Wednesday, September 14, 2011


This was a most probing question my father-in-law would ask his daughters after they had completed a baby-sitting job; summer job; or some other money-making opportunity. His children have continued asking this of their own children.

It reminded me of a question I had been asked as a teenager, by the single missionary who had been left in charge of the mission in Mt. Frere, South Africa, while my parents were away, on mission business.

“I want you to help me select special gifts for our special Bible class promotion coming up in a week. I want them to be wise and useful in their lives.” She later reported to my parents that I had “passed the test”. (Just barely, in my opinion!)

My prayers about a recent, special concern were not being answered. I found myself asking the same question, but with its own personal twist. “With all you have invested to be ready for such a time as this, what have you got to show for it?”

As King David looked at the unfolding drama of his son, Absalom, he no doubt asked a similar question, “What have I got to show for all of this? Just give me my son back!” In the end, his heart could utter nothing else than a helpless wail, “O my son, Absalom, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33)

I have thought about that question off and on for many years, and often wondered how my father-in-law got that from scripture. I knew better than to question his wisdom, because I was quite sure he knew what he was talking about! After all, he had done pretty well in raising his daughters, one of whom I wanted as my wife. (I knew it “had” to be in scripture!)

As I was working on projects around the home recently, a flash of insight came and I saw a connection between that statement and what Peter said in one of his epistles:

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:13-16 esv)

“. . . be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience . . .”

My father-in-law was requiring his daughters to be able to answer the question, “How will this, (job, position, purchase, right, etc.), give you an answer for your personal hope, and the hope of others? What have you got to show for it?”

Regret, frustration, complaining, etc., are horrible enemies, and basically come from ourselves.

When Israel began to listen to the law of God being read by Ezra, in the newly restored city of Jerusalem, under Nehemiah, they began to weep. Nehemiah told them that strength was found in joy, not in weeping. God had engineered the rebuilding of the walls. The law was being read again. They had begun to see where the failure was. This was no time to weep, but rather rejoice. (Nehemiah 8:10)

I began to realize that I have always been the most concerned when I truly felt a problem had been left up to me. We are overcome because we see our own failures, but see no responsibility towards God, and the amazing provision He has given us. “Jesus paid it all! All to Him I owe! Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow!” Could this be one reason why no answer will come? This question can be asked of anything that we desire in our world – whether it is a purchase, a position, or a legitimate desire.

What can we do to fix the problem? Or, “What have you got to show for it?”

One is to “make ends meet”, in a world fraught with challenges along the way. As my sister-in-law would say, “Do what you got to do, and live with it!”

The other is that we might use what we have been given as eternal treasure, a “trust”.

The apostle Paul put it this way, “Still, I want it made clear that I've never gotten anything out of this for myself, and that I'm not writing now to get something. I'd rather die than give anyone ammunition to discredit me or impugn my motives. If I proclaim the Message, it's not to get something out of it for myself. I'm compelled to do it, and doomed if I don't! If this was my own idea of just another way to make a living, I'd expect some pay. But since it's not my idea but something solemnly entrusted to me, why would I expect to get paid? So am I getting anything out of it? Yes, as a matter of fact: the pleasure of proclaiming the Message at no cost to you. You don't even have to pay my expenses! 1 Corinthians 9:15-18 The Message (MSG)

The prophet Samuel’s robe tore, as King Saul, Israel’s first king, grabbed it when he began to walk away. Saul had disobeyed God’s specific instructions, keeping the best for himself. “Since all you want is the stuff, the kingdom has been taken away from you.”

Its almost as if I hear Samuel saying, “I hear the bleating of sheep and the lowing of oxen. Show me, oh King, how this “stuff” brings hope to you, and to God’s people, especially since God had told you to destroy it all!” (1 Samuel 15) As I recall, “stuff” had been Saul’s problem even from the time of his anointing to be the king, in trying to please his dad, when his dad was more concerned about he, himself! (1 Samuel 10:22)

I find it ironic that Saul’s spirit betrayed itself in yet another encounter. This time it was with the Philistines, where he couldn’t wait for the prophet Samuel to turn up for the worship service, and his excuse was, “I forced myself therefore, and offered a burnt offering.” (I Samuel 13:12) Even worship had become a drudgery, and something that he had to force himself to do.

It is as if the Holy Spirit was saying, “Show me how your job, activity, frustration, etc., provides something you need more than what you already have in God. Show how you can experience personal Christian hope, demonstrate genuine love, and bring these to someone else who crosses your path.”

Jesus may as well have asked the rich young ruler the same question, as he refused to sell all he had in order to follow the Lord Jesus, “What do you have to show for the kingdom of God?” (Matthew 19:20)

The same God who had allowed him to have a lot of “money and stuff”, would care for those needs outside of the “virtual security” he was now experiencing.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Luke 18 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Parable of the Persistent Widow Reaping in joy what you have sown in tears.

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

“Elias [Elijah] was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.” (James 5:17-18 KJV)

This parable, contrary to what it seems to suggest on the surface, is not merely a sales pitch for persistence. The persistence in this story is more like a contention than a recommendation to persist. But, it is not just a contention either, because the widow is not shown as being all “bent out of shape”! She is tenaciously determined! What made her this way? That seems to be the point of this parable.

She knew that this judge could do what she wanted! He was experienced. He had dealt with this kind of thing before. He had told her! Jesus had said that the judge needed to be heard! (verse 6)

Jesus often used parables, especially among religious leaders, in order to help them see, when they were really blind. (Matthew 13:13)

Here Jesus uses a parable to teach God’s power, and the key to it. Elijah, in the Old Testament, although used mightily of God to discipline the nation of Israel concerning their idolatry, did not comprehend how much it would cost him emotionally, until he found himself running in fear from the idolatrous queen, herself!

“When the illusion of control disappears, we become men and women of prayer.” RT@MattChandler74 (Twitter)

What is a parable anyway? It is a brief but clear story, occasionally written in poetic form. It illustrates an instructive principle, life lesson, or universal truth, such as those found in scripture. A parable is a type of analogy.

The word “parable” comes from the Greek παραβολή (parabolē), meaning “comparison, illustration, analogy”, It sketches a setting, describes an action, and shows the results. It often involves a character facing a moral dilemma, or making a questionable decision and then experiencing the consequences.

It would serve us well to remember that Jesus said in Mark 4:13 that all parables have the concept of “sowing and reaping” hidden in them. We therefore need to look for the truth of “sowing and reaping” in this parable. The widow saw the truth of this resource, experienced its growth in her perception, and comprehended that continued persistence with an unjust and uncaring judge, would pay off in the end. In this way, the widow’s perception of the answer to her need seems to prove light, or discernment.

Let us consider the words, “a certain city”. It was a specific city. Was this parable meant to be a picture of God’s dealings with Israel’s religious leaders, the cry of those affected by this, and the spiritually “widowed” in the city of Jerusalem, and the answer of the sending of the Lord Jesus Christ to redeem them?

After the coming of Christ, the objective is much bigger than just the ancient state of Israel, but rather the true Church, the redemption of those He draws to Himself, as demonstrated in the Book of Acts.

So the parable can demonstrate the inner ache of the spirit, as it longs to see the release of a transformed heart responding to the grand purpose of redemption.

Therefore, to capture the main lesson of this parable, could not this “certain city” be like any spiritual stronghold that Christians may experience in their souls? Or, to put it another way, the “certain city” could be any significant issue that you have.

Or, to put it in the words of the scripture passage, as we shall see at the end of the passage, the Judge of the Universe will avenge his elect of their adversary, when faith has immobilized the unjust judge!

But, this particular judge did not fear God nor did he respect people. He had scrutinized her carefully. He was not going to let go of this lightly. This had made her check her heart out many times. She had tried good attitudes, and good strategies, but none had worked. All that was left was her own inspired view of the answer. This was beginning to serve her well, because Satan, himself, can come as an “angel of light”. God’s light is greater!

This “heart” discernment is designed to lead to further understanding, and a conviction that there may be resources to meet this need. This may well be an opportunity to experience the power of God, comprehended in the vision of the heart, the very authority needed for God’s answer.

Was it then faith that drove the woman to camp on the doorstep of this judge? If so, then Faith is much more than a wish, or a positive mental attitude. It is knowledge of an existing truth, having its source as the very heart of God! This kind of faith is conceived in the heart of God, implanted in the heart, and is able to save one’s soul. (James 1:21) As the understanding of the Word of God made personal to us expands, (Psalm 119:96), (Psalm 138:2), it includes amazing wonders.

Knowing the truth, and seeing God apply it in the midst of adverse surroundings sets us free.

Is this not a parable in one’s experience of “unanswered prayer”? Is Jesus telling us that often we are driven by the fierce winds of our lusts?

Why else would he tell us not to be fainthearted in prayer, when futility lingers in mechanical answers to such questions?

In Luke’s record, just prior to this, Jesus shows how the loss of faith, as explained above, assigns us with loads we cannot possibly carry, which end up drowning “in an ocean” with a stone attached. He then demonstrates how a forgiving spirit is critical to faith, but who can forgive without first being forgiven? Finally, he demonstrates how ingratitude relates to unanswered prayer, indicating that if we were not a benefactor, we could never benefit another.

Jesus deals with these things, it seems to me, to keep people on praying ground – (1) Don’t lose faith, for without it there are loads we cannot possibly bear, and oceans that we cannot possibly swim; (2) Always remember your first role is as “light” in a dark world, to meet the need of the human heart with the message of the Gospel; (3) Stay on forgiving ground, thus consistently keeping flow of the Holy Spirit working; (4) Keep gratitude. Remember that we gained nothing on our own initiative in our world!

Some situations we all face are simply “unjust”. Yet, ironically, hidden deep in our experience of God in our lives, is the insight made real by faith.

Ironically, we are commanded to pursue God’s heart-joy in these kinds of situations. How can joy occur if there has not first been faith? Matthew 15:8; Philippians 1:20-21. In other words, there has to be gain!

Years ago Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a book entitled, “When Bad Things happen to Good People”. TV Weather anchor, Chuck Gadicea, in reflecting on the title, at Livonia Prayer Breakfast, 2011, noted that Harold did not say, “Why”, but, “When”! We will all face situations, which are a sort-of parable of life, in and of themselves.

The Samaritan woman was saying, in so many ways, “Give me the music of an authentic life of praise to God! This Man before me is expressing the truth, and I know it. I am going to check this man out who offers me living water at this well!” Having had to deal repeatedly with bad deals in her own life, five husbands, finally ending up with a live-in boyfriend; lame excuses of the “where and how”, from so-called “religious people”, she tries it once again with Jesus. “You speak of this living water, Jesus, but I want to know where we are supposed to worship.”

She had seen the “spirit” of things, and the “truth” of things, in her experience of life. Jesus the Messiah, who had the answer to those questions, challenged her futile resources – the well in Samaria, and her five husbands! She was truly a widow in the deepest sense of the word. Finally the "judge" released control, when the greater showed Himself to be there.

She knew that this was the Spirit of the Messiah, sent to a lost and dying world. Justice was served, as Jesus explained this to her understanding!

It is no accident that she began spreading the good news of Jesus everywhere!

Friday, May 27, 2011


Mary, Martha and Lazarus were close friends of Jesus. Jesus was right, when he said he had no place to lay his head. God gave him the experience of a sense of “home” in their hearts as he stayed with them. They were just ordinary people, given extraordinary hearts by God the Father, in their care for Jesus.

They may have received some of their inspiration in practicing hospitality from the woman in ancient Israel, who, along with her husband, provided a special room for Elisha and his servant to stay. (2 Kings 4).

If that were the case, it does seem to me that they could have learned something from her attitude when the son God gave her, died, and God used the prophet to bring him back to life, proving that we are all spirits that happen to have bodies, and that is what matters in the end.

This experience wasn’t only for Jesus. God never wastes anything. His first object was to demonstrate His wonderful heart to his own Son, and then to Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

It should not surprise us that Mary, Martha and Lazarus, in addition to the Lord Jesus, (Hebrews 5:8), had personal needs that God was working on. The ministry of Jesus in their home would draw their hearts towards Him.

Mary wanted to learn how Jesus thought and felt, why he did the things he did, how He “ticked”. She wanted to hear his words and his teaching. So, Mary came across to others as being lazy as she sat there at Jesus feet.

Martha, however, seemed to want to gain personal credibility with their Guest, for her own diligence, so frantically did all she could. As she did, she complained about her sister, Mary, to Jesus, while she sat there at His feet. Definitely a diligent person, with everything organized, Martha tended to come across as very domineering.

Not much is said about Lazarus. We do get the sense that Jesus was especially drawn to him. Perhaps it was because Lazarus had a special need to understand his special calling to go through sickness and death, in order to demonstrate the resurrection experience, demonstrating both Jesus' love for him and the glory of God.

Did God also allow this pain to show Jesus his own Father’s love for what he was about to go through very soon? Jesus was God, but also perfectly human. He still had to suffer in order to understand the world he lived in, his co-workers and family. He had to learn obedience through the suffering he experienced. (Hebrews 5:8 as mentioned above)

Thus, God, knowing all of their needs, was intricately involved in all of their lives. In the midst of ministering to this family, His love would draw them all into comprehending the ultimate meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Martha, however, doesn’t seem to make any connection between the loving support of Jesus for Mary’s time at His feet, and the sickness of her brother, Lazarus. She sends a message, “Tell Jesus, that the one he loves is sick.” (John 11:5)

We may see what is going on, but does Martha, or Mary? What if your friend sent a message to you about their sibling with a message like that? “Go tell my friend that the one he loves is sick!” Where is the “heart” in that? Is it really possible that she doesn’t really like her brother that much?

But Martha and Mary themselves may be shocked at this suggestion. Of course there is the human side! They may have been simply appealing to Jesus to acknowledge that Lazarus was also his friend. "Jesus, remember that he is your friend, too. Why didn't you come to heal him? In this way they may have been trying to persuade him to restore him to life on that basis, like the disciples said to Jesus during a storm, "Jesus, don't you care if we all die?"

Jesus did care - because our passage declares that he wept. But, my heart would not allow me to skip over a possible cynicism that may have been lurking here. The human heart is totally sinful without the saving work of Calvary. That was what God the Father was preparing them all for. Have we ever prayed the way Martha and Mary did? Have we prayed that way for a family member? Someone even in the church?

“Dear God, the one that 'you' love, really could use a little of your help today!”

Does that really acknowledge who God is in the plan of Salvation?

This whole experience can teach us something about prayer. I realize that Jesus was not yet glorified, and sitting at the right hand of God, so it is not a perfect example. However, to those who God has revealed Himself to, we can see that this was God the Father's plan, and the Son's objective.

Why did Martha say it that way? Did she really love her brother? Did she really see what was happening? Did she need all of this interest and forgiving love from Jesus so that she would learn love for her brother? Considering her announcement of Lazarus’ sickness to Jesus – was that really as nice as it could have been?

After what seemed to be a lengthy delay, Jesus arrived, and Martha didn’t waste any time telling him what she thought, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Jesus explains what is about to happen, but does she really get it? “Your brother will rise again!” “I know . . . at the last resurrection”, she replied.

Apparently she really had started thinking things through in her relationship with her siblings, because she goes to call Mary. That I find amazing, as she seems to put words in her sister’s mouth, “He is calling you.” She seems to be actually treating her sister differently than when Jesus had been in town before. Could this actually be the genesis of faith with her? Could this be her first real comprehension of God's nature demonstrated in Jesus?

When Jesus is around, and he demonstrates something bigger, everyone seems to get nervous. This was true in his earthly life, and his life through the Spirit. Why is that? Is it the power of the influence of the Heavenly Father, emanating through Jesus?

Oh, not in the ordinary sense of the word – but sort-of like the disciples were when Jesus had overheard their discussions on who would be the greatest in the coming kingdom. “What were you talking about by the way?”

Surely Martha’s family had heard Jesus preach as well – which means that it is quite possible they had heard his advice on more than one occasion, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

In other words, this family had been drawn to Jesus, and desired to be good to him. However, God the Father, working through Jesus the Son was doing much more for them than they ever dreamed. Would they understand? Would they change? It seems to me that they were already changing, perhaps more than they recognized.

He had sown enough love into their hearts, that they immediately turned to him when they got in trouble! They admitted that he was desperately needed!

But were they really convinced? Are we? We are really good at hiding, aren’t we, when we feel threatened.

Slothfulness, (the old word), or spiritual laziness, under God’s scrutinizing and discerning eye, cannot follow through with original plans in the presence of a deeply discerning Jesus. (Proverbs 12:27)

They had an opportunity right in front of them, to begin to reap a little of that which the Lord considers to be precious, the true “substance” of a diligent person. Would they accept the challenge? (Proverbs 12:27)

This “substance”, “bottom line”, “core” issue of life is pictured in Hebrews 11:1, where it speaks of the actions of faith. Our spirits, or lives, tend to have no spiritual substance when they are not related to God’s love demonstrated in the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Christian faith. We mistakenly regard things that typically separate us from God, as true “substance”, when it really is “iniquity”! (Psalms 66:18) "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me:"

Have you ever expressed the reality of Jesus by imagining that he was sitting across from you, and talking to you? I learned to do this after the Holy Spirit had reminded me of a child-hood lie to my mother, when she was already gone. Someone had suggested that I sit down on my bed, and put a chair close by. There, in a prayerful atmosphere, I could invite Jesus to be present as I talked to my mother, baring my heart to her, and asking Jesus to make it all into a prayer, since ultimately sin is always against God in the end. (Psalm 51:4)

My heart is still stirred when I see how bored and distracted Martha seemed to be when she first sent this critical message to Jesus – that is, to Someone whom she knew had first hand knowledge of working with the Divine, and it was concerning her only brother!

Viewed this way it seems sort-of pathetic doesn’t it? Let us put it in a practical way, “Go tell the doctor that my brother, the one who he thinks is so special, is sick!” What is wrong with this picture?

We know that Jesus dearly loved the three of them. It seems to me, however, that Jesus answers Martha’s request in much the same way as she had originally conveyed the information of his sickness to him. Is this also a part of the reason why he stayed two more days in the place He was? Martha had to acknowledge who she was, in order to express her need.

When Martha met him, she said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Yet even now I know that whatever You ask from God, God will give You.” Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha still didn’t get it, however, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

“This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Unfortunately, prayer can be this way. But, it doesn’t need to be. If we are loved that much, why do we act like this?

But Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die—ever. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she told Him, “I believe You are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”

Having said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”

Why did she do that? Perhaps in the back of her mind she thought that her sister would know what was going on, while she didn’t. Or, was she just beginning to see for the first time what was actually happening, and wanted to hide?

When Mary came to where Jesus was and saw Him, she too fell at His feet and told Him, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died!” She had spent time at Jesus’ feet prior to this, but was also struggling in attempting to understand the dynamic of what was going on.

Jesus groaned at all this, upset at everyone's unbelief. Is it really possible that they still don’t get it? Unbelief pervaded the whole atmosphere. The Jews that were there, and even his own disciples there with him did not believe. He was upset, but without sin.

When Jesus heads towards the tomb, having asked where they laid him, Martha gives personality to the corpse in the tomb, “Lord, he already stinks. It’s been four days.” Perhaps something inside of Jesus says, “That’s not Lazarus, the spirit of life is gone!”

He weeps because he loved him – he had lost a friend; He weeps because he is upset that it has taken so long to convince people of the reality of the world of faith; He weeps because he has to bring Lazarus back into this world of pain! He weeps because he would never put someone else through that kind of pain, without the ultimate reason of showing the path of true life. Jesus cares when our heart is pained too deeply for mirth or song! (Psalm 116:15)

Jesus now takes up the original sentiment of the message he had originally received, giving the message back essentially as it had originally come to him, “Father, I thank You that You heard Me. I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so they may believe You sent Me.”

Even Jesus’ closest friends had not comprehended who He was!

After He said this, He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth.

As a part of the training in matters of faith, Jesus leaves the obvious task of facing their prior unbelief to them, “Loose him and let him go.”

Somehow I think that they all needed to see the spirit of Lazarus as a gift that the living God had given specifically to them, not someone that only Jesus could love for their sakes!

By God honoring their faith in His love for Lazarus, they had no choice now but to obey him, as regards Lazarus, by the process of unwrapping his grave clothes both practically and spiritually.

Here Jesus demonstrates love from a totally different viewpoint. It is the love that Adam missed in his relationship with Eve. He took the forbidden fruit from her, that represented the lie of Satan, rather than share the love he had for his relationship with God, by sharing a deeper explanation of that experience. "Eve, God gave you to me, and wants to bless us more than we both dream possible. If he said we shouldn't touch the fruit, it means that there is something infinitely greater out there that we are not recognizing!"

Again, can we learn something about prayer here? The next time we are faced with an experience in life similar to this, could we pray, “Lord, you care about my brother, because you care about me, and those around me. Please heal my brother for your sake, those around me, and me!” (From John 11)

The apostle Paul goes even a step further - He ties all of this in to the future as well!

“We ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:23-28)

“When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (James 4:3)