Monthly Archives: October 2014

Today’s Scripture – October 29, 2014

Mark 10:23-27 (NIV): Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at his words. 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.”
26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Jesus’ words to His disciples cause as much consternation today as they did when He first spoke them.       “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.” Obviously, to fit a camel through a needle’s eye (the word for needle in Matthew and Mark is a regular sewing needle, while that in Luke is a suturing needle, entirely appropriate for a physician) is a physical impossibility.

The concept of it being impossible for a rich person to get into heaven is so distasteful to people that some have tried to explain Jesus’ words away. For a couple hundred years it has been taught that there was a small “after hours” gat next to the main gate in Jerusalem called “the eye of the needle.” It was so small that a camel could get through it only after having all of its burdens removed, and only if it crawled in on its knees. It’s an interesting picture with some good imagery. But that small gate never actually existed.       Others have tried to change the camel into a rope by changing a letter in the text. (Not that getting a thick rope through the eye of a needle is any easier than getting a camel through it!)

But no hedging or “re-imaging” is necessary. Jesus was using hyperbole, as He frequently did to make His point. (Cf. the plank sticking out of the judgmental person’s eye in Matthew 7:3-5.) The context for His remark is the fact that the rich young man had just opted out of the kingdom of God, deciding that the cost (selling all that he had, giving it to the poor, and then following Jesus) was too high a price to pay. Jesus was simply pointing out that this is the way it is with many (most?) people whose focus has been on amassing worldly riches.       Those riches become an idol for them, gaining such a stronghold in that person’s heart that they are usually unwilling to give it all up for the much simpler life that is focused on Jesus.

The disciples’ disbelief came from two sources. First, it was common theology that rich people were rich because they had been specially blessed by God. The idea that such people were not already in God’s kingdom was a shocking thought.       Second, the disciples were still looking forward to serving as top members of Jesus’ cabinet when He took over as king in Jerusalem. And, yes, that included gaining LOTS of worldly riches, too. This whole statement by Jesus, that riches could be a block to entering the kingdom, and not a sign that one was already in it, tapped their kaleidoscopes sharply, changing their whole view of how worldly riches fit into the picture of God’s kingdom.

But Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ amazed question, “Who then can be saved?” showed a small ribbon of light around the seemingly closed door: “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” The claws of worldly wealth sink deep into the hearts of those who focus on it. But God can break those claws loose. The lure of riches can blind the eyes of those focused on them to the point where they can see nothing else clearly. But God can open those eyes to the glory of His kingdom. But He will do that only if the person wants to live in His kingdom enough to be willing to be set free.

Father, I agree that the quest for riches can easily enclose our hearts, and move us further from You and Your kingdom. Help us, Lord, to always put the interests of You and Your kingdom first on our list of priorities. And help us, when You do bless us with material wealth, to think first of how to use if for the good and the growth of Your kingdom. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 28, 2014

Mark 10:19-22 (NIV): You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

The rich young man’s question was, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17b) Jesus naturally pointed him to the law. A person who lives a life contrary to God’s requirements can never inherit eternal life.       As Paul wrote, Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NIV) It is only when we repent, turn away from those things contrary to God’s will, and receive forgiveness and cleansing that we can inherit God’s kingdom and, along with it, eternal life.

Jesus began with the things that most people would quickly identify as sin, the second part of the Ten Commandments, knowing that this man, like most “good people” of His day (and ours), would have been scrupulous about obeying. And, as expected, this man verified that he had kept all of those commandments since his youth.

Jesus’ heart was filled with love for this young man.   Here was a person who really was seeking God’s kingdom, who was trying to avoid sin, who was trying to do the right things. But there was one part of this man’s life that was misaligned, and was standing in the way of his coming into God’s kingdom to experience eternal life: the orientation of his priorities, the core of his heart.   He was missing the mark on the first two commandments, the ones that specifically address a person’s relationship with God.

  • You shall have no other gods before me.
  • You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them (Exodus 20:3-4a NIV)

Even though this young man would never have considered making or buying an actual idol to worship, his possessions had become just that. They had become his god. They had become the thing that took up his time and attention; the thing that all of the best of his time and energies were devoted to. So Jesus pointed his finger right at this key area of his life. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

This man could not follow Jesus yet, because his heart belonged to something else; his priorities were elsewhere. His riches had become his god, and serving them took the lion’s share of his time and attention. And no clearer indication of this is needed than the next two sentences: At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. The price for eternal life, turning away from the focus of his life away from amassing wealth, was greater than he was willing to pay.       “No one 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.” (Matthew 6:24 NIV)

Father, as always, Jesus put His finger right on the core issue. This man ultimately had to choose who and what he would serve; where his focus would be. Lord, it is clear that we today must make the same choice. We have so many things to which we devote our time and energy: our cars, our houses, our television shows and computer games, our jobs, our relationships, our investments, our stuff. Any and all of these can grow to the point where they begin to take first place in our lives and hearts, where they take our time so that we don’t have time to pray adequately, or worship, or read our Bibles.   Many times they take resources that rightfully belong to You, so that we cannot tithe or give as you direct us to.   At that point they have become our god, that which we love most, focus on the most, and give the best of our time and energy to. At that point they will stand between us and inheriting eternal life. At that point, we must make a choice. Help us to keep our priorities exactly in line with Your word, and to choose correctly. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 17, 2014

Mark 10:17-18 (NIV): As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone.”

This rich young man (10:22) had achieved much in his short life. He could have just taken it easy and lived on his wealth. But he had a spiritual hunger in his life, an emptiness in the core of who he was, that took the joy out of all of the material riches that he had amassed.

This man had heard about Jesus, the miracle worker and great teacher, who many believed knew the way to eternal life. So when he heard that Jesus was in the area, he rushed off to talk to Him. When he saw Jesus and His followers starting down the road, he threw himself on the ground at Jesus’ feet and panted, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” No introduction, no small talk, just blurting out the question before Jesus had a chance to move on.

Jesus’ first response has puzzled many over the ages: “Why do you call me good? No one is good–except God alone.” Some take this to mean that Jesus was denying that He was God, and that He was denying that He was good, thus undermining both the doctrine of the Trinity, and the doctrine of Jesus’ sinlessness. But this is not what He was doing at all.

This young man did not come to Jesus to acknowledge that He was God. He knew nothing about Jesus or His life other than what he had heard.       He came to Jesus purely as a “good” man, and a great teacher of spiritual things. His hope was that this teacher would help him to find the way to a relationship with the true God, without ever realizing that this man Himself WAS the way.

Jesus’ responses was actually ironic – even a little tongue in cheek. The young man had called Him “good,” but no mere human being could rightfully claim that adjective for Himself. And any that readily did should probably be eyed with suspicion. Only God is truly good. Any goodness that people may have shrinks to nothingness when compared to the true goodness of God. So was this young man just trying to butter Jesus up? Or did he actually acknowledge that Jesus was in fact God in the flesh?

Jesus knew that the young man was merely using the polite formula of the day. He did not come to Jesus because he realized who He was. He had come to a teacher, a guru, someone who could help him to find the real relationship with God that he desired.       Jesus would tell him all that he wanted to know. But the man’s spiritual eyes were so misfocused that, in the process, he would miss the God whom he was seeking standing right in front of him!

Father, how treacherous it can be to take our own spiritual perceptions as ultimate truth. How treacherous it can be to go to fallible human beings for spiritual direction, believing them to be “good” and able to lead us to you, instead of just coming straight to You. The reality is that You are as accessible to us today as Jesus was to that rich young man.       But all too often people still come to Jesus so that He can show them the way, instead of coming to Jesus because he IS the way. They come to Jesus, the “good teacher,” to learn about God, instead of coming to Jesus because He IS God. Help us all, Lord, to see clearly. And, in seeing clearly, help us to lead others directly to You. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 16, 2014

Mark 10:13-16 (NIV): People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. 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.” And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

It was understandable that the disciples wanted to be protective of Jesus. He was almost continually surrounded by people wanting something from Him, continually beset by those who had important things to talk to Him about. These were just parents wanting Jesus to touch and bless their children. Surely Jesus had better things to do than to deal with a bunch of kids! So they blocked the way and wouldn’t let the parents bring the children to Jesus.

As soon as Jesus realized what was going on, He was indignant. What did they think they were doing!? He told the disciples, “Don’t stop the children; let them come to me. Let the parents bring them over here.” Jesus wasn’t put off at all by these parents or by their children. He wasn’t too busy for them at all. “The kingdom of God belongs to people like these.”

No one was sure whether Jesus meant the children or the parents by this statement. Actually, it is true for both. The parents demonstrated a couple of key characteristics of people who live in the kingdom of God:

  • Faith:       They brought their children to Jesus for a touch because they had faith that the touch would have an overwhelmingly positive effect on their lives.
  • Evangelistic Impulse: They believed in Jesus (or else they would not have brought their children to be blessed by Him), and they wanted to bring their children into contact with Him, even at an early age.

The children also demonstrated characteristics of the people of God’s kingdom:

  • Trust: The children came to Jesus and let Him bless them. They were innocent enough to not worry that He would hurt them.
  • Poverty:       The children would never try to earn or pay for the blessing that Jesus gave them. They had nothing that would even come close to paying back even a small portion of His blessing. So they simply received what Jesus had for them, with no thought of whether or not they deserved it.
  • A teachable spirit: Children are like sponges, readily learning everything that anyone is willing to teach them.

It was these last three characteristics that Jesus had in mind when He said, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

  • We must trust, believing that when Jesus opens the door to the kingdom for us, that everything he is offering us is for our good, never for our harm. We must also trust that anything He requires us to leave at the door must be left behind for our good.
  • We must come in poverty, realizing that there is nothing that we could ever do that would make us good enough for salvation, or that can pay Jesus back for His sacrifice.       “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling.” (From Rock of Ages)
  • We must come with a teachable spirit, willing to lay down all we think we know of God, of His kingdom, and even of how to live our lives. We must be completely open to learning about God and about His ways directly from the Holy Spirit.

Father, I thank You that You didn’t make Your blessings available only to the scholars and theologians. You made it available to the little children, all of us who love You for Yourself, who trust You for all that You promise, and who, out of our own poverty, come to You to receive the blessings of Your kingdom, so that we can learn from You. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 14, 2014

Mark 10:10-12 (NIV): When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

Jesus’ words sound harsh to the ears of 21st century Americans – hopelessly out of touch with the times. But again, Jesus’ context is not really the topic of divorce, but the topic of marriage.

The people of Jesus’ day, much like the people of today, had developed a very cavalier attitude toward marriage. They had devolved to the point where they believed marriage to be a social contract, entered into by two consenting adults (and/or their families), ratified by a ceremony, and celebrated by a party. Therefore, they believed that the contract could be nullified at the consent of either of the two parties, and a new contract entered into.

But Jesus’ frame of reference (which is also God’s frame of reference), is that marriage is not a contract, but a covenant. It is not something that originated in the mind of man, but a key part of God’s original design for people. It is one more thing that separates man, created in God’s image and likeness, from the animals – the ability to enter willingly into a covenant with God.

Even many of those who do believe in marriage as a covenant see it as being a three-way arrangement: a covenant primarily between the man and the woman, with God overseeing it – kind of like a triangle with God at the top.       But in reality, marriage is a two-sided covenant. On one side is God, the author and guarantor of the covenant. On the other side is the one-flesh entity of husband and wife.       That is the source of Jesus’ saying, “What God has joined together, let man not separate.” (Mark 10:9) God is the one who ratifies the covenant because, even through many promises are made by the husband and wife to each other, the covenant between the husband-wife entity is made with Him.

Therefore, marriage must be entered into with great seriousness. A man or woman who divorces to marry another, as the people of Jesus’ day were prone to do if they found someone more to their liking, did not avoid adultery by merely breaking the previous covenant through divorce. As long as God remains true to His covenant promises (and He always does), divorce does not nullify it. Only adultery by one of the parties nullifies it, breaking the covenant from the human side (Matthew 19:9). So, unless there is adultery by one or both parties, the marriage covenant remains in effect.

Again, this language sounds harsh and unreasonable to the ears of the people of today, just as it did to the ears of the disciples. (“If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” Matthew 19:10) But this viewpoint is not based on narrow-mindedness, lack of compassion, or staunch traditionalism. It is based on a true understanding of what marriage actually is, and the clear, straightforward, non-nuanced command of the One who crated marriage in the first place.

It is also vital to understand that divorce, even divorce and remarriage, is not an unforgiveable sin.       As in every other case of disobedience, God can provide forgiveness, restoration, and a fresh start to anyone who sincerely turns away from their sinful actions and attitudes (repentance), and turns back to Him for forgiveness.

Father, it is easy to see that the reason that this view of divorce sounds so “antiquated” and even harsh to many today is that we hold a different view of the nature of marriage than You do. Of course, because You are the one who designed marriage in the first place, Your view of what it is and how it is to be conducted is always the correct one, no matter how “progressive” or “enlightened” we think our viewpoint is.       Forgive us, Lord, for treating something as holy as marriage with such disregard. Forgive us for taking a covenant relationship that You created, and recasting it in our own image, doing untold damage to it in the process. Help us, at least Your people, those called by Your name, to recapture Your design for marriage, and to live it out in our own lives. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 13, 2014

Mark 10:1-9 (NIV): Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.
Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
“What did Moses command you?” he replied.
They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘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. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

The Pharisees came to Jesus with a hot-button issue to “test Him;” to see where He landed on the theological spectrum. Was he on the side of the more liberal interpreters of the law, who declared on the basis of Deuteronomy 24:1 that if a man finds ANYTHING displeasing in his wife (for example, if she burns his food, or if she is not as attractive as she once was), then he is permitted to divorce her? Or was He on the side of the more conservative interpreters who (on the basis of the same Scripture) declared that only adultery was adequate grounds for divorce?

Like any good theology teacher, Jesus turned their attention to the Scriptures: “What did Moses command you?” Theology is much too important, with consequences that are far too significant, to be left to opinion. And these Pharisees, who knew the Scriptures forward and back, were ready with their answer:       “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” (Deuteronomy 24:1 again.)

The problem was, they were looking at the wrong Scripture, because they were thinking about the wrong topic.       They were researching Scriptures on divorce. But Jesus wanted to help them to approach the issue from the other end: What did Moses say about the nature of marriage? Jesus acknowledged that Deuteronomy 24:1-4 talked about the rules for divorce, but divorce rules were put into place only because the hard hearts of the Israelites made adultery and divorce a possibility. It was a concession, not a command.

Jesus pointed clear back to the origin of marriage to give the true answer to the question. In the beginning, God created humanity male and female (Genesis 1:27), creating the woman from the bone and flesh of the man (Genesis 2:21-24). In marriage, the man and the woman become one flesh again. That is what marriage is all about: two people becoming one flesh for a lifetime. Divorce is then tearing this one-flesh creation in two, rather like tearing a person in half. It causes untold pain and damage to both halves. Therefore Jesus’ answer to the question is based on the Scripture about marriage, not the Scripture allowing divorce as a concession. His decision (which is ultimately God’s decision): “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

Father, this is not a very popular viewpoint these days – nether part of it, in fact. The idea that marriage is something that YOU designed in the beginning (and the fact that Jesus had anything at all to say about the nature of marriage) has come under heavy attack. And the further idea that divorce shouldn’t be allowed any time people decide that they don’t want to be married any more (“no fault” divorce) is also unpopular. But Your truth has never been subject to popular opinion or majority vote. When we are looking for how You want us to live our lives, our opinions are of no value at all. Only Your word gives us the truth, and the true values to live by. Help us, Lord, to continue to search Your word, not just for our “theology,” but for direction and truth in every area of our lives.       Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 12, 2014

Mark 9:49-50 (NIV): For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt should lose its flavor, how can you make it salty? Have salt among yourselves and be at peace with one another.”

Salt in Jesus’ day was considered primarily a preservative. It was very valuable because it was the only means of preserving meat. Without salt, meat would be completely inedible in just a day or two.

This saying of Jesus is a cousin to that in the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” (Matthew 5:13 (NIV)

When Jesus talked in Mark about the disciples having salt in themselves, He was pointing to the truth that Jesus’ followers, because of the Holy Spirit’s presence in their lives, have the ability to act as a preservative in society, to keep it from rotting and going bad.       But if salt loses its saltiness, if it no longer keeps the decay from taking place, it is worthless. Likewise, if Jesus’ disciples stop acting as a preservative in their society, they become worthless as well, good for nothing but to be thrown into the street and trampled on by men.

Jesus’ urging to the disciples to have salt in themselves, and to be at peace with each other, is an urging for them to keep their focus on the main thing: being a preservative force, keeping society from decaying and rotting by consciously working to expanding the kingdom of God. If they will keep that focus, it will keep them from focusing on worthless things, like who is the greatest one of Jesus’ disciples, and who will get the top spots in His administration, and it will unify them instead of dividing them.

Father, I wonder how many of Your people really understand the power that Your Holy Spirit brings into our lives – the power to be a preservative, to keep our society from sliding into decay. I’m afraid most of us see the decay that seems to be engulfing us these days, and we allow ourselves to fall into a state of despair, pleading with You to do something about it. But we fail to realize that You already have done something about it: You have put us here to act as a preservative, to push the doors of Your kingdom wide open, and urge everyone in, so that our whole society can be changed one life at a time, and preserved from decay.       Help us to never lose our saltiness, but to be powerful and effective, working in Your name. Amen.

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