The End

Mark 13

Do not be anxious.  That’s what the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:6.  I have to remind myself of that because it’s exactly what happens to me when I read Mark 13.  Maybe you become anxious too?  Here’s how it goes.  We begin to analyze and worry, trying to discern if we are in the end times. As we consider current events and the natural disasters happening everywhere, the conclusion has to be yes, we are living in the end times.  Given that answer, our creative energy is poured into possibilities and theories that tie everything together.  In some odd way, it helps make sense of the world.  Other people support the idea too.  In fact, they will encourage us and ask for more which causes us to go digging into the prophetic scripture so that we can justify our conclusions.

What is my conclusion?  Yes, we are in the end times.  I do not know if we are closer to the beginning or closer to the end, but I’d have to be crazy not to see evil rising up all around me. And, yes, it makes me anxious.  Truth is, this anxiety is very revealing.  It paints a pretty good picture of what is really in my heart.  You see, this anxiety is produced when I consider that the life that I know, with its familiarity and relative comfort, is going to be disrupted.  If that is true, then clearly, I am not looking forward to a life with God.  If that is true, Jesus warns, there is no possible way you will make it through the tribulation.

How then, are we going to make it through?  How are we going to survive additional trials that are headed our way? Its easy when we reflect on the central focus of all these stories.  They are not about God’s condemnation.  They are about his love and faithfulness. If we are to be reminded of this, we must do as Colossians 3:2 suggests and “set our mind on things above, not on earthly things.”  When we do that, all the events, all the possible horrors and evils fade away, forever lost in the hope created by the pure, precious love of Jesus Christ.

Immediate Decisons and Accurate Choices

Mark 1

Think about some big choices you have made in your life.  Maybe it was a new or a house, or a career change.  Getting married and starting a family rank right up there too. None of those are spontaneous choices.  Now, consider the process you used to evaluate the choices.  You probably weighed the benefits and potential consequences.  You may have also studied time and economic commitments.  Along the way, it is likely that you weighed alternative choices.  Everyone would agree that a decision process that includes all of those steps is wise, right? With that truth, we have something to consider about the disciples choices to follow Jesus today in Mark 1.  Check out verses 18 and 20.  It says that when Jesus asked them to follow, they immediately did.  Did they make hasty choices?

There are two factors we must consider when answering that question.  First, is the logical decision framework we just looked at accurate and second, do we have the whole story?  For the first part, I am going to simply answer yes, that is a logical framework for effective decision-making.  Sure, there could be additions to it and probably a few constraints added in, but in summary, it works.  So, the logical conclusion is that the disciples made hasty decisions, right?  Not so fast.  Since we know their life stories, we can safely and accurately say that they made wise choices.  So, how did they do it?  In fact, I want to know how we can make such accurate decisions immediately.

To determine how James and Matthew made their decision, we have to look into their history.  Unfortunately, we don’t get a very much information about them so, we are going to have to make a few assumptions.  The first takes a cue from Mark 1:2-3.  Mark is quoting a prophecy from the book of Isaiah.  It predicts the coming of a man that will prepare the way for Jesus.  This was John the Baptist.  John the Baptist, in turn, predicts the coming of Jesus.  It is fair to assume that the disciples were listening to and hearing these messages. So, the two contributing factors to their immediate decisions were listening to God and keeping watch for the Christ. Therefore,  we really want to make accurate decisions, we too will listen and keep watch.

The second consideration of the disciple’s immediate choice to study is what the disciples continuously thought about.  As faithful Jews, they were steeped in scripture.  This knowledge of God’s word allowed them to weigh the truth of what they were hearing and evaluate the promises being made.

To close, let’s look again at this immediate decision.  Clearly, it was not hasty, nor was it exactly immediate.  You see, their decision to follow Jesus was made long before they met him face to face.  It came from setting their mind on him, keeping watch and knowing that they would act when it was time.  Their immediate decision, therefore was really a conditioned response to the Truth that they had hidden in their heart.  At the moment of invitation, no thought or consideration was necessary.  The preparations had already been made.

To be like the disciples, we can follow their pattern.  Accurate and effective choices are made by knowing God (plasm 119:11), setting our minds on him (Colossians 3:1-4) and be ready to respond (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2).

Colossians 3:1-4 (ESV) If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Philippians 4:8-9 (ESV) Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9

Deuteronomy 12:28 (ESV) Be careful to obey all these words that I command you, that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God.

Greatly Distressed

Matthew 17

A couple of weeks ago, I began asking people if it were a full moon outside.  It was my sarcastic way of downplaying the distress in my life.  To be distressed, according to google, is to experience anxiety, sorrow or pain.  But, distress is more than that.  In fact, Marriam-Webster (by the way in our world that is all things Google, we lose some richness from our lives – use other sources for information occasionally) adds that distress is a state of danger or desperate need.  Distress, in my life, shows up when the things that I put my hope in, the things that I trust my future with, don’t perform the way that I expect them to.  The disciples experienced this too.

As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed. Matthew 17:22-23

Do you see it?  At this point, the disciples had given up their entire lives for Jesus.  Their careers, family life, money, everything.  The only comfort and security they know is Jesus.  What does he do?  He tells them that he is going away.  Worse than that, he is going to die.    They knew that they found the very best thing to live for and now it is going away.  It could never be replaced.  No relationship, no job, no wealth could give them hope.  The result?  Distress – agony, anguish, tribulation, excruciation, torment and torture.

As I consider the disciples’ lost hope, I see that distress reveals much about our own lives.  Chiefly, distress in our lives exposes the object of our affection. Some of us, put our hope in people, maybe a spouse.  Many choose the organization that we work for.   When these let us down, or they change course, our future looks different than what we originally chose.  We find distress.  Do not, for a second, think that distress is a bad thing.  I think Jesus allowed, even wanted his disciples to experience it.  Why?  Because it caused them to reevaluate.  It caused them to clarify why they were following him and was it worth continuing.

History shows that the disciples continued to choose Jesus, despite their distress and the uncertainty of his future.  In him, they found life, abundantly.  That abundant life continued even after his death.  Today, we get that same benefit.  In fact, he promises that he will be with us “even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).  Because of that eternal promise, we never have to experience distress.   When we do, our hope is in the wrong place.

 

Despair or Hope?

Matthew 5

Hope, peace, and joy.  That is what I hear in today’s reading of Matthew 5.  No, it is not packaged the way I expect it to be.  Nor is it presented in a way that is particularly pleasant.  Think about it for a minute.  Jesus begins the chapter talking about the poor, the mourning and the meek.  These are the people, he says, that are worthy of God’s kingdom.  As I read through the list, I am not sure where I belong.  In fact, as I consider the list more closely, I am sure that I don’t belong.  Continuing to read, I wonder, am I a peacemaker?  Merciful?  Maybe I am pure in heart?  No, not really, I conclude.  Sure, they show up on some level, but none to which I fully identify.  Now, it really gets tricky.  The balance of Matthew 5 consists of Jesus pushing deep into morality.  He skillfully exposes that which I would rather keep hidden.

Am I salt and light?  Uh, well, I don’t know.  Does my righteousness exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees (v20)?  Well….  Am I angry with my brother?  Do I call him a fool?  Has my right eye looked at something it shouldn’t and enjoyed it?  Have I taken an oath or ever wanted revenge?

Jesus knows the answer to each of these questions for all of us.  It is as true today as it was when he gave the sermon on the mount.  Thankfully, Jesus’ goal was not to spin me into despair and depression.  Nor was his goal condemnation.  No, Jesus carefully crafts the sermon on the mount to be sure that we find peace, hope, love and joy.  Thankfully, these results do not come from our perfection, our hours and hours of service to the kingdom, or our generous financial gifts.   No, none of these things will make our heart pure.  Only one thing will.  The perfect offering of Jesus Christ.  Hebrews 10:10 assures us, “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  2 Corinthians 5:21 explains this perfect sacrifice nicely.  It says, “for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  This, and only this, is the way to hope, peace, love and joy.

 

Authentic Faith

1 Peter 1:5-11

I recently had occasion to look at Louis Vuitton purses.  Yes, they are known for their style and elegance, but maybe more well known for their ridiculous prices.  As such, many people will do whatever it takes to carry one on their arm.  “Whatever it takes” means that many people will fake it.  That’s right, not every purse you see with the Louis Vuitton logo is made by Louis Vuitton.  Many of these fakes seem so real that it takes a trained eye to detect them.  This is exactly what the apostle Paul is helping us understand today in 1 Peter 1:5-11.  Just like designer handbags, there are many people that want all the benefits of faith without paying the price.

Would you like to know if your faith is real?  Paul begins this scripture with one simple way to be sure.  He says that we need to add virtue to our faith.  Other versions use the words ‘moral excellence’ and ‘character’ in place of virtue.  These are the outward appearance of our inward faith.  The Greek translations use words like purity and modesty to define them.  Of course, the full reflection of our faith requires more than just virtue.  Paul adds self-control, steadfastness, Godliness, brotherly affection and love to the list.  As I read through that list, I hear the word obedience in the back of my head.  Now, that’s not a word that I like to use, but I cannot think of a better description.  In other words, Paul is telling us that obedience, as displayed through our virtue, self-control, steadfastness, Godliness, brotherly affection and love, is the outward proof of our faith.  As we consider that truth, we must consider how these traits manifest themselves in our own lives.  In addition, are they growing?

Paul hits us between the eyes in verse 9.  He clearly states that these are traits that need to be developed.  In other words, they need to be growing, continually.  This is where it gets hard.  If they are not growing, Paul exhorts us that we have forgotten about the gift given us by Jesus.  Let me say it very directly, if these traits are not growing in your life, you have no faith.  Ouch!

No, I don’t like thinking that maybe I have put my faith on hold.  No, I don’t like to be reminded that sometimes I get off track, taking my life into my own hands.  Why?  Because it puts me face to face with inauthentic faith.  Thankfully, I have been created by a loving God who relentlessly pursues a relationship with me.  Paul gets it right in verse 4.  He says, “by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” 2 Peter 1:4 (ESV).  There it is, God makes us authentic.  In fact, he promises authenticity to those who believe.  I don’t know of any other response to becoming authentic, than praise and worship.  Thank you Lord, for doing for me what I am not capable of doing for myself.

 

Look Closer

Luke 15:11-32

How many times have you read the story of the prodigal son?  My guess is that it’s a lot.  In fact, this BibleJournal blog has 10 articles about it.  Obviously, it is a valuable story.  Even so, I have to admit that I was a little bummed when I was assigned this scripture again.  I mean, hasn’t it all been said?  Yes, yes, I know what you are thinking, and I am thinking it too.  I need to check my pride at the door and take a closer examination of my life.  In so many ways, I am a prodigal son.  Today, however, I want to look at the story differently.  Let’s focus on the father.  We are, after all, trying to focus the character of God.  This familiar story reveals much about His character.  Here are four character traits of God that I see in it.

He gives us freedom  As did the father and prodigal son, we begin life in a relationship with God.   As time passes, however, we may refuse the relationship.  When we do, God does not seek to control us.  Instead, he allows us to pack up our gifts and talents and use them however we want.  It’s up to us.

He longs for us We don’t get details from this parable, but it’s there.  Consider for a moment how the father felt as his son was leaving, or maybe a year later.  He missed him.  The Bible has several stories about how God misses us when we choose something other than him.  In the parable of the lost sheep, for example, the shepherd leaves 99 sheep to search out the one missing (Matthew 18:12-14).  Or, the parable of the lost coin in Luke 15:8-10.  Isaiah 30:18 says it directly,  Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. (NIV)

He Forgives. While my view of forgiveness often gets distorted.  God’s is always the same.  Whatever our crime, whatever our transgression, God removes it.  As far as the East is from the West (Psalm 103:12).

He establishes his kingdom within us. The father, in the story reminds the second son that “you are always with me and everything that is mine, is yours.”  God doesn’t hold anything back to those that love him.  He gives us his kingdom, literally.   We are reminded of this in the book of Acts.  As the disciples share the love of God, they “were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:52).  Galatians 5:22-24 expounds on this.  His kingdom in us looks like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.

We can discern God’s character by the actions of the father in this parable..  If I were to sum it up, I would use one word; love. What better scripture to encapsulate it than 1 Corinthians 13:4-8?

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (ESV)

Watch out!

James 1:1-12

I can hear the voices in my head that say “don’t pray for wisdom.”  They come from everyone, including friends, peers, mentors, and yes, even pastors.  Often, the phrase is followed with a nervous chuckle, or a sideways glance so that the listener gets the real message.  What is the real message?  Today, in James 1, we get an opportunity to look a little closer.  Specifically, verse 5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask God who give generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

When I pull verse 5 out of James 1:2-12 and read it alone, I gain confidence.  Wisdom is at my fingertips.  All I have to do is ask.  Why wouldn’t I want to be wise?  I can’t lose.  To do so, however, is like removing Christ’s ugly death from the gospel.  It doesn’t work.  Instead, we need to consider the whole message.  Read now, verse 2 and 3.  They say, “Consider it all joy my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”  It is this verse that triggers the warnings from others.  They know where wisdom comes from.  James gets it right.  It comes from “the testing of your faith.”  This, then, is the beginning of wisdom.

What does testing of our faith look like?  I don’t know the design, only God knows that, but I do know the outcome.  Think of it like an automobile test.  Engineers deliberately crash a car to show its weak points.  Not only are they trying to make the car stronger, but also a safer environment for the driver.  I think faith testing looks similar.  When God reveals our weakness, he retools us and equips us so that we can be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (v4).

When I think of faith testing in that way, I become a little braver, but I still have a hang-up.  I fear that God will apply wisdom to areas that I don’t want him to.  It likely comes from areas of my life that I am neglecting or maybe in disobedience.  When it comes to asking God for wisdom, I experience guilt or even shame because of my faulty life.  The fear these feelings produce will inevitably keep me from praying for wisdom.  Once again, we need to look closely at the scriptures for truth.  Reading verse 5, I quickly see that God gives generously.  It’s not until I look more closely that I see also that he gives “without reproach.”  Do you know what that means?  It means that God gives it without disapproval or disappointment.  Wow, really?!  Really.  God gives wisdom generously with his full approval granting us success and good fortune.

I am thankful for James 1 and the truth provided about wisdom.  I am also devastated.  He reveals my complete lack of understanding.  I see more clearly, today, that it is not wisdom that I lack.  It is faith.

Childlike

Luke 18:15-17 (ESV) Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

I love that Jesus welcomed the presence of children.  They were not a bother, an irritation or a distraction.  In fact, He paints a picture of children that is wildly different.  It is they, he says, that they embody the kingdom of God.  How can that be?  They don’t even know God.  In fact, if I told them about God, and explained who He is, they wouldn’t even understand. So, how is it that the Kingdom is theirs?  There is one more question that is more important than all of these.  According to verse 17, our only hope for inheriting the kingdom of God is to do so, like a child.  How does that work?

Let’s be clear.  This parable is not about being childish, nor does it have anything to do with maturity.  God’s word clearly expresses our need to become mature believers in him.  1 Corinthians 14:20, for example, exhorts us to not be childish in our understanding.  We are to grow, being weaned off of milk and onto solid food (1 Cor 3:2).  So, how do we become mature and childlike at the same time?  Jesus wants us to embrace the attitudes of a child.  As I think about it, there are several things that a child has, naturally.  All of these, by the way, show up in spite of their environment.

  • Childlike is to let go of asserting their power or seeking honor.
  • Childlike is to be generous rather than jealous, or envious
  • Childlike is to not care about money. They don’t even have a concept of it
  • Childlike is to be content. This is why the box is more fun than the present.
  • Childlike is to be eager – keen or ardent in desire or feeling; impatiently longing:
  • Childlike is to be
  • Childlike is to be playful
  • Childlike is to be vulnerable
  • Childlike is to be inquisitive
  • Childlike is to be moldable and shapeable
  • Childlike is to be filled with wonder

As I read through this list, it is clear to me why Jesus loves children.  It is also a fantastic picture of the kingdom of God.  The best part is that it can be ours right now, today.  All you have to do is be those things.  Sounds impossible, right?  This is where the good news comes in.  Jesus, came to fill that gap for us.  The life that we cannot have on our own, he freely gives.  After all, “the son of man came not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:28).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMiSXoP8eCg

Good Samaritans

Luke 10:30-37, Psalm 116

I am the good Samaritan.  That’s right, if I were walking down the road and a beaten man was lying there, I would help him.  It is my love for humanity and generosity that allow me to be so kind.  Do you believe that?  For what its wroth, I’m not sure that I believe it.  I want to, but my experience tells me otherwise.   How far, for example, do I go with it.  Just yesterday, I was sitting at a stop light watching a woman pull a suitcase through a busy intersection.  She was headed toward the airport, but still a couple of miles away.  My immediate thought was, “hey, I bet she could use a ride.”  I continued to watch her, eventually from my rearview mirror, as she made it across the street.  I felt relief when a man greeted her as she pulled her suitcase up on the curb.  That’s when I decided that she wasn’t heading to the airport at all.  She was probably headed to a nearby office and chose to walk so that she could get some exercise and enjoy the nice weather.

I’m hoping that you noticed the shift in my thoughts as I passed by the woman with the suitcase.  I had to change the story in my head.  Had I not, I would have been confronted with feelings that I don’t want to deal with.  For all of us, changing the story is one way that we are able to justify our actions.  Ironically, the same was true for the man the parable of the good Samaritan.  We find it in verse 29.  It says,  “But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, And who is my neighbor?”   Sadly, my actions are no different than his.  They are just in a different context.

God doesn’t want us to justify our actions.  He wants us to confront them, head-on with full disclosure.  That is why he tells this parable.  His goal is not for us to wallow in guilt and shame, but to rest instead on his perfect grace.  As we do, He will give us the kindness, goodness and gentleness that we need to serve our neighbor perfectly.  Jesus, in fact, becomes our justification.

Weeds, Wheat and Worship

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

As I reflect on the parable of the weeds, I hear two things.  A strong warning and extraordinary hope.  First, we must remember that we are living among the weeds.  Without diligence, we will be distracted, our growth disrupted, and our destiny destroyed.  The faithful, however, thrive in the confusion.  Their hope is not found in the things of this world.  Instead, life is found in the creator, our living God.  How do they do it?  Can they help us remain faithful?  The answer is surprisingly simple.  Know God.

This is where it gets scary.  For me, at least, because I’m not sure that I really want to know God.  Dallas Willard explains my thoughts in his book, Knowing Christ Today.  He says, “we can fail to know because we do not want to know—because what would be known would require us to believe and act in ways contrary to what we want.”  Do you hear it?  It is the subtle choking of weeds telling us divergent stories.  These stories shift our focus ever so slightly from knowing God to knowing the world.  As you already know, the consequences are catastrophic.  Consider these words from Hosea 4:6,

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
because you have rejected knowledge,
I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children.

If you want to know God, Psalm 104 is an amazing place to look.  Today, the Psalmist reminded me that yes, God is our wonderful creator.  And, he is much, much more.  When you spend time getting to know him as he Psalmist did, there is only one response.  Worship.  It’s written right there in verses 33-35.

I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.
I will praise my God to my last breath!
May all my thoughts be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
Let all sinners vanish from the face of the earth;
let the wicked disappear forever.
Let all that I am praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord! Psalms 104:33-35 (NLT)