderment. What is in your hand?

You do all things well. I’ve seen 62 years of it. Amen

Familiarity Should Not Presume

But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” Luke 4:25-27

The people of Nazareth wanted Jesus to work His miracles in Nazareth, not elsewhere to their exclusion. But Jesus tells them that prophets are not welcome in their own hometown. He gave them examples from stories they knew from history.

When Israel was experiencing famine, Elijah was not sent to Israel’s struggling widows. Instead, he was sent to Zarephath to a Gentile. Later, even though there were many lepers in Israel, Elisha, was sent to Naaman, also a Gentile. I wonder if Jesus’ hometown audience was aware that He was speaking prophetically as well. Jesus would not only be rejected by the people of Nazareth but by the nation of Israel at large. He is predicting that His Gospel message will also go to the Gentiles.

worshipThe Spirit of God goes where He is wanted. If not America, then China. If not my city of Athens, then another. If not my family, then the family next door. We might protest. “But we’re the ones that are sick and we need Him to come and heal us.” Can you hear the entitlement of the Nazarenes? The question begs to be asked. Is it the miracle they wanted or was it Jesus they really desired?

On the other side of healing, Jesus told many people to go and sin no more. What did sinning have to do with physical healing? Everything. To want Jesus is to embrace who He is and the salvation He came to offer. To only want healing is not becoming a disciple.

Lest Jesus’ actions and words offend us today, let’s stop and think a moment. When was the last time you felt used? Your value was in what you could do for someone rather than who you were. When did that knowledge come to you? Probably when you were tired, or busy, or felt led to direct your energies elsewhere. That’s when anger and entitlement usually surface and it isn’t pretty. But we are different than Jesus. We withdraw because we’re angry and hurt. Jesus went elsewhere in obedience to God.

I test my own love for Jesus today. If He gave me nothing but salvation and companionship until heaven, would I love Him just as much? What if He didn’t rescue, provide, heal, and do the myriad of things I often ask of Him, how would I respond? If I erased petitions from my prayers, would there be anything to talk about? I spend time with people I love all the time without asking them for a thing. My relationship with Jesus shouldn’t revolve around asking.

I love You for You. Amen

The Difficulties of Ministry At Home

Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. Luke 4:23-24

It’s hard for Nazareth folk to take Jesus seriously. Can you imagine their comments that precipitated Jesus’ response to them?

  • “Can you believe what we’re hearing about Jesus? We knew him all those years and he never did one miracle in Nazareth!”
  • “We knew he was special but claiming to be God? What’s gotten into him?”
  • “I’m curious. Let’s see if Jesus will come here so we can see if what he’s doing other places is legitimate.”
  • “Quite frankly, it’s a little much to believe the stories being told. I mean, he’s just Mary’s son.”

Rodrigo Santoro plays Jesus in BEN-HUR. ©Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures. CR: Philippe Antonello.

To the curiosity seekers of Nazareth, he was an anomaly to be explored. To the unbelievers of Nazareth, he was someone to watch perform in order to discredit. Were there any true seekers? Perhaps, but they were the tiny minority. Why would Jesus indulge his hometown people when they merely wanted to see what he could do?

Hometowns don’t give their prophets much credence. They will forever regard them as the children they once were; as the student they taught in school, as the playmate they engaged on the playground, as the person they once dated, and even as the teenager who once rebelled. The stereotypes are cast in stone in hometown settings and rarely are people willing to see someone new.

As one who came out of a small town of 1200 people, and as one who grew up to gain some notoriety, I can attest first hand to some of the challenges. In my youth and immaturity, I wanted nothing more than to prove myself to family and friends. I could see early on that they weren’t bent to take me seriously and that made me work all the harder. At some point, I gave up and a period of bitterness set in. If only I had reviewed and understood this passage about Jesus and his own hometown. I’d have better understood the dynamics and let it go.

How the people of Nazareth missed out! Never had any villager loved them like Jesus loved them. In his childhood and adolescence, he forgave every sharp word spoken to him. He answered every angry tone with gentleness. He was a loyal friend to the underdog. And yet love was spurned when the truth of the Gospel and the Kingdom were preached. Convulsive reactions to the conviction of sin will always trump any warmth someone might feel when in the presence of Love. Human pride runs to the core of our DNA. Oh, what we miss when we refuse to stand in the presence of Jesus and see our sin and His holiness – then His great love and mercy.

Don’t let my familiarity with You blind me. Amen

What Did It Feel Like?

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19

the-spirit-annoints-jesus-to-preach-the-gospelJesus had a history of astounding religious leaders with his grasp of the scriptures. He was the Jewish boy wonder of Nazareth and when he was twelve, he went to Jerusalem and amazed them there as well. Having a grasp of the scriptures earned him respect and awe as the gifted son of Joseph and Mary. But this day in Nazareth, just as his public ministry began, the Jewish world was shaken up. They thought they knew Jesus but to hear Him pronounce Himself as the fulfillment of Isaiah 61 was shocking. Did Jesus have to take a deep breath to make this announcement? Did He momentarily deal with fear? He probably knew that rejection and controversy would follow.

At what actual point did Jesus learn that He was the Messiah? Perhaps Mary told him as a child but maybe not. Did He know it as He astounded religious leaders in Jerusalem at twelve years of age? We’re not told but there was a good indication that He was self-aware of His identity at that point. He referred to the temple as ‘His Father’s house.’ My husband, Ron, believes He always knew it since He was filled with the Holy Spirit from conception. Perhaps.

Fast forward to Luke and today’s scripture. To announce His divinity to family and friends had to shake up every relationship He had except the one with his mother and Joseph. How did He feel about that day? As One divine, we know He was bold to declare the truth and didn’t think twice about following God’s lead. But as Incarnate, did He experience any emotions that we might feel when we announce something we know will be controversial? Did He sleep the night before? Was it agonizing to think about possibly losing friends and long standing relationships?  This would change everything. His brothers would be embarrassed by His claims and remain so until after the resurrection. Three years is a long time to feel the scorn of your siblings. Jesus was gone before his brother, James, called himself a bond slave of Christ.

We are called to do bold things. Jesus paved the way for us in showing us how to weather the extreme fickleness of people. Those who hate you one day can align with you the next. Those who claim to love you today can turn, oftentimes on a dime, over your strong Christian beliefs. No matter how comfortable our life is today, we follow a Savior who shakes up with world with the many implications of the Gospel. Many are warmed by our unwavering allegiance to Christ but many more are repelled. God gives us grace to walk the walk – whether with family or strangers.

You infuse me with the grace and courage to follow Your lead. Amen

Nothing But An Opportunist

And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. Luke 4:13

After having made three tries and failed, the devil departed from Jesus. A defeat didn’t end his attempts. The retreat only meant he went to the shadows to regroup. Luke says that he departed from Jesus until another opportune time. When would be an opportune time?

  • When his mother and brothers thought he was under demonic influence.
  • When he was called the illegitimate son of Mary.
  • When Judas betrayed Him in the garden.

King David reinforced the truth of this experience with different wording. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the LORD was my support. Psalm 18:18  

Nothing has changed. Today, the devil still looks for fainthearted saints. He waits to see ‘blood in the water’; knowing that a weakened enemy is more easily taken down. Don’t expect your worst battle on a good day. It’s on an awful day, when you don’t feel like fighting, that you need to put on your armor.

Jesus had an advantage we don’t have. He knew Lucifer in heaven. He knew his passion for power and revenge. He knew that three defeats in some wilderness wasn’t going to send him away for good. 1b86e995f8ad2633d6e9216ae60285ecHe was out to take God’s people down to the very end of the age, if possible. God has allowed him to have limited power until that final victory but it’s always under the umbrella of God’s promises of redemption and glory.

What’s the bottom line? We have to know how to fight when we’re weak. 1.) Clothe yourself in the Word. 2.) Pray, pray, pray! 3. ) Live holy. 4.) Rest in God’s love and favor. Remove one of these and there’s a chink in our armor. Without the word, we’ve abdicated our sword. Without prayer, our communication lines to power and authority are crippled. Without holiness, we’ve opened doors to the kingdom of darkness. Without resting in love and favor, we’ll experience a loss of resolve to do the first three. I mean, why bother!

No matter how tough it got for Jesus, no matter how hot the temptation, no matter how bloody the path, our Savior never forsook the Word, prayer, holiness, and an assurance that He was indeed God’s beloved Son ~ destined for glory.

If ever it were time for me to walk in Your footsteps, Jesus, it’s in this. Amen

 

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Careful! Satan Quotes Scripture!

And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Luke 4:9-12

One of the first things I need to know about my enemy is that he will regroup. If he doesn’t succeed after several tries to corrupt my trust in God, he will keep at it by looking for a more effective way to persuade me.

Satan came at Jesus with pretty clever ideas in the first two temptations. Jesus stood firm. But in the third temptation, Satan went for the jugular by quoting scripture. Jesus saw through the ruse and stood firm again by re-framing the scripture Satan used with another scripture.

rippedbible2One can prove almost anything with a bible verse if it is isolated it from its context and from the total revelation of God’s Word. Cults are formed on partial, misrepresented scriptures. Picking and choosing verses at whim and calling them ‘words from God’ is not living by faith. That’s not to say that God doesn’t, out of the clear blue, give us a verse. He does. But if this comprises my way of life to form my spiritual compass, I need to be careful.

Jesus balanced Satan’s use of scripture with another scripture. He did this while standing on holy ground – at the highest pinnacle of the holy temple. Yes, Satan is not above treading into churches and small groups to mis-quote the Word. He’ll invade my devotional time; he’ll even invade my prayer life. By taking God’s Word out of context, he’ll try to convince me of sin when I’m really under God’s favor. He’ll convince me that I’m about to be disciplined when I’m on the verge of being blessed. He’ll remind me of some Old Testament story when God judged severely if my view of God is more harsh than loving. He loves imbalance!

I can’t afford not to know my Bible. The reason Jesus was so skilled in wielding scriptures was because He spent his first thirty years in disciplined study. There was no shortcut for Him (even though He had the advantage of knowing His Father) and there is no shortcut for me. How can I tell if what I’m hearing is God’s Word or a false word? I have to look at the end result.  Am I encouraged to compromise or stay faithful? Am I drawn toward God or away from God? Am I fearful or more trusting? Am I repelled or more worshipful? Satan’s agenda is always to create a breach in the relationship between God and His child. If I keep that in mind, I can usually perceive whether there’s a snake in the grass.

Your Spirit inside of me knows what’s up when Satan tries to plant a bad seed. Lord, cause his words to be instantly revolting to me. Amen

Power and Powerlessness

And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’ Luke 4:5-8

If I’m struck with a disease no one can cure, I feel powerless. If I’m trapped in a loveless marriage, I feel powerless. If I’m languishing under a mountain of debt and there is no way to repay it, I feel powerless.

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Powerlessness drives me to edge of utter despair. Feeling powerless is not a sin but what I choose to believe next determines whether faith will live or die.

Was Jesus struck with the temptation to feel powerless? I suspect the answer is yes when I consider that a wilderness is not something anyone can control. Jesus was powerless against a place with no water, no food, and no shelter. Powerlessness was another one of Satan’s attacks against Jesus. Just as Satan wanted Him to feed Himself prematurely by turning stones to bread, He also wanted Jesus to assume power and authority prematurely so there would be no need to go to the cross. But Jesus knew that suffering comes before glory.

Was He tempted to ease the pain of powerlessness by taking Satan’s bait? If He was tempted in every way that we are, I believe the answer is yes. But He understood that the avenue to this premature authority would mean satanic worship. Jesus, once again, saw through the lure, chose suffering, and quoted scripture to silence His tempter. He served the enemy legal papers by reminding him that there is only one God to worship.

Many never pray until they feel powerless. There is only One who is mighty to save when all else fails. Waiting for His salvation is the hard part. We never know if God’s saving hand will be immediate or deferred. We know that in some cases, our own glory also comes after suffering.

In whatever ways you are tempted to give up waiting on God today to go for some man-made, Satan-endorsed, remedy….stop. Your way of coping simply might be to stop hoping and to succumb to numbing despair. But those who hope in God will never be put to shame. Each of us could benefit by looking into the face of what traps us today to declare the following ~ “I am small and powerless but I rest in the hands of my powerful God. Never have I been safer. Never have I had a greater panorama of options.”

I don’t need to see. You look over the top of my cage and plan my victory. Amen