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Disheartened, #83

“And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”

Mark 10:21-22, ESV

Let’s be clear–Jesus really did love him, and that explains a whole lot. In verse 17, we see this man running to Jesus, and he kneels right in front of him. I suppose that this man desperately wanted the Lord’s full attention. He had to know–he must understand. He was a driven man with some very deep questions.

To be wealthy was the clear evidence that God really did love you. If you were rich, you must have God’s approval, and if you happened to be richer than rich–he must love you even more than that. That big bank account was the proof that you were set apart, and completely accepted by God. (Not a whole lot has changed, has it?)

All of this must be understood before we can go any further.

The rich young ruler was suddenly jolted by Jesus’ words–he simply had to give away all his money–and then, to start to follow him. I don’t think anyone had ever dared to confront him like this. Jesus spoke so clearly–and so concisely. The things that came out of Jesus’ mouth cut him like a knife, and then, smashed him like a hammer–they wallopped him hard, and quite honestly, nothing had ever hurt so much.

But dear one, remember this; Jesus always uses a rubber hammer.

The passage told us earlier that Jesus, “loved him” (10:21). Jesus lists five of the 10 commandments, but interestingly enough, the ones that Jesus spoke were the ones written on the second tablet–the ones that dealt with how we treat each other.

Did this man really keep them? Perhaps he may have–maybe yes, maybe no. But knowing human nature, and looking through the lens of God’s word, it was clearly impossible. He may have been seriously conscientious, and maybe he really tried his best to live righteously, but scripture is clear, “all have sinned, all have fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

The text tells us that when Jesus spoke to this man, he issued an invitation, but it also doubled as a command, “come, follow me.” I don’t think that following was as simple as it sounds–and it seems it was the one thing that the rich young ruler couldn’t, or wouldn’t do.

He’d certainly made a valiant effort to be holy, no one could dispute that. But he had to know he was really saved, and he was desperately afraid he wasn’t. This man had a questions that weighed him down–but he must know for sure–he was tied by a golden rope to a heavy treasure chest, and that was something he couldn’t leave behind.

“The fellow that has no money is poor. The fellow that has nothing but money is poorer still.”

Billy Sunday

This man seems to have been ruled by fear. And that is something wealth will do to people. The richest people seem to be the most afraid, and although I admit that seems strange, and perhaps even a bit judgmental, scripture tells us that having possessions often leads one into mortal danger–it’s just the cheese in the mousetrap, (Psalm 49:5).

He ended up “disheartened.” A simple definition of that word means “having lost determination or confidence; dispirited and afraid.” That pretty much describes this man’s state of mind. Jesus had issued a command, and the rich young ruler couldn’t, or wouldn’t, ever meet the terms of Christian discipleship.

Money can be a useful servant, but it’s really a terrible master. That false god–Mammon is an idol, and a deadly one. And that evil god intends to destroy you, if you can’t release your wealth to God. and to others.

“He also did not choose to love God more than his wealth, even though Jesus specifically promised him treasure in heaven. The man was more interested in the earthly treasure of men than in God’s heavenly treasures. This man was essentially an idolater. Wealth was his god instead of the true God of the Bible. He put money first.”

David Guzak

“Most people fail to realize that money is both a test and a trust from God.”

Rick Warren

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Plain Talk, #79

14 “So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

John 11:14-15, (context, vv. 1-44)

It’s not easy to speak concisely. Our world is filled with overly careful verbiage, and confusing talk. Often we will complicate things to make them palatable, and comfortable for others. As a ‘writer-wannabe’, I’m aware of bringing confusion when I complicate words, sentences and paragraphs.

Not that being careful and diplomatic is wrong. The book of Proverbs, over and over, makes it clear that our words are powerful things, and they must be carefully watched. What we say, to be astringently honest, communicates what is hidden in our hearts.

Jesus is God’s megaphone in a world that has grown deaf.

The real thing is not what we say, but what we do. Jesus intends to do the impossible. He is going to raise the dead, which has never, ever been done. Jesus intends to simply speak out, simply, and life will come to Lazarus again.

Just as he spoke plainly here to his disciples–he will speak simple words to Lazarus as well. Jesus’ words–very plain and quite simple–will bring life to a body that has laid on a stone slab for four days. The decomposition was already quite advanced. His body, “stinketh.” (John 11:39, KJV).

“When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.”

John 11:43-44

Jesus is the Word made flesh. Jesus created the world by words–it is said that he holds the world together by his words. And when he speaks, (or commands), definite things are going to happen.

He’s God’s megaphone in a world that has grown deaf. All that he says is spiritually amplified over the mumbling’s of a confusing darkness. When he stands and speaks to Lazarus, life returns. Jesus is clearly heard in the deep corridors of death, and what he speaks is going to happen.

“And because of his words many more became believers.”

John 4:41, NIV

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Looking Squarely at Death, #67

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”

John 8:51, (context, vv. 48-51)

R.I.P. “Requiescat in pace”, was discovered etched on the walls of catacombs that dated 150 AD. It was done by  early Christians and indicated that “they died in the peace of the Church, that is, united in Christ.” The abbreviation R.I.P., is now used today–“Rest in Peace.”

Death is inevitable, none of us are going to escape it. Exactly 100% of us will step out into this unknown, and as far as I know no one except Jesus has returned to tell us what to expect. But he completely understands our fear, and he will guide us through this moment. He will not let you face death frightened.

“Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying.”

Martin Luther

Jesus promises eternal life to all those who keep His word. Our obedience is like a long (sometimes happy, sometimes dreary) hallway that we walk through. At the end of it there is a golden door–for the believer it immediately opens up, but for the non-believer it’s locked tight.

For the unforgiven and the unfaithful, death means doom. For those who want to follow Jesus, death isn’t any different than a graduation, or your wedding day. Rather than listen to the wickedness of the devil, we must grasp truth and not let go. And we really must encourage our frightened brothers. They need to know this.

“How strange this fear of death is! We are never frightened at a sunset.”

George Macdonald

When I was a young boy, I used to lie at night on my bed, crossing my arms, and pretend I was dead. I also went through an awful fear of being buried alive. I read about caskets that had a bell that could ring if I somehow was trapped inside. Somewhere I read they when they had to exhume a body they sometimes found scratch marks on the inside lid. Pretty heady stuff, for a ten year old.

Until I became a believer, I was haunted by this awful fear of death–I now realize that Satan was trying his best to ensnare me. Fear is his awesome tactic, and it destroys the human heart–but I also know that these moments the Holy Spirit always visits me, and along with him he brings his joy, comfort and calming peace.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Psalm 23:4

“Death may be the King of terrors… but Jesus is the King of kings!”

D.L. Moody

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The Whole Truth, #65

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:31-32, (context, vv. 31-47)

There’re several ideas in these two verses which absolutely have to be considered. They can’t be ignored, they’re essentially bedrock. I’m convinced the most astonishing things about God’s Word is that it’s alive. It’s far more than stark dark letters of black ink on white pages. It really breathes and moves in each of us who want to follow Jesus.

The Bible is alive–it has a heartbeat. It simply wants us to get out our spiritual stethoscope and listen.

We sometimes get confused about the word “abide.” It seems like a tricky word, and of course we’ll insist on complicating it, but if he is calling us to follow Jesus – the Word made flesh–means we’ll abide, (to live in, to dwell in, to make your home there) –in that Word. Disciples sometimes won’t do this out of fear of man, or they can’t because of unconfessed sin, or politics, or religion, or philosophy. They’ll become confused about this, and it’s painfully obviously to all.

Imagine, you find a lost wallet in the parking lot. Now what?

You open it to find ten 100 dollar bills! I’m convinced at that certain moment, the Spirit will speak what’s true. You really can rationalize it–possibly this is definitely God’s gift to me (!), or maybe we might look for the driver’s license in order to return this lost wallet to its owner. But it’s a moment of truth, and all of heaven is standing on tiptoe to see what you will do next.

The truth will set you free.” Keeping the money, and ditching the wallet seems like a fine idea at the time, but it’s essentially a seductive trap. If you rationalize this, at this at this point, you’ll fail his test. Your freedom is at stake. What’s true, and what the Spirit is saying, is well on its way of being discarded. (A thousand dollars after all would truly be a blessing? Maybe I’ll tithe off it?)

And maybe the Holy Spirit wants to see what’s really in our hearts, and just maybe a minor angel planted it there, just to show everyone what see what we will do. And maybe it was accidentally dropped, which is probably the case. But what are you going to do? The longer you wait, the trickier it seems to get.

Are you abiding in the words of Jesus? He’s calling you to follow him–and he wants you to become intimate with the real truth, which is really him in the flesh. Disciples who are living out the life of Jesus will act like him. As “abiders” we’ll insist on making his decisions, and becoming truthful people–even if it seems like a disaster.

“Where I found truth, there found I my God, who is the truth itself.”

Augustine

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The Very First Stone, #63

“He stood up and said to them, 

“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”

John 8:7 (context vv. 3-10)

The religious police had caught them together, and they held her (just her?) for the express purpose of embarrassing Jesus. Ideally, on the holy grounds of the temple they could challenge him about the Law, and when Jesus tried and failed, they could then humiliate him to the crowds. He would lose a lot in the credibility department (or so they thought.)

“They set a trap for Jesus. If Jesus said, “Let her go,” then He would seem to break the Law of Moses. If He said, “Execute her for the crime of adultery,” then Jesus would seem harsh and perhaps cruel. Also, He would break Roman law, because the Romans had taken the right of official execution for religious offenses away from the Jews.”

-David Guzak

Adultery is expressly prohibited by the seventh of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:12) which says simply: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” There is no ambiguity to this. God had made it clear that adultery was wrong, and she was guilty. (The man she was involved with wasn’t charged–which is a bit interesting.)

Jesus, being sinless, was the only one capable of judgement. Having complete authority he had perfect right to carry out God’s verdict. But he didn’t. He wouldn’t. I suppose that’s why this passage is so evocative to many.

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

John 8:11

All of her accusers had quickly left. Jesus simply wrote something in the sand, and whatever it was, it did the trick. There was no other thing that would of caused them to leave so quietly, and abruptly. They suddenly refused to enforce the penalty of the Law, and just skedaddled.

The adultery was still an issue though, it wasn’t overlooked. Jesus spoke directly to her about it, she wasn’t off the hook yet. “From now on sin no more” is after all a command, and that relationship with her lover must be forsaken. Jesus was serious. What she would choose to do from this point on was critical.

Jesus insists that she understand the why behind them departing so quickly. I think it’s important for her quite specifically, she knew that not only was she forgiven, but that now she could live without guilt or condemnation. The condemners were gone. She was free. Absolutely free.

“Man has two great spiritual needs. One is for forgiveness. The other is for goodness.”

Billy Graham

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Jesus Knew Who He Was, #61

“So Jesus proclaimed, as he taught in the temple, 

“You know me, and you know where I come from. But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you do not know. 29 I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.”

John 7:28-29 (context, vv. 25-31)

Jesus was sure of himself–he fully understood his identity. There was not an iota of self-doubt or awkwardness. He was sure and steady, not at all like us. He spoke like a man who is totally confident about who he was. He walked out an awareness of who he was, and what he must speak.

Jesus had concrete knowledge of who he was, and now is proclaiming it to the people and priests. No one could stop him, he was like a spiritual locomotive. He spoke with total love, wisdom and authority. He spoke as a man who was not bound by religious definitions or ritual.

The temple was the special place were people met God–and God met people. And it’s in this certain place that Jesus now speaks to the crowds.

The issue here is one of identity, Jesus reveals who he really is, but also declares the awesome gap that exists between God and man. “Him you do not know” is the terrible analysis of our heart condition. We are separated and we’re walking in the dark. Romans 3:10-12 explains it like this,

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11  no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”

“He sent me,” explains the concentrated effort of God to get our attention. It seems that the Father has gone to extraordinary effort to bring us home to him. Jesus is God’s greatest effort. Jesus Christ was sent to find us, and return us to God.

“Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God because He said so.”

C.S. Lewis

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Teaching With Authority, #60

“My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. 17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.”

John 7:16 (context, vv. 14-24)

Spiritually, Jesus is superior to everything and everyone. All that he did in the Gospels revealed that salient fact–whether he was healing the sick, walking on water, or teaching the Sermon on the Mount, he had total command. An authority soaked all that he did, just like water saturates a sponge.

The Greek word most often translated “authority” (exousia) in the New Testament basically means: “right, permission, freedom.” Jesus was completely free to do whatever he knew was the Father’s will–he had full and total authorization to do whatever he wanted. (That’s what his baptism was all about.)

Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

The Greek word to “teach” (didaskō) in the NT; it means “give instruction, impart doctrine, to explain.” Jesus’ teaching was a marvel, he explained God’s kingdom to us crisply, succinctly and precisely. All we need to understand was freely given to us in the red letters. Everything necessary to us was taught with confidence and freedom.

Since Jesus perfectly combined the two words, both teaching and authority, he was able to dictate to us everything we need, everything we must have, in straightforward terms. This can’t be stressed enough, the scripture we read–when ignited with the Holy Spirit, seems to be the only thing that can change the human heart.

The preceding verses in this passage reveal the setting for this statement.

  • Jesus stays out of Jerusalem because of the murderous hatred of Pharisees.
  • There was a deep concern by his family who doubted Jesus’ timing and direction.
  • The origin of his teaching was questioned. He was speaking with the authority of the Messiah. Jesus completely understood the true source of his teaching.
  • There was the general consensus of the people. Many were finally arriving at a decision in favor about him. Many would reject him.

We have never seen anyone of his impressive caliber, and we can only imagine the impact he was having on everyone he met. Under the Spirit’s direction, his disciples would retain all that Jesus did and taught. (The author of this passage was the Apostle John, and when you read his letters to us, we see that his memories were quite vivid).

His authority soaked all that he did, just like water saturates a sponge.

So what do we do now? What kind of “lordship” does he have over us? First of all, we learn (slowly) that we MUST teach ourselves to submit to our lord, constantly. He carries the authority we need, the authority human beings require. The Holy Spirit knows exactly how to pierce our pride and independence. Our teacher, comforter (and coach) understands us perfectly.

“His authority on earth allows us to dare to go to all the nations. His authority in heaven gives us our only hope of success. And His presence with us leaves us no other choice.”

-John Stott

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Soul Food, Entry #14

“But he said to them, 

“I have food to eat that you do not know about.”

John 4:32, (context vv. 28-35)

Jesus states that He draws His strength from the Father’s will. His “food” is exclusively His own (not the ‘disciples’). He gains power from doing all that God is asking Him to do. Jesus’ personal strength comes from accomplishing or fulfilling that which the Father reveals as His will.

Why can’t we be more like Jesus in this? We have the daily option (and it’s indeed ‘optional’) to do the things that the Holy Spirit has laid out for us. Will we fulfill His will or do we decide to go our own way? What is our “food?” Where does our strength lie?

The Spirit reveals what God’s will is to our particular path. The decision to do the things He has laid out for us is necessary for us to grow up, to advance His kingdom, and to reveal God’s glory to a watching world. This is what we have been created to be. This is our truest calling.

His purposes are to be our food.

Doing God’s will can be optional, and a decision has to be made ‘moment-by-moment’ and every single day. Our precious time with Him, through prayer and the Word, quite often will lay out the direction we’re to take. We definitely need to hear His voice, that is critical. Becoming attentive and aware to His purposes reveal a true intimacy with the Lord.

Doing God’s will is the exquisite adventure of a faith that is really alive. Our witness blossoms when we decide that we will obey Him. I don’t think it needs to be dull or tedious. It’s the grand call of the authentic believer. Doing the things He wants for us is to be our “food” for each day. His will is our ‘nourishment.’

I believe this is what Jesus was teaching His disciples.

“If you keep my commands you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”

John 15:10, CSB

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Completing Scripture, Entry #6

“And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:21

Jesus initiates the conversation, as He usually does. He is talkative without being irritating or tedious. “He began to say” is just the start, and He intends to penetrate our defenses with His words. As ‘hard-headed’ as we are, we desperately need a spiritual jack-hammer. And Jesus promises to keep His word.

The Bible is ‘God-breathed. It isn’t like any other book, it discerns “the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12). There is nothing–absolutely nothing that remotely compares to God’s Word. It is the ultimate authority in the entire universe. By the Lord’s eternal Word all of creation came into existence. By His speech He changes our calloused hearts to be like His.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” 

John 1:1-3 

When Jesus stands up and reads, He ‘bonds’ His ministry to these scrolls. Both He and God’s words are fully connected with each other. He ‘fulfills’ everything that is written down in ink. The authority of Christ and the power of the precepts are fully cemented together. God’s wondrous work is truly seamless.

“I will answer for it, the longer you read the Bible, the more you will like it; it will grow sweeter and sweeter; and the more you get into the spirit of it, the more you will get into the spirit of Christ.”

-William Romaine


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Tempted by the Devil, Entry #3

“Christ in the Wilderness,” Briton Riviere

“But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God are’”

(Matthew 4:4)

God Words are equated to bread, which is emblematic of every kind of food. Bread signifies life. Jesus addressing the tempter, places the Word of God as the final Sustianer of life itself. By His declaration He establishes what is real and necessary to every disciple.

The Word of God is the food that the believer needs. Without the promises of God we “starve” spiritually. We all must have what God is speaking, all that “the mouth of God” wants to share with us.

Deuteronomy 8:2–3 parallels Matthew 4:1–4. When Jesus is tempted three times, He quotes exclusively from the book of Deuteronomy each time. We see Him strengthening His calling by using the truth found in the OT, He establishes His ministry using the Law of Moses.

“I will abundantly bless her provisions;
    I will satisfy her poor with bread.”

(Psalm 132:15)

(See also: Matthew 3:15, 4:7, 4:10)

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