You may have seen my Facebook post last week about how we have begun setting aside Tuesday nights to pray. I posted about it to see if anyone had something they would like us to specifically pray for and to also invite anyone who would like to come pray with us.
It may have seemed out of the blue, but there is a backstory that led to us starting this weekly prayer night that I wanted to share.
Almost two years ago, some friends of ours initiated for a few of us to get together to pray for the new year and to keep each other in prayer throughout the year. We each shared something specific for the others to be praying about throughout the upcoming year.
During that first year, we only got together to pray about those things a couple of times, but we specifically met up near the end of the year to followup on what God had done during that past year. This also gave us a chance to update each other on our next year’s prayer requests and to pray for the year that was coming up.
Although it sounds simple, I am so thankful these friends reached out.
God’s timing was incredible as (unknowingly to us at the time), we began this two year journey with them walking into what was going to be the most difficult year of our lives… and then the second year got to be a year of celebration as we moved through that difficult year and into one of new beginnings and renewed hope.
I’m not sure what our lives would be like today if we hadn’t had that group of friends praying.
For all I know, it might have ended up exactly the same.
But, even if it would have, there is something special about reaching out to God, surrendering to His will together with friends, and leaning on Him throughout the process.
What really hit home for me was after that first year of heavy difficulty, one of our friends pulled out her notecard with all the prayer requests from the beginning of the year.
As a heavy tech user, I had immediately written the prayer requests down in my phone,
But there was something special seeing prayer requests that had been physically written down a year prior.
The edges were worn,
The words were starting to fade,
The year had taken a toll on the paper.
It showed the time that had passed,
And the prayers that had been answered.
It was such good reminder for me as we started this year reflecting on last year’s prayers and how God had worked. And it helped me be even more excited to see what God would do in this next year.
But then I realized, I want more people to experience this as well.
Which leads us to now.
Alesha and I are setting aside a weekly time to pray together about our lives, the lives of others, and whatever God puts on our hearts. We started last Tuesday opening it up to others to send in prayer requests, and we’re also happy to have others come and join us in person or wherever you may be.
I don’t know where it will go exactly,
But I hope that we (and many others) will get to experience a nearness to Jesus and each other from our weekly prayer time like the one that we got to experience with these friends.
So, if you have something you want prayer for,
Or you want to join us in praying together,
Simply reach out, we’re happy to pray for you and with you too.
I’ve been reading about and reflecting lately on how Jesus calls His followers to lay down their lives. How He calls us to give our lives to Him and to realize the “cost” of following Him before we even start down that road (Luke 14:25-34).
In the midst of this, I was given the opportunity to teach in the kids class a couple of Sundays ago at our church, and our topic was very related.
Our church is going through a series on the end times as we study through the book of Mark, because we have reached Mark 13:1-27. I got to teach the kids class as we studied Mark 13:1-13.
Here’s the over simplified breakdown of these two sections:
Mark 13:1-13 Tells us what to do UNTIL the end comes
And Mark 13:14-27 tells us what to do WHEN the end comes (and when that will be)
Mark 13 begins with two very important reminders:
- God values people and their hearts more than their places of worship and accomplishments.
- Jesus knows the future and is not wringing His hands nervously, wondering how it’s all going to play out.
In these first few verses, the disciples are admiring the grand temple in Jerusalem, to which Jesus responds that not one of its stones will remain on top of another (that the entire thing will be completely destroyed and dismantled).
It reminds me of Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well in John 4, where Jesus tells her that one day people will not worship at the mountain or the temple but in Spirit and in Truth (John 4:21-24).
It’s a great reminder of God’s priorities: people – not buildings or places of worship.
It was never the grandeur of the place that made it wonderful: it was God’s presence.
Fun fact: Jesus’ statement about the temple being destroyed must have seemed impossible. It was MASSIVE (even larger than the one Solomon built). However, when Rome unintentionally set it on fire around 70 AD (a drunk soldier set it ablaze when they were cracking down on a rebellion) all the gold of the temple melted into the cracks between the stones, and so the Roman military took the temple apart stone by stone in order to collect all of the gold.
Knowing What To “Pack”
Just like the situation with the temple, Jesus knows what will happen next.
He even goes into great detail in Mark 13:14-27 warning us of what to expect near the end of time…
But in verses 5-13, Jesus tells them of problems they (and we) will experience until the end does come… and He tells us how to handle them.
This is extremely important because Jesus is telling us how to set proper expectations for a life of following Him, and how to respond to the life problems that come our way.
And having correct expectations for life is like knowing what to pack for a vacation.
If you were going on a special trip,
but you didn’t know where you were going,
you would have a really hard time packing for the trip.
Will it be cold?
Will you be swimming?
Or will you be snowboarding?
Without knowing WHERE you’re going, you will have no idea what to pack.
Similarly, if we don’t know where following Jesus will lead us, we won’t know what to expect or how to respond.
Which is why Jesus gives us insight into what to expect from now until the end comes.
He is giving us clear expectations so that we’re not caught off guard.
And, with each warning of things to come, Jesus gives us something we can do to prepare for the life ahead.
Many will try to deceive… But do not be deceived (Mark 13:5-6)
This first warning from Jesus is the foundation.
People will give out “false gospels” and spread lies about God. Whether good intentions or not, we see people spreading half-truths about Who God is and what He wants for our lives.
And Jesus gives a clear command: “do not be deceived”. We are to know the Truth of Scripture and to not be influenced by lies.
You will hear wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines and troubles… But do not be troubled (Mark 13:7-8)
It’s easier today than ever before to be troubled by national and global events.
Because of today’s technology and social media, we’re bombarded with issues throughout the world and we’re aware of situations and problems on a greater scale than history has ever known.
And, throughout it all, Jesus tells us to “not be troubled”. For just as He knew of the temple’s upcoming destruction, He’s fully aware of the what is going on, and He’s working in the midst of all of it.
Please note that I am not saying that we should passively sit by as problems arise. Jesus said to not be troubled; He didn’t say to be passive. We can be active in helping others in small and big ways – all while not “being troubled” and trusting Him through it all.
You will be rejected by religious and political leaders… But be submissive to them and a witness to the Truth (Mark 13:9)
The Church has experienced many seasons of persecution throughout the world. Sometimes by other religions, sometimes by political groups, and sometimes by both.
Jesus makes it clear that these people are not the enemy, Satan is. And although we will go through times of persecution or having to go against what is popular, Jesus tells us to do so as a witness to the Truth.
This means that we are to be submissive to the laws and rulers, to the extent that they don’t contradict God’s Word. And if we have to disobey to stay in good conscience, then we are to fully accept the consequence laid out by the rulers of the land (consider Daniel’s example in Daniel chapter 6).
You are to share the Gospel with all nations (Mark 13:10)
This is directly connected to the verse beforehand. While following Jesus in our daily lives and being a “witness to the Truth” we are also told to proactively share the Gospel with everyone near and far.
You are to trust in, walk with, rely on, and speak from the Holy Spirit (Mark 13:11)
Again, tied back to verse 9, we are to rely on the Holy Spirit in the mist of all persecution and in general life where we are to live as a witness to the Truth.
As it’s been said: “a supernatural calling requires supernatural power.”
That’s exactly what we have here: we are called to live supernaturally powered by God’s Spirit in order to give the best witness to the Truth in all areas of our lives.
You will be hated and betrayed – even by your own family… But you are to endure until the end so that you may be saved (Mark 13:12-13)
This “heads up” capstones the rest.
Jesus already told the disciples that they would be persecuted by religious and political leaders… but now it gets real: you can expect to be hated and betrayed… even by your own family.
This is probably one of the hardest teachings of Jesus to swallow.
To be abandoned by and even turned against by your family is heartbreaking, but God promises that it will be worth it.
That even when we lose our family, friends and loved ones…
We are being brought into a new family…
Adopted into God’s family…
Make no mistake: Jesus doesn’t say these things lightly.
Counting the cost of following Him is one of His most common (yet overlooked) teachings.
He didn’t promise peace with others,
But He did promise peace with God.
He didn’t say that following Him would always be popular,
But that He would never leave you.
I encourage you to look at this list and make mental notes of which ones are most difficult for you personally, and ask Jesus for the grace to follow Him in the midst of it.
And, don’t forget, regardless of how difficult it sounds, Jesus promises to be with you every step of the way.
“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.Matthew 28:20
You may have heard the phrase:
“Don’t abandon what you know,
For that which you don’t know.”
I can’t remember where I heard that quote first, but it came to mind during yesterday’s sermon at our church.
You see, our pastor was going through Mark 12:18-27 where Jesus is in the middle of multiple question “traps” from the religious leaders.
Their goal was to catch Him in His words so they could turn Him over to the Roman government, or so that the people who loved and supported Him would rebel against Him.
And, of course, they fail.
But their attacks reveal problems in their own beliefs and in their own hearts.
And their problems, are often ones we struggle with as well.
A Breakdown Of The Situation
In this quick story, the Sadducees approach Jesus and give Him a logical reason why the resurrection can’t happen – why there can’t be life after death.
Their reasoning is that according to the law of Moses, a man is suppose to take his brother’s widow as his wife, if his brother and sister-in-law had no children, in order to make sure she’s taken care of. The dilemma is, if she fails to have children with either brother, then whose wife would she be in the “life after death”?
It’s important to note that the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection, and this was probably one of their strongest reasonings.
In response, Jesus tells them that they are in “error” because…
• They do not know the Scriptures
• They do not know the power of God
Pretty strong words.
Jesus then tells them that in the afterlife, people will no longer be married or become married and so their argument is useless.
He then goes on to remind them of scripture that clearly shows that there is an afterlife.
Did You See The Problem?
The Sadducees had the scripture that told them there was an afterlife…
But because they couldn’t reason in their minds how it could work out…
They abandoned that truth and claimed that there was no afterlife…
Which explains Jesus’ harsh rebuke.
They had the truth,
But they refused to acknowledge it,
Because they didn’t understand the details.
Jesus did give them more details in this passage: he answered how the who marriage thing would work out…
But they shouldn’t have needed that detail to trust God.
They should be able to trust that God,
The maker of the universe,
Could solve a simple “problem” with the resurrection
Even if He didn’t tell them about it.
And, here lies the problem that Jesus has with their question:
They ignored the scriptures that clearly said there was a resurrection,
And they ignored the power of God that He could work out what He said was true.
The Sadducees couldn’t simply trust God without knowing all the details,
And so they made up their own details,
And ended up not believing what God had clearly said.
They had created a system that “disproved” how the resurrection could even be possible, and ended up ignoring that God said it was so.
Contradiction Or Paradox
The problem with the Sadducees, and ourselves today, is that we tend to mix up contradictions and paradoxes.
A contradiction is where two things cannot be the true at the same time.
A paradox is where two things SEEM to not be able to be true at the same time, but it shows to be true after further examination and information.
Much of what God tells us seems to be a paradox.
It is things we can’t understand right now,
But we tend to understand with 20/20 hindsight vision.
But too often, like the Sadducees, we incorrectly take God’s paradoxes for contradictions and forget that we can trust God even when we don’t know the details.
Trust God, Even When You Don’t Know the Details
We have the opportunity to learn from the mistake of the Sadducees.
They knew God’s Word, but put their own logic above what God clearly said,
They read and heard of God’s power, but were quick to forget that the God Who created everything was also capable sorting it all out too.
We don’t have to fall into the same trap.
We can take God at His Word,
And when He cares to share the details: that’s great!
And when He chooses to keep the details hidden,
We can trust Him in that too.
There are many “details” in life we simply don’t have answers to.
Even theological details…
There is simply so much we don’t know.
And there is much we still ought to seek out and try to learn,
But at the end of the day:
We need to trust God has said to be true, even when when don’t know the details just yet.
Have you ever felt like you closed a big chapter of your life,
And the next one hasn’t started?
Although some of us may experience this more than others,
I think most of us have had this feeling at some point.
Personally, I feel like I’ve had many of these “in-between” phases.
In fact, the past 15 months have felt like that.
A massive 15 month gap in my (and my family’s) life where it feels like we’re just… waiting.
Waiting to see what God wants next.
Waiting to push forward in and into whatever He has.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re still doing everything God tells us to do:
Working hard at our jobs and business
Serving at church
Raising our kids
Taking every opportunity to use our giftings, treasures and talents that God has given us to serve Him and love others
And sharing Jesus’ Gospel whoever we go
But life still feels… stalled.
Like we’re in-between “missions” in a sense.
God has obviously given all of us plenty to do,
But sometimes it can feel like you’re not moving “forward.”
That you’re simply serving and obeying Him while patiently treading water.
If that’s you too, then I want to encourage you that it’s perfectly fine to be in that situation.
It can feel wasted and useless at times,
But if it’s where God wants you,
Then you shouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Again, for the people in the back
If you are in a season of feeling wasted and useless,
but it is where God wants you,
Then you shouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Waiting In Scripture
We see many examples throughout scripture of people who had to “wait” on God in their lives.
And, interestingly enough, we read that God’s purposes and plans often depended on these transition times for the purposes He had planned.
Joseph had to wait about 22 years to see his first dream come to reality (after becoming a slave, wrongfully thrown in prison, etc)
Abraham had to wait about 25 years from his first calling to actually seeing his “son of the promise” to be born
Moses waited 40 years in the wilderness before returning to Egypt to rescue the Children of Israel
David waited about 15-20 years after being anointed to become king before his actual coronation and finally becoming king (and dealt with a lot of grief from the ruling king Saul during that time)
Elijah had to wait through a 3 year drought with a widow in the middle of nowhere in the middle/end of his prophetic ministry
Mary, the mother of Jesus, had to wait 9 months after the angel’s visit to see Jesus born… and then another 33 difficult years to then experience the most difficult day of her life, and then another 3 days to know that the last 34 years were all worth it
Jesus waited 30 years before beginning his public ministry. Can you imagine being God in the flesh and having to generally “keep quiet” and live a normal life when all you really want to do is share the good news and free everyone from their sin? Instead, Jesus waited for what The Father had deemed the precise time for Jesus to enter the public scene.
The Beauty Of Contentment In Waiting
One of the false assumptions we have is that if you’re not doing something big for God, or in direct process of doing something big, that you’re doing something wrong.
But as we see in all of the examples above, God has His plan and purpose (and it is often very different from the plans we make for ourselves).
In a book I recently read (and shared some quotes at this link: “The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment”), Jeremiah Burroughs shares an interesting idea:
If God wills for us to be “in the game” and doing “big things” for Him, that’s great.
And if He chooses to “bench” us for a time, for no apparent reason, that’s great too.
And, we can actually glorify God in our waiting just as much as in our doing.
To have contentment in God just doing the small things,
While being on the sidelines,
Shows where our priorities are.
Being content in the times of waiting shows that God, and our relationship with Him, is enough.
The times of “doing” and “moving forward” are great.
But they can also cloud our priorities and our heart.
And it’s in the times of waiting that our faith and relationship with God really has to be tried.
If God wants me, or you, to wait,
Then enjoy Him in the waiting.
If God wants me, or you, to move forward,
Then enjoy Him in the moving forward.
Thriving In The Transition
One of the best things you can do in the “waiting” is to simply enjoy God (as mentioned above) and to also prepare for what’s next.
I’ve known many people who felt called to lead different ministries, move to different places, or even pastor or start a church…
But not yet.
And you knew what they did in those times of quiet?
Got out of financial debt.
Instilled good habits.
Built lasting friendships and support systems.
They prepared themselves for whatever God has next.
Because although waiting is good,
God always has something “next”.
And you need to be ready when He shows you what that is.
Preparing For God’s “Next”
The best example I have of people who properly prepared in their time of waiting is found in Daniel 1:8-21.
After Jerusalem fell and the king of Babylon brought many into his kingdom. Daniel and his friends were faced with eating food God had made clear for them not to eat.
In this time of “waiting,” they could have easily turned away from God, but they instead continued to prepare for what was next.
They sought to obey God fully and nurture their relationship with Him.
By the end of the chapter, we see that God had begun raising them up as leaders in the kingdom because of their steadfastness.
And we see throughout the book how they held onto God’s will for their lives even when nothing important seemed to happen for years on end.
And when God had something planned for them,
They were ready.
Daniel’s friends faced the fiery furnace in a godly way,
Daniel was rescued from the lion’s den,
Daniel was given interpretations of many dreams,
And God continued to be able to use them though-out many years.
Because they remained faithful and prepared during their times of waiting.
Good And Faithful Servant
I don’t know if you’re in a season of waiting.
I don’t know what’s next, but I know God does.
And in the meantime, I’m going to continue preparing and serving and drawing near to God in any way I can.
Because today I am waiting.
And I need to enjoy the stillness and the ability to prepare that waiting allows for.
But I don’t know what tomorrow brings.
Only God does.
I pray that when my life is over, that God would look at my times of “moving forward” and my times of “waiting” and would say: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
May we seek to receive that commendation from Him.
In our doing.
And in our waiting.
You’ve probably seen the memes that get passed around basically pointing and making fun of the “thoughts and prayers” posts that spring up whenever a tragedy happens.
And I get it.
We live in a culture dominated by “armchair warriors” who have rarely lifted a finger to accomplish anything worthwhile. And the “thoughts and prayers” memes are to show how important it is to take action.
And action is necessary.
On a personal level and a global scale:
Nothing changes without purposeful action
But I think there’s more that we need to remember.
Why Thoughts And Prayers Don’t Work
“Thoughts” in general aren’t very valuable. It’s important to plan, but sending “thoughts” after tragedy strikes really doesn’t help anyone.
But what about prayer?
Well, if you’re a Christian, than prayer is invaluable.
So, what’s wrong with the “prayers” in “thoughts and prayers”?
The bottom line:
We do a lot of thinking,
And not a lot of praying.
Too often, I see people sharing stories and situations online that are heartbreaking, and they have strong words for those involved and tell how “we need to do something”… but that’s it.
Think about all the posts you may have seen regarding:
• Child Neglect
Most of the posts I see regarding these tragedies, and more, have a call to action: to get angry, maybe to even vote or donate money, and possibly to even pray.
But how much are we actually praying?
I see more talk about the importance of voting than the importance of prayer as of late, and that’s saddening.
Of course, if you don’t believe in God, then prayer shouldn’t matter to you, but if you do, and especially if you are a Christian, then prayer should be your first response to today’s problems, not sharing 10 articles to your Facebook page in order to “spread awareness”.
We see throughout the Bible and history that the most significant advances of God’s Kingdom and His goodness were done by people who took massive action from the depths of massive prayer.
Please don’t take what I’m saying as a call to stop doing things.
I just want to put out a clear reminder that all the action in the world will be of no use if it’s not completely backed by prayer and seeking God to do what only He can do.
Action is necessary, but action without prayer will be met with powerlessness.
Seek God First For The Change Only He Can Bring
To help realign our priorities and our hearts, here’s one of my favorite quotes on prayer, I hope it helps remind you that the war we face is not against flesh and blood.
Jesus is the only hope we have for the transformation of people’s hearts, which is the root of all the problems we see today.
So, please take action.
But most importantly,
Don’t talk about praying.
Don’t say that you’ll pray.
Stop, right then.
Right when you want to tell someone you’ll be praying for them.
Go before the throne of God,
Go to your Father in heaven,
As His loved, forgiven, and adopted child,
“When we depend upon organizations, we get what organizations can do; when we depend upon education, we get what education can do; when we depend upon man, we get what man can do; but when we depend upon prayer, we get what God can do.” – A.C. Dixon
You’ve probably heard the expression to “never meet your
heroes” because you’ll find that they are just as flawed as everyone else.
This is never more clearly seen than in the wake of a
prominent Christian leader or pastor who chooses to walk away from believing in
Jesus, has a hidden sin come to light, or something similar.
In light of the popular Christian writer Josh Harris recently announcing his change of beliefs, many were unsure how to respond as he had left a big impact on their lives and their faith in Jesus.
This situation is unfortunately common, and it is important
that we are ready to have a godly response.
Mercy, grace and kindness towards others
We live in a world where people are quick to judge and be
critical of people and situations we know almost nothing about, and it’s no
different for Christian leaders.
Even when the situation is fairly clear, we’re quick to say things and be more judgmental online than we would ever be in person (which is usually more than we should say or think anyway).
So, regarding Joshua Harris and any other well-known
Christian person or pastor, we need to have even more grace towards them and
One of my favorite quotes from Chuck Smith is “blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy… and I need a lot of mercy.”
He is clearly referring to Jesus’ sermon on the mount and then reminding ourselves where we fall into the equation:
We need mercy and God wants us to also extend mercy to others.
And so, we need to keep the posture described by John
Bradford in his famous quote:
“But for the grace of God, there go I.”John Bradford
Too many of us are quick to bring the torches and pitchforks, when that is the furthest thing from what Jesus would have us do.
Instead, let’s pray for the Christians in the public eye,
the pastors and other leaders, who are going through extremely difficult times
and know that if not for the grace of God, we would be in the same difficult
position as them.
We are saved by, and follow, Jesus. Not other people
I think one of the reasons people can sometimes have such a
massive knee-jerk reaction to a pastor or popularized Christian leader falling
from the faith or into sin is because we have begun to put our beliefs, faith
and trust in them and not Jesus.
This is especially common regarding pastors since they are teaching God’s Word week after week. But in cases like Joshua Harris, it’s easy to do the same since he rooted his messages on godly purity and lifestyle in the Bible.
And, although it’s very good to learn from others, after a while it’s tempting to put some of our faith and belief in the person teaching, rather than in Jesus, Who they are teaching about.
This problem is common, but also disastrous.
Although we are told to be thankful for our leaders, and
even encouraged to imitate them so far as they imitate Christ (1 Corinthians
11:1), Jesus makes it clear that you need to have a personal connection to Him
and His Spirit, and not merely one through another person.
We see this problem played out in the Bible through the life
of King Joash.
He became king at a young age of 7, but it says that He held
“did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the
priest.” (2 Chronicles 24:1-2).
But do you know what happened after Jehoiada the priest
He turned away from God and set up idols (2 Chronicles
Joash’s faith in God wasn’t personally his, just one he
adopted as long as the priest he grew up with was still around.
And I’ve seen the same thing happen to people I know, and
maybe it’s happened to you.
Maybe it was a grandparent or parent.
Or maybe a famous preacher or pastor.
Possibly a Christian author or actor.
Or maybe even a close friend or person you have trusted to guide you spiritually.
When these types of people turn away from Jesus, renounce their faith, or even fall into sin, it can be easy to doubt or write off everything they’ve told us.
But your faith in Jesus and your relationship with Him cannot be reliant on someone else.
Those people may have led you to Jesus, but they are not your Savior.
As important of a role as people can play in our lives, we must not let our relationship to Jesus stay channeled through them. We must embrace Jesus separately and wholly as our own.
Jesus the same. Yesterday. Today. And Forever.
People make mistakes.
People will let us down.
But Jesus never will.
In light of any prominent Christian leader or pastor, it’s
important to remember how Jesus is not like us flawed people.
He does not recant on His words.
He does not back down from Him promises.
He does not change His mind.
He is the same.
We can put our hope and trust fully upon Jesus and He will
not let us down.
So, whenever a public or personal Christian leader lets you
Pray for them.
Encourage them. (especially if they are close to you)
Give grace to them.
And, in everything you do,
Everything you say,
And everywhere you go:
And stay close to Jesus.
Yesterday, I got to teach the kids class at church, and the section we were in was Mark 11:25–26 where Jesus teaches us the importance of forgiving others. Below are some of the main points and ideas from this passage.
And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.Mark 11:25–26
It’s no surprise that this passage on forgiveness ends the story of Jesus calling people in the temple out on having the appearance of godliness, but having no fruit or substance of a relationship with God.
Jesus finishes this section with a reminder of what the fruit of godliness looks like. It’s not just outward actions, but inward heart change.
Specifically, Jesus tells us that a true disciple of His will forgive others.
Simply put, people who are forgiven by God will, in turn, forgive others.
The Importance (And Necessity Of) Forgiving Others
Jesus pulls no punches in this verse. He starts out by saying that forgiving others is so important that you should even pause your prayer to do so.
And then He goes as far to say that “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.“
But what does He mean by that?
We see throughout scripture that God was the first to act on our need for forgiveness and salvation, and that He did so in spite of all we did and who we once were…
God saved us when we were still enemies of God (Romans 5:10)
We only love, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19)
None of us were even seeking God to begin with (Romans 3:11)
So, what does it mean that God will not forgive us if we don’t forgive others?
To answer that, it’s best to look at another parable from Jesus in Matthew 18:21-35.
Here’s the general story…
A man owed a VERY great debt and his lender forgave him of that debt.Read the full story in Matthew 18:21-35
Shortly after, this man refuses to forgive someone else’s much smaller debt and threatens him with his life.
The previous lender finds out how cruelly this man treated the other and renounces his forgiven debt as a consequence for treating the other man so poorly.
What we learn from this parable is that God takes our life change very seriously. We are not saved by our works, but God’s grace and forgiveness is purposed to bring about a heart change.
God’s plan is to save us from the punishment for our sins (Romans 6:23), to give us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26), to fill us with new motives (1 Corinthians 10:31), and new empowerment (2 Timothy 1:7) to live a new life that He has called us to (Titus 2:11–14).
And, this new life is not an option. It flows supernaturally from our forgiveness.
Which leads us back to the question:
Which comes first? The chicken or the egg? Does God forgive us because we forgive others? Or do we forgive others because God forgives us?
What we can learn from Jesus’ parable and the rest of scripture, is that God forgives us and empowers us to forgive others.
But, if we are not actively trying and asking God to help us to forgive others… then, how can we possibly say we’ve been forgiven by God and love Him? (1 John 4:20)
Or, to put it another way:
Forgiving others is a sign that we’ve been forgiven by God.
And a lack of forgiveness towards others is a sign that we have not experienced God’s forgiveness.
(Also, check out Luke 7:36–50 for a real life version of the parable described above).
Forgiveness vs Reconciliation
Forgiveness is always possible,
But reconciliation is not.
It’s important to note that Jesus calls us to forgive others, but that doesn’t mean things will always work out.
Simply looking at Jesus’ life will tell us that we won’t be on good terms with everyone, but we can still forgive everyone.
Paul reminds us in Romans 12:18 that we are to “live peaceably with all” but only “so far as it depends on you” recognizing that sometimes the issues we have with others are simply on their end and there is nothing we can do about it.
This doesn’t give us freedom to ever write someone off as a lost cause, as we are called to love generously and especially those who hate us, but we also shouldn’t bear the weight of a two-way relationship all on ourselves.
We can forgive others and still not receive reconciliation between ourselves and the other person, if they refuse.
Empowered To Forgive
Although we talk about our empowerment coming from God, we often constrain ourselves to only self-help methods and motivational talks which is the exact opposite of “empowered by God”.
And, as a side note, not only does self-help and self motivation only last temporarily, but God also tells us that nothing we do can be pleasing to Him without our actions coming out of our of faith in Him (Hebrews 11:6). If our motivation is one of self attainment and simply doing better, we’ve completely missed the point.
In regards to forgiveness, I’ve heard people encouraged to think about how much God loves the person you ought to forgive and that if God can forgive them, then so should you.
But this is nothing more than hype and motivational talk (and also not found in scripture).
Of course God loves them, He’s perfect!
But how does that help me to love them?
Here’s what the Bible tells us to do:
Instead of focusing on the people you ought to forgive,
You need to focus on the God who has forgiven you.
Scripture tells us that our forgiveness doesn’t come from seeing God forgive others, but as an overflow of God forgiving us, as we talked about above.
But there’s one more piece.
And that’s God’s Spirit.
When God forgives us, He doesn’t simply wipe our slate clean and then tell us to try harder.
God gives us His Spirit to teach us (John 14:26), help us (John 14:26), encourage us (Acts9.31) and empower us to follow Jesus (2 Timothy 1:7).
The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to all believers, when we are saved. And it is through Him that we become more like Jesus – including our growth in forgiving others (Acts 2:38).
There’s no better application than this:
Is there someone you need to forgive?
Do it now.
Is there someone you need to ask forgiveness from?
Because Jesus said pretty much the same thing about that (Matthew 5:23–24)
Go ask for forgiveness.
Do your best to bring reconciliation, as much as it depends on you.
Love others like Jesus.
If you’re interested in more on this topic, below are links to my series on the fruits of the Holy Spirit:
We Need God’s Spirit to Bear the Fruit of the Spirit
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Love
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Joy
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Peace
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Patience
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Kindness
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Goodness
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Faithfulness
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Gentleness
The Fruit of the Spirit Is… Self-Control
I recently (and finally) took the time to read a book that I’ve had on my shelf for years, and I’m so glad I did.
It’s called "The Cross and the Switchblade" by David Wilkerson.
If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a biography style book telling the story of how God used David Wilkerson to start a movement reaching homeless and drug addicted youth in the New York area (and beyond).
It’s an incredible story and I encourage you to read it too. In case you don’t, here’s a brief overview, some of my favorite lessons and highlights from the book, and some of the best quotes.
Story Overview: The Cross And The Switchblade
The book starts with the story of how David Wilkerson became the pastor of a rural church. Even at this point, it’s cool to see how he truly believed God to answer prayers and guide him and his family in the big and small things.
One of the most important moments in the book, and his life, was when he decided to sell his TV and devote his evenings to prayer. In a funny and god-filled story of him essentially trying to find any excuse to keep it, he sells his TV and begins devoting extra time to prayer.
And that changed everything.
Shortly after, he came across an article of some boys in New York being put on trial for murdering a disabled child in the park. And he felt God wanted him to go there and help the boys.
Up until this point, his life had been a simple one. He obeyed God, but he had never had such an impression of God telling him to do something so crazy. After wrestling with the desire to go, he goes and is completely humiliated. No good is done and he comes back home with his tail between his legs.
From here, he gets some encouragement from his mother and wife and ends up continuing to pursue seeing what he can do to help them.
He quickly finds out that there’s nothing he can do for them, but there is much to be done for all the other kids in their situation: homeless, abusive families, drug addicted, and more.
David’s vision switches and the rest of the book is filled with "God story" after “God story”, with him doing his best to obey God and get “out of the way” so God can reach and help the at-risk youth in New York.
The book ends with an incredible big picture view of what God had done through this ministry and then giving some post-book information on what happened to some of the specific and first youth that David poured so much into.
Favorite Lessons, Highlights And Quotes
This book is packed full of encouraging lessons and reminders, but here’s just a few of my favorites…
Don’t Dismiss “Failure” So Quickly
When David first obeyed God to go to New York, it seemed like he completely failed. He didn’t help the kids, in fact, it seemed like his actions would now make it impossible to ever help them.
He had embarrassed his church, his family and even put a bad name on preachers in general.
But it was part of God’s plan.
When he stopped by his parents house on his way back home, his mother encouraged him to not so quickly say he was wrong. He felt like God told him to do it and he did. Now it was up to God to finish whatever God had started.
Pray Expectantly And Don’t Doubt It When It Starts Happening
Shortly after David started seeing results in New York, he started getting worried that this wasn’t what he should be doing. This led his wife to tell him:
"You asked the Holy Spirit for a miracle, and now that you’ve got one you’re trying to argue it away. People who don’t believe in miracles shouldn’t pray for them."
If you don’t believe in miracles,
Then you shouldn’t pray for them.
But if you believe God can do anything He wants to further His Kingdom and work on this earth,
The Lamb Chop School Of Evangelism
At one point, David reflects on some wisdom his grandfather had passed onto him regarding reaching people. It is what his grandfather called “The lamb chop school of evangelism.”
"You win over people just like you win over a dog. You see a dog passing down the street with an old bone in his mouth. You don’t grab the bone from him and tell him it’s not good for him. He’ll growl at you. It’s the only thing he has. But you throw a big fat lamb chop in front of him, and he’s going to drop that bone and pick up the lamb chop, his tail wagging to beat the band. And you’ve got a friend. Instead of going around grabbing bones from people… I’m going to throw them some lamb chops. Something with real meat and life in it. I’m going to tell them about New Beginnings."
The Story Of The Snake
When David reaches out to his grandfather for more wisdom and encouragement, he is told a story of a snake becoming new. It’s such an incredible reminder of the necessity of new birth as well as being patient while waiting, as David had to.
“Some time ago I was taking a walk through the hills when I came across an enormous snake. He was a big one, Davie, three inches thick and four feet long, and he just lay there in the sun looking scary. I was afraid of this thing and I didn’t move for a long time, and lo and behold, while I was watching, I saw a miracle. I saw a new birth. I saw that old snake shed its skin and leave it lying there in the sun and go off a new and really beautiful creature.
When you start your new work in the city, boy, don’t you be like I was, petrified by the outward appearance of your boys. God isn’t. He’s just waiting for each one of them to crawl right out of that old sin-shell and leave it behind. He’s waiting and yearning for the new man to come out.
Never forget that, David, when you see your snakes, as you surely you will, on the sidewalks of New York."
Do What We Can Do And Ask God To Do What Only He Can Do
The final quote I want to leave you with is a reminder that God has purposed us for good works, but only He can bring healing and new life.
"We humans can work hard for each other, and we should, and we must work. But it is God, and only God, who heals.”
This is a reoccurring theme throughout the book.
Many times, David would begin to experience some forward motion in the ministry God put before him, and he would start feeling the pressure to keep it going. Quickly, God would remind him that he was “trying too hard”. That he was trying to lift a weight that only God could do.
Yes, David had to do his best and work hard, but only God could bring the results that would make any of it worthwhile.
And this is true for all of our lives, as we are reminded in Zechariah 4:6 and Galatians 3:3:
"Then he said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.’" – Zechariah 4:6
"Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" – Galatians 3:3
It’s easy to want to step in and “help God” in what only He can do, but we must resist that urge. God has given us plenty to do, so let us focus on that and ask Him to do what only He can do.
My life, and your life, will look very different from David’s. God has different plans for each of us, but can you imagine how our lives would be different if we approached God and His plan for our lives more like David did?
Willing to put aside everything for whatever He had…
Willing to be put outside of our comfort zone…
Willing to step out in faith and sacrifice money, pleasures, status, our plans and more for His plan and work…
I pray mine will continue to become more like David’s, and I pray yours will too.
Again, I encourage you to read the book. It’s an incredible and encouraging story of what God can do when someone gives their life to God for whatever He would have.
You may have heard the saying: “If a person is breathing, he needs encouragement,” and that can’t be more true.
If you Google “words of encouragement”, you’ll find dozens of websites that offer encouraging words and shareable quotes… but the reality is that most of the encouraging words you’ll find (and what most of what we say to encourage others) are simply skin-deep phrases that give empty hope.
They can be encouraging for a moment, but they don’t last, because they are built on emotions and ideas that easily come and go.
Even the ones that promise more are nothing more than hopeful thoughts because they come from someone who cannot give you more than simply wishing the best for you; they can’t actually do anything about it.
I’m not saying that it’s wrong to encourage people by saying “it’s ok, things will turn around” but think about what we’re saying: what if it doesn’t “turn around”?
We live in the present, and none of us can foresee the future.
So, what can bring us a permanent and solid foundation for encouragement?
Or better asked: Who can do this?
The simple answer is: God.
The One Who created everything (Genesis 1:1),
Who breathed stars into existence (Psalm 33:6),
Who holds our very breath in our hands (Job 12:10),
And Who loves us more than we can imagine.
God has the ability to give true encouragement.
So, if you are looking for something to keep your head up,
To get you through a difficult time
To have something in your back pocket (because difficult times will come)
Or you simply want to have encouraging words ready for others…
The Bible is full of truths that we are called to rest in and so there are many more, but here’s just a few of my favorites for you to reflect on.
I’ve broken them into a couple sections based on topic.
God Has A Plan
Sometimes, it’s simply comforting enough to know that none of this is random, but that God (Who loves you very much) sees the pain you’re going through, can relate to it, and has a plan in mind.
This first verse is one of my favorites because it spells out the two most important things:
- Our plans, thoughts, and ideas are different from God’s
- God’s plan is better (just in case we thought our, different plan was better)
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”Isaiah 55:8–9
Your Suffering Isn’t Wasted, God Will Use It
Difficult times and suffering are hard enough, but suffering without a worthwhile purpose or result is even worse.
Think about it this way: If you saved a child from being run over by a car, but you broke your arm in the process, most of us would say it’s worth it. But if you suddenly woke up one day with a broken arm, that would be much harder to deal with. It’s the same pain and inconvenience, but one of them felt worth it.
In the same way, when we suffer in life, God tells us that everything we go through will be worth it in the end. We don’t see how now, but He tells us to trust Him, and that in the light of eternity we will see Him use everything we suffered as part of a worthwhile plan…
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”James 1:2–4
“If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.”2 Corinthians 1:6
“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”2 Corinthians 4:17
Don’t Give Up, Keep Trusting God
The most important thing is to simply keep going. Emotions and feelings will come and go and discouraging times are temporary. As the saying goes, “Don’t trade what you know about God for what you don’t know about what He’s doing.” Just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s time to give up. I’ve personally been through some extremely discouraging times but have seen the worthwhile result of continuing to do what I know is right even when that’s the last thing I want to do.
This first verse was actually sent to us by 2 different people in the same day during a time when my wife and I were going through a very difficult season in our lives (thankfully, not difficult towards each-other, but outside factors) and so it has remained particularly encouraging to me and I hope it is to you as well.
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”Galatians 6:9
These next verses form one of my favorite passages of scripture to look to when I need encouragement. It is such a beautifully sounding verse and so inspiring, but when you look at the situation he’s describing, it’s terrible.
Habakkuk is painting a picture of starvation and hopelessness. There is no food for today (no “fruit on the vines”), there is no harvest on the horizon (fig trees would blossom before producing their fruit), and there’s not any hope of new animals being born for food either (no herds in the stalls and the flocks are gone).
Yet, in this “it’s bad, and there’s no chance it will get better” situation, Habakkuk finds it possible to trust God and even find joy in Him. And so can we.
“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.”Habakkuk 3:17–19
God Wants You To Go To Him With Your Problems
This one is most important. We can believe everything correctly, but we can still miss the most important part: God Himself. He wants a relationship with you and you can know everything I’ve written above without ever going to Him or talking to Him about your situation. He is the “God of all comfort” and wants you to come to Him with all your problems.
He might not fix everything going on, but He wants you to go to Him for comfort, strength and provision in the mist of every difficultly and problem in life. He is the Giver of all life and can sustain you even in difficult times.
But you can’t simply know that to receive His grace,
You have to go to Him to receive it.
And He’s waiting for you to do just that.
“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”Isaiah 26:3
“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”Isaiah 40:31
“Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”1 Peter 5:7
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”Philippians 4:6–7
May you rest in God and go to Him in the good times and the bad, so that we might live like the “man who trusts in the Lord” that Jeremiah described:
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”Jeremiah 17:7–8
This last Wednesday was the birthday of a friend of mine.
He was one of many recovering drug addicts and homeless who my wife and I invited into our lives when we very first moved down to Florida to help start a church.
For a time, we had a small group of people that met in our apartment. There were a few consistent people and many who would pass through over time. We would also end up spending Christmas mornings and other holidays with them as so few of them had family who live down here.
This friend is one of the first of many who we got to lead to Jesus and help in their recovery and homelessness.
He was the first of those friends to die.
And last Wednesday would have been his birthday.
We’ve thankfully only had one other close friend die from overdose, but for some reason (I don’t know if it’s time of life or something else) I have experienced more family and friend death in the past 7 years than ever before.
He was one of the first.
And when he died, I made a decision to keep his birthday in my calendar, and I’ve chosen to keep this habit with everyone ever since.
Simply Loving People
His birthday held special memories for me, which led to this new habit.
He, like many of the addicts we met down here, rarely got to celebrate his birthday with close friends or family because of his addiction. As we held a small group at our apartment, we held many birthdays and it never ceased to amaze me how much people appreciated it, addicts and non-addicts alike.
In a world where everyone gets well-wishes on Facebook, the simple text or phone call means so much more. And, to actually sit in a room around simple cupcakes and sing ‘happy birthday’, is almost unheard of.
These small birthday celebrations and times together in our home led to many experiencing God’s love and hope in a way I couldn’t have replicated in any other way.
And God used simple moments like these to save multiple people in our very living room, and I’ll never forget them.
The Importance Of Remembering
Part of the reason I keep people’s birthdays in my calendar, even after they have passed, is it helps me remember them, and more importantly, the things I learned from them.
Specifically: many of the people in my calendar remind me that God is not done. So many of them seemed like “lost causes” yet many of them experienced massive life and heart change by the grace of Jesus, and I never want to forget that.
Whether homeless and drug addicted,
“Old” and “Set in their ways,”
Argumentative and seemingly impossible to reason with…
Many of them found Jesus before their last breath.
And it reminds me of the many birthdays in my calendar who are not long gone, but may one day turn to Jesus as well.
Life Is Short
The 3rd and final reason I keep friends’ birthdays in my calendar, even after they’ve passed, is simply this:
It reminds me that tomorrow is not promised.
One day, you and I will breathe our last and will stand before God and eternity. And as David wrote in Psalms:
“So teach us to number our daysPsalm 90:12
that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
Every month, as I look at the people who used to celebrate birthdays in that month, I am reminded that the things I do today will have an eternal impact, and I don’t know when my story here on earth will end.
And I want my days to count.
You might find my habit weird, but I’m happy I started it. And if nothing else, I hope this reminds you…
To simply love people today,
To keep hope that God can work in even the most desperate situations and people
And to live life to the fullest of God’s calling on your life, because you don’t know when you will meet Him face-to-face.
A couple weeks ago, I got to teach the older kids class at our church, and as you might guess, our text was Mark 10:17–27 about the Rich Young Ruler. I thought I’d share it with you, so below I’ve put the highlights from our study that we had together…
What must I do?
And as he [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”Mark 10:17
It’s pretty obvious that the Rich Young Ruler wants to get to heaven on his own merit. Even his question “what must I do” implies he wants a task to accomplish.
And, he’s not alone, we all like the idea of earning things, and wanting to earn our way to heaven is no exception.
But there’s a major problem: none of us are perfect (Romans 3:23).
And as the young man is going to find out, he can’t get enteral life on his own…
And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’ ”
And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”
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.”
Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.Mark 10:18–22
As we read what Jesus tells him, we realize that was Jesus is telling the young man is that he must be perfect to attain eternal life. Jesus begins by reminding him of a few of the 10 commandments listing the standard given by God for perfection.
The young man tells Jesus that he has kept all of the outward commandments and so Jesus then proceeds to remind him of the inward ones.
Notice that Jesus says “You lack one thing”. He goes from the general laws to the specific issue that this man faces.
And here’s why: Money had become this young man’s functional god. He had broken the first commandment: “you shall have no other gods before me”.
In the case of the Rich Young Ruler, his love of money was at least one of the many things that kept him from God’s perfection (and let’s be honest, how many of us would be willing to give up everything we have if Jesus told us to).
But Money Isn’t Even the Real Issue
Jesus never asks anyone else in scripture to completely give up their money (even more on that later). And because of that, we can infer that He was trying to make a point: We can’t earn our way to heaven because we’re all imperfect.
Jesus chose the thing that He knew the man would not give up, and we all have those things, don’t we? We all hold imperfections in our character and hearts that keep us from the perfection that eternal life with God requires.
In fact, money is simply a tangible asset that enables us to hold on to things as our functional savior instead of surrendering to God.
Here’s a few examples of things that money can “give” us so that we hold onto money instead of holding onto God…
The list goes on…
Obviously, money cannot provide any of these things perfectly (that’s kind of the point), but they can become false substitutes for what only God can give us.
We don’t know what the Rich Young Ruler struggled with most, but it’s no denying that money can take on many different roles in our lives and it can easily keep us from having God be our only and first love.
So, What Did Jesus Really Want From The Young Man?
Ultimately, God doesn’t care about our money, possessions or skills. We are imperfect sinners and so the best we can offer is still tainted with sin.
Jesus wanted him to humbly surrender.
He wanted the young man to stop
To realize he couldn’t measure up to God’s perfection
And for him to accept God’s grace.
The young man was created to enjoy a complete and whole relationship with God and to live in a way that reflected God as a result.
Unfortunately, his (and our) sin gets in the way and we become disconnected from God, Who is the Giver of life. And we cannot be reconnected to Him without becoming perfect.
In this passage, Jesus is essentially telling the Rich Young Ruler that he needs to be perfect to “inherit eternal life”. And so Jesus points out an area of imperfection in his life and says it has to be corrected in order for him to earn his way to heaven, all the while knowing that it would be too much for the man to do.
Unfortunately, it’s not even that simple.
In order to earn our relationship back with God, we must be perfect our entire lives: so even if you “clean up” now, it’s already too late!
What Jesus really wanted from this conversation was for the Rich Young Ruler to realize he wasn’t good enough to inherit eternal life and that what he really needed a Savior, just like everyone else.
“Then Who Can Be Saved?”
And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how difficult 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 person to enter the kingdom of God.”
And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?”Mark 10:23-26
After the Rich Young Ruler determines he cannot go to heaven on his own merit, he walks away sorrowful.
Have you ever considered this problem before?
God’s requirement is perfection, and there is no way that you or I are meeting that.
For many of us, just like him, this is the end of the story.
If only he had stayed a little longer.
Because after he left, Jesus told His disciples that it is extremely difficult for wealthy people to enter the kingdom of heaven. And He then follows it up with comparing it to a camel going through the eye of a needle (which is not going to happen).
Their response is what we should all ask: “then who can be saved?”
And that is a very good question.
**Please note that when Jesus said it’s difficult for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God, He is not saying that it’s wrong to be rich. What I believe Jesus was getting at is that when you are rich, you are all the more able to hide behind and hold onto the things in your heart that separate you from relying on God. It’s simply harder to choose to surrender and trust God as first in your life when you have such a tangible ability to “trust in yourself” for all of life’s needs and problems. Jesus is merely saying that it is a natural roadblock to salvation, not that it is wrong to be rich.**
What Jesus Offers Us (And The Rich Young Ruler)
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Mark 10:27
If only the young man had stuck around.
He had finally come to the end of himself.
He had finally realized that he could not earn eternal life.
He had tried his hardest,
And when he realized that wasn’t good enough,
He figured that was the end of it.
(After all, he was rich and probably didn’t ask for help often)
But he had forgotten about the only One Who could really help.
He Had Forgotten About God.
The Rich Young Ruler, unfortunately, left before Jesus had a chance to remind Him that God’s grace is an option for Him to inherit eternal life.
What’s a little ironic, is that the Rich Young Ruler wanted to know what he could do to “inherit eternal life” when an inheritance is far from earned.
To inherit eternal life, you merely have to become an heir. In this case, an heir of God.
And we once were heirs,
Until sin entered the world and our hearts.
From then on out we were separated from God,
And removed from His inheritance.
There is nothing we can do,
as the Rich Young Ruler found out.
We can’t offer God a complete and perfect heart and life.
But what the Rich Young Ruler missed was this:
There was something God could, and would, do.
To give us the inheritance we could not earn ourselves.
And He was standing right in front of him.
As part of His Salvation plan,
Jesus would take His rightful inheritance,
And would trade it for our lack of inheritance.
The Rich Young Ruler (and all of us as well) wanted to earn his way, but as Paul wrote in Romans “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). And that’s not a good wage.
But in that same verse we learn that “the grace of God is eternal life” (Romans 6:23).
You want to earn eternal life?
Sorry, that ship has sailed.
That’s not going to happen.
But are you willing to receive it?
Are you willing to accept God’s free gift through His Son?
That Jesus paid your price,
That Jesus accepted the wages for your sin,
And that Jesus gave you His rightful inheritance?
Then you can receive, you can inherit, eternal life.
What Happens If We Receive This Free Gift?
If you accept Jesus’ free gift of life, there’s a few things that happen.
- He gives His Spirit to be inside of you (and every receiver), to be with you, and to transform you to be more like Him. Remember, we were created to worship God, be in relationship with Him, and reflect Him in our lives. By receiving Jesus’ free gift of eternal life, your eternal life starts now. Instead of waiting for eternity, God wants to start now. He wants you to be close to Him, now.
- As you continue to rely on His grace for your inheritance, and on His Spirit for your daily life, you will supernaturally become more like Him. These changes will take place in personal inward thoughts and desires, and also in your outward actions and words. This is a continuation of the first part as mentioned earlier that our relationship and closeness to God is what continues to transform us to be more like Him.
And there is no better example for this story than the rich man who was saved shortly after this passage.
In Luke 19:1-10, we meet Zacchaeus who is not only a rich person, but clearly an unethical one as he was a chief tax collector. To spare you the details, he essentially gets saved and tells Jesus he’s going to repay everyone back what he has stolen from them and essentially obey the Hebrew law that God put in place.
He’s not giving away all his wealth. He’ll actually probably still be fairly wealthy when he’s done.
Yet he is saved, while the other wasn’t.
It’s because his salvation didn’t come from his work,
It came from receiving Jesus’ grace.
Zacchaeus received Jesus’ message of repentance and forgiveness and was transformed because of it.
Is he perfect?
But he was saved, has been given eternal life and now is being transformed by God from the inside out.
Did he give away all he had?
But he joyfully gave back what he had stolen, and I am sure that if he remained in Jesus’ grace and love, he continued to joyfully give, love and surrender in many areas of life, including his finances.
The Difference Between The Two Rich Men
In these passages we saw two rich men.
The first wanted to earn his eternal life.
The second realized it was a free gift.
The first desired to earn an inheritance by being perfect himself.
The second was given an inheritance through Jesus’ perfection.
The first could not be perfect and walked away to continue earning his wage of death.
The second received eternal life and began living a generous and love filled life that reflected the great gift he had been given.
The first left feeling like his life was probably over.
The second left feeling like his life was just beginning.
Which do you feel like today?
Which do you want to be like?
The Prayer Of Salvation
To close this post, I wanted to remind you of another rich man who found eternal life in one of Jesus’ parables. In the chapter previous in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells of a tax collector who went to the temple to pray and left righteous. Here is all he prayed:
“…the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’Luke 18:13
Do you have that same prayer of repentance and humility?
Do you hold to that same mercy that God offers us through Jesus?
It’s your only way to eternal life.
If you already know Jesus, then reflect back on His grace and come back to those first joys of salvation. We all tend to drift away from that feeling and mindset, and it is important to draw near again.
If you don’t already know Jesus, please contact me with any questions you have about what it means to be forgiven for sins, have enteral life, and to know and follow Jesus.
Last week, we covered the attitude we need to have when approaching the Bible to study it. If you haven’t read that yet, I encourage you to at THIS LINK.
Now that we’ve prepared our hearts to receive from God’s Word, we’re going to cover the simple three step process and tools for you to study the Bible with.
All good study begins with observation. This takes the form of noticing key characters, events, locations, etc.
Sometimes this means looking at a book of the Bible as a whole to know more about the context, such as who was the author and who was the original reader, but oftentimes we can gain enough to understand a passage by reading a few verses beforehand and a few after in order to see what the author was trying to communicate.
Remember that the original writing wasn’t broken up by chapters and verses (except for the Psalms and some of Proverbs) and so consider reading a previous chapter to gain more context. By observing, we can learn the context for something that was said or done.
One helpful tip for this section is to use the 5 W’s and an H.
Look at the text and ask yourself, who is this about, what is happening, when is this happening, where did it take place and how is it happening or how is God working in this situation, etc.
But save the last “w" (why) for the next section…
Observing words and actions without interpretation is meaningless.
After observing the passage, we are confronted with a big "so what?”
What truth is God communicating to us through this passage?
Why is this important or valuable?
And the primary way we can learn to interpret scripture well is through other verses in the Bible.
Imagine that someone wrote a very detailed explanation of the reason for life and how to live it well.
That book would be riddled with references to other sections within the same book to help gain clarity and context without rewriting all of the same content.
Now imagine that book was written thousands of years ago in another language and culture and has now been brought to your native language but has kept all of it’s cultural references.
That would be very much like the Bible we have today.
So, what do we do with all of these internal references and explanations and having cultural references that are not our own?
A big piece of interpretation is bridging the gap between how the original readers would understand a passage and how our western and modern eyes read it.
This gap, thankfully, is something we can learn to adjust to, and as we learn more scripture, it become increasingly easier.
To start, however, there are many resources at our disposal. We have many specific books, podcasts, and online helps listed on my “Bible Study Resources Page”, but here are a few ideas:
Sermons – Many great pastors have broken down parts of the Bible and explained interpretation for any of us to be able to listen to at our leisure online.
Verse References – Many Bibles include verse references to show passages that relate to the passage you’re reading. Not every verse will seem applicable, but many have obvious connections that help bring understanding to the meaning of the passage. Blue Letter Bible in particular has a great section for each verse in the Bible called their "treasury of scripture" feature that lists related verses.
Concordances – Similar to verse references, concordances show each place a specific word is used. Keep in mind that because the Bible was originally written in different languages, we are reading translated versions which means that sometimes you could look up a word and have it point to sections that use other words, but they were the same word in the original language. This also helps bring clarity to the meaning the purpose of a passage of scripture. The Strongs and Vines concordances are the most common, and both can be found for free on Blue Letter Bible as well.
Commentaries – Much like sermons, commentaries break down sections of scripture and normally are more in depth and focused on simply interpretation rather than application (depending on the commentary). I personally use many commentaries, but I think the Warren Wiersbe Commentaries set listed on my RESOURCES PAGE is one of the most helpful if you only have time for one. As another great suggestion, and my wife’s favorite, is by David Guzik which can be found on Blue Letter Bible for free.
After we interpret the meaning of a passage, we are left with a complete waste of time unless we apply the passage to our lives.
This means that we need to connect the information we’ve received to a direct and practical response that can be lived out in our own lives.
I, like many others, believe that there is only one interpretation of scripture, but that there can be many applications.
For example, let’s take 1 Timothy 1:15 which states that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst."
The interpretation, of this passage is that Jesus came into the world as our Savior with the purpose of saving everyone and anyone is is willing to receive His salvation.
Furthermore, we recognize that all sin is extremely devastating to our relationship with God and therefore we cannot judge others as worse than ourselves in order to gain a status above them or become judgmental on them, as demonstrated by Paul in this passage.
- One application we could take is to remember how much we personally need the grace of God, and that we are never too far from God for His grace to save, redeem, and transform us. So we humble ourselves before God and ask Him to forgive us for sins and to transform us to be more like Him.
- A second way we could apply this passage is to focus on the part where it reminds us that Christ Jesus came to save sinners. This was His whole purpose, and He has called us to share this Gospel. Not only is it our calling to share Jesus’ grace with others, but the latter part of the verse reminds us that He can save anyone, and because of that we are to take any opportunity we are given to share His Gospel.
These are just two ways we could apply this passage, but notice that we never deviated from the basic interpretation of the message. Its truth remained the same wherever we applied it.
Similar to a bandage that can be applied to any part of the body, God’s Word is meant to be applied in many areas of our lives.
To conclude these big ideas, I want to leave you with an analogy from everyday life that will hopefully take away some of the intimidation of studying the Bible.
Imagine you’re in your kitchen and you notice that the light on your dishwasher is on (OBSERVATION).
Because the light is on, you’re aware that the dishwasher is currently running (INTERPRETATION)
And since the dishwasher is running, you decide to put the dish in the sink rather than inside the dishwasher, since then you’d end up with water all over your floor (APPLICATION).
That example may seem simplistic, but that’s really all that is happening when we read the Bible.
Yes, you may need to look at the dishwasher’s manual in order to understand what that light means just as we go to commentaries and other parts of scripture, but the concept is still the same.
I hope this has helped diffuse any fear of reading the Bible that you may have, and that it has equipped you to study it better.
Please remember that no matter what the cost of understanding the Bible, this is the most important and valuable thing you will ever do.
Without studying and submitting to God’s Word, we cannot hope to see God Himself and have a transformed life with Him. When we study and apply God’s Word well, we can say, like the Psalmist:
"I rejoice at Your Word like one who finds great spoil.” Psalm 119:162
The Bible is much more than just a book.
Even more than a compilation of 66 books.
The Bible has been described as "God lowering Himself to the status of an author," and since He has, we should read and respond to it as though it must be the most valuable piece ever written.
But where do we start?
How do we begin reading the Bible?
People attend seminaries and various schools and study the Bible for their entire life, while still claiming there’s more to learn – and I believe them. If God truly wrote a book, I’d expect it’s entire depth and teaching to be beyond anything I could grasp in my lifetime.
At the same time, the Bible is simple enough for any of us to gain all that we need to have a full and vibrant life and relationship God.
It’s been said that the Bible is shallow enough for the youngest child to splash in its water, yet deep enough for the most studious scholar to never reach its bottom. It is this Word that we have the pleasure, benefit, and duty to ready, study, and apply.
Because of the depth of God’s Word, we can’t go into all aspects of studying it, but I think part of the problem most people face is that they let the depth of the Bible paralyze them from gleaning anything. If this describes you, I want to help you.
The simple inductive Bible method we’ll go over is:
We’re going to look at this three step process next week, in a way that will help us study any passage of scripture, but before we do, there’s an attitude and approach to reading God’s Word that we need to clarify:
1. The purpose of studying the Bible is to know Jesus better
Jesus told the Pharisees in John 5:39, “you study the scriptures, for in them you think you have life, but it is they that speak of Me.”
Jesus was telling the Bible scholars of His day that they missed the entire point of the scriptures they devoted their lives to studying. They had studied the Bible in hopes that they could be saved because of their religious activity, while God’s purpose in His Word is for us to find our salvation in a life-giving and life-changing relationship with Jesus.
Whenever we read the Bible simply as a self-help book or tips to a better life, we miss the entire point of drawing nearer to Jesus.
2. This is a supernatural endeavor
I don’t mean to say that studying the Bible is not also a scholarly endeavor, it is actually both.
However, I think too often we try to boil down the Bible to merely a really amazing piece of writing and not the actual Word of God which requires our spiritual eyes to be open and not merely our physical ones.
In order to truly understand and apply God’s Word to our lives, we need to come before God humbly, knowing that only He can teach us spiritual things and give us life. I encourage everyone to begin their time in God’s Word with prayer, asking Him to speak to them and work in their lives through His Word.
3. Are we the teacher, or God?
I know this seems silly to even say, but so often we can come to God’s Word with our own agenda and want God to simply enforce our current beliefs.
If there are never truths in God’s Word that require you to change your belief or submit to it even though you naturally disagree, then you are not letting God be your teacher, but you are instead trying to read your predetermined beliefs into the Bible.
As one pastor recalled, when someone had asked him what he should do if he disagreed with something the Bible said, the pastor told the man, “Then you must be wrong, and you should change your belief.”
Sometimes we try to be God’s teacher rather than letting God teach us. If you come to the Bible with this perspective, you will not receive from the Bible what God would desire you to have.
4. None of this matters if we don’t apply it
Although the third step in this inductive Bible method (Application) is simply applying what we read in scripture, it’s important to come to God’s Word with a desire to have change in our hearts and lives.
The book of James warns us that we can become hard to the Word and that our faith is not true faith if it doesn’t affect our lives (James 1:22-25). We should always be on guard of hearing God’s truth and not acting on it because as we begin that cycle it becomes easier and easier to not obey and follow Jesus.
It’s only after we have prepared our heart and mind for God’s Word that we are ready to study the Bible. Next week, we’ll cover some different tools and methods you can use to study the Bible for yourself.
Since we celebrated Father’s Day yesterday, I wanted to write some encouragement to the fathers in my life as well as anyone who has struggled with the “father figure” in their life.
If you missed (or would like a refresher) on what I wrote for Mother’s Day, I’m going to be be building off of that same foundation. You can check out my post on that at this link: Mothers: Reflecting God’s Image.
Mother’s Day Recap
God Is Seen In Every Person And Position and it is important to realize that God is revealing different parts of His character and giving us different ways to relate to Him when He compares Himself to a king, a mother, a shepherd, or even a father.
Unfortunately, We (As Examples Of God) Are Broken And Imperfect and that means that regardless of how “good” of an example we have in those ways, we do not know of a single perfect example besides God Himself – and this includes the father’s we’ve known.
Regardless of the Examples We’ve Seen (Good or Bad), God Desires All Of Them to Point to Him and His Perfection, which brings us to the context of Father’s Day.
(again, you can check out my Mothers: Reflecting God’s Image post for more details on the above points).
Fatherhood Displayed In Today’s Culture
Out of all the analogies the Bible uses to explain God’s relationship to us, God as our “Heavenly Father” is one of the most common, and I believe holds a special place in the Bible.
We read that even Jesus Himself taught us to relate to God as “our Father Who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9) which can be difficult for many of us to understand and appreciate in today’s culture.
Unfortunately, fathers have become the ridicule of movies, TV shows, and general storytelling. Fathers are generally shown to be absent, overly harsh, or completely incompetent – and these descriptions sadly represent what many have personally experienced.
Because of these poor examples, we have become completely ignorant of what a “God Who is our Father” is like – and what our own fathers ought to be like.
Our Heavenly (And Perfect) Father
Whether you are a father, or want to be able to see God’s Fatherhood in your life more clearly, the Bible is always the best place to go. Below is a small list of attributes that tells us how God displays His Fatherhood in our lives.
“Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.” – Psalm 68:5
“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.” – Psalm 103:13
“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” – Proverbs 3:11–12
“But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” – Isaiah 64:8
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7:7–11
“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’” – Hebrews 12:5–6
God is our perfect Father…
The Standard For Fatherhood Has Been Set (And Unmet)
As a father of two, I can tell you that I fall short of God’s fatherly perfection, as described above, on a daily basis.
And if you too look at the list above and feel completely lacking or insufficient, that’s completely normal and even good. When comparing ourselves to God, we should see areas we lack and come up short.
But it shouldn’t leave us there.
The Bible continually tells us to strive for perfection, to be Holy as God is Holy and to live up to the standards we were created to be like… But we simply can’t on our own.
As Paul explains in the book of Romans, the law (the revealing of God’s standard of perfection) was NOT created so we could pull ourselves up to God’s level: to try harder and do better. No, God’s perfect standard was revealed to show us our imperfection and that we need Him.
So, where does that leave us?
Well, if you recognize your lack, it should point you to God, to ask for His help.
The Redeemer Of Imperfections
I don’t want anyone reading this to reflect on their imperfections and to feel like they’ve done, or experienced, irreversible damage.
Fortunately, God offers grace to cover all of our shortcomings: including in fatherhood.
We have all seen kids grow up incredibly well in spite of poor father figures and this should bring us comfort knowing that God can redeem any failings we have. Whether as the father, or as the child: God is our heavenly Father who brings beauty from ashes.
I hope that seeing God’s perfection in Fatherhood would serve you as a reminder that since we have imperfections, we ought to seek God for Him to make us into fathers more like Himself and to provide grace in our shortcomings.
The Ultimate Goal of Fatherhood (And Their Children)
Regardless of how well you parent or experienced parenting, there is certainly one thing that cannot be missed:
None of it has any eternal value without Jesus.
As a father, I know I have (and will) mess up.
Sometimes in small ways, other times in big ways.
But I also know my goal as a parent:
That, even in my imperfections
In my struggles
In my repentance
In my words
In my prayers
In my actions
In my life
That I would point my kids to Jesus and pray they follow Him as well.
And that is successful fatherhood.
Representing the loving God to your children
But making it clear to them at the same time:
There is a Father Who is their truest and ultimate Father.
That, just as the sacrificial system in the Old Testament was a shadow and picture of Jesus Who is our perfect Savior,
I want my fathering to them to be a shadow and picture of God who is their perfect Father.
That I am their father on earth
But God is their Father in heaven.
I am their father temporarily
But God is their Father for eternity.
That even in my imperfections
They can look to their Heavenly Father Who is perfect.
Everything else is good.
To teach them how to live wisely, act kindly, work hard and enjoy life:
But to teach them Who God is and His love for them surpasses all those other things.
What To Do Now
Whether you have experienced a godly example for a father
Or if you have even been one yourself,
We all can learn from our fathers.
But we can all take away that they are examples, guides, and shadows pointing to our heavenly Father Who is perfect.
So, celebrate Father’s Day.
For fathers, enjoy getting to be such an important example of God in your children’s lives,
And be comforted in your shortcomings knowing that we are all imperfect, and rejoice knowing your (and your child’s) heavenly Father is truly perfect.
And for children (kids and adults) on this special day, take some time to enjoy your father,
Thanking God for every part of them,
And for giving a role in your life that was made to point you to God.
A little over a year ago, I was awoken around 7am on a Sunday morning and was asked if I could preach last minute at church that morning. It was sudden and unexpected so I had to immediately go to God and ask Him what He would have for that fated morning.
As I was reflected on various truths and Bible passages I was brought to a very simple, yet often overlooked one, and I knew it was needed:
The Love of God.
The Love of God is a theme I’ve revisited many times and is one that I have to remind myself of often and I felt I should share it with you as well.
Although we live in a culture that has devalued and misconstrued love as something you feel or an undirected affirmation of anything someone else wants, God’s love towards us is an undying care an affection that we could study our entire lives and never reach it’s depths or expanse.
One of my favorite hymns describes God’s love this way…
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky
That verse paints such a vivid picture of how we cannot fully understand or appreciate the vast love of God.
But we can certainly try.
And so I have tried to make the habit of taking 5-10 minutes a day to simply reflect on the love of God, and I invite you to join me.
I’ve written some verses below for you to simply read through,
To slow down,
And simply think about God’s love and care for you.
“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.” – Deuteronomy 7:9
“But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” – Psalm 86:15
“Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.” – Psalm 136:26
“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” – Zephaniah 3:17
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” – John 15:9–13
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:37–39
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,
even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” – Ephesians 2:4–5
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” – 1 John 3:1
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins..” – 1 John 4:9–10