Day 19 – The Compassion of the Kingdom

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. – Matthew 9:36

We need new eyes. It is possible to have grown so accustomed to our surroundings, that we miss the obvious. A few years ago, on the TV show “Deal or No Deal” there was an episode that really brought the truth of this point home. Deal or No Deal is a game show in which contestants can make more money by selecting the correct briefcases. The models hold up the selected briefcases and show the contestants what they have won or didn’t win. On one show…there was a contestant whose family had arranged for her sister to appear on the show as one of these models. During the show the contestant did not realize that her sister was on stage. She kept playing the game and had no idea. Finally, after some time, the host of the show decided to point out the model in hopes of the contestant realizing that it was her sister. After being shown the model and asked specifically if she noticed anything different about her…. she was still clueless. Suddenly it dawned on her…this was her sister! She hadn’t seen her in about a year.

Many of us are like this contestant. We are not looking for ways to reach out to people, and we miss the obvious God-given appointments that play out in front of us. In order to see things differently, we need to ask God to awaken us. We need to see people the way God does. God does not see people as prospects or as potential people which He could love. Jesus looked out over the crowds that had been following and listening to each and every word. He saw them as harassed and helpless. They needed Him, and He knew it. He could easily have dismissed them. He could have just let them wallow in the messes that they created by their own sin. He could have wished somebody else to minister to them. He didn’t. Matthew tells us that He was moved with compassion.

Compassion is a very interesting word. In the Greek the word is σπλαγχνίζομαι (splagchnizomai). The literal definition of this word is “to be moved in the bowels”. In the 1st century the bowels were considered to be the seat of the emotions. In our modern culture we use the word “heart”. I love my wife with all of my “heart”. Jesus, as He was looking on the crowds, was moved in His gut because He loved these people. Biblical compassion results in action. Jesus did not feel sorry for them and then forget about them the next day. Jesus was moved with compassion, and then He saved them. To feel sorry for somebody is not compassionate. To help them from our empathy is!

It is not enough to feel sorry for people. We must be moved to action to do something to make a difference. Who is it that comes across your mind today? For whom have you felt pity, but not real biblical compassion? Whether you are moved in your bowels or heart…do something about it today! Jesus did, and we serve in His strength!

Day 18 – The Gospel of the Kingdom

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. – Matthew 9:35

 

We do not need to look to another example of being a missionary, other than the person and work of Christ. Jesus’ ministry did not begin when He went public at age 30. It began before time began, as the Father purposed to redeem His people through His Son. God became a man. That is where the missionary story of Jesus begins. God took on flesh and blood and experienced what we experienced, yet without sin. God lived on earth amongst humanity and breathed the same air that we breathe. Jesus grew up, had brothers and sisters, parents and responsibilities. He had to learn, study, experience puberty and young adulthood. He had friends, enemies, stalkers and backstabbers. He knew how it was to be mistreated, mocked, lied about, accused falsely and betrayed. When Jesus saw people – He knew what they were experiencing. He ministered to them from an understanding of who they were and what they had been through.

God’s missionary work is not detached from names and faces. God’s missionary work is not about numbers, lists or prospects. Jesus knew peoples names (Zacchaeus, Luke 19:1-10), their past (woman at the well, John 4), and their present need. Matthew tells us here that Jesus went “throughout all the cities and villages”. Jesus went to where the people were. What did he do in these cities and villages? He taught and healed whomever He encountered. Jesus compassionately and lovingly met the needs of the people to whom He was sent. Sadly though, I believe that many believers are detached from the same kind of passionate connection with a dying and lost world. We have become contented as a culture to watch from afar and let the world spin as if Jesus never came.

Jesus modeled for us a radical lifestyle of loving, serving and showing truth to everyone. This lifestyle of sacrificial ministry was not comfortable. Jesus traveled around oftentimes hungry, thirsty and tired. How can we engage the needs of our city? How can we expose the darkness in our city? If we are not fully engaging our cities with a heartfelt need and likewise compassion – we will miss the boat on what God is doing to build His Kingdom. I want us to think through what this means for us to live in our cities as missionaries. What will consume us? Will we be solely focused on having the crowds come to us? Or will we lovingly go to where the crowds are and give them the only hope that will transform their broken hearts? What changes do we need to make as a church to have this become a reality? What changes do you need to make personally? Let us change our rally cry from a “come to us”…. to a “we are going to you”.

Day 17 – The Light of Good Works

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:16

Not everyone who does a good work does it with good intentions. The Bible has commanded us to obey God and keep His commandments. I know that this is only possible because the gospel has transformed my heart to obey. Our hearts are easily swayed by the praise of men. In this verse Jesus explains to us that the purpose of doing “good works” is not for our benefit. The express purpose of every good work is for the world to see and glorify God. That sounds very elementary, doesn’t it? But yet, so many Christians do not act as if they believe this to be true.

This may surprise you, but the purpose of sharing our faith is not for our church to grow numerically larger. Of course, that is what we all want to happen. We want our church to grow larger and have more people under the influence of the gospel. The purpose of doing good works is so that people will glorify God.

Much evangelism today is done as shady marketing. When a typical person says that they “shared their faith” it usually means they invited someone to their church. Evangelism is not bringing more people to your church – it is bringing people to Jesus. I was caught in this mentality early in my ministry. I thought that doing good works in the community would make our church look good to the lost. I was doing a good work but with bad intentions. I did it for the glory of the church and me as its pastor. God has not commanded us to do good works so others can applaud. He has commanded us to do good works so that others may see Him. This is a radical shift for all our hearts and minds. It is also humbling to think that God can use the “good” I do for Him to save those who believe. This doesn’t mean we don’t do works, but we must check our motives.

A few years ago I let my neighbor borrow my lawn tractor to cut his lawn. I had seen him struggle in the hot Florida sun and decided that I could help him. I offered him the tractor to use at any time that he so needed it. He eventually took me up on the offer and started to use the tractor on his lawn, making his job much easier. I didn’t think much of it, and honestly didn’t have any hidden agenda. I saw a need, and knew that I could help meet it. A few months later, this neighbor was at my doorstep distraught over personal relationship struggles. I was able to speak with him and share the gospel. He believed and was saved. It was an event that forever changed the way I saw good works being played out for God’s glory. The lawn tractor gave me an opportunity to build a bridge. God softened his heart and called him unto salvation. God was glorified through my good works that pointed someone to Christ. How can you have the same impact in your neighborhood? Can God use your generosity to serve as a light to point people to Himself?

Day 16 – A Light on a Stand

“Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.” – Matthew 5:15

Light has a unique purpose:  to show what lies underneath the cover of darkness. In this verse, Jesus is teaching the necessity of making the light he has given visible. I love the fact that Jesus did not shy away from using a practical illustration to transform hearts to truth. Jesus’ point is simple. If you are going to have a light in your home make it visible so that all can see it. Jesus says that nobody lights a lamp and then hides it under a basket. The lamp is placed on a stand. It is placed in close proximity so that all can see it. It is strategically placed where the light can have the most impact on darkness.

I think this begs us to transform our thinking regarding missional activity. For many, missionary work is just about sending money away so that others can do the hard work. Jesus never taught that. Jesus engaged and trained his disciples to always be near those who were apart from God. In fact, Jesus often ate and spent time with the most unlikely of peoples.

This is not a program that Jesus had as a part of His ministry. This was Jesus’ ministry. Jesus said that He came to “seek and save the lost”. His mission was focused and strategic. Jesus went where people lived. He spent much of His time in towns, synagogues and the town market. He attracted crowds, but then took the time to minister to them. They were tired, hungry and thirsty. Jesus met their spiritual need and ministered to them physically as well. Jesus was present with them. Jesus did not hide Himself from the world, but came and loved on it. Sadly this is not how many of His followers act today.

Many Christians are satisfied to be locked down in their holy huddles. They are content with isolating themselves from those who need God. It is safe, easy and comfortable to just be with other believers. There is a place and time for fellowship with other believers (more on that next week), but God has given us a command that we cannot disobey. The command is to GO!

The church has done a great job when she gathers. Most churches know how to worship really well. They may have a great music program, hear a good sermon and have nice facilities. The power of the church, I believe, is seen the most not when she is gathered but when she is scattered. It is when we put the light on the stand and make it visible that we will have power to impact the world with God’s light. What is the “stand” that you can place your lamp upon? Is it visible to those around you? Have you ever considered that you are a missionary?

Day 15 – A City on a Hill

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” – Matthew 5:14

There is a question that haunts me. I find myself asking it again and again at various stages of my life and ministry. Sometimes this question is fueled by a selfish ambition and other times it’s a genuine desire to glorify God. I’m not embarrassed to confess this, because I believe you may struggle with this as well. The question is one of impact. The question I ask is … “Am I making a difference?” Can people see God shining through me? Are people noticing me? Or are they noticing the God who is working through me?

Have you ever been blinded by a light turned on in a dark room? You have no problem noticing the light. Correct? The interesting thing about light is that it doesn’t really have to “work” for it to be noticed. The photons that gather to form light are just being what they were made to be. They are noticed because their identity is light. They don’t have to work harder to be light – they already are. Light has one unmistakable property – it repels darkness. The same is true for the Christian. Understanding our identity is crucial to fulfilling our mission.

The difference we make comes from a proper understanding of identity. If I focus on “shining for God,” then it becomes a self centered quest. If the question develops into God “shining through me” then it’s a God centered vision. Because of the gospel I have been declared to be the “light of the world.” This light does not originate from me, but it comes from God. My life is evidence to a dark world that there is hope. When I understand my role in reaching my community, people are pointed toward God. The difference that I make to those around me is an overflow of the impact of the gospel within my heart. The only light that shines from my heart is the light that emanates from the glory God receives from a transformed heart. He called me, saved me and changed me! The difference in me is noticeable because the power of the gospel is creating me to become more like Jesus everyday.

Let’s go back to that room in which we found ourselves temporarily blinded. The light has been turned off and our eyes are being forced to adjust to the new darkness. The absence of light quickly becomes obvious to all. I began to think through this concept in regard to our church. Do the people in our city know that there is a light shining? If our church ceased to exist today would anyone notice? It is only natural to notice that light is missing.

Day 14 – The Peace of the Word in Me

“Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words. I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil. I hate and abhor falsehood, but I love your law. Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules. Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble. I hope for your salvation, O Lord, and I do your commandments. My soul keeps your testimonies; I love them exceedingly. I keep your precepts and testimonies, for all my ways are before you.”

Psalm 119:161-168

I don’t remember where I was, or exactly who was with me at the time. However, I do remember some details very well. An unidentifiable object caught my eye about 75-100 feet in front of me. My eight-year-old eyes were good, but not that good. I remember the white floor and an empty hallway. It may have been in a mall or an airport. I do not remember. As I came closer to the object, my heart began to beat with excitement. I began to wish that this is really what I had hoped it was. As I approached closer I was beginning to realize that my wish was coming true. I stooped over and picked up a twenty-dollar bill off of the floor. Twenty dollars?!?! I’m rich! Do you know what I can buy with this? I acted like I had just inherited millions of dollars. I don’t even remember what I bought with that money. But, I do remember the joy of finding that treasure. Everyone values different kinds of treasure in different kinds of way.

The Psalmist continues to express his love for the word in this very long chapter. “I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.” What an amazing attitude to behold the Word of God. For the Psalmist, finding truth in the Word was like an eight year old finding a twenty-dollar bill. At 8 years old I had no idea about the value of money. But I believed that what I found was about to reveal much happiness. I found myself to be extremely wealthy. What if we approached the Bible with as much excitement? Do you just read the Bible to “get it done”? Are you going through the motions? Are you finding what you read to be of no value? It may stem from a wrong understanding of the beauty, majesty and power of the Word.

I am a lover of technology. Ok…I will admit it here in this book. I am a geek. I love to immerse myself in the latest news of the tech world. I actually enjoy seeing how fast a computer can process information. I love to see the vital stats on how a computer actually operates. I read about 10-12 tech blogs everyday. Yes, everyday. I pride myself in being not only a lover but also a user of the latest and greatest technology. No matter how fast and efficient computers can become they can never match the power of the Word. Why?

Our God speaks. He spoke the worlds into existence. He speaks to us through His written word. Do you fully comprehend that? I forget. You might forget as well. We hold the greatest treasure in our hands. Why don’t you celebrate that you are rich today?

Day 13 – The Longing of the Word in Me

Your testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments. Turn to me and be gracious to me, as is your way with those who love your name. Keep steady my steps according to your promise, and let no iniquity get dominion over me. Redeem me from man’s oppression, that I may keep your precepts. Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes. My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law. – Psalm 119:129-136

 Disciples are not just men who followed Jesus while He lived on earth. Disciples are not people who have it all together. They don’t walk around with halos and sing hymns around the clock. You are a disciple. Every single born-again believer in Jesus Christ is a disciple. The word disciple implies two key thoughts: First a disciple is a follower. We get this idea immediately when Jesus called His first disciples. They immediately dropped their nets and followed Him. They went everywhere that Jesus went. They forsook their lives, families and occupations to follow Jesus. Secondly, disciples are learners. It would not have been enough for these men to just follow Jesus around on earth. They did not just observe, but they learned and imitated Him. They were learning about how to live and about how God’s Kingdom worked. Disciples ask a lot of questions. Actually, Jesus often taught His disciples by telling them more stories, or by asking them questions in response to their questions. It was assumed that a disciple was a teachable person.

How teachable are you? Are you willing to unlearn certain things that you have wrong? What if what you believe to be true is actually clearly taught as wrong in the Bible? What is your response? Does your way win or does God’s? Daily reading God’s Word brings truth to our heart and enlightens us to His ways. Does your worldview line up with the Bible? Or do you interpret the Bible from your worldview? If you are honest, you probably do a little of both without fully realizing it.

The Psalmist knew that the only way to learn was to be immersed in what God had said. He is declaring that God’s words bring “light”. Light has an startling relationship with darkness. It repels darkness. If you shine a light into a dark room you will be able to see where you are going. Without the light you might stumble and fall or might possibly even hurt yourself. What do you do though, when light is shining and you do not like what you see? This is why understanding your identity, as a disciple, is crucial. We must always be yielding our will and spirit to His truth. Even though it might be painful.

A teachable spirit gives way to a thirsty soul. Psalm 119 convicts me repeatedly. I am just stunned, however, over the words he uses in verse 131.

“I open my mouth and pant, because I long for your commandments.”

Wow. If I don’t read my Bible today is my soul left with this same kind of thirst? The honest answer to that question is embarrassing. I don’t believe he was saying that he was craving a fix, like someone does with his or her morning coffee. He knew that his soul needed the Word to live! He desired the nourishment and refreshment that the Word brought him. He needed God’s light to shine upon his heart, to learn more about himself.

Always be teachable. Read, learn and apply God’s word to your life. Stay thirsty! I pray that the Spirit will cause the Light of the Word to cause a thirst that makes you pant with an undying need for God.