The Need For A King In Your Life

ThanksLiving: 365 Days of Gratitude

As he did with Israel, God wants to be our sole Lord and King. Yet he recognizes that we need a controlling moral authority in our lives with skin on. So he has ordained leaders to watch over us. No longer are they kings, but they are shepherds, pastors, spiritual leaders, mentors and accountability partners. And the charge that God has given them is to watch over our souls as those who must give account to God someday for the way we live our lives. So joyfully, willingly, gratefully come under their authority—that is God’s path for you to thrive.

Going Deep // Focus: Judges 18:1

Now in those days Israel had no king…

I have selected only a portion of a verse for today’s devotional. The rest of this chapter is the same song, twenty-ninth verse of what we have seen over and over again in Judges. We have been treated to the depressing fare of what happens to a people when they have no controlling moral authority: they do what seems right in their own eyes. And that is never—never—pretty.

So rather than going into the particular details of the sad account of Judges 18, let’s just say the spiritual anarchy that we saw in Judges 17 had continued on into this chapter. In fact, chapter 18 literally continues what began in chapter 17. It is a strange mixture of idol worship openly disguised as worship of Yahweh. It is stunning how easily Israel actually thinks that their surrender to idols made by man’s hand is simply a legitimate representation of their worship of the Lord God.

Back to the opening line: we are told that Israel had no king. They would get one soon enough; Judges bridges the time gap between Moses and Joshua to the start of the inauguration of the Israelite monarchy, beginning with King Saul and carrying forth under the Davidic dynasty until the nation is sent into Babylonian exile. And while a king to control the nasty impulses of this nation seems to be the spiritual antidote to what ails them, an earthly king will be God’s concession to them. God himself wanted be their sole king; that is his ideal. Yet hopelessly flawed by sin, God would graciously send them a man who would hopefully be that controlling moral authority. But God warned them: some kings would be good and godly; others would not. And when they were not, Israel would rue the day they begged God for a king.

Now how about us? Like Israel, God wants to be our sole Lord and King, but he knows we need a controlling moral authority in our lives with skin on. So he has ordained leaders to watch over us. No longer are they kings, but they are shepherds, pastors, spiritual leaders, mentors and accountability partners. And the charge that God has given them is to watch over our souls as those who must give account to God someday for the way we live our lives. The writer of Hebrews made this appeal:

Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith…. Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit. (Hebrews 13:7,17)

Now we live at a time where we have been conditioned to bristle at the thought of submission to anyone. We question authority. We do not like the idea of being accountable to anyone who might call us out for our behavior. As a result, far too many of us live unexamined lives. But if nothing else, Judges show us the ugly truth about having no king, which is living without any controlling moral authority: we do what is right in our own eyes. And like we find in chapter after chapter in Judges, that is never a pretty picture.

I would make an appeal to you that it is God’s will for you to voluntarily and joyfully submit to a spiritual leader. Slowly, carefully, prayerfully re-read Hebrews 13:7 & 17. It is for your own good that God has ordained people to watch over your souls. So important is it that God will even hold them accountable for how well they do their job with you. It is a blessing to you that you submit to them—submit not as a doormat, which is a misreading of the biblical word; but rather to line up under their oversight, which is the true meaning of submission. If you will, believe me, you will thrive under the humble, godly, servant-hearted leadership of an anointed leader.

Israel had no king, and it was disastrous. What about you? Who is the controlling human authority in your life representing God to you? If you can’t answer that, you may be in trouble. If you can, come under their loving leadership willingly, gratefully and joyfully.

Going Deeper With God: Pray for your spiritual leader today! He or she is a gift from God to you.

Merry Christmas And Fear Not

Luke 2:10-12 (TEV)

The angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. This very day in David’s town your Savior was born—Christ the Lord! And this is what will prove it to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

It is interesting that the very first words in the announcement of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2 were, “don’t be afraid!”

There were some shepherds in that part of the country who were spending the night in the fields, taking care of their flocks. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone over them. They were terribly afraid, but the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. This very day in David’s town your Savior was born—Christ the Lord! 12 And this is what will prove it to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great army of heaven’s angels appeared with the angel, singing praises to God:

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them back into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us.”

With so much fear in our world right now, our worshipful celebration of the anniversary of Christ’s birth reminds us that Christmas really is the Good News. Not only did the arrival of Jesus mean we now have a Savior, it also meant that we no longer have to live in fear.

So how do we enter into that “no fear” living? It’s quite simple really; nothing complicated about it at all. The angels said what is repeated another 364 times throughout Scripture: Fear not. In other words, quit worrying. And to do that, we must do what the angels went on to instruct the shepherds to do: “Find the Christ-child and worship him.”

I’m pretty sure what those heavenly heralds were, and are, calling for is to simply replace worry with sustained worship. That is the antidote to fear. That is what will defeat the anxiety the evil in this world causes in our hearts. That is what reminds us that embracing the Christ-child as Savior and Lord truly is Good News.

With that in mind, take courage, it’s Christmas!

“Fear is faith in Satan; Faith is fearing God.”

Giving Therapy

Luke 6:38

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Dr. Karl Menninger, founder of the famed psychiatric clinic in Topeka, Kansas that bears his name, was once asked, “What would you do if you thought you were going crazy?” Without even having to think about it, he said, “I’d go out and find someone less fortunate to serve.”

There is just something so self-healing about giving yourself to somebody else—especially when they are worse off than you. When you are going through your own hardship, whatever that may be—sickness, loss, disappointment, depression—God’s therapy is to find those who cannot help themselves, somebody who cannot pay back your kindness, and minister God’s love to them, whether through your time, money or energy.

To love, serve, and bless the less fortunate is to initiate a spiritual law that we find in Acts 20:35, “And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

When you are the conduit of God’s love and grace, and when heaven’s generosity is being poured through you to those in need, on the way through you, that same flood of love, grace and generosity will leave the Divine fingerprints throughout your own life.

Now that means breaking free of your own legitimate needs and wants in order to give to others. And that is not usually an easy thing to do. Sometimes it is you that needs to receive from another. Yet even in those conditions, God’s Word is still true: Give and it will be given to you—in abundance.

Jesus was a great example of this. In Matthew 14, King Herod had just beheaded Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. When Jesus heard the news, he was deeply affected with unbearable sorrow over the loss of a loved one. And he did what most of us would do: He got away from the crowd for some time alone to pour out his grief before God.

But Jesus didn’t stay there long. He didn’t make the retreat into isolation his permanent address; he didn’t accept the paralysis of grief; he didn’t allow loss to define him. Rather, as other people who were hurting for reasons different than his own found him, he allowed compassion to flow, and out of that, he began to minister to their needs.

“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. …give them something to eat!” (Matthew 14:13-14,16)

Jesus was setting a pattern for us, don’t you think? Not to minimize the pain that we experience from loss, but to turn it into a productive force that initiates God’s healing therapy in our own lives as we become the conduit of Divine love and grace to hurting people.

Perhaps you are licking your wounds today from a hurt, disappointment, loss or failure. If that is the case, try doing what Jesus did. See the needs of other hurting people around you and love them, serve them, give to them! You probably won’t feel like doing it, but do it anyway. It won’t take away your own pain, but it will unleash God’s healing therapy for you.

At the end of the day, you will find that your journey through grief, pain, failure and disappointment will be a lot healthier and a whole lot more productive when you practice the therapy of giving.

“By compassion we make others’ misery our own, and so, by relieving them, we relieve ourselves also.” ~ Sir Thomas Browne

Reflect and Apply: Do you know someone in a worse off state of life than you? Do something for them—give yourself, your time, your energy or even your resources. You will find it to be an incredible therapy and a conduit to the grace of God that flows directly back into your own life.

The Last Supper-For Now

Luke 22:1-46

“Jesus said, ‘I have been very eager to eat this Passover meal with you before my suffering begins. For I tell you now that I won’t eat this meal again until its meaning is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.’” (Luke 22:15-16)

From the moment Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, Christians have regularly celebrated communion in memory of his death. Some church traditions celebrate it every Sunday, others celebrate it monthly—as does my church on the first Sunday of every month—and still others have their own tradition as to the frequency and practice of communion.

When we receive communion, we mostly focus on the Lord’s death and our redemption that was purchased at the moment of his sacrifice. And what a sweet time of remembrance it is. Nothing is more moving than coming to the Lord’s Table.

Yet it is not only about remembering, communion also calls us to look forward. Twice, as Jesus instituted this holy sacrament, he spoke to his disciples of a time in the future where he, himself, would again participate in this celebration. He was referring to his second coming. He was issuing a promise that he would come again, and each time they, and by extension, we, receive Holy Communion, partakers were to be reminded of that promise and rejoice in its future fulfillment.

The next time you receive Holy Communion, I want to challenge you to not only look back in gratitude for the Lord’s death, but look forward in hope to the Lord’s coming. When you eat the bread and drink the wine, you are declaring his death, as the Apostle Paul said, “til he comes.”

Holy Communion means a promise. It is one of God’s best promises to you. And he has never broken a promise—not one. Jesus sealed the promise of his return by his death, and he guaranteed it by his resurrection. He will make good on it—perhaps sooner than you expect. And as you come to the Table, remember, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” (I Corinthians 11:26)

“Death stung himself to death when he stung Christ.” —William Romaine

Reflect and Apply: The next time you receive communion, deliberately and gratefully remember the promise he made to you of his return.

The Great Sabotage Campaign

Luke 9:1-36

“So they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.” ~Luke 9:6

I’ve got to tell you, I am more than a little bothered as of late by the way the American church is doing Christianity! It seems a far cry from what Jesus had in mind. I think we are far more concerned with doing whatever it takes to attract people into the fellowship of believers (some don’t even like to call the spiritual community to which they belong a “church” anymore) than in calling for the radical transformation of their lives, which among other things, requires total surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Just think of how the typical church in America today makes its appeal to the community: You’ll love our music—the band sounds just like Coldplay. Our pastor is great—he’ll remind you of David Letterman, only funnier. We’ve got some great programs, too—your kids will think they’ve died and gone to Disneyland; your teenager may win an iPad—we have a drawing for one every week; and we will help you improve you marriage, make you more successful in business, show you how to make money, and help you to feel really good about yourself…oh, and we’ll treat you to a latte from our Starbucks’ franchise in the lobby.

No kidding, I was sent an advertisement not too long ago for a start up church back east that promoted itself as a church for the really busy. The outstanding feature of their advertisement was the half-hour service—10 minutes of worship, 12 minutes of the word, 3 minutes of application, and 5 minutes of fellowship—no fuss, no muss.

Nothing like rearranging your life around the priorities of the kingdom, wouldn’t you say? Maybe their mission statement could be, “If you’re too busy for Jesus, just come to us—we’ll fix that!”

That is a far cry from the radical plan Jesus gave the disciples for invading enemy occupied territory, sabotaging the dominion of the god of this world, and bringing Planet Earth and its inhabitants back under control of the rightful Ruler:

Then Jesus called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. And He said to them, “Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And whoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere. (Luke 9:1-6)

Building the kingdom is not a matter of entertaining people into your church. The more we do that, by the way, the more the world finds the church irrelevant. Rather, building God’s kingdom is about invading your neighborhood, workplace, school or social circle—“whatever house you enter”—in the power and authority of Jesus Christ, casting out demons, healing diseases, and declaring to those who have been under Satan’s dominion that there is a new Sheriff in town.

Maybe I sound a little grumpy today, but come on, don’t you think it’s time we start depending on the power and authority of Jesus rather than being hip to build the kingdom of God?

“Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign in sabotage.” ~C.S. Lewis

Reflect and Apply: “Lord, forgive us for entertaining people into the church. Empower and embolden us to call people to the radically transformed life that you offer through the preaching of the cross. Rather than being funny and likable, cool and edgy, authenticate our witness with signs, wonders and miracles. Make us true kingdom agents of your Kingdom—for your glory alone we pray!”

Lost And Found

Luke 15:1-32

“I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” ~Luke 15:7

The message of Luke 15 is unmistakable: Lost people matter to God!

Jesus tells three parables that make up the entirety of chapter 15: The parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. Each story features something lost—something of such value that no expense and no effort are spared to see to their return.

At the end of each of these three stories Jesus uses a line to speak of the unmitigated joy expressed in their recovery:

“There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7)

“Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10)

“It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.” (Luke 15: 32)

Again, the message is clear: God’s highest priority is the reclamation of lost people. They matter to God. And all of heaven celebrates their return.

Likewise, there is a clear application of utmost importance here for you and me: Since lost people matter to God, they ought to matter to us as well. No expense and no effort should be spared to aid in their recovery. And we ought also to celebrate what heaven celebrates—the return of even one sinner to God.

But with these stories comes a clear warning: Watch out for what we might call the EBS—Elder Brother Syndrome (see Luke 15:25-30). EBS resents the attention and effort made in the recovery and repentance of the sinner. Sadly, it is so easy for God’s children to slip into it. Elder Brother Syndrome grows out of self-righteousness. It questions the authenticity of the sinner’s repentance. It refuses to rejoice at what heaven celebrates. Mostly, it couldn’t be further from what is at the very the heart of heaven, and our Father who resides there.

The call of Luke 15 must be our calling, too! What God prioritizes we must make our priority! If heaven celebrates repentant sinners, we ought to throw a party when one finds salvation. Lost people matter to God; they must matter to us as well!

If they don’t, then see the Great Physician. You likely need treatment for Elder Brother Syndrome—maybe even a heart transplant.

“If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our bodies. If they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees. Let no one go there unwarned and unprayed for.” ~Charles Spurgeon

Reflect and Apply: Here is a simple prayer that could make a huge difference in the way you do life in the coming days: Lord, use me today to lead some lost person to faith in you!”

The Real Good Samaritan

Luke 10:25-37

“But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’” ~Luke 10:33-35

The Good Samaritan is one of the best known and loved of all of Jesus’ parables. It is refreshingly simple yet so profoundly compelling that it inexorably draws us to become a part of the story. That is why it is universally revered as a model of compassionate activism for the human race—although we need to keep in mind that the story is really about God’s compassion that led to our salvation.

But back to human compassion: Just what is it? There are two parts:

One, compassion is a feeling that comes from our deepest core when we witness another’s need. The Bible says, “Jesus was touched with the feelings of our weaknesses.”

But two, compassion is the action that follows the feeling. Not only did the Good Samaritan feel deeply but he acted decisively on his feelings: He went to the man and bandaged his wounds. It is not enough simply to feel sorry for someone; feelings have to be followed with actions. Compassion is about doing for people. When it is only a feeling, it is sentiment, not compassion. When it is not motivated out of whole-hearted love for God and people, compassion is short-lived, perhaps even self-serving.

So what does this compassionate, selfless love-in-action look like? The Samaritan’s response to the wounded man in Luke 10:33-35 paints the clearest picture possible:

It was proactive: The Samaritan didn’t wait for the man to call out for help. He took the initiative.

It was personal: He risked his own safety to care for the victim, treated the wounds from his own supply, put him on his own donkey and paid for his hospitalization with his own money.

It was pure: No one else knew what the Samaritan did. The priest and Levite were long gone. The victim was in a coma, the inn keeper didn’t get his name. It was motivated by selflessness; it was unconditional.

That strikingly mirrors Jesus’ love-in-action toward us, and models the love-in-action toward others to which we are called. That is the inescapable conclusion of verse 36: “Now which of the three was the victim’s neighbor?”

Now here is the hinge to this story: Notice how Jesus reversed the question the expert in the law had asked, “who is my neighbor?” But Jesus asked, “who is the victim’s neighbor?” Jesus told this story not to show who our neighbor is, but how to be a neighbor.

The Bible expert tried to define the limits of responsibility, but Jesus refused to restrict the limits of love. Jesus said, “Don’t ask who your neighbor is; just be a neighbor to anyone who needs your help—without wanting anything in return.” That is an obvious and appropriate application of this parable: We are called to spiritual neighborliness, to be conduits of compassion to anyone in need of God’s love who has been placed in our path.

So an appropriate question to ask fro this story is, “For whom do I need to be that Good Samaritan?”

Yet this is another very important point here—the more important point—that we must not miss: Since this is really a picture of God’s saving compassion, what Jesus is really saying is you are that victim—of sin and Satan. And you desperately need the compassionate touch of The Good Samaritan. You have been beaten, robbed and left for dead by the thief (John 10:10). Maybe you are like the Bible expert in the story that led to this parable (Luke 10:25,29), working hard to earn what Jesus has already purchased, and the thief is beating out of you what should be the joy of God’s grace! Perhaps you are like the priest or Levite (Luke 10:231-32), just going through the motions of spiritual duty, and the thief has robbed you of the experience of Divine love. Or maybe you are that traveller who was beaten and robbed (Luke 10:30),who by the hands of hurtful people and because of harmful circumstances, the thief has left you for dead.

But the Good Samaritan came to give you life—abundant life right now—and eternal life when this one ends. The beaten, bleeding, dying man could do nothing to earn or deserve the Good Samaritan’s compassion, and neither can you. His help, his rescue, his salvation is a gift of grace—grace greater than all your suffering, sickness and sin.

And all you can do it receive it as a gift of grace!

“Eternal life isn’t received by what a person does. It is humanly impossible to meet God’s standards. Religion is all about doing, but it is insufficient. Saving faith results from what has already been done. What man can’t do, God has done.”

Reflect and Apply: It could be that you have been deeply wounded. The thief, through hurtful people and harmful circumstances, has left you for dead. You have been victimized by the thief, whose sole purpose is to steal, kill and destroy. But the Good Samaritan came to give you life—abundant life right now—and eternal life when this one ends. All you can do is receive it as a gift. Why don’t you!