Have you ever gone for a walk in the woods? As you push your way through trees and bushes, you occasionally come across paths that have been created in the woods. You can sometimes see paths that have not been created on purpose, but because man or animals have walked that way time and time again. It might be the quickest way to a source of water. It might avoid some natural predators in the area. It might simply be the easiest way from one point to the other. These paths have been created because of frequent travel. After someone started going that way and broke through the bushes, pressed down the grass, and parted the trees, others that came along the way started following that path. Why? It is simple. It is often easier to follow an existing path than to make a new one. The person or animal who started the path probably never expected to create it or for others to follow it, but it happens. We find comfort in following the easy, comfortable way everyone else is going. It is not easy to take a different path, a new way. It is not always easy to begin “walking to renewal.”
In Luke 19:45-48, we find Jesus entering into the temple and not liking what He finds. We find Christ confused about what He is seeing but sure about He needs to do about it. In defense of the people who were selling animals for sacrifices, they were providing a necessary service. People would travel from all over the nation of Israel to come to the Temple to sacrifice. Families who traveled from these distant places could not always transport the required sacrifices with them from home. They needed a place to purchase these sacrifices for their families—sacrifices that were an important part of the Jewish tradition and culture.
Catch what Jesus says at the end of verse 46: “You have turned it (the Temple) into a den of thieves.” What Jesus alludes to here is that these people were taking advantage of the people coming to the Temple to sacrifice. They could have been charging too much for the sacrifices or treating them unfairly. They could be selling them substandard animals. Part of the sacrifice tradition was that the sacrifices were to be pure and without blemish. They were stealing from God’s people. They were stealing from Him. They were utilizing their advantage of location and ability to take advantage of others.
Our thought today comes in right here. While they may not have started out being “thieves”, this is where Jesus found them now. It became comfortable. It became easy. It might have started to become acceptable—to become their right. They lived here and these foreigners should pay to come here. Somebody had to get them the right animal. Is there anything wrong with making a little profit? “I have bills. I have a family to feed. I have needs.” You see how easy it is—how quick it is to slide down to that place. How easy it is for Jesus to find us there.
Jesus knew He had to do something radical. This was not a time to call together the Temple Better Business Bureau to discuss suspension options. It was not time to form a committee to discuss possible repercussions of dishonest trade franchises. It was time to clean house! I don’t know where God has found you, but there are times in my life where God has cleaned house within me. He has removed all of the stuff that I thought was so important and that I had made important. Like a dentist removing a cavity before putting in a filling, if you build on decay and sin, you will not have a sure foundation. Jesus started them down a “walk to renewal.”
Like starting any exercise program, it is never easy at first. You will get tired and frustrated. You will wonder if there are any results. You will constantly question your motivation and commitment. Renewal is a lot like that. It is not easy to start something new—to make a positive change. Ask someone who is losing weight! One of the most frustrating experiences in weight loss is that healthier foods are more expensive and harder to find than unhealthy foods. Forging a new path through the forest can sometimes come with consequences. You may have to change who you associate with and where you like to go. You may have to try new things and make greater sacrifices. Your family may not understand, and your friends probably will not.
“Walking to renewal” must be your choice. You must initiate it. God has promised us support and help. He has sent His Spirit to convict, comfort, and guide us through this and the rest of our lives. Will you make a covenant with Him today?
Car races are fast becoming one of America’s favorite ways to pass time. Hundreds of thousands of people each year watch these professional drivers as they race over asphalt, dirt, city streets, and mountainous terrain. These drivers train continually and are constantly seeking ways to improve their equipment and support structures. But, these drivers are only as good as their pit crews. These unsung heroes of the racing scene are what translate to success on the race track. Good pit crews usually involve a team leader who provides instruction and direction, a chief mechanic who supports the needs of the car, and usually high up in the stands, a spotter who can advise the driver of where he is and what he needs to accomplish to win the race.
We are running the race of life and we also need a good pit crew to succeed. Fortunately for us, Jesus is all the support we could ever need. He can teach us how to receive, renew, and refocus during our journey so that we can become effective in the race.
Time to receive
Jesus has been traveling, healing, preaching, and dealing with His followers. He has been engaged in the day-to-day work of ministry. While there is nothing wrong with work or ministry, there are times when the constant outpouring can deplete our strength and energy. We can become drained by helping and serving others. After preaching at the synagogue, Jesus goes to Simon and Andrew’s home. He heals their mother. After she prepares them a meal, people come from all over bringing their sick and demon-possessed friends and relatives. There is an expectation that people are developing concerning the ability and accessibility of Christ. People are discovering that He can heal and do miraculous things. They know that they can come to Him for release and help with their troubles. The people of that time were looking for leadership and direction. They were a conquered people who have been tossed back and forth by other nations. No longer ruling themselves, they have become a society with a local puppet leader who answered to Rome and not to them. They needed a Deliverer. They needed a Messiah. They needed Jesus. It was the reason that God sent His Son for “such a time as this.” People needed Jesus. But, sometimes Jesus needed the Father more. Beth Moore says that “Jesus went from place of prayer to place of prayer and doing miracles in between.”
Taking time to be fed rather than always feeding is crucial and life-giving. Taking time to be filled rather always pouring out can become mission critical.
Taking to time to receive is healthy and vital. Taking time to be fed rather than always feeding is crucial and life-giving. Taking time to be filled rather always pouring out can become mission critical. How can we serve if we are drained? How can we help if we are depleted?
We cannot increase others from a deficit in ourselves.
We need to recharge, to re-energize.
In our world today, we are surrounded by gadgets. They have invaded every part of our lives. From young to old, all of us have some kind of electronic device. While these devices range from iPads to remote controls, radio-controlled cars to Easy Bake Ovens, pacemakers to mobile phones, there is one constant among them. They need power, energy to operate. If they are not plugged into an outlet, then they need a mobile power supply. We call it batteries. Whether mobile or stationary, alternating or direct current, without power, these devices are just expensive paper weights.
Physically, we are a lot like these devices. We eat to store up energy so we can go about our day. We use that energy to accomplish the tasks that we have planned. Spiritually, we are also like these devices. We need to recharge our spiritual batteries so we can continue serving and ministering to those around us. The problem is that we forget how to recharge these “spiritual batteries.” We teach our children how to do it, be we forget as we move into adulthood. Do you remember this? “I promise to pray, read my Bible, and, by His help, to lead a life that is clean in thought, word, and deed.” This is part of the promise that all junior members of our church share when they join. Somewhere along the way we forget how to keep recharged. We forget to “keep God” in our lives.
We need to take time alone with Him and receive all of the wonder that He has set aside for us. We need to switch our emotional, mental, and directions from giving to receiving. We need to receive the love and beauty that God wants to pour into our lives.
Time to renew
Let’s listen to some of the words from the scriptures today. “At daybreak”, “went out”, “isolated”, “later”, “find Him”, “looking for You” All of these phrases say one thing over and over again. Jesus was somewhere else. He was not here. The Messiah was not in. He had removed Himself from the equation. He removed Himself from the social distractions and limitations. He had gone on “walkabout.” A walkabout is an Australian term for when an Aboriginal young man goes on a solitary journey. The intent of walkabout was to find some distance from where you were, so you could see where you are headed next.
Jesus isolated Himself and did not tell anyone where He was going. His followers told Him that everybody had been looking for Him. He was needed. People needed to see Him, so He could make them well.
Need is wonderful to the ears, but can be damaging to the spirit.
There is a great trap we can fall into when we are constantly filling other’s needs. We like to feel needed. We like to feel like we have an input into a situation or someone’s life. But, if we are not careful, we can miss out on what God is doing for us and to us. We can let other people’s priorities and experiences wash away what God has planned for us. We lose sense of our own value, our own place in God’s creation. We have to daily renew our minds and hearts.
If you participate in any kind of financial dealings from service plans to club memberships to labor contracts, you have heard the same fateful phrase. “It is time to renew your agreement.” Depending on the length of the deal, you will have to go over your existing relationship and renegotiate for how it will look and operate in the future. The period of renewal is healthy for the company and for you. It gives both parties a chance to decide whether to continue working together. It also gives everyone involved a chance to acknowledge the value of what the other party is offering. In some cases, it gives both a chance to revalue the offerings. We can often find a “hidden gem” inside of an old contract that we have not utilized before. The act of search and renegotiating can help add additional value to old relationships.
In many ways, prayer can be that catalyst for change in our lives. The time alone with Him, we have a chance to revalue what has done in our own lives and where He might be leading us to in the future. We have a chance to “spiritually” see the distance from where we were and see where we are headed next!
Time to refocus
After His followers found Him and lightly chastised Him for leaving them without a “forwarding address”, Jesus replies. He tells them that it is time to move on. It is time to “go on to other towns.” It would have been easy for Jesus to stay right where He was. He was at the beginning of His formal ministry He had just gathered a group of followers. We was becoming well-known, well loved, and praised (1:22) for His activities in the area. He was in a good place surrounded by friends and followers. It would have been easy for Jesus to stay right where He was. He wouldn’t have to endure the torture and ridicule of Calvary. Jesus could stay and remain a local hero, a man of God that everyone knew and respected. But that is not why He came!
He had come to minister to all. He came to share with all. He came to save us all. Perhaps He knew people would get complacent. Perhaps He knew that people would want to stay in their comfort zone. Perhaps He knew all of that. He did know that there were others, and there are still others today, who are hurting. There were others who needed His healing touch. He knew why He had come!
There was a trend in the “art” world many years ago that used to give some people a headache. You can still some of this work here and there, but there was a time when mall kiosks were crowded with them. I am talking about those pieces of art which looked chaotic and busy on the surface but contained a “hidden picture” in them. There are people who cannot see these “hidden pictures.” It doesn’t matter if they stand on one leg, squint their eyes, cock their head, hold their tongue just so, or position their arms like a set of old rabbit-ear antennae. They just cannot see the hidden picture, the hidden message, that is hidden below the confusion. The only way to see the picture with the picture is to look at it from a different perspective. You have to ignore the obvious image and see the message that is behind it. That is why Jesus came!
He came to love all. He came to see the world from a different perspective.
We need to refocus our attention from the obvious to the hidden message.
When we pray or “network” with God, He can help us see past the distractions and obstacles of life. He can help us see the “hidden message”, the deeper calling or motivation, which He has for every one of us. It would be easy for us to stay where we are. It would be easy to stay in our comfort zone. God can help us refocus our “eyes” and see all that He has for us. He can remind us of “why we came.”
As we take a few turns around the race track of life, there are times when we need some help to stay in the right direction. There are times when we need to receive guidance and direction, love and support, comfort and encouragement. There are also times when we need to renew ourselves to the wonder of our uniqueness and the blessings that God has placed in our lives. And, there are also times when we need someone to help us refocus on why we are racing and where we are headed. We need to find time alone with Him.