Grow the Church. It’s Something We Have to Do in Order to Grow the Church

Is the Church supposed to grow? Today’s church seems to be different from the one mentioned here: “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they [the church] were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47 NASB)
The first days of the Book of Acts must have been exciting. There was a new Spirit at work on planet earth. The small group of believers had started to grow. A movement had begun that literally changed the world. Social barriers were being broken down, habits were being changed, and transformation was taking place. Believers enjoyed a sense of unity and fellowship that no repression or persecution could break, that no apathy or boredom could diminish.

Tell me, has there been a movement in your life that changed your world? Among the first-century believers, people put their money where their mouth is, practicing what was preached and committing the two most personal items they had: time and resources. The new church had started to grow. Relationships provided a basis for loving evangelism, and spending time together daily provided a platform for organic growth. They went deeper in order to get wider.

As a result, Luke says that “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Is the Lord adding folks to your church day by day? Are you and your church being transformed by love? In our modern world, there are marketing plans and efforts made to get folks to come on Sunday by promoting celebrities or hooking up to what’s hot in culture—but surprisingly, with all of our marketing sophistication, church attendance is actually down.

It’s a little awkward talking about growing numbers, 1) because most churches today aren’t growing numerically, and 2) because numerical growth is truly not the end game. Maybe we need to grow the church internally before we worry about growing the church externally. The focus of the early church was not on larger numbers but on being together, breaking bread, sharing gladness and sincerity, and praising God together. Growth was a by-product of unity and gladness.

There’s an old joke about a man who was marooned on a desert island. When he was found, rescuers discovered three huts on the island. Curious, they asked the man about them. “Oh, the first one is where I live”, he said. “The middle one is where I go to church. And the one of the right is where I USED to go to church.” Sadly, that joke has legs because believers have forgotten what church is for. Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship.

What Luke describes is still the blueprint for the church: be of one mind. Enjoy mealtimes and fellowship together. Be glad! Keep God in His proper place, and get along with others. It’s a simple recipe, and when believers come together to share sincerely, praising God in love and gladness, the church will grow. And since we ARE the church, it’s up to us to go deeper in order to get wider. Have dinner with somebody from church this week. Invite somebody who’s not. If you’re too busy to love somebody this week, then you’re too busy.

Acts 2
Breaking bread with one accord,
believers served before the Lord.
Christians gave the church its start
from house to house, and heart to heart.
It wasn’t how much stuff they had,
but how the Lord had made them glad!
Focus on love, and not on growth;
I think you’ll find you have them both!
Have fellowship with those who search;
unite in love, and BE the church.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
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The Purpose Driven Life: Don’t Let Anyone Steal Your Dream

Nothing defines your purpose better than standing up and announcing it in front of everybody you know. Have you ever done that? According to Dr. Luke, Jesus did it in his hometown, at his home church:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, “ (Isaiah 61:1-2, NIV) These were the words Jesus read in Luke 4:16-19 at his home synagogue in Nazareth to proclaim his purpose and begin his public ministry.

Luke’s account of it says, “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He [read from Isaiah 61].” Jesus had grown up in Nazareth, where apparently it was his normal practice to attend synagogue on the Sabbath. He announced his mission to a group who probably found it surprising that an apprentice carpenter would claim to be called to devote his life to fulfilling the word of God.

As the eldest son in Mary’s house after the death of Joseph (sometime after Jesus was 12), he had probably been fulfilling his obligation of working to take care of his mother, brothers and sisters. He was undoubtedly part of the village landscape, and people there were familiar with him. I’m sure most of them assumed they knew what his station in life would be. But things had recently changed.

He had been baptized by John the Baptist and allowed his connection to the Spirit of God to go public. He had been tempted by Satan in the wilderness and had offered the Word of God as his defense. He had gone and preached to great acclaim in Galilee. Now he began his public ministry with a proclamation from Scripture. He read from Isaiah with conviction and understanding, and his commentary on the meaning of these verses put a stake in the ground about his identity and his purpose.

So, what happened next? The very people he grew up around tried to stop him! “So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way…” (Luke 4:28-30) This somewhat surprising turn of events is really not all that surprising. The people in the village had labeled Jesus, and assumed he would be a tradesman like Joseph before him. Their culture was not ready for such radical change, and Jesus’ announcement scared and intimidated them.

He claimed to have a mission from God, so they suddenly saw him differently and treated him differently. But wait, you say, that doesn’t happen in our enlightened and tolerant culture! Hmm… why does the media follow the Kardashians and the Jenner’s but ignore all the good things that happen through every church in America each week? Why does it criticize Tim Tebow so much but celebrate the shallow and self-absorbed? Why was Martin Luther King killed for proclaiming a dream?

Have you ever wondered about God’s purpose for your life? He has one, you know. There is something to be done in the Kingdom of God that only you were created to do. It has nothing to do with worldly assumptions, money, fame, or self-importance; it could very well involve helping the poor, healing those who are broken-hearted, and sharing freedom with those who are bound. When you discover that purpose, you may be surprised at who supports you and who tears you down. When you decide to better yourself, to commit yourself to the Lord, to pursue His mission for you, there will be someone around you who wants to keep you down, and wants things to stay the way they are.

The example of Jesus says, “When God calls you to do something, don’t listen to the discouragers, the labelers, the dream killers, the ones who will try to stop you and tear you down. Follow your calling above all else.” If you are surrounded by naysayers and skeptics, pass through the midst of them, and go on your way. The Kingdom of God should always get priority over the labels and assumptions of culture.

Jesus stood before his friends and chose Isaiah's scroll,
And there proclaimed his mission from the words upon the roll.
The Spirit is upon me, and my mission has been started
To preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted.
I've come to set the captives free! To all of you I say:
The Kingdom of the Lord is now upon you. Here. Today.
The people almost came undone! Why, how could this man be the one?
How has the Kingdom now begun? Isn't this Joseph and Mary's son?
They formed an angry mob and tried to throw him from a hill,
But Jesus slipped among them through the power of his will,
Committed to the mission he had come here to fulfill.
His purpose was compelling then; it is compelling still.

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Will the REAL Prodigal Please Stand Up? (Hint: It’s NOT the Son)

The story of the Prodigal son is fascinating for many reasons. It resonates with many of us in the way it describes the impatience and impetuousness of youth. Young adults still grow restless or rebellious and leave home. People with money still acquire shallow friends who leave them when the money runs out. A fool and his money are still soon parted. Parents still have to deal with disrespect and sibling rivalry. When you fail on your own and hit rock bottom, you still think about going home.

The Prodigal Son 1888 John Macallan Swan 1847-1910 Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1889 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N01569

There are universal themes in this parable that are still alive and fresh. We find it easy to identify with these themes, but like Jesus’ audience, we are surprised by the Father’s reactions: “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ (Luke 15:23-24, NIV)

Tim Keller’s book “The Prodigal God” does an amazing job bringing this parable home to each of us. By definition a prodigal is someone who “spends money or resources freely and recklessly”; or is “wastefully extravagant”. The younger son has always been known to us as “the prodigal son” because he wasted his money on extravagant living, but the real story Jesus told was about two sons, one who was lost and then found, and one who did his duty but secretly resented it. Both sons were disrespectful and rebellious to their Father. Both sons were dysfunctional about family, wrapped up way more in the reality of me rather than the possibility of us. Is your family ever that way? Have YOU ever been that way?

As the story ends, only the younger brother found restoration, while the older brother is left waiting stubbornly in the courtyard, refusing to go in to the party. What happened next? Did the older brother ever escape self-righteousness to find love and peace? There are unanswered questions, and to me the most interesting one is, “Who is really the prodigal in this parable?” The one who shows true extravagance and lavish spending in this story is the FATHER. He spends his resources on both sons, willing to part with his entire estate to sustain one and to reclaim the other.

As he educates us about who the Father really is, Jesus teaches that 1) God is searching for his lost children to come home; 2) the Father wants to restore his rebellious children to the family; 3) When someone has hit rock bottom, but repents and turns upward to God, He greets them not in judgment but in compassion with a hug and a kiss; 4) The Father goes all prodigal on the celebration: He brings out the best robe, his family ring, new sandals, and kills the fatted calf. He not only throws a lavish party for us but he also dresses us up with His finest stuff so that we won’t feel out of place. He clothes us in HIS righteousness and adopts us into HIS family! 5) His home is a place of joy, where it is ok to make merry and celebrate. (And it’s ok to invite other sinners to the party!)

The Prodigal Father is the God who rejoices in finding what is lost, restoring what was broken, and being extravagant with his children. If you’ve been hanging out somewhere else, it really is ok to go home. Repent. Today. Your Father is waiting for you.

A prodigal is extravagant, someone who likes to live
By spending without limit, giving all they have to give!
There was the prodigal son, who went and squandered all he had;
He spent the precious money he'd been given by his dad.
The prodigal father held a party, killed the fatted calf:
"My son is home!" The servants saw him run, and heard him laugh!
The son came home alone and spent, his walk slowed to a plod,
Humbled by his failures, beaten by the miles he'd trod;
His father's celebration may have seemed a little odd,
But he had learned of grace by worshipping the Prodigal God.

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Don’t let Indignation Keep You From Enjoying the Party

“But he [the older son] was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him… “And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. 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 15:28; 31-32, NIV) In Jesus’ parable, the older son refused to go into the party. His audience probably thought that was the logical response; even the tax collectors realized that the older son would have been bitter and angry. No one was surprised at the older son’s indignation.

The listeners all probably realized that the dutiful son who stayed home was similar to the Pharisees, who practiced righteousness until it hurt. They were, however, very surprised to realize that the older son’s actions and indignation made him just as rebellious and insensitive as his younger brother. He wasn’t home because he loved his Dad; he was there because of the payoff that would come his way when his inheritance became fully his. Just as the lost son rejected his Father and left home, the older son now rejected his Father and stayed outside, angry. HIS money was being frittered away on a feast for his undeserving brother! The injustice! What no one would have expected was how Jesus described the way (once again) the Father responded to the situation. He took the initiative and “came out” to his eldest son. He “pleaded with him”. He was willing to share all that he had, including his daily presence in relationship, and yes, including his willingness to show compassion to his lost child by throwing a party. He gave the older son the opportunity to share in the celebration, to move from callousness to compassion, and from duty to delight. Since the oldest son represents the Pharisees, Jesus leaves him suspended in the tension of the moment, outside the party and unwilling to come in—just as the Pharisees stayed apart from Jesus, unwilling to accept him. They were wrapped up in being right. They were so busy looking down their noses at everyone that they couldn’t see love right in front of them. Perhaps you can relate. Are you busy “hating the sin and loving the sinner”? Do you feel a little superior to outlaws, addicts, the homeless, divorced people, gays, liberals. etc? Take a cue from the Father, and reach out in love. There’s room at the party for everyone.

The younger son just had to laugh. His father killed the fatted calf
And he who had deserved it least was honored at a festive feast.
His older brother stayed away, he didn’t understand this day:
It wasn’t even somewhat funny, wasting all that time and money!
The younger brother was a fool. The elder thought it wasn’t cool
To celebrate this prodigal son–something he would not have done!
His feelings were too strong to hide, and so he waited there outside,
Allowing bitterness to reside in every thought, and to abide…
While sinners need to hear the Lord’s commandments, and to heed Him,
Some righteous folks miss God because they think that they don’t need Him…

To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
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Wherever You’ve Been and Whatever You’ve Done, Come Home

“And he arose and came to his father’s home. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.” (Luke 15:20-24, NIV)

Let’s explore the Father’s response to the younger son, who had recklessly asked for his inheritance, and then taken off and wasted it on “riotous living.” Since his older brother later tells the Father that his younger brother “squandered your property with prostitutes” (How did he know that? Wishful thinking? Maybe what he himself would have done?), it is safe to assume that he was not a good steward of the resources he had taken.

Any good Hebrew Father would have washed his hands of such a son, spit in his direction, and that would have been that. (Which is obviously what the older son expected.) However, THIS Father, the one Jesus knows, reacts very differently to the situation. First, the Father saw him “when he was still a great way off”. This can only mean that the Father was looking for him daily, standing perhaps up on the terrace on the roof and watching the road, hoping against hope to see his son coming home.

This was a Father who loved his sons, and who missed the lost son and longed for him to return. Upon seeing him, the Father had compassion. He didn’t fixate on what the son had done wrong, and he didn’t concentrate on punishment. Instead, he was filled with love. What he did next broke all kinds of cultural rules and expectations. Rather than waiting at home for the son to come crawling back, he did something no proud Jewish man would have EVER done.

He ran down the road, embraced his son, and kissed him. There’s a song by Phillips, Craig, and Dean called “When God Ran” that depicts the moment beautifully, but suffice it to say that this emotional outburst of love by the Father surprised the neighbors, the servants, and the ragged younger son coming home. The son even began to beg forgiveness with his rehearsed speech of contrition, but the Father overruled him. He said, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ Wow.

Perhaps you have wandered away from God. Perhaps you have wasted or squandered His resources. Maybe you think He doesn’t appreciate your behavior, and wouldn’t welcome you back. Jesus has news for you: The Father is watching for you, anxious for your return. He is filled with compassion over anything that hurts you, and he longs for your company. Yes, you should be repentant, and it might even be a good idea for you to rehearse your speech begging for forgiveness. But don’t be surprised if the father Jesus knows runs out to meet you and embraces you before you even get the words out. Come home. You might even get invited to a party! If my Bible is right, you will be the guest of honor.

From “When God Ran” by Benny Ray Hester and John Parenti

And then He ran to me,
He took me in His arms,
Held my head to His chest,
Said “My son’s come home again!”
Lifted my face,
Wiped the tears from my eyes,
With forgiveness in His voice He said
“Son, do you know I still love You?”

© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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The Bad Taste of Bitterness Lingers Long After the Feast Has Begun

As Jesus told this story at Matthew’s party about the lost son, He shifted gears on his audience and changed from the foolishness of the younger son to the secret bitterness of the older one. “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ (Luke 15:25-30)

Picture the scene: the feasting in Matthew’s house has paused while Jesus continues his parable about the two sons… As He tells this story, his audience leans in, shaking their heads at the foolishness of the younger son, and also at the permissiveness of the Father. The tax-collector/sinners, reflecting on their lives, wonder quietly if they could go actually choose to go back to God having wandered so far from home.

The lifelong church member/Pharisees in the group put themselves in the shoes of the older son. They keep the law. They’ve done their duty. The Pharisees imagine walking up the driveway only to hear the sounds of feasting from the house, and share the older son’s indignation over his brother’s return. They can easily relate to the bitterness expressed by the Prodigal’s big brother. They barely hide their disgust at the Father’s wimpy attitude, and they look around the room feeling somewhat superior.

Then Jesus explains more about the older son, and there is as much about him in what Jesus DIDN’T say as there is in what he said. He points out that while the older son has stayed home and done his duty, he doesn’t love the Father any more than the younger brother did. He is more concerned with the waste of resources (technically now HIS resources, by the way) than he is about his brother’s safe return. In fact, he is harboring bitterness against the Father that bubbles to the surface in quiet rebellion over this welcome home party.

It’s not just wild partying and blatant sin that separates us from the Father; self-sufficient superiority and bitterness can be just as destructive. Jesus’ parable illustrates that “doing your duty”, being right, and self-sufficiency are no substitute for love, forgiveness, and vulnerability. The Father loves both sons, and both are invited to celebrate. Let’s not be those Christians who stay in a holy huddle away from the party, finding community mainly in the rules they DON’T break together. If you think about it, we are all sons, and we are all sinners. Let’s find joy at the Father’s party with son and sinner alike.

The younger son returned to see them kill the fatted calf;
The younger son was happy, but not so his other half.
The older brother sulked and of this party wanted none:
His bitterness remained long after feasting had begun.
Ask yourself, when sinners prosper and you hear the news,
Are you ever standing in the older brother's shoes?

 

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The Story About Two Sons that is Really About Us

“A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood. And not many days after, the younger son journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living. But when he had spent all, he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. He would gladly have eaten what the swine ate, and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, ‘My father’s servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’ (Luke 15:11-19, NIV)

In this parable of the two sons, the younger son disrespects his Father by asking for his inheritance so that he could leave home and go do whatever he wanted to. If you’ve heard this story, the focus has generally been on those who wander away or live in rebellion before turning back to God. Most of us can relate to that. Maybe it applies to you… Have you ever “taken your inheritance” and told God that YOU are going to run your life, and you don’t need his help?

If you have, you can relate to the younger son. Perhaps you are chafing against the way things are, just waiting for a chance to do your own thing; Perhaps you are in the “prodigal living” phase, too busy partying to care what God thinks; or maybe you have hit bottom, looking at your breakfast of warm beer and cold pizza wondering, “is this all there is?” If you are anywhere in this picture, then remember a couple of things:

1) No matter how alluring the outside world may seem, the Father’s house is still a place of warmth and comfort.

2) Tim Keller’s book “The Prodigal God” explains that “prodigal” means wastefully extravagant. The younger son was “prodigal” because he blew all his money on frivolous things…

3) Fair-weather friends don’t last, and to contradict Robert Earl Keene, all parties come to an end sometime. The laughter of drunken dancing often gives way to the pain of the moaning after…

4) You can never go so far from God that it takes more than one repentant decision to go back home.

5) The younger son is only a third of the earthly part of this story. It is ALSO about both sons and their Father, and the way each of us relates to God. Read the whole thing (Luke 15:11-32) and see if you can’t find yourself in there. I bet you can.

A certain man in a certain land had a son who didn't understand,
But made a rather sad demand, and took his inheritance in hand--
The Father and his love be damned-- and, lacking any better plan,
Went off and partied with the band from dusk 'til dawn, and 
Things were grand until the inheritance was gone,
The son was broke and all alone, and finally thought of going home...Though this story is well-known, Read it a time or two,
And tell me, when you're done, which of the characters is YOU?

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The Obedient God: Something from Jesus’ Childhood that Might Surprise You

Hidden away in Luke’s comments about Jesus as a boy is a nugget you should not miss: Luke tells the story of the Obedient God.
“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them…” (Luke 2:49-51 NIV) Yesterday we talked about this passage from Luke, which gives us pretty much everything we know about the years between Jesus’ childhood and manhood. Here are a few final thoughts on Jesus as a boy… Remember, this is God with skin on, the Son of God, the Messiah who has been foretold. Surely he was no average twelve-year-old… What was he like? How did he exercise his power? If he was alive today, surely he’d be an NFL quarterback, right? There is so little in Scripture to go on about Jesus’ boyhood, and it’s tempting to try to reconstruct some things, but it is always important to let Scripture be Scripture, and allow the story to speak for itself. Luke 2:52 says that Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” He was growing in a balanced way; and the Bible basically says that his development was apparently fairly normal.

 

I love the fact that Luke points out how Jesus grew in four dimensions: mentally, physically, spiritually and socially. He wasn’t some spiritual nerd who didn’t live in the real world, but there was a balance in his growth that encompassed intelligence, strength, and his relationship with both God and men. That’s probably a good template for goal-setting when we start jotting down those New Year’s resolutions… As for this story, the fact that he slipped away and stayed at the temple caught both Mary and Joseph a bit by surprise. I’m sure he was normally very obedient, and this was new behavior. Jesus was exploring some independence at age 12, and apparently knew an impressive amount of Scripture and was able to teach about the principles it contained. He knew enough, according to Luke, to astonish learned men. Since his own parents were surprised by what he was saying about doing his Father’s business, it makes sense to assume that this was not behavior they were yet accustomed to. The Son of God was leaving boyhood behind, and stepping out onto a larger stage. He knew who his Father was, and was already connected to his mission. Those are all pretty impressive qualities to exhibit at only twelve. Luke’s short account of twelve-year-old Jesus in the temple makes it clear that Jesus was destined for greater things; but that last phrase in verse 49 about how he treated his parents kinda sneaks up on you. “He was obedient to them.” Apparently even the King of Kings obeyed his mom and dad. Young people take note: If God with skin on obeyed his parents, so should you.

 

Our culture loves the shallow things,
And all the toys celebrity brings:
The bling, the cars, the diamond rings,
The cash register when it cha-chings!
But Jesus grew up mentally,
And physically, and socially.
He also grew up spiritually,
In ways you could and could not see.
You'd think that Jesus had it made,
The power of God in man displayed--
And yet the hand that Jesus played
Was this: the Son of God obeyed.
He didn't try to take command,
He didn't overplay his hand,
But followed what His Father planned:
Obey. Be humble. Understand
That life in all its parts can be much greater than the sum;
And greatness doesn't celebrate before its hour is come.
The key to life is not what is expedient,
But this: know what God wants, and be obedient.

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His Amazed Parents Must Have Said, “I Thought He was With YOU”!

When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they (too) were amazed… (Luke 2:42-48 NIV)

This is the only anecdote Luke shared about the boy Jesus, the only real scrap of information we have about his formative years. I have always wondered how he became aware of his supernatural capacity. Did it happen all at once, or bit by bit? Certainly he was commissioned for public ministry at John’s baptism, but we are not really given clarity about when he knew who he was and why he came. This story offers a couple of clues: first, at age 12 he demonstrated wisdom and comprehension beyond his years, which amazed the teachers at the temple. Men who were able to teach in the temple courts had generally spent a lifetime in the Scriptures and studying at the feet of other rabbis, so the fact that Jesus could astonish such men was no small thing. But interestingly, it says in verse 48 that when his parents saw him, “they were [also] amazed”, meaning perhaps they had not really seen such precocity in their son before now… When Jesus told them he must be about his Father’s business, Luke says in verse 50, “they did not understand the statement which He spoke to them.” This incident at the temple was new information to Mary and Joseph, and therefore was new behavior on their son’s part. I like to think that Jesus enjoyed a fairly normal childhood, playing and learning and growing alongside his brothers and sisters, that his formative years were full of joy and growth and love. (And yes, Jesus had siblings. Mark 3:21 and 31 speak of his mother and brothers seeking him, and in Mark 6:3, the people from the village ask, “Is this not the carpenter, the Son of Mary, and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?”) Jesus grew up in fairly large family, playing with his brothers and sisters. Perhaps they played hide and seek in the village, or chunked rocks at a nearby stream. Somehow I think that his early years connected him with his creation, deepened his compassion for mankind, and contributed to the love and resolve that later carried him through his mission. Russ Massey taught logically that if Joseph died fairly soon after this happened, then Jesus would have assumed (as the eldest son) familial responsibilities, helping Mary run the household, and assumed some of the burdens of running a family. But I hope that in the years leading up to this he had carefree moments of play and laughter as well, bathed in the love of parents who knew all too well how special he was, waiting and watching to see how the prophesies would come true. This “I thought he was with you” trip to Jerusalem was probably Mary and Joseph’s first big “Aha!” moment that the Time was getting closer at hand, and that Jesus truly was gifted in ways that had been foretold. I wonder if it changed their relationship with him, and what they began to learn about him from that point going forward… When was your first big “Aha!” moment about Jesus? Has it changed your relationship with him, and is there something more you can learn from him going forward? When you see him in a new way, you’ll discover who He really is (like Joseph and Mary, and the guys at the temple) Perhaps you, too, will be amazed!

 

"I thought he was with YOU!" Or, "Wow, we thought he was with THEM!"
But here they were, a long day's travel from Jerusalem,
And Jesus wasn't there. Joseph and Mary turned around
And searched for several days before their precious son was found.
They found him in the temple, calmly sitting there unfazed,
Reasoning with the elders. Everybody was amazed
At all the wisdom he displayed, when all was said and done:
A page had turned. His parents knew his mission had begun...

 

To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread