Matthew 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44 — Son of David, Son of God

Perhaps tiring of the hypocrisy of those questioning him, Jesus posed his own question to them that ultimately shut them up.  He said,

What do you think about the Christ?  Whose son is he?  (Matthew 22:42a)

This was an easy question for the Pharisees and teachers of the law, and they immediately answered,

The son of David.  (Matthew 22:42b)

Then Jesus challenged their thinking of who the Christ, the Messiah really was.  He asked,

How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him “Lord”? For he says, “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.'”  If then David calls him “Lord,” how can he be his son? (Matthew 22:43-45)

The answer is simple.  Jesus is not simply the Son of Man (namely David), he is also the Son of God.  He is, as Jesus would later say of himself, “the root and offspring of David.”  (Revelation 22:16)

But this was something the Pharisees and teachers of the law could not see.  Or perhaps did not want to see.

There are many people like that today.  They are willing to see Jesus as the son of man.  A good person.  A great teacher even.  But they are unwilling to acknowledge him as Son of God.

But Jesus is not simply a son of man.  He is the Son of God.  And as such, he is worthy of our honor, our trust, and obedience.  More, he is the only way to the Father.

How about you?  How do you see Jesus?

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Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34 — What we need to understand to enter the kingdom

Of all the people that had come to question Jesus, there was one that seemed to be impressed with what Jesus had to say.  And so he asked Jesus,

Of all the commandments, which is the most important?  (Mark 12:28)

Jesus answered,

The most important one…is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no commandment greater than these…All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.  (Mark 12:29-31 and Matthew 22:40)

In other words, if you keep these two laws, to love God with everything you have and you love your neighbor as yourself, you will have kept all of the laws.  All of the laws are summed up in those two commands.

The man questioning Jesus answered,

Well said, teacher…You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him.  To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.  (Mark 12:32-33)

This man was unique among the other Pharisees and teachers of the law in that he understood that it was not enough to be ritually clean.  He understood that to please God meant going beyond the letter of the law to the spirit beneath it, to love God and to love others.  And if you don’t do these two things, all the “righteous” things you do are worthless.

When Jesus saw the man understood this, he said,

You are not far from the kingdom of God.  (Mark 12:34)

Notice he didn’t say, “Good job.  You are now part of the kingdom!”

Rather, he said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

What was this man lacking?  He was lacking one further insight.  That none of us keep these two commandments perfectly.  And because of that, we need a Savior.  Once this man realized that and put his faith in Jesus, then Jesus could say, “Welcome to the kingdom.”

And that’s what all of us need to realize.  None of us are good enough to earn our way into heaven.  Because no matter how hard we may try, all of us fail in loving God or loving others in one way or another.

That’s why Jesus came.  He died on a cross to take the punishment for our sin.  He then rose again three days later, and if we will put our faith in him, then and only then will we be saved.

Have you done that?  If not, will you do it today?

Lord Jesus, I realize that I have sinned.  I have not loved you with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And I haven’t loved my neighbor as myself.  Instead, I have hurt you and others through my actions.  Forgive me.  Thank you for dying on the cross for my sin and taking my punishment.  Now come, and be Lord of my life.  In Jesus name, amen.

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Matthew 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40 — When we fail to understand the scriptures and the power of God

There’s a children’s song that humorously describes the Sadducees.  It says, “I don’t wanna be a Sadducee, ’cause a Sadducee is ‘sad, you see?'”

Yes, I know, a very bad joke.  :)

Nevertheless, they were a sad bunch of people because of one main thing.  They had no hope for a resurrection.  They thought this life was all we have.  And because of that, it shaped the way they saw God, the way they saw life, and the way they saw scripture.

They didn’t understand that God’s power, nor his desire for a lasting relationship with us.  They didn’t understand that life goes beyond the grave, and so they were more interested in the power and influence they had on earth, as well as their wealth.  As a result of these things, it also affected the way they saw scripture.  They only accepted the first five books of the Bible as scripture, and rejected everything else as divinely inspired.

They therefore came up to Jesus with a question that had apparently stumped the Pharisees who did believe in the resurrection of the dead.  It was essentially an asinine question, although one technically possible.  In Jewish culture, if a person’s brother died without having a son, they would have to marry that brother’s wife and have children through her so that their brother’s family line could continue.

So the Sadduccees asked Jesus if a man had 7 brothers, and this happened 6 times because the woman failed to have a son, whose wife would she be in the resurrection?  Like I said, an asinine question, on the level of asking, “Can God make a rock so big that he can’t move it?”

Jesus answered the Sadducees,

You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.   At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.  (Matthew 22:29-30)

Then he stuck the needle in using a passage from the book of Exodus that they had never really thought through (and most people don’t to this day).  He said,

But about the resurrection of the dead–have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?  He is not the God of the dead but of the living.  (Matthew 22:31-32)

In other words, God could have said, “I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”  But he purposely said, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Even now, I am their God.”

Meaning, of course, that they were still alive, not dead, utterly destroying the Sadducees argument, using the only possible passage they would accept as scripture.

What does this mean for us?  Let us not put God in a box that he has put himself in.  In the Sadducees case, they had boxed him in as a God that could not raise the dead because they did not understand his power.  And the reason they didn’t understand his power was because they did not understand scripture.

Let us not be like the Sadducees.  Let us thoroughly study God’s word, and seek to understand it.  And where it contradicts our ideas of God, let us not cast it aside as the Sadducees did.  Rather, let it transform the way we think about God and cause us to draw closer to him.

 

 

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Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26 — Giving to God what is his

I hate paying taxes.  When March rolls around (tax time in Japan), it’s not so bad in that I actually get money back (after the pain of filling out all the tax forms).  But when June rolls around, that’s when it really hurts because that’s when I have to pay property taxes as well as city and prefectural taxes.

Nobody likes paying taxes, but the Jews in Jesus’ day especially loathed it because they were paying it to their conquerors.

And so the Pharisees and Herodians thought they had come up with the perfect question to trap Jesus, saying,

Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.  Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?  (Luke 20:21-22)

If one one hand, Jesus said they shouldn’t pay taxes, the Herodians would have immediately reported Jesus to the Roman government accusing him of being an insurgent.

If on the other hand, Jesus said it was right to pay taxes, he would instantly lose popularity with the people.

Jesus, however, knew what they were trying to do.  And once again, he answered a question with a question.  After having them pull out a coin that they would use to pay their taxes, he asked,

Whose portrait and inscription are on it?  (24)

When they answered, “Caesar’s,” Jesus replied,

Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.  (25)

What was Jesus saying?  First, “You are using Casear’s money, aren’t you?  If you are using Caesar’s money, then isn’t it really his?  Give to him what belongs to him.”

But he didn’t stop there.  He said, “But make sure you give to God what belongs to him.”

In one short sentence, he both tactfully attacked what Rome claimed, and taught the people a very important lesson.

The Romans claimed that Caesar was God, and such was written on the inscription of the coin the people showed Jesus.  But Jesus clearly draws a distinction between Caesar and God.  “Give to Caesar, the man, what is his.  But make sure you give the only true God what belongs to him.”

It is the second point Jesus was making, however, that I want to focus on.  Just as the Roman coins had Caesar’s image and inscription on it, so we too have God’s image and inscription upon us.

The Bible says we were made in the image of God.  And in II Corinthians 3:3, Paul tells us,

You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

God has written his name upon our hearts, showing that we belong to him.  And though his image upon us has been marred by our sin, nevertheless, through Christ,

We…are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.  (II Corinthians 3:18)

What am I saying?  That we belong to him.  And because we belong to him, we need to give to him what rightfully belongs to him.  Not just our money.  But our lives.

Are you giving to God what is rightfully his?

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Matthew 22:1-14 — Entering God’s kingdom on his terms

In this story, we see continued warnings from Jesus about rejecting him and the consequences of doing so.

He told the story of a king who invited people to his wedding banquet.  But when all was ready, the would-be guests refused to come.  Another translation puts it, “They were unwilling to come.”

And though time and again, the king sent messengers to plead with them to come, they “made light of it and went their ways.” (KJV)

More, they even turned violent, beating and killing those sent to them.

This was a picture of Israel as we’ve seen in the other parables, but it’s also a picture of how many respond to the gospel today.  God pleads with us to come into his kingdom.  He himself makes all the preparations; all we have to do is come.  But many people make light of his invitation and go their own way.  And some even abuse and persecute those who offer the invitation.

The result?  Judgment and death.

The king then sent invitations to all, both good and bad, a picture of how after Israel rejected the gospel, the gospel was then taken to the whole world.  And many who were invited responded and entered the kingdom.

But then we see a twist in the story.  As the king looked at those in the banquet, he noticed a person without wedding clothes.  He was simply dressed as he wanted to be with no regard for the host’s requirements.  The king went up to him and asked,

Friend…how did you get in here without wedding clothes?  (12)

The man had no answer and was cast out in the darkness, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  (13)

In the same way, many people today hear God’s invitation to the kingdom, and they try to enter.  But they try to enter on their own terms with no regard for God’s requirements.  What is God’s requirement for entering the kingdom.  John tells us,

God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  (I John 5:11-12)

In other words, in order to enter the kingdom of God, we must be clothed with Jesus Christ.  Apart from him, there can be no entering the kingdom.

But many people do not want to enter on God’s terms.  They want to enter on their own, spitting on the very invitation God has sent them and the price Jesus paid on the cross that they might come.

We cannot do that.

You can either go to heaven on God’s terms or to hell on your own.  There is no in-between.

How about you?  Are you coming to God on his terms?  Or are you trying to come to him on your own?

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Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19 — When we reject the one on whom all things rest

After nailing the leaders for their unbelief, he then told a parable warning them of what would happen if they didn’t repent.

And the start of it is very similar to Isaiah 5 in which God describes a vineyard that he planted, the vineyard representing Israel and Judah.  And in both cases, we see that the owner does not receive the fruit he deserves from the vineyard.  The one difference is that Jesus places the blame specifically on the tenants who were put in charge of the vineyard.

The tenants, of course, were these very leaders that had rejected Jesus, and all those that had come before them.  They had been put in charge of the spiritual welfare of Israel that they might bear spiritual fruit for God.  But instead, they became corrupted and failed in the charge they had been given.

Why?  They failed to honor God, instead focusing on themselves.  They focused on money, power, and the praise of man.  Is it any wonder that Israel failed to produce fruit when its very leaders failed in their responsibilities?

And so God sent his servants.  Throughout Israel’s history, he sent prophet after prophet to warn and admonish the people.  But time and again, the leaders of Israel rejected the prophets, beating and/or killing them.

Finally, God sent his Son.  But now the leaders planned to kill the Son, hoping to take what rightfully belonged to him.

When Jesus asked the people what would happen to such people, the people replied,

[The owner] will bring those wretches to a wretched end…and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.  (Matthew 21:41)

Nevertheless, the people were astonished that such horrible people could exist, saying, “May this never be!”  (Luke 20:16)

Jesus answered,

Have you never read in the Scriptures: ” ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?  Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.  He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be  crushed.”  (Matthew 21:42-44)

What was Jesus saying?  He was saying that he is the one on whom everything rests.  He is the cornerstone (probably a better translation than “capstone” here) of everything.  The cornerstone was always laid down first when constructing a building, and everything was built around it.

In the same way, Jesus is the one we are to build our lives and his kingdom around.  But the Jewish leaders rejected him, and so the kingdom of God would be given to those the leaders despised, the  tax collectors, prostitutes, and the Gentiles who would turn to Jesus and embrace him as Savior.  The leaders, meanwhile, would be judged and lose everything.

How about you?  How are you building your life?  Are you building it on money?  Possessions?  Power?  The things of this world?  Or are you building it around Jesus?  Is he the chief cornerstone of your life?

God has given you your life.  You and all you have ultimately belong to him, and he will demand that you produce fruit in your life for his kingdom.  But you cannot produce fruit if you are living for yourself.  And if you reject him who is the cornerstone, you, like the Jewish leaders will lose everything and be judged.

Who are you living for?

 

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Matthew 21:23-32; Mark 11:27-33; Luke 20:1-8 — When you’re too proud to admit you’re wrong

It’s hard to admit when we’re wrong.  I know I struggle with it at times.  The reason?  Pride.  It takes a great deal of humility to simply say, “I was wrong.”

But if we want relationships that last, relationships with others and with God, we need that kind of humility.

This was exactly what the religious leaders of Jesus’ day did not have.  Time and again, Jesus clearly showed them they were wrong, and they simply could not bring themselves to admit it.  We see this several times over this last week of Jesus’ ministry before he went to the cross.

It starts here, however.  The chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders all came up to Jesus asking by what authority he had come to the temple and cleared it out.

Jesus, as was typical, answered their question with a question.

John’s baptism—where did it come from?  Was it from heaven, or of human origin?  (Matthew 21:25)

Immediately, these men were in a quandary.  If they said it was from heaven, then Jesus would say, “Why don’t you believe his words that I am the Messiah, then?  And if you do accept them, then you know exactly where my authority comes from.”

On the other hand, they didn’t want to say it was from men because everyone else in Israel believed John was a prophet, and would not stand for them denigrating him.

So, they answered, “We don’t know.”

And so Jesus said, “Fine.  You don’t answer my question, I won’t answer yours.”

Then he told them a parable of two sons.  One was asked by the father to do something, and he said “Sure,” but ended up doing nothing.  The other refused his father’s request at first, but later changed his mind and obeyed.

This of course was a contrast between these leaders and the “sinners” Jesus ministered to.

Outwardly, these leaders were “righteous.”  But in truth, they rebelled against God.

They saw John and immediately dismissed him as a kook.  But then they started to see the impact he was having, and all the lives that were changing because of John.  They had to know in their hearts that he really was from God, but in their pride, they rejected him anyway.

Then they saw Jesus, they saw all his miracles, and heard all his teaching.  Despite all this, they rejected Jesus too.  Even when he shredded all their arguments and left them speechless, they still clung to their old way of thinking.

On the other hand, these “sinners” the leaders despised had outwardly rebelled against God, ripping people off and selling their bodies for sex.  But then John and Jesus came, and as a result they repented of their sins.  They were humble enough to recognize their wrong, and so turned from their sins.

And so Jesus told these leaders,

Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.  (31)

How about you?  Are you so proud that you can’t admit when you’re wrong?  It’s bad enough when that pride tears apart your relationships with others.  It’s worse when it keeps you from a relationship with God.

So let us have hearts that are humble and soft to correction.  That can admit when we are wrong.  Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves in the same position as these leaders.  Separated from others and separated from God.

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John 12:44-50 — When we see and hear Jesus

So many people say, “I believe in God,” but refuse to put their faith in Jesus.

But if you truly believe in God, that is exactly what you cannot do.  Jesus says here,

Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me.  The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me.  I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.  (44-46)

Jesus is saying here that to believe in him is to believe in God.  To see him is to see God.

He then said,

For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken.   I know that his command leads to eternal life.  So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say. (49-50)

So to hear Jesus also means to hear God, because he speaks the very words of God.  And to reject Jesus’ words is to reject God’s words.  More, to reject Jesus means to reject God himself.

And Jesus says,

There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.  (48)

All of us will be held accountable for what we have heard Jesus say.  If you believe him, you will find light and life.  But if you reject him, you will find only judgment and darkness.  What will you choose?

 

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John 12:42-43 — From whom we seek praise

One of the saddest comments you’ll ever read in the Bible comes from these two verses.

Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him.  But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

Basically you see in this passage a bunch of undercover believers.  They had seen all that Jesus had done and had heard all his teaching, and they believed.  But they did not tell anyone because they feared being put out of the synagogue.  And to be put out of the synagogue was essentially to be cut off from society.  But what that showed was that they were more interested in what people thought of them rather than what God thought of them.

If Satan cannot prevent you from becoming a believer, the thing he wants to do most is to prevent you from sharing your faith.  And his best weapon in doing so is asking the question, “What will happen if others find out if you believe?”

For some, the answer is clear cut. It means rejection by their family, their friends, and those around them.  That’s what these leaders faced.  A certain excommunication from the synagogue and society.

For others, the answer is not so clear.  But they are ruled by the fear of what others might think of them.  I know I was that way all the way through my sophomore year in high school.  I didn’t tell anyone I was a Christian, not because I knew I would be rejected, but I because I feared I might be rejected.

But God does not want us to live that way.  He wants us to make a difference in this world for him, but we cannot as long as we are afraid of what others think.

Some people will reject us for our faith.  As one preacher put it, that is an occupational hazard of being a Christian.  Not everyone will like us.  As I’ve said before, Jesus was perfect, and people still hated him.  How can we expect to be any different from our master?

But what we’ll find is that if we share our faith, some will receive it and be saved.

So let’s not worry about being rejected because of our faith in Christ.  Let us proclaim it boldly and let the chips fall where they may.  For as Jesus said,

Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.  But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.  (Matthew 10:32-33)

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John 12:27-41 — Before it’s too late

Sometime people put off following Christ thinking they can always do it later.  But in this passage, we see the danger of that.

Jesus in thinking about the cross and his determination to follow the Father’s plan cried out,

Father, glorify your name!  (28a)

In a voice that all could hear, the Father replied,

I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.  (28b)

Yet though all could hear the voice, it seemed that few if any actually heard it.  Some said it was thunder.  Others said it was an angel.  Why couldn’t they understand the Father’s words?  John later comments,

This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:  “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”  For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:  “He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn–and I would heal them.”  Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.  (38-41)

I’ve explained this passage in another blog, and essentially what it comes down to is that the people couldn’t hear the voice because they had already hardened their hearts to Jesus.  Some hardened their hearts because his background as a carpenter from Nazareth was not what they expected from a Messiah.  Others rejected him because he exposed the hypocrisy of their religion.  Others rejected him because his teaching went against their religious rules and traditions.

And when Jesus performed miracles that proved who he was and the truth of his words, they tried to explain it away saying he did them by Satan’s power, or in this case, by trying to say it never really happened.  That they were just imagining things.

The problem was, the more they hardened their hearts, closing their eyes and ears to the truth, the more blind and deaf they became.

And so Jesus tried to warn them, saying,

You are going to have the light just a little while longer.  Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you.  The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going.  Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.  (35-36)

In other words, “Your time is short.  If you don’t soften your hearts, you will become blind forever.  Put your trust in me and the light I bring while you still can.”

Jesus says the same thing to you.  He was lifted up on a cross that all people might be drawn to him and be saved.  But if you harden your heart to him, if you close your eyes and ears to what you know is true, the time will come when you can no longer recognize the truth though it’s right in front of you.  And then it will be too late.  As Paul wrote,

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.  (II Corinthians 6:2)

 

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John 12:20-26 — In order to serve

With all the buzz surrounding Jesus, both with his spectacular entry into Jerusalem, and his just as spectacular cleansing of the temple, it’s little wonder that first time visitors would wish to see him.  In this case, it was some Greek proselytes who became interested in who this Jesus was.  Perhaps it was because Phillip had a Greek name that these men approached him first.  And together with Andrew (someone who always seemed to be introducing others to Jesus), Phillip brought these men to Jesus.

Jesus responded by saying,

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  (23-24)

In saying this, Jesus was talking about his death and resurrection.  As long as he was alive, his ministry would be limited to what he could do in Israel.  But after his death, through the Holy Spirit, his work would spread all over the world, touching not only the Greeks, but every tribe and nation.

But Jesus then said to his disciples,

Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.  My Father will honor the one who serves me.  (25-26)

Here Jesus says both the blindingly obvious, and the paradoxical truth.   The blindingly obvious?  That whoever serves Jesus must follow him, and that wherever he is, his servant must be.

It’s very hard to serve a person when you’re never around him.  And if you really want to serve Jesus, you need to be in a place where you can see and hear what he wants.

But in order to be where Jesus is, you sometimes need to leave things behind, including things and people you love.  And that’s why he says something seemingly paradoxical:  Whoever loves his life will lose it, but anyone who hates his life will keep it for eternal life.

This doesn’t mean that we should hate everything and every moment of our lives.  But the things and people we love in this world need to take second place to Jesus.  If for example, Jesus leads you to leave your country in order to serve him in another, then you need to follow him there.  Or if Jesus says, “Leave your high-paying job so you can serve me better,” then you need to be willing to do so for the sake of his kingdom.

Sometimes following Jesus means change.  Sometimes it means sacrifice.  But we can’t serve Jesus if we’re not where he is.  And while the change or sacrifice might seem painful at the time, in the end, we’ll find it was all worth it.

I found that out coming to Japan.  I never dreamed that I’d ever leave Hawaii.  But when I came to Japan, I found out that I was happier here than I ever was in Hawaii.  I found life by leaving what I loved in Hawaii in order to follow Jesus.

And so will you.

How about you?  Are you where Jesus is?

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Matthew 21:18-22; Mark 11:20-25 — How much faith do I have?

Faith.  It’s something I must admit I struggle with, particularly in prayer.  When I pray, do I pray in faith?  And what does it mean?

When the tree Jesus withered, the disciples were amazed and asked how it could wither so quickly.  Jesus answered,

Have faith in God.  (Mark 11:22)

Have faith in God.  What does that mean?  What are we believing about God?

We’re believing first that he is a good God.  That he is a loving Father that only gives good gifts.  That if we ask him for bread, he will not give us a stone.  Or if we ask for a fish, he will not give us a serpent.

We’re believing that he hears us.  That even the tiniest prayer we breathe, he hears.  No matter how big, or how insignificant our problem may be, he sees and hears our cries.

We’re believing that he has the power to do what we ask.  That no thing we ask is too big for him.

We’re believing that he wants to bless us.  That he won’t withhold what is good from us for no good reason.

We believe that he has an overriding plan for our lives.  And that plan is good.

With all this in mind, Jesus then says,

I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:23-24)

Some people take this verse to mean that whatever we ask God for, he must give it to us.

But sometimes we ask for something thinking it’s bread, thinking it’s fish, when in reality it is a stone or a serpent.  We pray, for example, to marry that girl or guy at school and ten years later, we are thanking God he didn’t give them to us.

Or sometimes we pray for something good, but God has something even better planned for us.  For example, we pray for a certain job, only to have God give us an even better one.

So to just pray believing God will give us whatever we want does not guarantee we will get what we ask for.

My problem, however, is not in these areas.  My prayer is in the other areas.  Do I believe that God really wants to bless me?  Do I really believe he has the power to do as I ask?

I think about my current job that I just got back in April.  It is in almost every way much better than my previous jobs over the past 8 years.  Yet because of all the difficulties I faced in getting the job, I was wracked with doubt as to whether God would give it to me.  I suppose it didn’t help that I had applied for that very job a few years back and didn’t get it.  So many times I had prayed for things, and was disappointed.  I suppose it’s a testimony to the grace of God that I got the job anyway.

Another friend I know is facing terminal cancer.  It looked hopeless.  The doctors said it was hopeless.  My friend asked for prayer.  I prayed, but with little hope.  Certainly not praying, “believing I have received it.”  Do I believe that God has the power to heal?  Certainly.  I guess it’s just that I saw him choose not to heal another friend of cancer (she passed away a year ago) that makes me doubt.  And yet, God does seem to be healing my friend now.

What am I trying to say?  First, God certainly responds to faith, and is pleased by it, but he is not restricted by how strong our faith is.

But second, I should pray with more hope.  With more confidence.  Because God can and will answer prayer.

As one man once said, “Lord, I believe.  Lord increase my faith.”

 

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Matthew 21:12-22; Mark 11:11-25; Luke 19:45-48 — Fruitless

This is a story where it is a little hard to understand the actions of Jesus.  Why would he curse a tree that wasn’t bearing fruit though it was not even the season for it?

There does tend to be disagreement on the answer.  One idea is that that during the time of the Passover, fig trees in Palestine usually produced crops of small edible buds.  These buds were often eaten by local peasants, and it was perhaps this that Jesus was looking for.  But if there were no buds growing at that time, it was a sign that there would be no fruit at all from the tree.

I don’t know if this is the answer, but it seems as reasonable as any other explanation I’ve heard.

At any rate, sandwiched around the cleansing of the temple as it is in Mark, it seems Jesus was making a point.  That just as judgment came upon that fig tree for not bearing fruit, so judgment was coming upon Israel for not bearing spiritual fruit.  This was clearly seen in the temple and the people running it.

Early in his ministry, Jesus had cleansed the temple, casting out the merchants and money changers from the court of the Gentiles.  As I mentioned before, this was the only area where the foreigners could come and worship God within the temple courts.  But the priests had turned it into a market, and not only that, a “den of thieves” where people who came there were cheated of their money.  And this was the temple.  The very center of Israelite worship.

All of their religious acts, all of their zeal, was proven to be corrupt by what was happening in their temple.  Particularly in the fact that they not only rejected Jesus as Messiah, but plotted to kill him.  And because of that, judgment came when Titus tore down the temple for the final time.  To this day, it has not been rebuilt.  Why?  Because for all the time and love God poured into Israel, ultimately, they proved to be fruitless.

But none of God’s actions are fruitless.  Through the Jews’ rejection of Christ, the gospel spread to the world.  And in time, the Jews too will come to Christ.  (Romans 11)

The question we need to ask ourselves, however, is what fruit is coming out of our lives?  The Bible calls our lives the temple of God.  As his temples, are we bearing fruit?  Are we making a difference in the lives around us?  Or have we let ourselves become corrupted by the world?  By a love of money as the priests had, or by other things?  If so, then we will stop bearing fruit and all that we “accomplish” or “achieve” will eventually be burned.

Let us not be fruitless, but fruitful.  Filled with God’s Spirit, and touching the lives of all he puts in our path.

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Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19 — What would bring us peace

Lots going on in these passages, and as you look at all four gospels, you really get an idea of the frenzy going on due to Jesus’ entrance in Jerusalem.  People are shouting,

Hosanna to the Son of David!” 

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” 

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  (Matthew 21:9)

And,

“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” (Mark 11:10)

And again,

Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!  (Luke 19:38)

And ultimately,

Blessed is the king of Israel!  (John 12:13)

Because of the frenzy some people were asking, “What’s going on?  Who is this guy?”  And others replied, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”  (Matthew 21:11)

We see from John that one of the reasons for all this frenzy was that people were still talking about Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead (John 12:17-18)

At first, the Pharisees tried to stop all of this, even trying to get Jesus to stop his disciple from crying out all these words of praise.  But when Jesus refused, they muttered to themselves,

This is getting us nowhere.  Look how the whole world has gone after him!  (John 12:19)

But for all the frenzy surrounding Jesus’ coming the most poignant moment comes just before Jesus enters the city.  In the midst of all the cries of joy from the people, Jesus wept when he saw Jerusalem, saying,

If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.  The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side.  They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls.  They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”  (Luke 19:42-44)

And that’s exactly what happened in AD 70 when Titus came and destroyed Jerusalem and its temple.

Why did this happen?  Because they, “did not recognize the time of God’s coming” to them.  And because of that, they missed the peace that could have been theirs.  Peace within themselves.  But more importantly, peace with God.

The same is true with us.  God comes to each of us at some time in our lives.  According to Romans chapter 1, even the one who has never heard of God has that opportunity.  When they gaze into the sky or see all the nature around them, the Spirit speaks to them saying, “This cannot be an accident.  This was designed.  You were designed.  Seek the Designer.”

For others, the call is much more direct.  It comes at church or through a friend telling them about Christ.

And at that point people reach a crossroad.  What will they do with this call?  Will they listen and follow?  Or will they reject it?  To follow is to find peace with God and eternal life.  To reject it means judgment and eternal death.

How about you?  If you are reading this, God is calling you now.  Now is the day of salvation.  Won’t you receive him today?  All you need to do is pray.

Lord Jesus, I have sinned.  I’ve been living my own way, and in doing so I’ve hurt you, I’ve hurt the people I love, and I’ve hurt myself.  Forgive me.  I believe you died on the cross for my sins and rose again.  Thank you for that kind of love.  Now come into my life and save me.   Be my King.  Be my Lord.  I want to follow you from now on.  In Jesus name, amen.

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Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-16 — The Lord needs it

We have now reached the home stretch of the life of Jesus, his final week.

As I read this passage, one phrase struck me.  Jesus was instructing his disciples to do something very unusual, to go into the village, and just take a colt and donkey that they found there.  And if anyone challenged them, they were to simply say, “The Lord needs it.”

The disciples did as they were told, and when the owners saw this, they immediately asked,

Why are you untying the colt? (Luke 19:33)

The disciples responded as Jesus had commanded, and immediately the owners acquiesced.

The question that came to my mind was, “When the Lord says to me of something, ‘I need this,’ how do I respond?”

If Jesus, for example, were to say, “I need you to give some money to this person.  They are in need.”  Would I immediately say, “Yes Lord?”

Or if were headed somewhere, and I happen to run into someone, and Jesus were to say, “I need some of your time.  Stop and talk to this person,” would I do so?

Or if God were to tell me, “It’s time to leave Nishinomiya.  I need you elsewhere for another work,” would I say yes?

Or would I instead cling to what is mine?

Honestly, I don’t know, and probably too often, the Lord has told me, “I need this from you,” and for whatever reason, I said no.

“I’m too busy.”

Or,

“I need that money for other things.”

The disciples brought the colt to Jesus, set him on it, and honored him as king.  And we need to do the same.  When Jesus says to us, “I need this,” we need to bring it to Jesus, setting him above it, and honoring him as our king over all.

Do I?  Do you?

Lord, forgive me for the times that you said to me, “I need this,” and I didn’t give it to you.  My time especially.  Lord, help me to set you as king over my time, my money, and my life.  Help me to rearrange my priorities and to truly honor you as Lord over all things in my life.  In Jesus name, amen.

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Luke 19:28; John 11:55-57 — A cleansing that goes beyond the surface

Right after Jesus’ parable about those who were determined to reject him as king, we see the actual people whom Jesus was speaking of.

Jesus was fast approaching Jerusalem, and a lot of people were already there to celebrate the Passover. And everyone was asking,

What do you think? Isn’t he coming to the Feast at all? (John 11:56)

But the Pharisees and chief priests had already given orders that anyone who found Jesus should report him to them so that they could arrest him.  The irony of all this?

Before celebrating the Passover, people had to purify themselves, that is to have a ceremonial cleansing (John 11:55).  But while these priests and Pharisees may have been outwardly clean, their hearts were full of murder.

What can we learn from all this?  A spiritual cleansing goes beyond ritual.  It goes beyond doing a lot of good things.  A spiritual cleansing starts by receiving Jesus as your King.  It starts by saying, “I can’t cleanse myself.  All my efforts, all the religious rituals that I do can’t cleanse me.  Lord Jesus, help me.”

John tells us in his first letter that in the end, it is,

the blood of Jesus, [God's] Son, [that] purifies us from all sin.  (I John 1:7)

There is no other way for us to become right in the sight of God.  We must come to the cross of Christ and accept the work he did for our salvation.  Only by putting our faith in him will we truly become clean in the eyes of God.

How about you?  Are you truly clean before God?

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Luke 19:11-28 — If we are determined to reject Christ

There is another point to this story that Jesus told that we didn’t get to touch on yesterday.

It says in verses 12-15,

A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return….But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’  He was made king, however, and returned home.

This was actually based on a true story.  When Herod the Great died, one of his sons Archelaus had to go to Rome to have his kingship ratified since they were the true power in Israel at that time.  The Jews, however, sent an embassy to Caesar Augustus basically saying that they didn’t want him as king.  Ultimately, Archelaus received charge over Judea, but did not receive the title of king.

In the same way, Jesus is awaiting his Father’s “ratification” of his kingdom.  But to this day, there are people who hate him and say, “We don’t want this Jesus as our king.”  But whether they want him as king or not, Jesus will be king someday.  And if these people continue in their rejection of him, they will be judged and condemned as the people in Jesus’ story were.

How about you?  Have you made Jesus king in your life?  He will be king whether you want him to or not.  Would it not be better to turn over your life to him willingly, rather than to fight it and be condemned for all eternity?

I don’t mean to try to “scare the hell out of you.”  I’d much rather talk about God’s love and grace.  And God does truly love you.  He sent his Son to die on a cross so that your sins could be forgiven and you could have peace with him.  But if you spit on that peace offering, and are determined to reject Jesus as king, then only judgment remains.

The apostle John wrote,

Whoever believes in [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.  (John 3:18)

The choice is yours.  What will you choose?

 

 

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Luke 19:11-27 — While we are waiting

It says that Jesus told this next parable because,

He was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.  (11)

In other words, there was an idea that he wanted to dispel from their minds, but there was another idea that he wanted to plant.  And so he said,

A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.  So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas.  ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’  (12-13)

The idea that Jesus wanted to dispel?  That his kingdom was imminent.

Before becoming king, he had to first die on the cross to deal with the problem with sin.  And when he did so, he ascended to heaven and sat down at the Father’s side.  And now the Bible says,

Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool… (Hebrews 10:13).

And to this day we await our Lord’s return.

So until that day, what are we to do?

We are to serve him until he returns.  That’s the idea he wanted to plant in their minds.  That there is still much work to be done.

In the story, the king-to-be called ten of his servants in and gave them each an equal amount of money and said, “Put this to work until I come back.”

What is Jesus talking about here?  I believe he’s talking about the salvation we have received.  Notice that these men didn’t work to obtain the money.  They were simply given it.  But they were to invest what they were given.

In the same way, we never worked for our salvation, rather we received it by God’s grace.  But we are to take what we’ve been given from God, and put it to work.

Paul puts it this way,

Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.  (Philippians 2:12-13)

What does it mean to invest this salvation we have been given?  It means to take this salvation we have received and invest it in the lives of others.  To not hoard this salvation we have received to ourselves, but to share it with others.  To pray for them.  To minister to them.  And to be the mouth, ears, and hands of Jesus in their lives.  And we are to do this until Jesus returns.

If we do, we will be rewarded.  How?  By being given more responsibilities in his kingdom.  So many people want to do great things for God.  But if they fail in the task of sharing this salvation they’ve been given, can they expect God to give them more responsibilities?

What’s more, if they fail to invest in the kingdom, as the last man in the story did, all they can expect is rebuke from Jesus when he returns.

.Paul says of such people,

He will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.  (I Corinthians 3:15)

How about you?  What are you doing with this gift of salvation you have received?

 

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Luke 19:1-10 — Because of us

This is a very famous story in the Bible, and it’s one I’ve heard (and sang) since I was a kid.  But as I looked at it today, verse 3 struck me.

[Zacchaeus] wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.

Zacchaeus, of course, was a tax collector.  In our day and age that would be bad enough.  In the Jews day and age it was worse, because as I’ve mentioned before, they were basically considered collaborators with the Roman government, not to mention crooks.  As a result, they were utterly despised by their fellow Jews.

And yet, he wanted to see Jesus.  Why?  Probably because though he had all the money he could possibly want, he still felt empty inside.  And in Jesus, he saw something different.  He saw life and hope.

But because of the crowd, he couldn’t see them.  This was a crowd, that if you had asked them, would probably have said that they were very religious.  That they loved God.  And yet because of them, Zacchaeus could not see Jesus.

Part of this was because he was short, of course, and because of the sheer number of people.  But I think there’s also a chance that Zacchaeus knew what would happen if he tried to push through to draw near to Jesus.  That being who he was, the crowd would not be inclined to let him through.

And so he climbed a tree in order to see Jesus.  When Jesus saw him, however, he said,

Zacchaeus, come down immediately.  I must stay at your house today.  (5)

If there had been any doubt at what the people’s reaction to Zacchaeus would be, it was quickly dispelled as the people grumbled,

[Jesus] has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.’

But touched by the love of Jesus, Zacchaeus became a changed man, and he said,

Look, Lord!  Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.  (8)

What can we get from this?  How often are like that crowd?  We say we love God.  We say that we even follow Jesus.  But because of us, people can’t see him.  They can’t see him because we fail to tell them about him.  Or even worse, because we look down on them and even push them away.

But let us always remember Jesus’ reaction to Zacchaeus.  He longs for a relationship with them.   That’s why he went to the cross.  Not just for you and me.  But for those around us.  Even the despised.  So let us not despise those around us.  And let us not block others off from him.  Rather let us remember these words of Jesus and live them.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.  (10)

 

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Matthew 20-29-34; Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43 — Looking beyond ourselves

As I read the story of Bartimaeus and his friend, what strikes me is the incredible compassion and love Jesus had for people.

Here Jesus is, headed for the cross, and his closest friends, despite all he’s told him, still don’t understand what’s about to happen.  In that situation it would have been understandable for him to get lost in his own thoughts, frustrations, and anxieties.  But as he is walking along, he hears a familiar cry.

Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!  (Matthew 20:30).

It would have been so easy to miss.  And even easier to ignore, pretending that he didn’t hear these two men over the crowd.  Particularly since the people around these men were telling them to shut up.

But instead Jesus stopped, and said, “Call them.”

And when these two men came up to him, he asked, “What do you want me to do?”

They replied, “Lord, we want to see.”

And Matthew tells us that Jesus was filled with compassion for these two men, touched them, and healed them.

Instead of focusing on his own troubles and frustrations, Jesus saw beyond himself to the needs of those crying out for help.

I wonder.  How often do we see beyond ourselves and see the needs of others as Jesus did.  How often do we instead only look at ourselves and our needs and frustrations?  And because of that we either miss or ignore the opportunities we have to reach out with God’s love.

I found out yesterday that Robin Williams died, apparently from suicide.  Here was a man that brought so much laughter and even comfort to others.  And yet, he was also a man tortured by his own demons.  And I wonder, “Was there a Christian in his life that missed that chance to minister to him?”

Maybe there wasn’t.  And if there was, I’m not saying that I’m condemning them for missing that chance.  Because I have missed too many opportunities of my own.  I’ve failed.

May we learn to be like our Savior.  Looking beyond ourselves long enough to see the needs and hurts of those in our lives.  And like our Savior, reaching out with the hand of God to bring healing in their lives.

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Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45 — A totally different attitude

As I mentioned in my last blog, though Jesus had been as crystal clear with the disciples as he possibly could, they still didn’t get it.  They still didn’t get why he was there, and what was facing them.  Because if they had, I can’t imagine that James and John would have asked Jesus what they did, prompted by their mother or not.

They said,

Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.  (Mark 10:37)

One wonders how Jesus felt.  Here he had just told them that he was going to die, and they were fighting for position in his kingdom.  And so he said,

You don’t know what you are asking…Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?  (38)

In other words, “Haven’t you been listening to anything I’ve been saying?  I’m going to die.  You want to die on my right and left?”

That’s what he meant, but as usual, Jesus’ words went right over their heads, and they replied, “We can.”

Jesus then told them,

You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with.  (39)

And in time, both of them would suffer for Christ.  James was beheaded, and John was forced into exile.

But Jesus also told them,

But to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant.  These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.  (40)

When the other disciples heard about James’ and John’s request, they became indignant.  Why?  Because James and John were so insensitive to Jesus’ plight?  No, they were indignant because they hadn’t thought of asking Jesus first.  And each of them thought they were more qualified than the others.

But Jesus pulled them together, and he told them,

You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Mark 10:42-45)

Essentially what Jesus told them was, “Guys, you need a little attitude readjustment.  All of you are so worried about your position in my kingdom, because you think that a high position means a cushy life.  That it means ordering people around, and having them obey your every whim.

“But that’s not what greatness in my kingdom means.  If you truly want to be great, you need to serve.  And if you want to be at the very top, you need to be the slave of all.  After all, I’m not here to have other people serve me.  I’m here to serve and give my life for them.”

I’ve got to admit, I’m far from having this kind of attitude.  And it’s a struggle sometimes, because it’s so easy to compete and compare myself with others.  But when we do ministry, the point is not to show ourselves better than others, it’s to serve them.

This is true not just in ministry, but in every aspect of life.  At work, we need to be serving our customers and coworkers.

And in our homes, men especially need to have this kind of attitude as head of the household.  An attitude of serving their wives and children.

And to be honest, I fail far too often in all three arenas.

And so I guess my prayer is the one that James and John offered in that old Christian musical “The Witness.”  After hearing Jesus’ words, they prayed,

Lord make me like you.  Please make me like you.
You are a servant.  Make me one too.

O Lord I am willing.
Do what you must do to make me like you Lord.
Make me like you.

Whatever you do Lord, please make me like you.

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Matthew 20:17-19; Mark 10:32-34; Luke 18:31-34 — Failing to see what is clear

As I look at this particular story, it is the last phrase in Luke’s account that strikes me.

The disciples did not understand any of this.  Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.  (34)

“This” and “its” of course  is referring to Jesus’ telling them that he would be betrayed and crucified, and then rise again from the dead.

Luke’s words strike me because Jesus spoke so plainly.  I really don’t see how they could possible misunderstand him.  Yet, as clearly as Jesus spoke, they could not understand.

Why not?

Perhaps one reason was that they simply weren’t ready to understand.  And that’s true with many of us as we look at scripture.  When we are young as Christians, some things are simply difficult to understand.  But as we mature in our knowledge and our faith, we start to grasp the things God is telling us.

Perhaps there was some of this at work in the disciples, but I think there were other things as well.

For one thing, they didn’t want to understand.  They didn’t want to believe that Jesus would die.  And because they didn’t want to believe that he would die, any words concerning his death and resurrection went right past them.

For another, they were too focused on what they wanted, rather than what God’s will was.  You only have to look at James’ and John’s request a few verses later to see that.

How often are we the same?  We see something crystal clear in scripture, or God speaks to our heart so clearly that there should be no way that we can miss it, and yet we do.

Looking back, it should have been so clear to me that God was calling me to Japan.  Time and again, people were telling me, “I can’t see you working at a regular desk job.  I see you in ministry.”  Or sometimes they said outright, “I can see you being a missionary in Japan.”

But because I had no interest in ever leaving Hawaii, no less going to Japan, I couldn’t see it for a long time.

And whenever I read passages like, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” my thought was always, “Well, God isn’t calling ME to do that.”

It took several years, and a lot of work on God’s part to actually turn my heart, but when he did, I found the joy of following him and doing what he has said.

And so will you if you’ll soften your heart to him.

So the question is, “Where is your heart?  Have you blinded yourself to what God is saying to you?  Or have you opened your heart completely to what God is telling you?”

May our words to our Lord always be, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

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Matthew 20:1-16 — But it’s not fair!

I believe this parable Jesus told was in direct response to Peter’s question of,

We have left everything to follow you!  What then will there be for us?  (Matthew 19:27)

And in telling this story, I think Jesus meant both to encourage Peter, but also to warn him.

Jesus told of a man who hired different workers throughout the day to work in his vineyard.  To the first crew he hired, he specifically negotiated an amount to pay them (a denarius, which was a typical salary for a full day’s work) .  To the remaining crews he hired, no specific amount was negotiated.  Instead, he simply said,

You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.  (4)

At the end of the day, he paid the workers who started later first, and he paid each of them a denarius.  So when the people who had started from early in the morning walked up to get their pay, they obviously expected to get paid more.  Instead, they got one denarius as well.  Because of this, they started to grumble.  And rightfully so.  Some of the other workers only worked a single hour.  And yet, they got paid the same as the ones who had worked all day.

But look at the landowner’s response.

I am not being unfair to you, friend.  Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?  Take your pay and go.  I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you.  Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money?  Or are you envious because I am generous?  (13-15)

In other words, the workers couldn’t complain that they had been cheated.  They received the exact amount that they had negotiated for in the morning.  They weren’t angry because they were cheated, but because the landowner was generous with the others who had come later.

What was Jesus’ point to Peter?

“Don’t worry so much about ‘what you’ll get’ for following me.  Don’t worry about getting ‘what you deserve.’  And don’t go comparing yourself to other people, concerning yourself with how much you’ve given up and how much they have given up.  You will be rewarded.

But God isn’t so much interested in giving people what they deserve.  He is a God that delights in giving so much more.  And if you are so busy worrying about getting “what you deserve,” God may just give it to you…and nothing more.

But if you do what God asks, without  worrying about what others are doing, or how much more you should be rewarded for what you’ve done, you’ll find that God is so much more generous than you can possibly imagine.”

How about you?  Are you constantly comparing yourself to others?  Are you always wondering why God seems to be blessing others more than you even though you are “doing more?”

Remember that grace has nothing to do with “what we deserve.”  Rather grace is all about God’s goodness to us though we deserve nothing.  Truth be told, the only thing we deserve from God is death, because all of us has sinned.

So let us not focus on what we deserve.  Rather let us rejoice in God’s grace that he gives us what we don’t deserve.  Eternal life.  Joy.  Peace.  Love.  And he gives to us abundantly.

 

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Matthew 19:27-30; Mark 10:28-31; Luke 18:28-30 — Is it worth it?

Is it really worth it to follow Christ?  That was the question the rich young ruler had to face.  Unfortunately, he decided that it wasn’t.

Peter too asked himself the same question.  “I’ve given up everything to follow after Jesus.  But is it really worth it?”  And so he said,

We have left everything to follow you!  What then will there be for us?  (Matthew 19:27)

Jesus replied,

Truly I tell you…no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age:  homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.  But many who are first will be last, and the last first.  (Mark 10:29-31)

A couple of things to note here.

First, Jesus says that we will be rewarded for following him.  Not just in heaven, but here.  And not just rewarded, but richly rewarded.  This is not to say that we will all be wealthy.  But at  the end of the day, when we look back on our lives, we will be able to say, “I have been blessed.  It was all worth it to follow Christ.”

But there’s also one little note that Jesus added.  It’s only found in Mark, but it really stands out when you read it.  Jesus talks about all the blessings you will receive, but then he also warns, “You will be persecuted.  Persecutions will come for following after me.”

In other words, being a Christian is not all fun and games.  Yes, it is a joy.  Yes, there are multiple blessings upon blessings for following Jesus.  But there will be people who will dislike, and even hate us for it.  Jesus was the perfect Son of God, and people still hated him.  How can we expect to be exempt from the same treatment that Jesus received?  As Jesus said, “No servant is greater than his master?”  (John 15:20)

So let us not be surprised when hardships come because we follow Christ.  Instead, let us keep our eyes on the prize, and know that whatever we may suffer in this life because we follow Christ, in the end, it truly will be worth it all.

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Mark 10:21-22 — Loving people enough to tell the truth

It would be easy to think that Jesus was being mean by throwing out such an impossible challenge to the young ruler who wanted so desperately to enter the kingdom of God.  Who at least to some degree was quite zealous for God, but who then quickly had that zeal quenched by the words Jesus spoke.

But Mark tells us something very interesting about Jesus’ feelings for the young man.  It says in verse 21,

Jesus looked at him and loved him.

Jesus looked not just at the exterior, he looked right into this man’s heart and soul.  He saw the zeal.  But he also saw what was lacking.  And it was his deepest desire that this young man also see what was lacking so that he might seek help and find life.

So he said something that revealed the truth to this young man.

One thing you lack…Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.  (21b)

In other words, “You told me you feel that you lack something.  You do.  You’ve put money above God.  So go and sell everything you have.  You said that you love your neighbor as yourself.  Then take the money you receive from all you sell, and give it to the poor.  Then you will have true treasure.  Then come, follow me.”

As he said this, it was Jesus’ deepest desire that this young man would find true life.  But instead, the young man walked away sadly.

Jesus didn’t sugarcoat the truth.  He told it like it was.  Not to be mean.  Nor did he say it with coldness of spirit.  Rather, he said it out of true compassion and love.

We need to do the same.  To speak the truth.  Sometimes the truth is hard.  Sometimes people will reject it.  But we need to speak it.

But we also need to say it with genuine love and compassion.  Too often, people use it simply as a blunt instrument to beat people with.

Let us not be that way.  Instead, let us wield the truth in the manner that Jesus did.  People may still reject it, but may they never doubt the spirit in which we speak.  They may be hurt by what we say, but may they never doubt that we truly care for them and want what is best for them.

 

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Matthew 19:16-26; Mark 10:17-27, Luke 18:18-27 — The impossibility of salvation

My religion professor in university brought up this story when talking about Christianity.  His point?  “If you want eternal life, you have to sell everything you have.”

Which shows the fallacy of not looking at a scripture in its context, because that was not Jesus’ point at all.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

It’s interesting looking at the different accounts of this story, because through them, you get a composite view of this man who came to Jesus.  He was young (Matthew 19:22), rich (all the accounts), and a ruler (Luke 18:18).

And he asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus answered, “Why do you call me good?  And why do you ask me about what is good?  No one is good except God alone.”

Here Jesus dispels one thing that many people say about Jesus.  Namely, “Jesus was a good man, but he wasn’t God.”

Jesus told the young man and us, “You can call me God.  Or you can call me just a man.  But if you call me just a man, you cannot call me good, because only God is good.”

He then told the man, “You know the commandments.  Do them, and you will find life.”

At first glance, it seems that Jesus is telling us that we can work our way into heaven.  But look at what the young man said next.

All these I have kept…What do I still lack?  (Mathew 19:20)

Here we see the problem of many people today.  They do their best to follow God’s commands.  To do what is right.  Maybe, like this young man, they even think they have achieved it.  But deep in their soul, they know something is wrong.  That something is lacking.  Why?

Because though we may fool others and even ourselves, none of us meet God’s standard.  The Bible says,

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  (Romans 3:23)

And if we look deeply into ourselves, we’ll realize that.

Why then, did Jesus point to the commandments as the way to life?  I think the apostle Paul gives us the answer.

No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law (because no one can keep it); rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.  (Romans 3:20)

The law cannot make us righteous any more than a mirror can clean our face.  What the law can do is show us the sin that is there.

And through the law, we see our need for a Savior.

The problem is, sometimes the mirror can get a little blurred.  Not that the law itself is blurry, but we make it blurry by our own conceptions of what it means.  And that was the problem with this young man.  He was convinced that he had kept the law.  And so Jesus cleaned off the mirror so that the young man could see clearly.  He said,

If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.  (Matthew 19:21)

Why did Jesus say that?  Because the young man was right.  He was lacking something.  He had put his money ahead of God.  Money was most important to him.  And by this attitude, he broke the first commandment against putting anything ahead of God in his life.

The man now saw clearly.  And sadly, instead of saying, “Jesus, help me.  Have mercy on me a sinner,” he walked away.  He walked away sadly.  But he did walk away.

And Jesus said,

How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!  (Mark 10:23)

His disciples were stunned to hear this because they always had thought that people were rich because of God’s blessing.  But Jesus said again,

Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.  (Mark 10:24-25)

Why?  Because it is impossible to hold on to the things of God when you’re holding on to the things of this world.  And the rich have more things of this world to hold than most people.  And more to let go of.

The disciples then asked,

Who then can be saved?  (Mark 10:26)

And now we come to the key point of this entire passage.  Jesus answered,

With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.  (Mark 10:27)

Salvation apart from God is impossible.  None of us can make it because none of us are perfect.  That’s what Jesus wanted to make clear to the young man.

But because of Christ’s work on the cross, because of what God did, salvation is now possible.  All we have to do is believe.

As John wrote,

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  (John 3:16)

Won’t you accept God’s gift of salvation today?

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Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17 — Like a child

When Jesus rebuked his disciples for trying to chase the children away, he said to them,

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.  (Mark 10:14-15)

What does it mean to receive the kingdom like a child?  What is a child like?

1.  They are completely trusting.  Until they are hardened by years of hurt, lies, and betrayal, they have a heart that is totally trusting and believes what it is told.  That’s the kind of heart that we need.  Sin, at its base, is a lack of trust in God.  It’s saying, “I don’t believe what you say.  I don’t believe you want what’s best for me.  So I’m going to do things my way.”

But as long as we hold that attitude, we will never enter God’s kingdom.

2.  They are completely dependent, and they know it.  They can’t provide their own food.  They can’t provide their own clothes or any of their needs.  They are completely dependent on their parents to provide these things.  In the same way, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven until we come to the realization of how dependent we are on God.  That there is nothing we can do to buy or earn our salvation.  Rather, we simply rely on his grace and the work Christ did on the Cross.

It’s so easy, it’s hard.  People don’t want to believe it.  They want to think their salvation is something they can work for and earn.  They don’t want to admit that there is simply nothing they can do.

But it comes back to my first point.  They need to learn to trust God completely.  And Jesus said,

The work of God is this:  to believe in the one he has sent.  (John 6:29)

How about you?  Are you coming to God with the heart of a child?

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Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17 — The God of the “insignificant”

As a father, I really love my daughter, but I have to admit there are times when she can be annoying.  Particularly when I’m trying to do something, sometimes important, sometimes not, and she desperately wants my attention.

It’s so easy to just give her only part of my attention.  To say, “Yes, yes, yes” to what she’s saying and quickly brush her off and return to what I’m doing.  Or if I’m feeling particularly impatient, to simply say, “Later.  I’m busy now.”

And that’s exactly what the disciples did in this passage.  Mothers were coming with their babies (some of them undoubtedly crying) or with their young children (most of them who were undoubtedly noisy and making a ruckus), and the disciples quickly got fed up with it, saying, “Get out of here.  Jesus doesn’t have time for all these…kids.”

Jesus’ response was quick and sharp.  It says in Mark,

When Jesus saw this, he was indignant.  (10:14a)

Indignant.  The dictionary defines it as showing anger at something that is unfair or wrong.  And that was the response of Jesus when he saw his disciples shoving the children away.

He rebuked his disciples saying,

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  (Mark 10:14b)

What can we get from this?  That we don’t dare treat our children, or anyone for that matter, as the disciples did in this story.  As insignificant.  As unimportant.  As not worth our time.  Because when we do, Jesus becomes indignant.  They are his special creation.  They are people that he loved so much that he died for them.

And so are you.  Maybe you feel insignificant.  Cast off.  Rejected.  But when Jesus sees you treated that way, he gets indignant.  He has compassion on you.  He loves you.  And he would never cast you aside as so many others have.

So come to him.  Draw near, knowing that in his eyes you are significant.  You are precious.   And that more than anything else, he wants a relationship with you.

Lord, thank you that you are the God of the “insignificant.”  That though others have brushed me off and cast me aside, you never do.  Lord, may I never see others as insignificant.  May I instead see others through your eyes, and always value them as you do.  Change my heart, and make me like you.  In Jesus name, amen.

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Matthew 19:1-12 — Better to be single?

The disciples’ response to Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce is very interesting.  They said,

If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.  (10)

Put another way, “Man, if marriage is really supposed to be for life, it’s better to stay single.  Better to be single, than stuck in a miserable marriage.”

I agree with that in part.  Certainly it is better to be single than to be stuck in a miserable marriage.  But Jesus pointed out that not everyone is wired that way.  He said,

Not everyone can accept this word (that it’s better to be single), but only those to whom it has been given.  For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others — and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.  The one who can accept this should accept it.  (11-12)

In short, it takes a certain kind of person who can be content being single.  He said some are born that way (perhaps they have some physical defect that would make marriage a hardship), some are made that way by others (he was talking about being physically made a eunuch which is basically unheard of nowadays, but I think you could include people that have been emotionally scarred in such a way that they have no desire to get married), and others choose to stay single so that they might serve God better (as the apostle Paul did).

And Jesus says that if you can accept being single, that’s fine.

But the sad thing about the way the disciples thought, and many people do today, for that matter, is that they assume that a lifelong marriage is ultimately destined to become a ball and chain.  And it is for that reason that some are unwilling to commit themselves to another in marriage.  But in doing so, they miss out on the lifelong joy of marriage that God intended for us.

Marriage can be a joy.  It doesn’t have to be a miserable ball and chain.  But the key comes down to what you and your spouse decide from the very beginning of your relationship.  Will you commit yourself to maintaining a soft heart to God first, and to your spouse second?

If you maintain a soft heart to God, you will find God often intervening in your fights and bringing peace.  Usually by him telling you or your spouse, “Let it go.  Give in.”  More, he starts showing you how to improve your marriage and make it stronger.  He’ll show you your spouse’s needs and how to meet them.  And he’ll show you how to love them better.

If you maintain a soft heart to your spouse, you start to understand them better.  What makes them tick.  What annoys them.  What brings them joy.  And if you commit yourself to understanding these things, to go out of your way, not only to avoid annoying them, but also to bringing them joy, you will often find themselves reciprocating.  And instead of a miserable marriage, you’ll find a fulfilling one in which you truly become one.

How do you see marriage?  As a ball and chain?  Or as the joy that God intended it to be?

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Matthew 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12 — When our spouse is hardened against us

I’ve mentioned before our need as a husband or wife to search our hearts.  To see if there is any way in which we have hardened our hearts to God, or to our spouse.  This is important for any marriage, whether we think it’s healthy or not.

Because if your heart is starting to harden to God or to your spouse, your marriage is in trouble, or very soon will be.

But what happens when our spouse’s heart is starting to harden?  Or has already hardened?  What do we do?

It’s a hard issue to deal with.  And there are only two such cases that are specifically dealt with in scripture.  One is in the case where our partner is involved in adultery.  And not only involved in adultery, but is completely unrepentant.  Jesus specifically says in the Matthew passage, that divorcing that person and marrying another would not be considered adultery in the eyes of God.  Probably, because in the eyes of God, the other person has hardened their heart to the point that the bond has been completely broken.  Your partner has become “one” with another.  The same can be said if you have been divorced, and your ex-partner has since remarried.  In these cases, you are no longer bound to that person.

How about a one-time affair that your partner has repented of?  That is less clear.  Trust broken at that level is difficult to restore.  Not impossible, but very difficult.  That said, if your partner has repented, I do believe that it is God’s will that you stay with your spouse.  It won’t be easy.  And you’ll definitely need the support of others on top of the grace of God.  It will take time, probably much time to restore the trust.  But it can be done.  And if your heart and the heart of your spouse is softened to Him, He can bring healing to your heart and to your marriage.

The apostle Paul brings up another situation in I Corinthian 7.  Namely, abandonment.  He says if your spouse is a non-believer, and they choose to walk away from you, you are not bound to stay married to that person.  They have hardened their heart to you to the point where the bond is broken.  I believe that you could extrapolate that to any case of abandonment, whether your spouse is a believer or not.  If your partner is determined to divorce you, then let them go.

A possible third situation is domestic violence.  In Malachi, God told the people,

Do not break faith with the wife of your youth. (2:15)

God then goes on to say,

I hate divorce…and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment.  (2:16)

Here we see the problem of abandonment, but we also see the problem of violence.  And I think you could make the case that both are instances of breaking faith.  If you are in danger from your spouse, if they are abusing you and they refuse to get help, I don’t think you are bound in that situation to stay with that person.

All this said, before you make any decision, search your heart.  And again, ask, “Is there any way in which I have hardened my heart to my spouse or to God?”  As long as the answer to that question is yes, I think you should put off ideas of divorce.  But if the point comes where you can honestly say that you have totally opened your heart to God and to your spouse, but your spouse has hardened their heart to you, then I think at that point, God will not hold you to that marriage.

God does not command that you divorce your spouse in those instances.  But he does understand and permits it.

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Matthew 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12 — When we harden our hearts toward God and our spouse

It’s kind of interesting looking at the gospels and trying to harmonize them sometimes.  I don’t know if I’m harmonizing Matthew and Mark well here, but it’s amusing to look at these passages this way.

Pharisees:  “Is it lawful to divorce your wife for any reason?”

Jesus:  “Don’t you know that when husband and wife get married, the two become one?  What God has joined together, let no man separate.”

Pharisees:  “Why then did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus:  “Excuse me?  What did Moses command you?  He commanded you, ‘Thou shalt divorce your wife?'”

Pharisees:  “Well, no.  But he did permit a man to divorce his wife.”

Jesus:  “That’s right.  He permitted it, not commanded it.  And the only reason he permitted it was because your hearts were hard.  But it was not that way from the beginning.”

All humor aside, the issue is very serious.  And in this passage, Jesus lays out why divorce is so common in our day and age.  People harden their hearts against God, and they harden their hearts against their spouse.

How do people harden their hearts against God?  First, they harden their hearts against his teaching against marriage.  That it is to be for life.  That you are to be faithful to your spouse.  That husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church.  That wives are to submit to their husband as the church does to Christ.

Instead, they make all kinds of excuses as to why it’s impossible for them to do so.

“Well, she doesn’t submit to me, so why should I show that kind of love to her?”

“Well he doesn’t show love to me, so why should I submit to him?”

“You just never know about marriage.  Maybe he really isn’t the one, so it’s best to keep your options open in case it doesn’t work out.”

Or during their arguments, God starts speaking to one or both of them saying, “Let it go.  Give in.  It’s not worth fighting about.”  But in their pride or anger, they refuse to heed his voice.

How do people harden their hearts against their spouses?  They fail to listen to each other.

When husbands hear their wives complain they are working too much, they dismiss it without thought, saying, “But we need the money.”

When husbands complain about a lack of intimacy, the wives dismiss it because they are “too tired.”

When wives share with their husbands how their actions or words were hurtful, husbands dismiss their wives as being too sensitive.

This list could go on and on.

The end result?  Divorce.

So many people wonder why their marriages fail.  Some try two or three times, or even more, to get things right, and never do.  The reason?  They’ve never dealt with their heart.  They’ve never learned to soften their hearts to God’s voice and to their spouses.

Are you single?  Are you seeking a spouse?  Then start by searching your heart.  When God speaks to you about your actions now, when he convicts your heart about the way you live, are you listening?  Because when you get married, he will start speaking to you about how you treat your spouse.  But if you’re hardening your heart to God now when he speaks, you’ll take that attitude into your marriage, and if you do, your marriage won’t last long.

Are you married?  Are you frustrated by your spouse?  Start by taking your eyes off of them, and put them on you.  How have you hardened your heart to your spouse?  Let God speak to your heart about the things that you need to do.

Are you divorced and looking for another spouse?  Before you do, ask yourself, how did I harden my spouse in the past?  How did I harden my heart to God?  Because until you address these issues, you are doomed to repeat the same mistakes you committed before.  And the first question you need to ask yourself is, “Am I hardening myself to God and my ex-spouse by not working to reconcile with my ex-spouse?”

What is the state of your heart?

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Matthew 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12 — Why divorce hurts so much

Divorce is one of those touchy topics that is difficult to deal with, if only because of the emotions and hurt that is often involved.  But considering the social climate we’re in, in which marriages fall apart at such a high rate, I think that it is vital for us to take a serious look at what Jesus said about marriage and divorce.

The Pharisees came up to Jesus, asking,

Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?  (3)

This was a hot topic of the time, much as it is today.  And for some of the Pharisees, they did pretty much believe that it was lawful to get divorced for any reason.  For others, they held a much stricter view that there had to be some kind of sexual sin involved for a divorce to be lawful.

The truth is, many of the Pharisees did get divorced, and as I mentioned before, often times, it was with the intent of marrying another.  They had married, only to meet another woman they desired, but in order to “avoid” the sin of adultery, they simply divorced their wife and married the other woman.  And I believe it was this situation that Jesus was specifically addressing in the Sermon on the Mount, and in these passages here.

He was telling the Pharisees and us, “Even if you don’t technically commit adultery by sleeping with a woman you’re not married to, if you divorce your wife because you’ve found another woman, you are still committing adultery in the eyes of God, whether you marry that second woman or not.”

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

In answer to the Pharisees’ question, Jesus replied,

Haven’t you read…that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.  (4-6)

Jesus totally bypassed the arguments of the “experts” of the day, and went straight to scripture.  And by doing so, he tells us exactly what marriage was supposed to be.  A union between a man and a woman where they are no longer two separate entities, but one.  The two are “glued” together and become one flesh.

Sometimes people wonder why God says sex is only to be between husband and wife.  The main reason is that there is a joining that occurs during the sexual act.  Not just a physical joining, but an emotional joining as well.  It’s a joining in which the two are glued together as one.

Have you ever used super glue, and gotten your fingers stuck together?  What happens if you forcibly try to pull them apart.  Your skin rips off.  Divorce is the same.  There is no clean break.  Because of the oneness in body and emotion that occurred, it causes a tearing in the soul when two people divorce.  The same is true when two people become sexually intimate outside of marriage.  When the relationship breaks up, there is a tearing of soul that occurs because of the oneness that was shared between them.

And that tearing becomes much more painful the longer the relationship goes on, with all that the couple shares together, not just sexually, but all the experiences they go through together, the good and the bad that pull a couple closer together and make them one.

Jesus is telling us the reason divorce is so bad is because it tears apart a part of our soul.  What was meant to be one forever, a oneness in body, in heart, in soul, is torn apart.  And so he tells us, “What God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Am I saying there can be no healing from divorce?  That there can be no forgiveness?  No.  But I think we need to understand two things.  First, marriage was meant to be forever.  It was how God designed it.  And second, when we get away from God’s design, pain is inevitable.

Why then do so many people get divorced?  We’ll get into that in the next blog.

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Luke 18:9-14 — Remembering our need for grace

It’s amazing how though times change, some things never do.  And in this passage, we see an example of this.  Luke writes,

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable.  (9)

This attitude was particularly common among the Pharisees of the day.  The Pharisees had dedicated their lives to keeping every jot and tittle of the word of God.  But in doing so, it led to a spirit of pride, and you see it here.  In Jesus’ story, a Pharisee was praying out loud by himself (perhaps even to himself), saying,

God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.  (11-12)

In other words, “God you are so lucky to have someone like me in your kingdom.  See what a good person I am?  Not like this…tax collector!”

Unfortunately, we see much the same attitude in many Christians today.  Oh, they may claim to live by God’s grace, but their attitude says otherwise.  Because a person who truly lives by God’s grace sees two things very clearly.  Their utter sinfulness and their need for God.

That’s what we see in the tax collector.  Tax collectors in those days were hated because not only were they considered collaborators with the Roman government who had conquered Israel, but because they consistently cheated the people when collecting taxes.  But this tax collector came before God, and beating his chest cried out,

God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  (13)

And Jesus said of him,

I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.  For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.  (14)

How about you?  Are you truly living by God’s grace?  I’ve mentioned that people who live by God’s grace see two things clearly, their own sinfulness, and their utter need for God.

What are the characteristics of a person like this?

First, they are humble and grateful for what God has done for them.  There is no room for pride in their hearts.  Pride of their own righteousness.  Pride of their gifts.  Because they realize that the only thing they deserve from God is death.  And yet God showered his grace on them and gave them a life they did not deserve.  And so each day, their hearts are filled with thankfulness.  Not bitterness because others don’t appreciate them.  And certainly not pride for what they’ve “accomplished.”  Thankfulness.

Second, they have a heart that extends the grace they have received to others.  They don’t see themselves as better as others.  Rather they see others as people that need the very same grace that they themselves have received.

There can be no despising of others, when you realize just how wretched you really are.  There can be no looking down on others in judgment when you realize just how much you have been forgiven.  Instead, there is compassion, and a heart that reaches out that others may experience God’s grace as well.

How about you?  Do you truly recognize the need for God’s grace in your life?

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Luke 18:1-8 — Keeping the faith through times of trial

It would be easy from looking at just the first verse to think that Jesus’ point is simply that we should keep praying and not give up when God seems slow to answer.

This is most certainly true, but the type of prayer Jesus is talking about is very specific, and it hearkens back to what he was just talking about, the Last Days.  Days of trial, days of trouble.  And while Jesus promises that we will not be judged for our sins when he comes back, he makes no promises that we won’t go through trial and suffering.  And there will be times when we will suffer through great injustices.  This is particularly true of those who are Christians in the time of the Great Tribulation when Antichrist comes and reigns.

And it is these people that Jesus specifically is talking about.  The Bible makes it clear that those who are Christians will be persecuted, and it would be easy during that time to wonder where God is.  To wonder if he has abandoned us.  To wonder if he still cares.  To wonder if we will ever see justice for the all the persecution we endure.

So Jesus tells a story of a woman who suffered an injustice, and pleaded with a judge to give her justice.  But the judge for a long time refused to listen.  In the end, however, he got so tired because of the woman’s pleas, that he gave in and gave her the justice she asked for.

Jesus is not saying that God is unjust and has to be badgered into giving us justice.  In fact, he’s saying the exact opposite.  He’s saying, “If this unjust judge gave this woman justice because of her incessant pleas, how much more will God who is just give justice to those who are his own?”

You see another picture of this in Revelation 6:9-11.  These saints who were persecuted and killed for Jesus’ sake never found justice during their lifetimes on earth.  But God assured them that justice would soon come.

But it is hard to wait, especially when we are suffering.  And so Jesus asks of us,

However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?  (7)

Some of you may be saying, “Well, I’m not going to go through the Great Tribulation.  I’m going to be raptured before then, so I don’t have to worry about that.”

Honestly, I’m not so sure about that.  I think it’s very possible we will have to go through the Tribulation.  But even assuming that we don’t, how strong is your faith?

When you go through hard times, do you start questioning God and his justice?  Do you start asking, “God, where are you?  Do you still love me?  Do you still care?  Why are you letting me go through this?”

Or do you keep coming to God in faith, saying, “I believe in you.  Even through all I’m going through, I will not let you go.  I believe you will eventually bring me justice, if not in this life, then in the life to come.”

When Jesus sees you, does he see a faith that falters?  Or does he see an unshakeable faith?

So as the writer of Hebrews encourages us, let us strengthen our feeble arms and weak knees.  (Hebrews 12:12)  And let us never lose faith in the one who has proven himself to be faithful.

 

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Luke 17:20-37 — A sudden but certain judgment

After addressing the Pharisees on God’s kingdom, Jesus turns to his disciples with a word of warning.

He told them that there would be times of trouble when they would long for his coming, and because of that, it would be easy to go after any rumor that may arise.  But Jesus makes several things clear about his second coming.

First, there will be no mistaking it.  When he comes, everyone will know.  Jesus said,

For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other.  (24)

Second, it will come with a suddenness that no one expects.  That day will start like any ordinary day.  People will be eating, drinking, getting married, buying, selling, planting, and building.  And then Jesus will appear and judgment will come.

Third, the righteous will be spared that judgment that ends in death.  Jesus said,

But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.  It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed.  (29-30)

Note that it says after Lot left Sodom, judgment fell.  Jesus said the same would be true on the day of his return.  The righteous will be taken out from among the unrighteous, and then judgment will fall.

Next, it doesn’t matter who you are associated with, judgment will fall on you if you are not right with God when Jesus comes.  Jesus warned,

I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.  (34-35)

Finally, judgment is certain.  Jesus closed by saying,

Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.  (37)

Just as the vultures will fall upon dead corpses, so judgment will fall upon those who are spiritually dead.

So ultimately, the question is, are you ready?  Where is your heart?  Are you in love with the things of this world, or with God?  For the day of judgment will show what’s truly in your heart.  When Jesus comes, those who truly love him will gladly go out to meet him in the air.  But those who are instead in love with the things of earth, will instead be dreading the loss of what they have.

So Jesus warned his disciples,

Remember Lot’s wife!  Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it.  (32-33)

Lot’s wife, when judgment fell on the city, looked back with sadness on the life she was forced to leave, and as a result, judgment fell on her.  The same will happen to you if your heart belongs to this world when Jesus comes.

What’s in your heart today?

 

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Luke 17:20-21 — Seeing God’s kingdom

Well, I’m back from vacation.  And straight into one of the more difficult passages to interpret.

The Pharisees came to Jesus asking when God’s kingdom would come.  I’m not sure what they meant by that, but perhaps they were saying, “Are you the Messiah or not?  If you are, prove it!”

But Jesus, as usual refused to give any signs to prove himself to his critics.  Instead, he replied,

The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.  (20-21)

That last part is perhaps better translated, “The kingdom of God is among you.”  It’s hard to believe that he was saying the kingdom of God was actually in the hearts of these men who had rejected Jesus.

What was he saying?  I think he was saying, “You guys are so intent on looking for signs of God’s kingdom coming, that you can’t see God’s kingdom when it’s staring you in the face.”

In other words, “The King is here.  He’s doing the work of the kingdom right in your very midst.  And yet you ask for signs for the coming of the kingdom?”

The Pharisees were blind to what God was doing.  The question is, are you?  God is working the hearts of the people around you.  He wants to change their lives.  More than that, he wants to use you to effect that change.  But are you so wrapped up with your own life that you can’t see it?

Or are you so wrapped up searching through prophesy to determine when Jesus is coming back that you can’t see what he is doing right here and now?

Prophesy is important.  But if we focus on it to the point that it blinds us to what God is doing around us, then we’ve lost perspective, and we become ineffective for his kingdom.

How about you?  Are you seeing what God’s doing in the lives of those around you?

 

 

 

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Luke 17:11-19 — Grateful

Just a blogging note:  this will probably be my last blog for the next few days as I will probably be computerless over the last few days of my vacation.

In this passage, we see ten lepers hanging out together when they see Jesus.  And if there was one thing that this terrible disease did, it broke down barriers that would have otherwise existed.  Jews and Samaritans, as we’ve noted before, detested each other.  But with these men cut off from their own peoples because of their disease, they found there truly were no differences between them.

The same is true with us.  In Romans 3:22-23, it says,

There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  

No matter your religious or cultural background, all of us are the same.  We all suffer from the disease of sin, and apart from the touch of Christ, we are cut off from God, and will be separated from him forever when we die.

There is absolutely nothing we can do to save ourselves, much as there was no way, in those days, for a person to save himself from leprosy once they caught it.  All we can do is what those lepers did.  Throw ourselves on God’s mercy.  These men cried out to Jesus,

Jesus, Master, have pity on us!  (13)

And Jesus in his mercy cleansed them.  But it required faith.  Jesus didn’t heal them right away.  He told them to go show themselves to the priests, and it was as they were on their way to do so, that they suddenly found themselves cleansed.  In the same way, we can only be cleansed of our sins by putting our faith in Jesus.

But then we come to the key point.  When the 10 men realized that they were cleansed, all were overjoyed, but it says that when the Samaritan realized he had been healed, he alone returned to Jesus to thank him.

And when Jesus saw this, he asked,

Were not all ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?  (17-18)

How often does Jesus ask the same concerning us?  He gave his life on the cross to cleanse us from our sins.  By his grace, we have been saved from eternal death.  Yet how often, do we take our salvation for granted.  I’m not only talking about failing to express thanks in our words, but in our actions.  How often do our actions show how grateful we are to Christ for what he has done for us?  Does the grace and love he has poured into our lives, stop there?  Or does it cause us to pour that grace and love into those around us, and in so doing bring glory to God?

Is your life a reflection of your gratitude toward Jesus for all he has done for you?

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John 11:45-57; 12:9-11 — Recognizing truth when we see it

I’ve mentioned the problem the Pharisees and the priests had where they saw all that Jesus said and did, and still did not believe.  It all comes to a head here.  Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, and there was absolutely no way to refute it.  Not after Lazarus had been dead for four days and buried in the tomb before Jesus came.  And as a result, people were coming to believe in Jesus left and right.

The Pharisees’ and priests’ response?

“We know what he’s doing.  We can’t deny it.  But we will not believe.”

All the evidence was there that Jesus was the Messiah, but they would not believe in him.  Instead, their sole concern was that their nation and position of power would be taken from them by the Romans if the people tried to declare Jesus king.

The irony of the High Priest Caiaphas’ thoughts on the matter was not lost on John.  Caiaphas said,

You know nothing at all!  You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.  (49-50)

What Caiaphas meant was that it was better for Jesus to die than to have the nation taken away from them by Rome.

But John commented,

He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.  (51-52)

These men were so blinded by their pride and ambition, they could not recognize the truth though it was literally coming out of their mouths.

How about you?  Can you recognize truth when you hear it?  When you see it staring you in the face?

Jesus said, “I am the truth.”  (John 14:6)

If you are ever going to see truth, it starts with recognizing one thing.  That Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Until you admit that, you will be forever blind.

How about you?  Have you come to know the Truth?

 

 

 

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John 11:23-44 — The one who calls forth the dead

Yes, we will eventually finish this chapter.  But not today.  It’s a passage that is so totally rich in truth.

When Jesus told Martha that her brother would rise again, she said,

I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.  (24)

But Jesus answered,

I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;  and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. (25-26)

In other words, “The resurrection is not simply a time in the future when the dead will be raised.  I am the resurrection.  I am the one that raises the dead and gives them life.  And if you believe in me, you will never truly die.”

Jesus proved that moments later by raising Lazarus from the dead.  And just as he called Lazarus out from the grave, so will he call all who have put their faith in him.

The apostle Paul tells us,

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  (I Thessalonians 4:16)

And again,

Listen, I tell you a mystery:  We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed– in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.  For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.  (I Corinthians 15:51-53)

Lazarus was only raised temporarily.  He would die again.  But when Jesus raises us, we will be raised in an immortal and incorruptible body.

How about you?  Do you know what will happen after you die?  Do you know that you have eternal life?  Jesus is the resurrection and the life.  If you believe in him, you will never truly know death.  Only a new beginning.

Jesus asks you the same question he asks Martha.  “Do you believe this?”

May you answer as she did,

I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God. (27)

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John 11:17-44 — Uncovering our pain before Jesus

So often in our lives, we go through pain and hurt, but instead of dealing with it, we bury it.  We try to ignore the pain.  Or we cover it over with other things, busyness, food, pleasure, or whatever else we can find.  But the pain becomes like a rot in our souls, eating away at us from the inside out.

What can we do?

Mary and Martha had to go through that.  Their brother had died.  Worse, they knew that if Jesus had only come sooner, Lazarus wouldn’t have died.  But for reasons they couldn’t understand, Jesus delayed his coming.  And so they went through feelings of pain at the loss of their brother, and perhaps feelings of betrayal by Jesus.

And both said the same thing when they finally came face to face with him.  “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, it is possible that when Martha said this, she meant it not in an accusing manner, but as a way of saying, “I still believe in you.  I’m not turning my back on you.”

With Mary, however, I don’t think there can be any doubt that she said it with lots of pain and hurt in her voice.  And when Jesus saw this, John tells us,

He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.  (33)

Why?  Part of it may have been the empathy he felt for Mary.  But another part of him may have also been hurt by her lack of faith in him.  We see the same response in verse 38 when other people started to question his failure to come in time to help Lazarus.

So he went to the place where Lazarus was buried, and he told Martha,

Take away the stone (39a)

Martha’s response was very understandable.

But, Lord…by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.  (39)

But Jesus replied,

Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?  (40)

Martha was reluctant.  There seemed no point in rolling away the stone.  Lazarus was dead and gone.  But she obeyed, and Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

What can we learn from this?

What hurts or pains have you buried in your heart?  What bitterness do you hold to in your heart because of it?  Bitterness toward others?  Bitterness even toward God?

Jesus says, remove the stone.  Uncover the pain and bitterness in your heart.  It’s rotting there.  So uncover it.  And if you will just believe in Jesus, you will see the glory of God in your life.

The question is:  “Will you?”

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Luke 11:7-10 — Walking by the light

When Jesus made the decision to go back to Judea to see Lazarus, his disciples objected, saying,

But Rabbi…a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?  (8)

Jesus’ answer is very striking.

Are there not twelve hours of daylight?  A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light.  It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.  (9-10)

What is Jesus saying here?  As long as he followed his Father’s will, he would be fine.  As long as he trusted his Father’s leading, he would not stumble.  It’s the person who fails to do either that falls into trouble.

It’s the same with us.  We talked yesterday about how Jesus wants more than anything for us to trust him.  And when we choose to believe him and follow him, we’ll see things as they really are.  We’ll see his love for us clearly despite our circumstances.  We’ll see our trials for the temporary things that they are.

But when we walk apart from he who is the Light of the world, we find ourselves stumbling around in discouragement and despair because of all the trials and hurts that we go through.

How about you?  How clearly are you seeing?

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Luke 11:1-45 — That we might believe

This is one of the most famous miracles Jesus performed, and I’ve spoken on it at church more than once.  But as I read it through this time, these words strike me:

So that you may believe.   (15)

We see this theme again and again throughout the passage, and it was the whole purpose for everything that Jesus did in it.

Later he challenged Martha,

Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?  (40)

Again, when he prayed at Lazarus’ tomb, he said to his Father,

I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.  (42)

And at Lazarus’ resurrection, John tells us,

Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.  (45)

If there is one thing that Jesus wants us to learn, it’s to trust him.  And all that we go through in life, with all the the struggles and pain we endure, is directed toward that end.

Sometimes we ask God, “I love you.  Why is this happening to me?  Do you really love me?”

That’s what I see in the first part of this passage.  It talks about Mary’s great love for Jesus.  That she was the one who would later pour perfume on him and wipe his feet with her hair.  And because she loved Jesus and thought he loved her, she immediately called for Jesus when her brother Lazarus got sick.  She had no doubt that he would come.

And indeed, it said, Jesus loved her, her sister Martha, and Lazarus.  So…he stayed where he was another two days.  The NIV says, “but he stayed.”  But it is probably more accurately translated, “So he stayed,” and most literal translations (KJV, NASB, ESV among others) do translate it that way.

Why did he stay?  Because he wanted all those involved to learn to trust him.   By waiting and letting Lazarus die, everyone’s faith was taken to a higher level when Jesus raised him from the dead.

Sometimes we wonder why God remains silent.  Why our prayers seem to go unanswered.  Mary and Martha probably felt that way.

“Why isn’t Jesus coming?”

Yet Jesus wanted to challenge them to trust him even more than they already did.

I look at Martha’s words.  I’ve always thought that her words were a bit bitter that Jesus had waited.  Now I’m not so sure.  Could it not be that her words were of pure faith?  That she was saying, “Jesus, I know that you could have healed my brother had you been here sooner.  But I still trust in you.  Even now, I believe God is with you and will do anything you ask.”  (21-22)

Was she saying that she believed Jesus would raise Lazarus?  No.  Her later words (verse 39) prove otherwise.  But I think she was saying, “Even though you didn’t do what I had hoped this time, I will still come to you with my needs in the future.  I haven’t lost faith in you, Jesus.”

But Jesus challenged her, basically saying, “Have you already given up on this situation?  Don’t.  Your brother will rise again.  I am the giver of life, and have power to give it to anyone I please.  He who believes in me, though he may die, will live.  And whoever believes in me will never truly die.  Do you believe this?”  (23-26)

Martha answered yes, but I don’t think she had a clue as to what Jesus meant.  Even so, she said, “I believe in you.  I believe you are God’s Son.”  (27)

What do we call that kind of faith?  The faith of a child.  We will not always understand Jesus’ words.  We may not always understand his actions (or lack of them).  But will we still say, in the face of our confusion, in the face of our disappointments, “I still believe in you?”

Martha had to come to grips with that question at Lazarus’ grave.  “Do I trust Jesus enough, despite all that happened, to do what he asks.”  But when she did, when she decided to put her trust in him, she saw God’s glory.

And so will we.  The same question Jesus asked Martha, he asks us.

Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?  (40)

How will you respond?

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Luke 17:7-10 — Our attitude in service

We all like a pat on the back.  A “Well done” after we do something.  But is that why we serve?  For the praise of others?  For the praise of God even?

Do we feel underappreciated when it doesn’t come?  Or even upset?

Jesus gives a very interesting illustration here.  He says,

Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep.  Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’?  Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’?  Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?  So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’  (7-10)

What is Jesus saying here?  That God does not appreciate our efforts?  That he won’t reward the work we’ve done?  No.  From other passages we do see that he appreciates and rewards the work we do.

But I think there are a couple things to remember here.

First, as long as we are on this earth, there is always work to be done.  There is no room to be resting on our laurels.  There’s even less room to be looking for those laurels.  Rather, we are to continue doing the things that God has called us to do.

Second, no matter what work we’re doing, no matter our position in the kingdom, we serve solely because of the grace of God.  We are unworthy to receive anything from God.  Certainly, we’ve done nothing to earn our salvation.  But that God would use us despite our faults, our weaknesses, and our failures, can also only be seen as God’s grace.  More, God gave us the gifts and talents that allow us to serve.  He gave us the strength and the wisdom.  And if we’ve received all these things, do we really have any room for pride?  As Paul wrote,

For who makes you different from anyone else?  What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?  (I Corinthians 4:7)

So as long as we live, let us continue to do the things that God has called us to do.  Humbly.  Faithfully.  And remembering that we do so solely because of his grace towards us.

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Luke 17:3-6 — Forgiveness

As I was reading this passage, something new struck me as I was reading the ESV.

Jesus is, of course, talking about forgiveness here.  He said,

If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.  (3 — NIV)

This is a key point about forgiveness.  There is no room for seething, or holding in your anger for long stretches of time when someone hurts you.  Jesus tells us to confront them about it.  Now you may want to hold off a bit before you talk to them if you need to calm down, but to just let your anger build is definitely not a good thing.  And Jesus says that if they apologize, forgive them.

Jesus then takes it further.  The ESV puts it this way,

And if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him. (4)

In the King James Version, it says,

Thou shalt forgive him.

In short, this is not just a simple suggestion to forgive.  It’s a command.  Jesus isn’t saying, “If he apologizes, you might want to consider forgiving him.”

He’s saying, “Forgive!”

The disciples’ response?

Increase our faith!  (5)

I think a lot of us feel this way.  “Lord, my hurt is so deeply rooted, I don’t know if I can forgive.  Increase my faith so that I can forgive.”

Jesus answered,

If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.  (6)

Jesus is saying here, it doesn’t matter how deeply rooted your hurt may be, it can get rooted out.  And you don’t require a whole lot of faith either.  What matters is not how much faith you have, but who you have your faith in.  Jesus is the great healer, and no matter what hurt you may have, he can bring healing.

The question then is not a matter of the amount of willpower you have to change yourself.  None of the commandments God gives us is.  None of us have the power to change ourselves and make ourselves perfect.  But Jesus can.  So don’t turn to yourself and try to will yourself to forgive.  Turn to Jesus and ask for his healing and his help.  And by putting your faith in him, you will see miracles happen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Luke 17:1-3 — Causing others to fall

Just a quick note:  I’m currently on vacation back home in Hawaii.  So, I may or may not be blogging every day as usual.  We’ll see how things fall out.

Speaking of falling, Jesus says here,

Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come.  It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.  (1-2)    

Those words are heavy enough.  Jesus then lends even heavier weight to them, saying,

So watch yourselves.  (3)

I don’t know about you, but those words give me pause.  I have a 5 year old daughter who certainly qualifies as a “little one.”  What kind of father am I to her?  I do my best, but I’m far from a perfect father.  Yet she is watching me.  Am I being a good example to her?  Or am I doing things that would cause her to fall.

As I think of that, I can only say, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”

But what of the other people in my life?  My wife?  My coworkers.  The people at church, especially the younger Christians, but all that I come into contact with.  Do I cause any to fall because of my actions?  Because of my attitudes?

How about you?  What kind of person are you to those around you?  Do you help them to come closer to Christ?  Or do you cause them to stumble into sin?

Lord God, you know my heart.  You know my failures.  You know the people I’ve caused to fall, intentionally or not.  Lord, forgive me.  Change me.  Reshape my heart.  My attitude.  My actions.  Let people draw nearer to you because of me.  Let them not fall because of me.  In Jesus name, amen.

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Luke 16:19-31 — The reality of hell

Hell.  It is not the most pleasant of topics.  And yet Jesus taught on it.  And in this passage he makes it very clear that it exists, and what’s more, describes what it is like.

First, it’s place of torment.  You see this idea all throughout the passage from beginning to end.  More, it’s a place of conscious torment.  There’s no idea in this passage that people’s consciousness is wiped out upon entry to hell.  Rather, people are conscious of their situation and just how awful it is.

Second, there is a chasm that cannot be crossed between the righteous and the unrighteous.  Once you are in hell, there is no way out.  There can be no repentance at that point.

Third, it’s so awful that no one wants to be there, nor do they want their loved ones there.  Sometimes, in Japan, people don’t want to become Christians because if they do, they have to face the reality that their grandparents or parents that have already passed away are in hell.  But listen to the rich man’s plea.

Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers.  Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.  (27-28)

Abraham told them this was impossible.  That even if he allowed it, his brothers had already rejected God’s word to them, and they still wouldn’t believe even if someone came from the dead to warn them.

Ironically, another man named Lazarus did rise from the dead as a testimony to the people that Jesus was truly the Son of God.  But Jesus’ enemies rejected him anyway, and plotted to kill not only Jesus, but Lazarus as well.

But the point is, this man did not want his family to join him there.  And I don’t think anyone wants their loved ones to join them in hell either.  So if you or your friends are refusing God’s salvation because your loved ones are in hell, remember this man’s words.  They don’t want you to join them.

How can we avoid hell?  Only by putting our faith in Jesus.  By believing that he died on the cross for our sins and that he rose again.  By making him your Lord and Savior.

Some people say, “How can a loving God send people to hell?”

What they don’t understand is life without God is hell.  Without the Source of life, love, joy, and peace, how can you call that situation anything but hell?

God doesn’t send people to hell so much as people choose to go there.  They choose to turn their backs on the Source of all that makes life worth living.  And when they do, when they cut themselves off from Him, what do they have left?  Only despair.  And that is hell.

How about you?  Will you turn to the Source of life?  Or will you turn your back on Him?  It’s your choice.

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Luke 16:19-31 — When we fail to prepare

This is one of the most graphic depictions of the afterlife, probably because it’s the most personal.  In particular, it is a graphic picture of what hell will be like.

Many people think that this was an actual incident, the reason being that this is the only story Jesus tells which names a person.

Whether it is a true story or not, I don’t know, but it is a clear warning to those who fail to prepare for eternity.  It is, in fact, the bookend to this chapter, which starts with a story of a person who did prepare for his future albeit through shady means.

Jesus starts the story by talking about a rich man who lived in luxury.  He had no needs or wants unfulfilled, and therefore never gave a thought to his future.  Nor did he give a thought to the people around him.  There was a man named Lazarus that he passed by day by day.  Lazarus was a beggar, and my guess is that it was through no fault of his own.  But through illness or perhaps some other problem beyond his control, he was reduced to begging for a living.  Lazarus longed just for the crumbs from this rich man’s table, but the rich man never gave him a moment’s notice.  And so they lived.

When their time came, Lazarus was escorted to Abraham’s side where he was comforted, but the rich man descended to hell where he was in torment.  And when he cried out for relief, Abraham responded,

Childremember that during your life you received your good  things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. (25)

What was Abraham saying?  This man had spent his whole life enjoying his life on earth.  He accumulated wealth, he enjoyed pleasure, and generally did whatever he pleased.  But he did not prepare for eternity.  Lazarus, on the other hand, though he had nothing on this earth, indeed, though he suffered greatly while on earth, nevertheless prepared himself for eternity.  And so when the time came, Lazarus received comfort, while the rich man suffered in agony.

The problem with the rich man was not his riches.  The problem was that he had not prepared for eternity.  He had not, as Jesus put it, used the wealth he had been given in such a way that he would be welcomed into eternal dwellings with God.  (Luke 16:9)

Let us not be foolish as this man was.  Let us remember that this life is but a breath, and that we need to prepare for eternity.  For if we don’t, we will suffer his fate.

How about you.  Are you prepared for eternity?

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Luke 16:15-18 — Justifying ourselves

One major problem of the Pharisees was that they were so self-righteous.  They were so proud of keeping every little rule there was that they couldn’t see the sin that was so obviously there in their lives.  And when their sin was pointed out, they found ways to justify themselves and their actions.

So Jesus told them,

You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts.  What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.  (15)

In this case, Jesus was condemning them for their love of money.  The Pharisees, as I mentioned in the last blog, justified this love by saying, “But this is God’s blessing for my being so righteous.”

Yet in their hearts, money had become their idol.  They loved it more than God.  The only thing they perhaps loved more than money was the praise of those around them.  So when they “generously” gave to the needy around them, they made sure to let everyone know about it.

But though these things may be highly valued by people, Jesus said they are detestable in God’s sight.  Money and the praise of others are not bad in themselves, of course.  But when they become the purpose for our lives, when they become our gods, then they become a stumbling block in our relationship with God.

The Pharisees found other ways to justify their actions.  They placed burdens on the people with all their rules and regulations that they added to the law of God, all the while finding loopholes for themselves, and patting themselves on the back for finding them.

Jesus pointed out one example in their ideas on adultery.  Certain Pharisees, in order to get around the law against adultery, divorced their wives in order to marry other women.  But Jesus told them,

Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.  (18)

The worst thing they did, however, was disassociating themselves from “sinners” instead of reaching out to them.  They used the law as an excuse to condemn people instead of trying to save them, and in doing so, they shut the door to the kingdom in people’s faces.  (Matthew 23:13)

Even so, Jesus said people were forcing their way past the Pharisees into the kingdom of God.  The very people that the Pharisees rejected were being touched by Jesus and were pressing their way past the Pharisees and their legalistic rules into the kingdom.  (Luke 16:16)

How about you?  What’s in your heart?  Are you outwardly righteous, when all the while you’re justifying the evil in your heart?

Are you so self-righteous that you can’t see the evil in your heart?

Let us not be blind as the Pharisees were.  Rather, let us ask Jesus to remove the scales that blind us to the sin in our lives, and to tear down the walls of pride that would keep us from him.

 

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Luke 16:13-15 — Who or what we serve

The god of Money is very big in our society.  Many people long for it.  They work for it.  They even give their lives for it.  But Jesus tells us here,

No servant can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money.  (13)

I’ve mentioned before, this one is tough for me, especially when it comes to giving.  And the question I have to ask myself is, “Who or what am I serving?”

Am I serving money?  Trying to do all I can to earn and then hold on to my money?  Or is money simply a tool I’m using in order to serve God?  Does God have access to my wallet anywhere and at any time?

If he doesn’t, I’m not serving God.  I’m serving money.  And that’s idolatry.

That was the problem of the Pharisees.  And when they heard Jesus, they sneered at him.  In those days, having wealth was a sign of their goodness.  The feeling was, “God only blesses the righteous.  Since I have all this money, I must be righteous.”

On the other hand, this caused the Pharisees to look down on every one else who was not wealthy, including Jesus.  So not only did they commit the sin of idolatry, but the sin of pride was also deeply embedded in their hearts.

How about you?  Are you proud of what you have?  Are you making what you have your god?  Is your service to this god, keeping you from being generous and touching the lives of those around you for the sake of God’s kingdom?

Who or what are you serving?

 

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Luke 16:10-12 — Being faithful

While Jesus praised the dishonest manager in his story for at least planning for his future, he also criticized him, saying,

Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. (10)

Jesus is saying here, “Be careful who you trust.  Don’t hand over large responsibilities to just anyone.  Watch them.  Give them smaller responsibilities to start with and see how they respond.  If they are faithful, give them larger ones.  But if they are not, then you know that they cannot be trusted.”

But lest we stop at judging other people, Jesus goes on to say,

So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?  And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?  (11-12)

God has given us resources here on earth, money among other things.  Are you being faithful with it?  Do you keep in mind that this money is not really your own?  Rather it belongs to God who has blessed you with the talents and strength to work and earn money?  You don’t truly own the money you have.  You are simply managing it.

And if you are not faithful with your money, what makes you think that God will give you responsibilities in other areas, particularly in ministry?  Not just formal ministry, like being a pastor, although I mean that too.  But ministering to the people around you at home, at work, at school or wherever you may be.  As members of his kingdom, we are all called to do what we can to touch people with the love of God.  And when we do, this has eternal rewards.

But can God trust you to do these things, if you are not faithful with the temporal things he has given you?

How faithful are you with the things God has given you?  Can God trust you?

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