Our, Us, We

Do you remember when Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray? (Luke 11:1) Apparently, John the Baptist had taught his followers, and Jesus’ disciples thought they should have a similar lesson. Perhaps they had experienced Him praying, and they wanted to be sure they were doing it correctly.

And think about this scenario from Jesus’ perspective. Asking Him to teach them to pray would be a big question that Jesus would surely use to impart truth to His followers, right?

So, it seems to me that He reveals His heart in His answer.

Think about it. Jesus didn’t tell them to go off on their own and pray what He would teach them. In fact, the very first word – “Our” – indicates that Jesus intended them to be together with others when they prayed. Words like “give us this day…”, “… forgive us our sins as we forgive…”, “lead us not into temptation” and “…deliver us from evil…” show that His teaching was not to be taken individually. The repeated plural phraseology – our, us, we – doesn’t give the impression of an I-me-mine prayer. Jesus clearly was pushing His followers toward togetherness.

That runs totally counter-cultural to our selfish nature and our individualistic society, doesn’t it? But then, so did most of Jesus’ teaching, right?

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Ignore the Side Issues

When Satan offered Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world” (Matthew 4:8-9), Jesus apparently didn’t give it the slightest consideration. And I find it fascinating that Jesus didn’t even question whether the devil had the authority or the ability to make such an offer. He didn’t enter into a dialogue about the idea that was being presented.

I mean, I think that if it was me – I’m very much the inquisitive type and one who has a tendency to get hung up on technicalities – I think there’s a good chance I may have responded with something like, “Well, that certainly is an interesting offer, but are all those kingdoms really yours to give?”

Jesus apparently never went down that road at all. Instead, He looked at the real issue: worshiping the devil.

And, He went right to the heart of the matter: God’s people are supposed to worship and serve only the Lord.

The response became easy by recognizing the real issue. He didn’t need to wonder or ponder. The answer was obvious. Worship the devil? No way!

And, just as He did on the previous temptations, He proclaimed the truth of God’s Word. “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” (Matthew 4:10) Declaring the Word of God was how Jesus handled those types of issues, and it’s how you and I should, too.

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What’s the Higher Truth?

Do you remember in the Bible when Satan quoted Scripture? It was when he was tempting Jesus in the wilderness. And Satan actually quotes the Word of God to the Word made flesh.

The first time I really thought about that it was a bit unnerving: the devil knows the Bible. And he does.

And here’s why this is so important to recognize: if he knows the passages he can twist – to lead you astray in your life – better than you know the truth – and the heart of God behind that truth – you’re going to be in trouble.

And I’m not suggesting that you need to have the entire Bible memorized. But let me make this personal for you.

It seems to me that if I was Satan, I would want to study every believer. I would want to know,

  • What are their weaknesses?
  • What are their greatest areas of vulnerability?

And it should be clear that every person is different. So if I know those things, then I can be more effective in temptations, right?

So, I would suggest that we need to identify and know our own areas of weakness. What are the things that you, personally, struggle with the most? And, once you’ve identified those areas, then you need to study what the Bible says about those things. How can you combat those temptations in the same way that Jesus did?

So, in Matthew 4:5-6, Satan says, in essence, “Go ahead and jump, Jesus. You’re not going to get hurt. After all, the Bible – that You love to quote – says the angels will keep you from harm, right?”

But Jesus is not drawn into the argument. Instead – once again – He simply goes on the offensive. “Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4:7)

It’s interesting – to me, at least – that Jesus does not deny what Satan said about the angels rescuing Him. Instead of quibbling over that point, Jesus simply brings it back to the real heart of the matter: God’s people are not supposed to put Him to the test. And that’s where Jesus takes His stand.

Whether or not the temptation is accurate or not is immaterial. Even if what Satan was saying was true, per se, it’s still wrong. Jesus takes His stand on what He knows to be THE most important truth in this particular matter: Don’t put God to the test.

So, for your life, although it may be true that you struggle in certain areas, the higher truth is what God’s Word says about you.

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Been Practicing Your Fencing?

jesus-temptation-1When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-10), how did Jesus combat the temptations? He proclaimed the Word of God over and above the temptations of the enemy.

When Satan suggested that Jesus – who had been fasting for 40 days – should turn stones into bread, Jesus didn’t say, “What a ridiculous idea.”

He also didn’t entertain the thought: “Hmmm. You know, I am hungry. Maybe just that small stone could be a nice hard roll.”

No. He didn’t hang around wondering. He immediately declared the truth of the Word. “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

So, what is He doing? He immediately goes into the offensive mode.

Picture it like this: Satan comes at Jesus with his best thrust of the sword. He jabs at Jesus in what appears to be a vulnerability, a weaknesses – of course it was only a temporary weakness, He was hungry, but a weakness nonetheless.

And what does Jesus do? He backpeddles and tries to dodge the sword thrust, right? No. He immediately starts swinging His own sword – the Word.

But He’s not flailing around. He’s not some untrained novice who is hoping that — maybe – He might get a few good jabs at His opponent before the opponent takes Him out. No. He’s a skilled and prepared warrior, ready to take on His opponent.

I picture it like Satan’s words are barely out of his mouth and Jesus is already taking up His own sword and beating back His enemy.

I’ll be honest. That’s not always my method of operation. And, I’d be willing to bet it’s not always yours either. But it’s what Jesus did.

Maybe it’s time for you and me to take the offensive and wield the sword of the Word.

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Loyalty

prisonLoyalty. That’s an odd word that — with the exception of marketers (loyalty points or loyalty rewards) — is used little in our culture. It is probably demonstrated even less.

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church at Colossae, he mentions several people in his closing remarks.   A couple of those mentions I find intriguing. “Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you… Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you…” (Colossians 4:10, 12)

Now you might be thinking, “Wow, Tom, that is exciting… or NOT! What’s your point?”

Well, Paul mentions these same guys in his letter to Philemon. And, by the way, those two letters — Colossians and Philemon — were written in close proximity of time to one another. But in the Philemon letter, Paul refers to Epaphras as “my fellow prisoner” and Aristarchus simply sends greetings.

That’s backward from what it says in Colossians, right?

Multiple commentators suggest that the “fellow prisoner” idea means that Paul had an arrangement — as a non-violent and respected criminal — whereby he could have someone join him in his incarceration.    That person would help Paul, perhaps assist in taking care of him. There is, after all, a strong indication that Paul’s eyesight was failing. Yet, such a person would have to make a choice — at least for a time — to live the life of a prisoner. No special treatment.

So, it would seem that perhaps Aristarchus and Epaphras took turns. Maybe a couple weeks at a time. Perhaps even a couple months at a time. Whatever the actual timeframe, this looks a whole lot like “In humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

There was a loyalty in Epaphras and Aristarchus that was not only heartfelt but clearly demonstrated.

Oh that we demonstrated such loyalty today in the Church.

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Truth?

truthSt. Anthony the Great, from Egypt, lived during the third and fourth centuries. One of the “Desert Fathers,” Anthony seems to have been a fairly quotable guy. My favorite: “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.'”

Apparently every year, the Oxford Dictionaries declare an international word of the year. They look at words that are trending, especially in media, and, based on those statistics and other factors, make a final decision. Their 2016 international word of the year was “post-truth.”

That’s a scary thought isn’t it? If we are indeed post-truth, then truth no longer makes any difference in our society. Whether or not you or I like it, it’s a fact for much of our culture. And yet the very idea that I just said “it’s a fact” is a declaration of truth. What a muddle-headed society we have become. Men have gone mad.

If we are post-truth, then why the uproar about fake news stories? If there is no absolute truth — if all truth is relative — then who cares whether the news media reports facts or just makes stuff up? I mean, really, let’s be honest. (Oh wait. To be honest means we’d have to be truth-ful, so maybe we shouldn’t go there.)

But post-truth means you can identify as whatever you want to, regardless of the facts.  (Uh oh. There’s that truth-ful word again.) You want to be a different race or a different gender, go ahead. Don’t worry about truth. We’re past that stuff. You want to identify as a millionaire and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars you don’t have? Go for it. If truth is gone, I can’t see that the government has any right to prosecute you.

If you think it through, there is no end to the possibilities.

But there’s the rub. All of those possibilities are based on … wait, what’s the opposite of truth? (I’m not sure it’s safe to say that 3-letter word today.)

Amazing! In a single lifetime, we have gone from being a culture where telling the truth was a virtue, to one where — apparently — truth doesn’t even exist.

But here’s a little, well-kept secret for you: Truth still does exist, even if people won’t admit it. Thank God! Be careful though. Anthony the Great was right.

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One Heart and Soul

heart-and-soul

There is a profound statement in Acts 4:32. “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul…”

It’s not unusual to hear the phrase, “You have my heart.” In other words, I’m fully and completely committed. Come hell or high water, I’m in this for the long haul. It’s not unlike a marriage vow. You have my heart. And the believers were of one heart.

It’s also fairly common to hear the idea of having a “soulmate.” Whether you believe that there is such a thing — one perfect soulmate for someone — is not the point. The point is that the concept of having a soulmate indicates a deep connection, certainly far deeper than you have with most people. So if the believers were of one soul, that’s strong language.

Now, I want to point out that Luke, the guy who wrote this, could have said that the believers “were of one heart” or that they “were of one soul” and that would have been strong. I mean, really, that’s not insignificant, right? But he doubled up the words, signifying that this was seriously serious. It’s stronger than just one or the other. They were one in heart AND soul.

There’s a song from a few years back that was fairly popular. It said, “Lord, I give You my heart, I give You my soul…” That’s a full and total commitment.

And that’s the kind of commitment those early believers had with each other.

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