Missing the Kingdom in the Name of the Law

Jesus and His disciples were passing through grainfields one Saturday, and as they were making their way along, they picked the heads of grain for a little snack, because they were hungry.  The Pharisees, who were traveling along behind Jesus waiting for Him to misstep, rebuked the disciples, because their actions violated the religious law of not performing work on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-24).

Jesus’ response to the Pharisees was a story from the Old Testament – how David and his men, hungry while fleeing for their lives, ate consecrated bread from the temple, which under Jewish law only the priests could eat (I Samuel 21:1-6).  And Jesus instructed the Pharisees, saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (v. 27-28).

We know that God created and ordained the Sabbath as a day of rest – He blessed it and made it holy.  And in the Ten Commandments, God instructed the Hebrews to keep it holy – to set it apart – by abstaining from their labor.  And this observance was very beneficial – it gave bodies and minds much needed rest, it limited exploitation of servants, it provided a recovery period to animals, it allowed men opportunity to attend to spiritual needs.  But it seems that for the Pharisees, the strict observance of the Sabbath law was more important than the wellbeing of the person, for whom the Sabbath was created to begin with.

Next, Jesus goes into a synagogue – still on the Sabbath – and there’s a man with a withered hand.  And the Pharisees are watching Jesus to see if they could catch Him in the act of breaking the Sabbath again (Mark 3:1-2). But Jesus knows what they’re thinking, so He cuts right to the chase: “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” (v. 4).  They don’t answer.  And Jesus’ first response, Mark tells us, is anger.  But His second response is grief – He’s grieved at the hardness of their hearts (v.5).  So Jesus heals the man, and the Pharisees immediately begin conspiring as to how they can destroy Him.

If you go too quickly past Jesus’ question to the Pharisees here, you might miss an important point.  Jesus asks, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath?”  And what is implied here is that not to do good is to do harm.  The question that is most important isn’t whether Jesus will work or not work on the Sabbath, but whether He will heal, or (by not healing) harm.

Matthew 25:31-46 spells out Jesus’ philosophy more explicitly.  In that well-known account of the Judgement, what is the difference between the sheep and the goats – between eternal life and eternal death?  The righteous are the ones who saw need and responded to it.  The wicked were the ones who did nothing; and they thought by doing nothing that they were doing nothing wrong.  But by doing nothing, they were really doing something – they were neglecting their fellow humans, and were thus neglecting Jesus Himself.  “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me” (v.45).

At first the Pharisees’ prioritizing the letter of the law over the spirit of the law makes Jesus angry.  But then He is struck with grief, because He sees what is in store for those hardened hearts: “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (v.46).  It breaks His heart that the Kingdom is here, and they’re missing it.

~ Matt Kinnell
NHIM Board Chair

Dinner with Sinners

In Mark 2:14-17 we are told how Jesus passed Levi the tax collector, whom we know better as Matthew, and called him to follow.  Matthew agreed, and Jesus and His other disciples went over to Matthew’s house for dinner.  Matthew’s friends came over, and Matthew’s friends were not church people – “tax collectors and sinners,” Mark identifies them. 

Jesus’ choice of dining companions shocked the religious scribes – “Why is he eating with tax collectors and sinners?” they asked.  And for this critique, Jesus had a simple answer: the healthy don’t need a doctor.  “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (v.17).

Now Jesus’ greater point there that the Pharisees no doubt missed may have been there is no one who is righteous – we all need Jesus.  But it is clear that Jesus had no problem socializing with sinners – in fact, He said these are exactly the kind of people for whom He came.

There is a book on Christian hospitality titled The Gospel Comes with a House Key, by Rosaria Butterfield.  The author was once a deeply anti-Christian unbeliever who would never have darkened the door of an evangelistic rally, church service, or Bible study.  But an invitation to dinner by a humble Christian couple who practiced a vibrant hospitality eventually drew her to faith in Jesus.  In this book about practicing the kind of “radically ordinary hospitality” that drew her to the faith, the author shares how she opens her house every evening to whomever will come for dinner. 

It’s a challenging book.  Not least of all in that hospitality is not a gift that comes naturally to me.  And furthermore, there is a tendency among Christians to avoid associating with the world for fear of being corrupted by the world.  But if we are to emulate Jesus, we must welcome those who look, think, believe, and act differently than we do.  Evangelism can’t all be done within the walls of a church or in the context of church programming, or there will be so many we will miss.  Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance.  So we shouldn’t be surprised to find Him where the sinners are.

I am reminded of a little poem the missionary C.T. Studd was fond of quoting:

Some want to live within the sound
Of Church or Chapel bell;
I want to run a rescue shop
Within a yard of hell.

Are we carrying the love of Jesus to those who are in need of it? Are we inviting them to our table? Or are we waiting for them to come to us?

~ Matt Kinnell
NHIM Board Chair

An Elijah Kind of Day

approaching stormAlthough I’m a mountain boy from the hills of Eastern Kentucky, few people on earth enjoy the sea shore more than I do. I delight in the occasional opportunities I get to spend a few days on the shore. On one such an occasion, I was high above the surf on a condo balcony in Destin, Florida. I was mesmerized by an approaching storm.

A strong wind was driving powerful waves on shore. The rumble of thunder and the roar of breaking waves filled the air. Menacing dark clouds rushed toward me.  Seemingly out of nowhere, the words of a song erupted in my heart:

Behold He comes, riding on the clouds
Shining like the sun at the trumpet’s call
Lift your voice, (it’s) the year of Jubilee
Out of Zion’s hill, salvation comes.

I had heard the words from Robin Mark’s “Days of Elijah” in student gatherings at Asbury University where I taught. Now, as if God wanted to graphically illustrate the words, I was watching a powerful storm approach.

In an article by Robin Mark titled ‘The Story Behind Days of Elijah’, he provided the following explanation: “The chorus is the ultimate declaration of hope – Christ’s return. It is paraphrased from the books of Revelation and Daniel and the vision that was seen of the coming King and refers to the return of Christ and the year of Jubilee. Theologians and Bible commentators believe that Israel never properly celebrated this particular 50th year jubilee, and that it will only be properly celebrated when Christ returns. That might be true, but I reckon that a Jubilee is an apt description of what happens when Christ comes into anyone’s life at any time; debts are cancelled and a captive is set free.”

I vividly recall my personal day of ‘Jubilee’. Although it has been six decades ago, it still remains the signal event in my life! I thank God that from time to time, like this day, He sends an explosion of joy – an Elijah kind of day. My heart trembles with anticipation as I look forward to the ultimate Day of Jubilee.

A Promise: Behold He comes, riding on the clouds!

“This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11, NIV)

~ Brother Roy

A Precious Time Piece

illinois bunn specialMy father was an engineer on the C&O Railroad. He worked out of the yards at Russell, Kentucky. For many years, these yards were the largest individual-owned rail yards in the world. Fifty-two sets of tracks wide, the Russell Yards was a transportation marvel in the 1950’s and 60’s.

With hundreds of trains moving in, out, and through the yards on regular schedules, precise timing was critical.  The watches that the engineers carried had to be exact. Only company-authorized watches could be used. These watches had to be inspected and certified on a regular basis. A few seconds could make the difference between safe passage and disaster. One of our family’s most precious treasures is dad’s ‘Illinois Bunn Special’ railroad watch.

Scripture serves as God’s precision timepiece for mankind. God’s word accurately reports what was, is, and shall be. “He has made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity into man’s mind” (Ecclesiastes 3:11ESV).

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.”
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, ESV)

Are you living in God’s time frame for your life? “For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2, NIV).

A Horse! A Horse!

richard iii
Statue of Richard III at Leicester Cathedral

From time to time, a line from Shakespeare comes to mind. My high school English teacher did a good job insisting that I memorize some of Shakespeare’s famous quotes. Recently, such a line surfaced. In the play “Richard III”, the king cries out, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” after his horse is killed in battle, leaving him at the mercy of his enemies.

I was frustrated looking for my keys and said out loud, “My keys! My keys! My kingdom for my keys!” Generally, I use the phrase when I’m looking for something that is otherwise unimportant, but highly important at that exact time. King Richard likely had dozens of horses in his stables. However, here he was without a horse and it was likely he would lose his realm and his life. For Richard, the normally insignificant had become of ultimate importance. Of what benefit is a kingdom to a dead man?

I thought of the words of Jesus: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26, NKJV). Many people spend the days of their lives trying to gain an abundance of material possessions. The quest for a larger house, a more expensive car, the best clothing, and more and more luxurious things, becomes an all consuming pursuit. Little, if any, time is devoted to the eternally important spiritual dimension of their lives. Of what benefit is it to amass material possessions at the expense of loss of eternal life?

What a tragic way to live! For people to come to the end of their days and find they have missed eternal life by chasing trinkets will be the ultimate loss. God’s word says, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10, ESV). A quote by C.T. Studd powerfully presses this point:

When this bright world would tempt me sore,
When Satan would a victory score;
When self would seek to have its way,
Then help me Lord with joy to say;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Prayer: Dear Lord, please help us invest our time and abilities in those things that are of eternal value.

~ Brother Roy

Distracted Living

distracted drivingEveryday the term ‘distracted driving’ occurs in the media. Distracted driving is certainly a major problem. Cell phones are now responsible for as many accidents as driving under the influence. People are as impaired when they drive and talk on a cell phone as they are when they drive intoxicated at the legal blood-alcohol limit of 0.08% (source: University of Utah).

With the idea of serious consequences arising from distracted driving in mind, I want to propose that ‘distracted living’ likewise has significant costs. The sobering reality is that distracted living can have eternal consequences. The account in 1 Kings 20 provides a dramatic illustration. A soldier was charged with a life or death responsibility. “Guard this man with your life; if he turns up missing you’ll pay dearly. But I got busy doing one thing after another and the next time I looked he was gone” (1 Kings 20:40, MSG). He forfeited his life because he was distracted.

During the horrific days of World War II, Winston Churchill was often under duress and frequent criticism for his decisions. When asked if he had any comment about the criticism and disparagement, he replied “You’ll never reach your destination if you stop to throw rocks at every dog that barks.” We must not be distracted by criticism, pursuit of wealth, entertainment, social status, or any other ‘fleeting pleasures of sin’ (Hebrews 12:25, NIV).

The journey through the days of our lives are fraught with diversions. My journey has been complicated by mild ‘attention deficit disorder’. It doesn’t take a lot to get me distracted. I have found the following scriptural advice most helpful:

  • “Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you(Proverbs 4:25, NKJV).
  • Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14, NKJV).
  • Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

Prayer: Lord, help me to stay focused on You today. No distractions.

~ Brother Roy

The Good Seed

bird seedI was sitting on my patio working on a sermon. I noticed a song sparrow hopping on the brick ledge just a few feet away from me. I had taken down a bird feeder from its winter position on a shepherd’s hook in the yard and set it on the ledge against house. The little sparrow had found the feeder in this unlikely resting place.

The sparrow soon flew away after enjoying an unexpected feast. I went back to work only to notice a short time later that the sparrow had returned. This time it was not alone. It was accompanied by another sparrow. It led the second sparrow to the secluded feeder, took a couple of pecks and flew away, leaving its companion to enjoy the seed. A beautiful thought came to mind. The first sparrow had discovered a new source of good seed and wanted to share it with a companion.

Jesus often used common things He had observed in the world around Him to illustrate a spiritual lesson. Likewise, I wanted to share this small incident with the sparrow to illustrate a basic spiritual principle. I’ll call it the “Andrew Principle”. “He (Andrew) first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus” (John 1:41-42, NKJV). 

Like Andrew, we need to bring people we know to Jesus where the ‘good’ seed’ of the gospel is found. We should not wait for them to come, but go to them.  We should seek them out, and lead them to where the Savior can be found. As true believers, we should go to our friends and neighbors, and lovingly tell them of the Savior. Jesus directed us to go, not only those close by, but to the ends of the earth. It should be our natural inclination to bring others to Jesus.

Prayer: Lord, may Your love motivate us to share that love and mercy with other. You have the power to blot out sin and give us life eternal.

~ Brother Roy

The Thermostat

Digital Thermostat and male handOne winter morning as I got out of bed, I was greeted by cold air. I checked the temperature on the thermostat in the living room. It was a chilly 63 degrees even though the temperature was set on 68. The thermostat is supposed to regulate the temperature, so it was maintained near a desired set point. I called maintenance, and the problem was remedied.

We have a spiritual thermostat. Its called a conscience – a God-given inner feeling or voice that acts as a guide to rightness or wrongness of one’s behavior. If the spiritual thermostat (ST) malfunctions, the temperature of the soul begins to cool down. Symptoms of a faulty spiritual thermostat are things like the lack of attention to scripture, shallow prayer life, and irregular attendance at worship with fellow believers. A negative attitude and self-centeredness also accompany a cool heart.

If you are experiencing similar symptoms, check your ST. “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5, ESV). If your ST is operating properly, scripture says: And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left(Isaiah 30:21, ESV).

When the ST – our conscience – is working properly, we live in spiritual harmony with God’s laws, but when failures occur things go awry. “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed”  (Titus 1:15-16). There is great wisdom in Paul’s words to Timothy: “Continue to have faith and do what you know is right (a good conscience). Some people have rejected this, and their faith has been shipwrecked” (1 Timothy 1:19, NCV). 

Prayer: Lord, may words of the Apostle Paul be my heart’s cry: “So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man” (Acts 24:16, NIV).

The Second Mile

crowded highwayThe highways seemed unusually crowded as I started south on I-65. The number of vehicles was worse than I expected. The slightest provocation was cause to back up traffic for miles. It was a crowded way.

It’s not just the highways that are crowded. Restaurants, shopping malls, and other attractions are becoming more congested.  It seems almost anywhere you go you are in a crowd. This is especially true if you live in or near a city. Roughly 80% of Americans live in urban areas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

If you tire of the crowded way, there is a less crowded way. When you choose to walk with Jesus, He will invite you to go with Him on many ‘second mile’ journeys.  You will not find a traffic jam on this less crowded way. There are so many hurting people around us who are burdened down with the cares of this world and so few who want to help. Jesus said, If anyone wants you to help carry a load, go with him twice as far” (Matthew 7:41, WE). The more familiar King James Translation says, “And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two” (Matthew 5:41).

As Jesus was teaching His Disciples, He said to them, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their superiors exercise authority over them. It shall not be this way among you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant(Matthew 20:25-26, NIV). 

The choice to follow the example of Jesus certainly thins the crowd. The Lord instructs His followers to “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14, NIV). Going the second mile, helping carry another’s load, adopting the role of a servant will definitely keep you out of traffic jams.

Words from the last verse of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” come to mind:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The rewards for second mile travelers far outweigh the self-sacrifices that may need to be made – the joy of giving and serving, the abiding presence of Jesus, the peace of heart that comes by being in God’s will, the promise of eternal life in heaven, and so much more.

Prayer: Lord, I want to be a second mile Christian. Help me to follow the example of Jesus. I want to take the road less traveled.

~ Brother Roy

Building a Reputation

henry fordHenry Ford said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.”. So often, we know what should be done and intend to do those things. But, often those ‘should do’ things do not get done. There is an old saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Your reputation must be built on things that have been done and are open to examination.

Jesus addresses this situation in Matthew 7:21-22:So then, by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” The reputation of a Christian is not so much based on what the person says, but rather is based on what they actually get done.

I believe two things are necessary to build a reputation that will garner respect for the individual and lift up the cause of Christ. First, we must be actively engaged in doing God’s work. “For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people” (1 Peter 2:15, NKJV). Christianity was never intended to be a spectator sport. In scripture we see, “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him”  (Acts 10:38, NKJV). The example of Jesus compels us to be a doer. James provides these words of wisdom: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves… a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does” (James 1: 22, 25, NKJV). 

Secondly, it is not enough to be doing good things – the things we are doing must be those things that reflect the will of God. Being busy and doing those things the Lord desires for us to do can be miles apart. Too many religious folks equate being busy doing church activities with doing the Lord’s will. No so! Charles Swindoll says, “We are often so caught up in our activities that we tend to worship our work, work at our play, and play at our worship.”

Prayer: Lord, help us to build a Godly reputation by doing the hard work needed to advance the Kingdom according to your will.

~ Brother Roy