Archive for January, 2015

Luke 9:22-27 — Today, we close out our look at Luke 9:22-27 by looking the final two verses in the passages (vv.26-27). This passage reminds me of my relationship with my brother when we were growing up. Growing up my brother was the classic geek. He was super-smart and completely, socially awkward. He was difficult to get along with as he had that super-intelligent arrogance about him. Ours was a rocky relationship all throughout our childhood and youth. Although I made really good grades in school myself, I was not and am still not as intelligent as my brother. If I made 5 A’s and 1 B. My brother would make straight A’s. However, I had the advantage of being more athletic than he and I was simply able to fit in with the crowd better. I was socially more adept than my brother. Even though we moved around a lot in those days as Methodist preacher’s kids, I was always able to immediately develop a network of friends quickly and become part of the social fabric of whatever school we attended. My brother was the opposite.

At every new town and new school to which we moved, my brother just made himself a target of ridicule with the way he had to lord his intelligence over others. I would compare him in those days to the Sheldon Cooper character on Big Bang Theory. It was easy to dislike him even with me being his own brother. The sad thing in all of this is that I, as the saying goes, “threw my brother under the bus” more times than I could count. I would join in the ridicule of him at times. Sometimes it was just simply a release of much pent up anger towards him. Other times, it was to just to fit in and avoid being ridiculed along with my brother. I was the social chameleon. My mom and dad would give me stern rebukes about joining in with the crowd when it came to my brother. They would say that no matter what he does or says, he is your brother. You are to defend him because he is your blood. My dad used to say that it did not matter if we fought within our house but outside our house, I needed to stand with my brother because he was family. This just added to the fuel of my dislike of my own brother. He would not make it easy to defend. As a matter of fact, his super-intellectual arrogance almost begged for ridicule. This was the state of our relationship until adulthood when we both left home. I am not proud of the way things went down between me and my brother over the years when we were growing up. I can see now the mistakes that I made in my relationship with my brother. My dad was right. I should have defended him regardless of how irritating he was to me in return. It does not matter that he would purposely make feel like the dumbest person alive with his venomous attacks on me daily. Real love defends in spite of past wrongs to us.

Today, our relationship is much better. We survived the gauntlet of American childhood and teen-dom. We don’t have a relationship like we are best friends even to this day. We are just such different people. However, we do respect each other now. Our relationship still shows the scars of a childhood of being verbally and emotionally brutal to one another. We will never be super-close like some siblings just because or personalities are so different. We do love each other though. I know that if I really needed my brother, he would be there in flash. He might talk my ears off but he would be there. We are family.

I use my relationship with my brother over those tumultuous childhood and teenage years as an illustration because I want to talk about denial. In public as a youth, when people would ridicule my brother in all his social awkwardness, I would join it. It was almost as though I was denying that he was my brother. I would join in the ridicule. I would deny the blood bond between. I would deny that the friends that I made in each town would be gone when we moved but my brother remained. I would deny that I knew him. I never wanted my relationship with my brother to cost me popularity among my friends. I didn’t want people to even know that I knew him at times.

This leads us straight to the final two verses of Luke 9:22-27. Jesus says, “if anyone is ashamed of me and my message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when He returns in His glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels. I tell you the truth, some standing here right now will not die before they see the Kingdom of God.”

The point of the illustration and the point of the Scripture verses is that there will be a time when its crunch time and we have to make a choice and stand up against the tide. On rare occasions, after scoldings from my parents, I would stand up and defend my brother and yes it would cost me socially at school. There are times too that we must stand up and say that we know Jesus Christ even if we draw ridicule for it. What is more important? Knowing Jesus in eternity or denying that you know Him so that you do not stick out, so that you avoid ridicule, so that you fit in with the crowd. Do you go to church on Sunday and any other church activity like small group or go to Christian concerts and put your praise on and in the cocoon of Christian friends, they think you got it going on as Christian. Yet, at work, or with friends, you refuse to speak of Jesus. You refuse to speak of Scripture. You refuse to take a stand at work when you know something is morally wrong. You refuse to defend your faith when people ridicule Christianity. Do you throw Jesus under the bus when the pressure to fit in is on like I would throw my brother under the bus when it would cost me socially back in our school days. Will we have what it takes in the future days when the world has turned against Christianity completely to stand up and say I know Jesus!

Will we have the faith of Christians in North Korea? Will we have the faith of Christians in China? Will we have the faith of Christians in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and any other nation where Christians are oppressed, jailed and killed? Will we have the faith of Pastor Saeed Abedini who suffers in jail because of his relationship with Jesus Christ that he refuses to deny. It would be easier to deny Jesus for Pastor Saeed but he has his eyes on the cross. He has his eyes on eternity. There is no way He has going to deny Jesus. He would rather die first. He who tries to save himself in this life will lose his life in eternity. Do you have that kind of faith? Do I have that kind of faith? We may have to some day stand up for Jesus where it will cost us access to social structures, where it will cost us our freedom, where it will cost us our life. Even if in this moment in time, it is not yet that way in the United States, we throw Jesus under the bus, deny Him, in small ways where we refuse to point out that we are Christians when it simply would be awkward for us to do so. Just think what we will be like when the pressure is really on – when our livelihood, our security, and even our life is on the line. Will you have what it takes to stand up for Him then, to say we know Him then?

Let us begin now to stand up for Jesus and let people know that we love Jesus. Let us begin now to start demonstrating that we know Him in every aspect of our lives. Let us share our faith with our friends, neighbors, and strangers. Let us stop being armchair Christians and let the world know that we love Jesus. Then, as we progress toward that day when Christianity is illegal, we will have the stamina of Pastor Saeed and be willing to risk it all to say that I know Jesus. I want Jesus to know me and not be ashamed of me when He returns in His glory or at my own death whichever comes first. I want Jesus to say that He knows me.

Just as my relationship with my brother had to change over the years where today I do not deny him today, let us change our relationship with Jesus from one of convenience to one of all out willingness to sacrifice everything for Him. With my brother, I do not throw my brother under the bus even though he still sometimes gets under my skin. I have grown to learn like my dad tried to impress upon me that blood matters, family matters. He is my brother and I will keep him. He is my blood and I love him no matter what even if I don’t always like him. Now, I would stand and defend my brother even if it meant my life. Can we be like that for Jesus? Can we stand up for Him when it counts, when it really, really matters? Can we stand up for Him when there is no gain but only pain?

I pray that you do! I pray that we all do!

Luke 9:22-27 — The Van Halen song, Jump, comes to mind right now for some reason. Today’s verses (vv. 24-25) made me think of skydiving and that song playing in the background while I do it. I must confess that I have often thought that skydiving might be fun. In my mind, I can see myself floating through the air enjoying the view of the earth below me. It seems such a majestic thing to do. There is only one problem with that for me. I do not mind heights as long as I am protected. If I have something to hold onto or at least have a frame of reference of something that is solid or stationary. For example, I love thrill rides like roller coasters and things that take you up high and drop you down to earth quickly. Love those thrills. But in all of those cases, I am protected in some way from an all out free fall.

I think if I were actually to go skydiving, I would be fine up until the point that I had to jump out of the plane. Then, I think I would be like a cat that you are trying to throw out the door at bedtime. All four paws seem to cling to anything. I would be like that. My hand and feet would magically grow claws and embed themselves in the jump doorway. Like the cat at your backdoor seem to have super-glued himself to the doorframe, that would be me! Screams of mother help me like a little school girl I would be. Like a fireman whose adrenaline helps him lift a heavy object off a person so that they can carry them safely out of a burning building, my strength would be magnified at holding on to the doorway! It would take 4 men to push me out that door!

Funny story but so true. It may seem unrelated to my selected verses today but I think that you will see that it is. Let’s concentrate today on vv. 24-25. Jesus says, “If you try to hang on to you life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed.” A lot of us may talk a good Christian walk but when it comes time to lay it all on the line will we do it? Just like I am in love with the THOUGHT of skydiving. It just seems so cool and adventurous, but when it comes time to do it, I think my desire for the safety and security of the plane will trump my desire for adventure and thrills. I think a lot of us are that way when it comes to our Christian walk. That seems a bit of harsh statement but I think its true.

Jesus is saying to us that if this present life is important to you, you will do anything to protect it. We will not do anything to that might endanger the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed. We want to be safe. We want to be in our comfort zone. We want to chase after things that satisfy our needs for comfort, safety and security. We may have all of our skydiving gear on and we may walk to the edge where the jump door is but we are not willing to jump out the door. Ultimately, our unwillingness to totally sell out for Jesus comes from selfish desires for these tangible things. Following Jesus may find you free falling out of the jump door. You may find yourself unsafe and uncomfortable like I would be falling through the air after jumping out of the plane. I would be trying to climb the air back into the plane. Darn that whole gravity thing! Following Jesus you may risk loses your riches, your comfort, and maybe in extreme cases your life. Are you willing to jump out of the plane and trust Jesus completely and totally. Do you see the things that you can touch and feel as the most important things? Do you not really, really see that our eternal life is the most important thing? Do you understand that in concept but do you really believe that? Nothing material can compensate for the loss of eternal life. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, we are not placed here to please ourselves. We are placed here to Luke 10:27. We are placed here to love God and love others. We are show our love of God in everything we do.

Are you willing to trust God with your finances or with your life’s vocation? How much do you trust God? Do you trust Him enough to put Him first in your finances? Or do you hold tight to your money because you see it as yours. Do you give to God first? Or do you think it’s a waste of resources because you can’t see any personal tangible results? We need to take our finances and jump out of the plane in trust in God’s Word. It is obedience. It is trust. Just think of all the people our church could reach with the gospel – the important stuff, the eternal stuff – if all of our people arranged their lives such that they could tithe and give sacrificially to things that mean something in eternity rather than racking up debts over things that don’t last, that are temporary at best. What a difference we could make for the cause of Christ!

Are you willing to trust God with your vocation? If God calls you to do something that may require you to stop being a fisherman and become a missionary like Peter. Like for me, I feel God’s call to become a minister which is a radical change from my current profession. Although I am a very social person unlike most accountants and that would serve me well in being a minister to God’s people but it would be a total shift in what I do for a living. I have been in the accounting profession in either corporate accounting or corporate internal auditing my whole career which now spans 30 years as of this month. In those 30 years, I have for the most part steadily advanced my career to the point that for the past 7 years I have been the chief financial officer of Fujikura America, Inc. I make a comfortable living from this job. At his stage of my life, my wife and I purposely live to go into as little debt as possible and we have been successful at it. We have little that would hold us back in serving the Lord. It is like we are going up in the skydiving plane. When the time comes to jump out of the plane though, will we? Will we trust Jesus enough with our livelihood to really jump out of the plane or will we be cat like at the door? Will we cling to the doorway instead of jumping in faith? Will we pass on what we know is the opportunity that God is presenting us and cling to our known world, our known safety, our known livelihood, our known creature comforts? Or are we going to jump out in faith when God makes the path to serving Him as a minister and minister’s wife abundantly clear? My belief as each day goes by that we will. We have been humbled by the things that we have learned over the past 5 years at LifeSong and by the people we have served, the people we have served under, and the people we have led. We are going up now in the jump plane. We have been told by the pilot that we are almost to the jump zone and to gear up. We have our gear on. It’s time to move toward the jump door. It’s almost time to jump. I pray that I will let loose of my cat like grip on the door facing and jump into Jesus arms when it is time to jump out of my old life into the new.

Father, help us to be willing and obedient when you call us to a life of service to you whether it be in my resources or in my vocation. Help me to keep my eyes on pleasing you rather than on making myself comfortable. Help me to see eternity instead of what’s right in front of me. Amen.

Luke 9:22-27 — Ever since the new year began, I have been exercising 5 days a week. I walk on the the treadmill and lift weights for an hour each morning before I sit down here to write. However, when it’s really cold outside (and also in my garage), I sometimes do the one thing that I hate the most in exercising – stair climbs. On those really cold mornings, this is my choice because it is warm inside my house. However, it is, at this point, in my exercise development, the most intense thing I do when exercising. Up and down. Not only is it strenuous on my leg muscles (all of them!) but it is aerobic as well. Today, I did the most stair climbs I have ever done at one time, 60 climbs in 55 minutes. I was so out of breath and tired when I finished that I can still feel it now as I write these words.

Why do I mention this when writing about Luke 9:22-27, it made me really think about the physical aspect of carrying the cross. Jesus was speaking metaphorically but He used something that the people knew about. Jesus was always doing that in His preaching and teaching. He used reference points that the people of first century Palestine would easily understand to drive His points about the Kingdom of God home. Many first century Jews and Gentiles had been killed on the cross by the Romans. It was the signature punishment for breaking Roman law. It was public. It was humiliating but was only the final part of a three part humiliating and deadly punishment process. First, you were scourged with a cat-o-nine tails whip that had metal balls with bone fragments embedded in them a the end of each lash of the whip. You were tied to a post and they would literally beat you to within an inch of your life. The metal balls and bone fragments on the whip lashes would come flying at your body hit it, grab hold, and rip flesh as the Roman soldier pulled back the whip. All of this happens in seconds of course (much less time that it takes to write the description of it or even you reading it). Repeatedly, Repeatedly, split seconds of heighten pain and bloodiness.

Next was the humiliation of all humiliations, not only was your bleeding body of ripped flesh going to die on the cross but you had to carry your own cross beam on your shoulders to the site where the vertical beams were. As I struggled with my last 10-15 stair climbs, trying to catch my breath, it made me think of all the poor folks that were crucified by the Romans in this way, most of all, my Savior, Jesus Christ. Imagine, this innocent man, God in the flesh, in His humanity, is physically beaten almost, but not quite, to the point of death. Now, He must carry His own cross beam through the streets of Jerusalem. Not an easy journey for a healthy man. Jerusalem was a mishmash of centuries of building and rebuilding, different levels, stairs, uneven roadways. You had to be careful and watch your step even when you were healthly much less losing lots of blood and carrying a heavy cross beam tied to your shoulders. Carrying your cross. Physically, you are in a complete daze. Your body is trying to shut down. Your body is stinging from the raw flesh and oozing blood. As I challenge myself physically to try this year to get 15-25 lbs of weight off my body, I am sometimes pushing my body to what I think are my limits. I am not however doing it with a bloodied body (and the Passion of the Christ had the scourging more right than any movie before it or since). My body is intact. I am just pushing the limits of a body that has been allowed years of inactivity or at least not consistent exercise. My Savior was at death’s door as he walked through Jerusalem’s uneven, dirty streets, and up stairs between sections of town.

At the cross, Jesus, like many other first century Palestinians, suffered a painfully slow death where the weight of your body and its physical pain actually caused your body to suffocate itself from within. Maybe, at a later, time we can spend more time on the details of crucifixion. It is not the Jesus is alive one minute and dead the next kind of death that is portrayed in the movies. It was an excruciating and painful process that sometimes took days. Thankfully, for Jesus it was only 9 hours.

But let’s just focus now for the moment of carrying the cross through town. This is the cross bearing that Jesus speaks of to the crowd. This is the humiliation that first century Palestinians had become all too familiar. With this word picture, Jesus presented a clear and challenging picture of the Christian life. Being His disciple means putting aside my selfish desires, and shouldering the burden of being a Christ follower every day. It is simple yet so demanding. We are to love God and love others daily. It goes against our nature to love others more than we love ourselves. It goes against our grain not to look out for number one, for ourselves. For the original disciples, bearing the cross meant suffering and death. Each one of them except for John would be killed because their beliefs ran counter to the cultures and governments of their day. For us today, it means understanding that we belong to Him and that we live to serve Jesus’ purposes and not our own. We must understand that we are not the central character in this story that is being written. It is God who is the main character not us. We are here to serve Him and not the other way around.

The question that we must ask ourselves is do I live my life to serve God and His purposes or do I live as though the God of the universe is supposed to serve me and my needs? Are you willing to deny yourself and serve Him? Are you willing to serve others so that they can see Jesus? Do you see your money as your own and not as God gifting to you for the talents He gave you? Do you serve Him with your resources? Are you scared to share the story of the gospel because it makes you uncomfortable? Are you willing to leave a life of comfort to go into full time ministry here at home or in a foreign land where the needs are great and the gospel is not spoken? How big of a cross beam are you willing to shoulder? Is it a toothpick or a log? Are you only willing to put your “yes” on the table when its convenient? Are you only willing to serve when it doesn’t interfere with your hobbies? Anything less than putting God first in your life and following wherever He leads is simply lip service to the King. Lip service to a King that suffered the most excruciating death ever just so you would have the opportunity for salvation. Lip service to the innocent Lamb. Lip service to the righteous judge who will discern our love for Him at our personal judgment day or when He returns in glory in the eastern sky. Either way, we will be judged for whether we took up our cross. Are you willing to walk up stairs with your cross tied to your shoulders just so others will know the love of Jesus Christ that you know? Are you willing to pay the price?

Just as this overweight guy is trying his best to lose weight by paying the price of getting up early and exercising every day, I must also be willing to pay the price whatever that may be to follow my Savior daily wherever He has my mission field. I must be a Christ follower even when its not pretty or convenient. I must be a Christ follower even when it costs me something. I must be a Christ following when it is not convenient. I must be Christ follower when it is not popular. I must BE a Christ follower. Daily. I must carry the cross.

Luke 9:22-27 — Have you ever had something that you had to do that was distasteful, maybe even painful, and there was no way to avoid it? For me, this time last year, it was a colonoscopy. At 51, at the time, it is almost a rite of passage for any man who crosses over the half century mark. It was something that had to be done but it sure wasn’t something that I wanted to do nor would I ever volunteer for it. The colonoscopy itself is not that big of a deal but the preparation for it is not anything that I would wish on my worst enemy. However, the assurance of good health or the early detection of cancer makes the all the discomfort, pain and suffering worth the effort. It was a great comfort afterwards to know that no cancerous polyps were found and that I was in as good of health as one can be at 51.

Another thought comes to mind as well is the scene from my favorite movie ever, The Last Samurai, when Tom Cruise’s character tells Ken Wantanabe’s character, “Necessary? What could be more necessary?”
That particular episode of my life and that critical line from the movie came to mind when I read this passage. There is much here that we will explore for a few days, but let’s consider the concept of necessary today.

Jesus says that the Son of Man, referring to Himself, MUST suffer many terrible things. He must be rejected by the Jewish religious leaders, the leading priests, and the scribes of Jewish religious law. He will be killed bu on the third day, He will be raised from the dead. Notice He says MUST. It was an forever will be necessary. Why MUST He go through these things. He MUST. In line with the illustration I used, it was necessary pain. It was intense in fact in Jesus case. He was to suffer mightily and then die. To use the line from the Last Samurai, it was necessary. There is nothing in the history of man since the Fall that was more necessary. Do we really understand why though?

The Jews were expecting that the Messiah to be one who would come to re-establish the might of Israel that it had not seen since the days of David and Solomon. The Messiah to them was to be a conquering hero. Do we really understand why at Jesus’ first advent that He came to suffer rather than conquer. Do you really understand?

There has never been an act more necessary. The suffering and death of Jesus Christ forms the core of our Christian faith. It was necessary. Without it, there is no solution. The suffering and death of Jesus Christ is the glue that joins the Old Testament and the New. It is the pivotal moment in history that changes everything. Why is that? What is it that Jesus dying on the cross does for me, really? We hear that Jesus died on the cross for us but why? How does his death on the cross save me and why is it necessary?

There are several reasons. Let’s look at them. First and foremost, God’s Word tells us that His death on the cross was necessary because God said so. Scripture tells us that His death on the cross was necessary to save us. God said so. But why does God say so? We have to go back to the Old Testament. In Exodus, God trains his people on the future of the cross through establishing the Old Testament sacrificial system. In order to have sins forgiven, God established various animal sacrifices at the Tabernacle that were to be performed in the presence of and by the priests to restore a right relationship with God when the sacrifices were presented with a penitent heart. The sacrificial system was symbolic of what was to come. However, the sacrificial system was temporary and had to be repeated. It depended on animals that were created and were part of the sin-filled fallen world. It was always to point to the permanent perfect solution. It was practice for us to be able as God’s people so that we would recognize the cross.

Jesus is the permanent solution to the sin/forgiveness/restoration issue. There was no other way to do this. Jesus, God in the flesh, the perfect one, the sinless one HAD to come to earth. He HAD to live the sinless life. There was no imperfection in Him (just as visually there were no imperfections in the animals to be slaughtered as part of the Old Testament sacrificial system). He was perfect inside and out. He was sinless and lived the sinless life. That made Him the most perfect of all the sacrifices ever to be offered at the altar of God. The cross became the altar of sacrifice. Since Jesus was sinless and pure, and the purest EVER, He was the final sacrifice. There is no other sacrifice for sin needed. There was no continuing need for sacrifice needed after the perfect one was sacrificed on the altar of the cross. The temporary sacrifices restored us to a right relationship with God temporarily.

Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, the new altar of God, was complete. It was the penultimate sacrifice of all time. It was the end of the sacrificial system. With this sacrifice, it is as Jesus said on the cross finished. The process is complete. He died on the cross to complete the Old Testament sacrificial system. Through this once and final sacrifice on the cross for sin, as God said that this is what it was for, the process is complete. All that we have to do is to believe with all our heart that this is what the cross is for. It is the sacrifice that reunites us with God. It is through this sacrifice that our sins are taken with Jesus into death. We are made anew permanently through our belief in this sacrifice. We are permanent, not temporarily, made right with God. No continuing sacrifices are necessary. This sacrifice finishes it forever. Once we kneel at the cross and believe that this sacrifice was made to reconcile our sin-filled selves to God, we are made whole, clean, and right with God. This sacrifice is not through our effort but through God’s willingness to reconcile Himself to us. Even with the old system, we did not deserve reconciliation and it was not earned at the Tabernacle. It was God’s gifting way to allow us to have a way to be reconciled with Him not through our efforts but through the avenue He gave us. This is continued on the cross.

Also without the sacrifice and death on the cross, we would not have the resurrection. Without the resurrection, we would have no hope. Jesus’ resurrection gives us hope that our sins lay in the grave with His death. He left it there in the tomb. He died to make it die. He arose to give us new life. Without the death of our sin in the tomb with Jesus, we have no hope, no new life. The resurrection shows us that there is life, new life in Jesus. He conquered sin and death. He laid waste to it and because He was God was able to arise from the battle in new life. He is bigger than sin and death. He left it in the grave to be there permanently. Are you ready for the permanent forgiveness that lies at the foot of the cross, the once and final sacrifice for all sin. And are you ready for the new life, the resurrection, that Jesus brings?

Necessary. What could be more necessary. The cross was necessary. It was the temporary pain and suffering that was absolutely necessary to guarantee the permanent perfect health of our souls. It was that nasty, yucky, ugly, painful, gut wrenching thing that Jesus HAD to go through to secure your and my eternity. Necessary. What could be more necessary?

Luke 9:18-21 — Gender reveals are a new in-thing. Today in this decade it has become increasing popular for the parents-to-be of a yet to be born baby to have what has come to be called a “gender reveal party.” At this party, there is a dramatic build-up to when the parents-to-be reveal the gender of their unborn baby to the families and friends. It’s a cool idea and it is about revelation. It is about revealing something that nobody else knows until that moment of revelation. These kinds of parties remind of today’s passage. It is a Messiah reveal party.

This is a watershed moment for the disciples. It is the Messiah reveal party moment. Jesus asks them first who do people say that I am and then more pointedly who do YOU say that I am. There are several things that we can take from this passage. First, do you see that Jesus uses an “I am” reference here. Second, there comes a time when we have to say who Jesus is to us. In the end, we must either accept or reject Jesus Christ. There is no middle ground. We must make a choice.

The first thing that I have noticed here is that there is some word play going on here. Jesus loved word play. The camel and the eye of the needle were words in Hebrew that were spelled either the same way or almost exactly in the same way in the Hebrew and it was up to an ancient Israelite to determine the context and thus the meaning of the word. Jesus was brilliant in that illustration with his word play. Here, He does it again. Ending the phrase with words that translate to English as “I AM”. He phrases the question in way that so that it ends with “I am.” I don’t think from what I have read on this passage that the “I am” that was used here was the Yahweh “I am” but the irony of the phrasing cannot be passed up here as Jesus trying to get his sometimes clueless disciples to clue in. The phrase that translate to “I AM” in English is how God identifies himself when Moses asks for God what he should call Him. I AM then becomes the way that God identifies himself. I AM. There can be no mistaking what that means when that phrase is used. John uses the phrase quite frequently throughout his gospel. I AM is the name of God. The Great I Am, He is sometimes called. Jesus by implication here is trying to clue the disciples in on what the proper response be. Jesus is God. He is the Great I Am. The disciples are standing in the presence of God in the flesh. Jesus and the Father are One. He is I AM.

He ask the question of the disciples. Who do the people say I am? Then again, and more personally, who do you say that I am? As Dr. Ralph Wilson says in “Peter’s Great Confession, “so you can probably list various theories about Jesus. Jesus was a remarkable teacher. Jesus was a prophet. Jesus was a man who believed himself to be the Messiah. Jesus was the founder of the Christian religion. Jesus was a compassionate and powerful healer. Jesus was an anti-establishment political revolutionary. Those are some of the leading theories, the kind of theories you might learn in a college religion course.” The disciples could quote what others were saying about Jesus. We can even sit in church for 30 years and quote all the right things about Jesus and not have to commit to a real answer. But after the disciples had voiced the various theories and speculations that swirled about Jesus, they were silent. And then Jesus asked them a personal question: “Who do YOU say I am?” Ultimately, this is a question we must answer ourselves. We get through life telling people about all the things that have been said about Jesus. We can even know Scripture and quote Jesus’ saying from Scripture word for word, but not know Jesus. It is possible to be in church all of our lives and keep our academic distance from Jesus. We can have all this great historical perspective on Jesus. We can be a Jesus fan and have every cool academic new look book at Jesus and there have been thousands of those through the centuries. We can know all about Jesus but not know Jesus. We can have written papers, blogs, and Facebook posts that make us sound like we know Jesus but not really know Him at all. The question comes for us all, from Jesus, “Who do YOU say that I am?” He demands an answer.

Even other religions all have to answer this question to the most important life ever lived. Islam has to answer the question and they try. Judaism has to answer the question. Hinduism. Buddhism. Bahai. You name the religion, they have a position on Jesus. Funny that Christianity does not have a position at all on the founders of these or any other religion. I stray from the point a bit, but it shows you that no matter who you are you must answer this question from Jesus, “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus, throughout the New Testament is cloaked in the term I AM and He uses it to reference Himself on several occasions. He is unequivocal in saying that He and the Father are One. You can conjecture and say that He was saying that He was like-minded with God but understanding Scripture, language, context, Jesus is saying that He is God. He and the Father are One. There is no mistaking it. How do you respond? Who do you say that I am?

Are you like Peter whose confession is the rock upon which Jesus would build his church? Do you confess that Jesus Christ is the Messiah? It is similar to being a fiancee to the man who ask you to marry him. You are free to leave and walk away until you say “I do”. With that I do, you are committed! You are all-in. You move from being a fiancee to a wife. The same is true for the fiance to husband transition. Do you say Jesus that Jesus is Messiah. Do you confess with your mouth, like a bride to be or a husband to be confesses publicly to commit to his/her spouse, that Jesus Christ is Lord. Do you have the faith to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and was physically resurrected from the dead? If you have the faith to say these things, then Jesus has been revealed to you. The veil is pulled back. The Messiah reveal party has reached its climax. Who do you say that I am, Jesus asks. He is the Great I AM. Reveal party concluded.

Luke 9:10-17 — Feeding the 5,000, what else can we learn from this passage. Something begs me to stay here one more day. I think it is the fact that we are going through sort of a reboot or relaunch of our local outreach ministries of our church that bids me to stay here one more day. We are trying to learn what it is that will create maximum participation in our community events. What better place to learn than from our Master Himself. What makes this scene from Jesus’ life so important to those who are served and those serving. It makes me think of the one community event that brings about the most participation from our people. Our community wide Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway is the single most participatory event on our community calendar each year. What can this passage and that event teach us about spurring people on to make a difference in the world around us in the name of Jesus Christ? I think there are three things that jump out.

First, the thing that the feeding of the 5,000 with Jesus and the feeding of the 565 back in November have in common. These events meet a real need in the community and at the same time demonstrates the power of God. In this scene from Luke 9, the crowd had come to see Jesus but is was in a remote, desolate place. They had been there all day learning from Jesus about the Kingdom of God. But, yet they were far away from any place to get food. There was a need there. In meeting the need, Jesus was able to teach them about the power of God. Jesus met needs always. He met physical needs. It is hard to tell a hungry man about the kingdom of God until you feed him. In feeding them, He also demonstrated compassion and the power of God. I think that, too, is the power of the Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway (TMG) in the community is that it shows what God can do when we let Him guide us toward meeting real needs in our community. There is a real need of hungry and poverty-stricken people in the community. There are real needs around us in our community. Maybe in giving away the meals, we teach people that God’s church is full of compassionate people. Sure, there are those that are simply working the system and taking advantage of the kindness of our people, but if one person is real need and this event is the difference is starving on Thanksgiving or having a meal and they see Christ through the activity, then it’s a win. There are other needs in the community we can address too that meet real needs each of us every day one on one and as a church. The TMG just scratches the surface of the needs that we can meet as the body of Christ so that we can demonstrate that churches are not inward focused. Just think of the needs in the world that we can really make a difference in, if we as the body of Christ put our mind to it – third world hunger, human trafficking, genocide. Our little TMG is a tool to meet needs and gives the opportunity to teach of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God. The gospel is meaningless to hungry man. If we show him the miracle of Jesus’ people working together to solve a problem, then, and then, we can begin to show Him the gospel. Gospel in action first. Gospel in Word next.

I think the second thing that it teaches us as the body of Christ in this scene and in our meal giveaway is that we are the agents through whom Jesus chooses to work. Jesus told the disciples to feed the people. They brought forth what meager resources they could bring and Jesus used that to achieve a miracle. The disciples brought the resources they had to bear on the problem and Jesus used it. Jesus multiplied it. But it was Jesus’ choice to have them feed the people. They participated in the miracle. They participated in the feeding of the large crowd. Jesus gave them a job to do and they participated in the ministry. Jesus combined and multiplied the resources but he allowed his disciples to be His agents in ministry. Jesus could have made the loaves and fishes just appear in everyone’s lap but Jesus gave the job of delivering the miracle to the disciples. The TMG gives people an opportunity to participate in something meaningful after the miracle of multiplication has already happened. God moves the hearts of our people to donate and it is a plain out miracle the extent to which this happens. On the day of the event, Jesus gives His people at our church the opportunity to participate in the miracle. They are able to see people in the eyes and talk to them. God wants us to participate in the kingdom work. Certainly, our church could have given all these meals and turkeys to some local helps agency but when we did it ourselves for the community our people get to participate in the miracle. Seeing the miracle in action had a profound impact on the disciples in this scene in Luke. The witnessed the power of the Master. Same thing at the the TMG. The disciples saw the lid blown off of what could be done with Jesus. Our meal giveaway should do the same for us. We should think after that that nothing is impossible with Christ. In our reboot of community transformation that we are going through, we should be thinking that nothing is impossible in Christ. Nothing is off the table. We should be praying for God to show us how to tackle real needs in really impactful ways. We should not limit God because He is limitless. He takes what we have, multiplies it, and lets us participate in His miracles.

This scene and the meal giveaway should spur us all on to have true faith and trust in Jesus. When we try to solve the world’s problems on our own, we may can make an impact in meager ways. However, when we trust in Jesus and give all the glory to Him and seek Him, we can have a mighty impact. When we have faith in Him, He will provide. When we have faith in Him, we can meet needs. In Him, we can fight for justice. In Him, we can lift up those who need a helping to be set on their feet. In Him, we can get out of our comfort zone and make a real difference in real problems. Is God calling you to feed the 5,000? Is God calling you to open a soup kitchen? Is God calling you to fight against human slavery in the modern world? Is God calling you to participate in house churches in China? Is God calling you to inner city Detroit to help people find ways out of poverty? Is God calling you to meet real and seemingly insurmountable human needs here at home and around the globe? He wants us to participate in saving a fallen world from itself. He wants us to be witness to His miracles. He wants us to trust in Him that nothing is impossible when we have faith in Him. We are only limited by how big we let God be. We are only limited by thinking that our loaves and fishes are not enough.

Luke 9:10-17 — My wife and I went to see American Sniper last night and there was a portion of that movie that serves as an illustration for this passage and my writing this morning. When 30 year old Chris Kyle decides to join the Navy and become a Navy SEAL, he had to join others in the harrowing training process of becoming a SEAL. In that process, we are witness to them being pushed beyond their physical, mental and emotional limits. It is necessary training. It separates those that are not cut out for being this type of warrior and those who are not. It is through this training that only those who are completely fit on all three fronts can make it through. It is necessary because some of, if not all, of their missions will be pressure situations where the difference between life and death is wafer thin. The training teaches the SEALs that they must depend on their inner strength and on one another in dire situations. How many are ready to fight? How many are willing to lay it all on the line to serve their country. In the last battle scene the men are trapped on a rooftop, a group of probably 15 guys against Iraqi rebels numbering in the hundreds. The training they survived at base in San Diego was necessary to survive this moment. All seems lost but you fight til the end. You fight even when the odds are against you. You don’t fold up tent and die without a fight. We will not go quietly into the night.

Today’s passage also reminds me of Gideon’s Army in that regard. Gideon obediently tells the men that any who is afraid of the coming battle is free to go home, and more than two thirds of his army walk away and return home. Gideon is shattered. What can they do with only 10,000. But God says, “There are still too many men,” and tells Gideon to keep only the men who drink water at the creek in a certain manner. When all is said and done, only 300 are left. Gideon is down to 300 men in the face of 150,000 or so. Just about the same as Jesus’ disciples with five loaves and two fish to feed a multitude 5,000, plus thousands of women and children. Pretty grim. Jesus tells them, “You feed them.” The disciples are incredulous that Jesus would say such a thing. They knew they had limited resources, five loaves and two fish. The odds seemed insurmountable. The disciples only saw their limitations and wanted to give up. Navy SEAL even when given tasks that are way beyond what normal men could think or imagine, they fight on because they believe in their mission and the mission is the thing above all odds no matter how highly stacked against them.

There was a battle at a place called Thermapoli during the war between the Persian and Greek empires. There were 300 Greeks against 1,000,000 Persian soldiers. For days, the Greeks encamped in the mountains withstood the army of the Persians. The battle was won by 300 men who fully believed in their mission and were willing to die to the last man to save their empire. The odds were insurmountable. Lesser men would easily have walked away. Gideon’s army of 300 men were up against 150,000 Midianites. The odds were insurmountable and the lesser men did walk away. There were 13 men including Jesus and they were up against feeding 5,000 men plus the women and children. The odds seems insurmountable. Jesus said you feed them. How could this be done?

To me, this passage is more about teaching the disciples than it is about feeding the 5,000. We can never give up in the face of the insurmountable odds. We must trust in Jesus even when times are tough. We must trust that the mission of the church is greater than odds that we face. We must trust that God will use the limited resources that we have and do amazing things with them. We must be the disciples vs. the 5,000. We must be Gideon’s 300 against the 150,000. We must be the 300 Greeks against the 1,000,000 Persians. We must be the Americans on the rooftop fighting no matter the odds.

In a world today, where Christianity is at the very least marginalized and the world seems to revel in being anti-biblical and we are ridiculed for our old-fashioned belief system. We can withdraw into our ivory towers and bemoan that the world is going to hell and that we will have no part in it. We can draw back inside our churches and deride what is happening in our world and write it and its people off while thanking God for saving us from what the world is and build walls around ourselves and give up the land. Give up the land to the enemy. Give up the land to Satan.

Or we can stand and engage the culture and spread the gospel. Or we can depend on God to carry us through. Or we can depend on Him to give us the words to say to engage the culture. Jesus went to the cross for us and for the world. He fought to the last man. Why can’t we believe in a God that is big. That can perform miracles in what seems a winless scenario. That God is our God. He can feed the 5,000. He can fight injustice. He can fight unbelief. He can fight ridicule. He can win the fights that seem unwinnable. The thing that we must do is say that we are willing to be in that last group of men an women who truly believe in the mission. That believe the mission is the thing. That the mission is the most important thing. That we are willing to die in whatever ways that means to see the world won to our Savior. If it means going into the projects to tell people of Jesus. If it means going to Iraq as a missionary. If it means going to China to be part of the underground church. If it means being Jesus to your neighbor when its inconvenient. If it means standing up for that which is moral and biblical in a world that embraces immorality and rejects the Bible. How much do you believe in the mission? How far am I willing to take it? How big is my God? Do I believe that He can take a bad situation and make it a great one? Do you believe that through Christ and in total dependence on Him, we can change the world? Is God bigger than the problem? How much do you trust Him? He would rather have 300 or even just 12 who are sold out than 1,000,000 who are lukewarm and easily chased away. Give me the strength to be a part of the small number who truly believe no matter the odds, no matter the resources. I want to be part of that group of Jesus SEALs who take on the mission no matter what!