Risen & Lives Forever

Where are you in your faith in Jesus Christ? Do you believe all of this stuff you have read so far these past 6 weeks? How would you complete the statement, “Jesus is __________.”?

These are questions I invite you to ponder now because if there is anything that is challenging about anything we have read so far, take some time to pray (communicate with God) your apprehensions. This week we will talk about something even greater than the previous weeks.

Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Let’s read the scripture (Luke 24:1-12 NIV):

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words.

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 12 Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

Easter Sunday, all around the world, and throughout history, the proclamation is “Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!” This is the statement, the profession of belief, that reminds us no matter what goes on in this life, no matter how bad things get, no matter how dark our lives seem, Christ walked out of that tomb.

Let that sink in for a minute. The powerful grip of death, the grip that does not let it’s victims go, could not hold Christ. Jesus broke the grip of death on this world. He lives! Not only that. He lives eternally, which is a fancy way of saying he will never die again.

There are many people who will give some false claims about the resurrection. Some will say the disciples took Jesus’ body and hid it. Some will say Jesus just fell asleep and never really died. Some will say the crucifixion never happened and there is no evidence to prove it.

We actually do have written, historical evidence to prove the witness accounts of the resurrection. For one thing, we have 27 accounts that make up our New Testament. Not only that, but we have sources outside of the Biblical records. One example is a well-respected Jewish historian from the first century: Josephus.

Who was Josephus? “Flavius Josephus (A.D. 37 – c. 100) was a Jewish historian born in Jerusalem four years after the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth in the same city. Because of this proximity to Jesus in terms of time and place, his writings have a near-eyewitness quality as they relate to the entire cultural background of the New Testament era. But their scope is much wider than this, encompassing also the world of the Old Testament. His two greatest works are Jewish Antiquities, unveiling Hebrew history from the Creation to the start of the great war with Rome in A.D. 66, while his Jewish War, though written first, carries the record on to the destruction of Jerusalem and the fall of Masada in A.D. 73.”[1]

He writes:

“About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man.  For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease.  He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him.  And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.” [2]

The early followers of Jesus Christ staked their entire lives on the message and truth Christ had been raised from the dead. There was so much spiritual change in the lives they touched, and the world has never been the same. Many of the early followers even went to death sticking to the proclamation Christ is risen. So, why would they go to their grave living for a lie?

Now, I know there are people who live with a lie, or as a lie, their entire lives and still do not change or admit the truth, even on their death bed. The difference here is most of these people would not have the incredible results from their life as the disciples and followers of Christ had and have today.

Think about this. The people who were searching for Jesus went to the tomb. They were searching where they last saw him, but they were actually

LOOKING FOR JESUS IN THE WRONG PLACES.

This is something we do today. We are constantly trying to see “real”, tangible evidence Jesus lives. Our lives today are almost two thousand years away from witnessing the empty tomb ourselves, as it was originally, but this doesn’t mean the evidence isn’t around us.

People still want to know if Jesus had really been raised from the dead. Our world is filled with skepticism. We do not always believe the stuff we read about or watch (unless we see it on social media, then we seem to share without much fact checking”).

Professor and author, Stephen Seamands writes, “according to New Testament scholar, Timothy Johnson, the most important questions about Jesus is whether he is dead or alive. If he is dead, the memory of his life and accomplishments may still exert a significant influence, but his words and actions have ended. His life is over. Finished. Complete. The dead lie still. But if he is alive, then everything is radically different. He can show up on our doorstep. Do new things. Surprise, confront, encourage, instruct us. Encounter us as one living person encounters another.”[3]

So we have to pay attention to where it is we are looking for Jesus. He will not be found in the empty tombs, even though we go back every time to the last place we saw him. He will not be found, easily, where nothing good or eternally lasting happens. He will not be found in places of greed, lust, pride, laziness, etc.

Wherever Jesus is, there is life. In the Gospel of John chapter 20, we read about Jesus is doing the work of a gardener. He is restoring the creation by working it. He is bringing new life with him.

So we have to ask, “where can we find Jesus today?” Look in the dark places. Look where the people are who are more interested in themselves. Jesus is there, he’s just harder to see because there is a lot of work to be done.

But look in the places where lives are being changed. Look where people are choosing life over death. Look where people are working to transform the world into the Kingdom of Heaven even though it does not give them earthly riches or rewards. Look where drug dealers, prostitutes, gamblers, adulterers, abusers, etc. are turning their lives around because they are experiencing a change on the inside and they truly want to live in freedom.

That’s where Jesus is.

Jesus is also found in the seemingly ordinary places. When you see a mother nurse and feed her child. When you see a father encourage his children and love his wife. When you see people who once were enemies become friends. When you see teachers, construction workers, bank tellers, trash collectors, etc. do their work with a smile on their face because they have a joy inside no one can snatch.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ does all of this. Because Christ is alive, we witness and are part of incredible world changes that begin with the changed life of a single person who goes out to show people how their life can and will be changed because of Jesus Christ, because he lives.

To do this, we have to

REMEMBER WHAT JESUS TAUGHT

What was it Jesus taught? We will hear all kinds of things Jesus taught from other people. The best place to start is in the actual words he said. Now, here’s something that may not have been considered before. Jesus’ words do not begin in the New Testament.

Remember we have talked about Jesus as God in flesh. This means that he is God. Since he is God, Jesus has always existed and is eternal (has no beginning or end). Yes, he does have a human, earthly, beginning when he was born as a man; but Jesus is still eternal.

To find the words Jesus said and taught we really have to begin in the book of Genesis. The Bible has so much to say. So much history. So many names. So many places. If we’re not careful when reading it, we can get confused.

Where should we start reading? The New Testament. Specifically, I would recommend the Gospel of Mark. Why? Because it is the shortest Gospel and it shows the power and mission of Jesus clearly.

We have been going through this series looking at the Gospel of Luke. This Gospel shows Jesus’ humanity and his incredible care for humanity. I have heard people call it “The Gospel of Nobodies” because that’s who Jesus came to save “the lost.”[4]These are the people society has cast aside. These are the people no one seems to care about. These are the people who desire to be restored and redeemed. These people represent you and me.

When Jesus rose from the dead, he was demonstrating his incredible power over the final enemy of humanity—death. Jesus had already shown forgiveness of sins through his healing ministry. He had also defeated sin through his death on the cross. We see now that because Jesus is alive, death has no more power over the world.

Yes, we will still pass away and enter into the next chapter of our lives—life everlasting with Jesus Christ—but we do not have to fear it or have death reassert any power over us. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, “’Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”[5]

But what about us now? What do we do while we are still alive?

STAY OBEDIENT TO ORDINARY TASKS

Do you ever feel like the small tasks in life really do not count? They may be incredibly boring to us or a waste of time to us. Each of us has a different idea of what a small task is that we do not want to do. For my kids, it is keeping their room clean. For me, it is anything that will take me away from what I need to do at the moment.

Here’s the thing about the small, seemingly insignificant, tasks…this is where we find out where our hearts really are. Read that again. You’ll find out the true state of your heart in the tasks you do not really want to do but know it still needs to be done. Do we do them with a spirit of love? Or with a spirit of contempt because we really do not want to do them?

Jesus was a busy man. He had many things to do and people to see. He got interrupted all the time. Every time he got interrupted he continued to show compassion to the people who needed help. He showed the heart of God. Re-read the Gospel of Luke and see how Jesus interacted with all people.

Think about how you respond when you get interrupted from the work or mission, you are doing? I have witnessed most people, especially myself, like to stay focused on the task at hand. (I know some people may do what they can to avoid the work – that is a different message for laziness.) We tend to like to feel accomplished and see what we can do. At least, this is me. I have a hard time, sometimes, switching tasks. What is even harder for me is switching tasks with the right attitude.

The ordinary of things in life show us our hearts and our real attitudes. Remember this when faced with a task that seems too small for you, one that is an inconvenience, one that you really don’t want to do.

Above all of this, know

JESUS CONTINUES TO LIVE. SO DO WE. DO YOU BELIEVE THIS?

Jesus lives! Let us continue to proclaim with Christians all through history, “Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Hallelujah!”

This is the cry of victory. Because Christ lives, and we follow him and place our lives in his hands, we too get to live in and claim that same victory. When we share our faith with others, it is not to try to “win them to Christ,” rather it is to help them understand the war has already been won. The world’s enslavement to Sin and Death has been defeated. The individual battle still ensues and Christ’s victory. The victory and power we claim gives us the ability to win individually.

We do not fight for the world to try to bring victory. Instead, we walk in the world confident that Christ has already won. We live our lives from a place of victory. This is what makes the difference. Fear has no power over us. Sin has no power over us. We do not need to worry when faced with temptations because the power of God will keep us from giving in (if we listen and live into this power).

Philosopher Stephen Davis sums up Jesus’ resurrection well:

“[The resurrection] assures us that God will win and that accordingly, the world is not mad. Events do happen that we cannot explain. Irrational tragedies and horrible outrages do occur. But because God raised Jesus from the dead after the catastrophe of the cross, we can be sure that God will one day overcome all catastrophes…The resurrection is proof that no matter how bad things get, we can trust in God. God loves us. God has our interests at heart. God works to achieve what is beneficial to us. And in the end, God will win.”[6]

I fully believe that Jesus rose from the grave. I fully believe he is alive. I fully believe he is Lord. Not only that, I count on this each and every day. I hope you do too.

 

Works Cited:

[1]https://www.namb.net/apologetics-blog/josephus-and-jesus/

[2]https://www.namb.net/apologetics-blog/josephus-and-jesus/

[3]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”. Page 99

[4]Luke 19:10

[5]1 Corinthians 15:54b-57 NIV

[6]Stephens Seamands, “Give Them Christ” Page 119

Free From the Power of Temptations

Knowing who Jesus Christ is, this is the core of who we are becoming. A couple of weeks ago, we began a series on the life of Christ. We started with the question, “Who do you say I am?” Why would we start with that? How we answer that question determines how we view the life we have been given and how we’ll live our life.

Last week, we discussed Jesus is “God in flesh.” Remember, his birth and incarnation (becoming a real human being) are much more than a story we need to hear at Christmas. This is much more than the cute plays we watch. God coming down to earth is HUGE and changes everything. God, himself, is showing he is willing to do what it takes to bring people into a place of salvation, the place of being in his presence here and now AND in the life to come. God coming down to earth is the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecies about the Day of the Lord (for us Second Coming of Christ) where everything will be set straight, and earth, as well as humanity,  will return to the paradise state of Eden.

What we want to look at today are the temptations Jesus experienced.

First of all, let us remember what the writer of the book of Hebrews said,“we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”[1]

This really should be all we would need to say, but the truth is (especially for our culture and mindsets today) we need to unpack the meaning of that verse. It is challenging for many people (believers and non-believers) to fully believe Jesus did not sin, let alone be tempted in “every” way we are. Yes, Jesus did live in a different culture and time period from us, but we should always remember human nature, desires, and temptations are still the same. How they manifest themselves may look different than what people experienced, even 100 years ago, but we all live through these same temptations even today.

To understand why Jesus was tempted, we have to first begin with his baptism. Luke does not say much about the baptism of Jesus, but what is said is very important to what happens later, and how Jesus lives his life and does his ministry. Here is what Luke says:

LUKE 3:21-22 NIV

21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

One of the important things we can often miss when we get into the story of Jesus’ baptism is the Trinity is at work and is noticeably visible. Jesus, the Son, goes into the water. As he comes up, the Holy Spirit comes in bodily form. Then we hear the voice of God the Father.

This is crucial to understanding what happens when we are baptized. It is not a saving act, but rather a relational act. Through baptism, we are acknowledging the work God has been doing within us, and we are publically declaring we now know we are part of the family of God. Baptism brings us into God’s family, and we are living in a new relationship. Just as the Trinity is the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the world, when we are baptized we witness the relational work of the Trinity within our own lives.

We go to the waters, as Jesus (who is with us), as we are baptized, the Holy Spirit seals and anoints you to a position in the Kingdom of Heaven and makes you a prince or princess. Can you sense the Father’s voice speaking to you saying, “You are mine. With you I am pleased.”?

THROUGH BAPTISM WE ARE BROUGHT INTO THE FAMILY OF GOD

But this also means we are brought into the mission of God here on earth. Jesus’ ministry began at his baptism, the public declaration of his mission and purpose. The same is true for us.

Jesus understands all that we go through in this life. He was/is God in flesh, Emmanuel, God with us; but he is also fully human (Jesus was fully divine AND fully human at the same time). He has a deep understanding that he does not live or work without the relationship of the Father and the Holy Spirit. He does not do everything himself.

Do we feel like we need to do everything, at times? Yes. Especially when beginning a new business or mission venture. But the truth is, the mission and business we are in are not ours. It is Christ’s, and we are his people, his representatives in the world. Everything we do in the mission and business has the great possibility to bring people to a relationship with God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is setting the example of what it means to be in a relationship with God, the Father. He is also setting the standard for not working on his own but in conjunction with what the Father is doing through the Holy Spirit. It is all about relationships. The relationship with God, his people, and his creation.

Jesus knows we have a need to be in a relationship with others. But he knows we have a deeper need to be understood, loved, and have a relationship with God, the Father, the Creator of the universe.

Here’s something we can miss. Just because we have entered into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, does not mean everything will be perfect in our lives. Remember Jesus came to our world, this world. Why do we insist on our own comfort and safety, all the time, when Jesus was homeless and was humiliated, mocked, beaten, even crucified? Jesus knows that for our relationship with God to be strong, we will be going through trials and temptations that test our resolve to follow God and his word.

After his baptism, he is led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted and tested by Satan, the devil purposefully. Why is this important?

JESUS RELEASES US FROM THE POWER OF TEMPTATION AND SIN

Let’s read the temptations and hear what they might say to us today.

READ LUKE 4:1-12

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was temptedby the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here.10 For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Notice what happens here. Satan comes to Jesus after Jesus had fasted (not eaten anything) for 40 days. Why didn’t the temptations come right after the baptism?

WE ARE TEMPTED/TESTED WHEN WE ARE AT OUR WEAKEST MOMENTS

Have you ever been around anyone who needs to eat, but hasn’t eaten? Have you met or encountered people who get “hangry” (the emotion of anger when you are hungry)?

Of course, we all have! This is why the snickers commercials are so appealing because they show us what happens if we do not get fed physically. Truthfully, if I forget to eat, or do not eat enough, I will get the same way.

If we have not gotten the proper nourishment for an extended period of time (food, love, affection, attention), we find we become “hangry.” In those moments, we are likely to do things we would not normally do or say things we would not normally say. It is in these times when we will be tempted the most to take charge and forget (not live into) God’s presence and Word that is with us always. The promise of Jeremiah is true, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”[2] There comes a time when we know (with our mind) that we belong to God; but when the physical, emotional, mental, relational needs are not met, then a new ruler of our hearts tries to take the throne and rule our lives in place of God.

Imagine the scene. You have just come through an incredible experience. You just got the job. You have found your mate for life. You have just become a parent. You have just experienced God for the first time in your life and have just realized he has been pursuing you all your life. Everything is great. For a time.

The high from the excitement will wear off and the reality of this world, this life comes back into focus. We have not been seeing the world as the rest of the world sees themselves. Instead, we have had the rose-colored glasses on that God had given us. There comes a time when we stop putting the glasses on and experience a time of feeling down (after the high has worn off).

This is when you can begin to feel the grip of Satan, the accuser, the devil, grasp your shoulders and pull you in close. You can hear the words, “If you truly trust and believe in God, then __________.” (Basically “prove it” by doing ________.) This is what is happening. It happens to all people.

We may not see a slithering serpent (as in Genesis 3) trying to lead us astray. We may not be whisked off to a distant land, not able to eat anything, and physically see Satan. But I bet we all hear the sound of his voice whispering in our ears trying to lead us against what God is doing in our lives. We all battle which thoughts to go with. We all listen to our own voice over God’s.

Do not be fooled into thinking we can “master” the tempter, the temptations we face all the time. Temptations have more power than we understand. Unless our minds can meditate on God and his word, we will think we can handle this on our own. If anyone says, “I am not tempted anymore,” that person has either succumbed to the temptations and have become so numb they cannot see the power the temptations hold. Or that person is dead. Remember 1 John 1:8 (NIV), “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

Jesus knew he could not stand strong without God, the Father, and the power of the Holy Spirit. He paid close attention to the words being twisted from scripture. He knew the only weapon to defeat the lies and temptations was to give truth through the scriptures by the power of the Holy Spirit. Look at what he said:

“It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”(Luke 4:4)

“It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” (Luke 4:8)

“It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Luke 4:12)

The temptations do not stop when we know and proclaim what the scripture says. We’ll keep hearing whispers of ideas that sound good, at first. But this is why we continue to rely on the power of God working in and through our lives.

A scripture that often gets misinterpreted is 1 Corinthians 10:13. “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” (NIV translation)

Notice, the verse does NOT say, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Rather the verse says that God will provide a way to endure the temptation. It says, “When you are tempted…”

Jesus knows we will all be tempted to be led astray from the movement of God in our lives. He knows that without the word of God, we cannot do the mission God has entrusted to us. Jesus knows how important relationships are for people and he desires us to live in the healthy relationships that will give us life, not suck the life or energy out of us.

We can be tempted to think that Jesus did not truly face the same temptations we face today. After all, it was a different time period. But the reality is, he did face the same temptations we face. We are just presented different manifestations of the temptations based on our context today.

We are always tempted to rely on our own hands, our own ability, our own work ethic, etc. to make things happen to make our life easier. This is what Jesus faced in the first temptation of hearing he could make stones turn into bread.

We all can be put in places and situations where we are going to have the desire to test God’s love for us. After all, IF he loves us, then he wouldn’t let anything bad happen to us, right? Jesus faced this as a temptation.

Side note: We can be freed from the grip the temptations have on us, but this doesn’t mean the consequences of following through the temptations will not still be present. If we’re not careful, we will live with the consequences of the sin for the rest of our lives. Broken relationships, loss of job, loss of self-worth, illnesses that could have been prevented. All because we decided to put things into our own hands, and “test” the chances of anything happening.

Jesus also knows we have the temptation to be famous, to rule over things and people. The real ruler of the world is Jesus, himself. Fame, power, greed, prestige, all come with a cost if we are not giving glory to the One who has given us life. When we place ourselves above God, then we think and believe we are God. For us, this is dangerous and leads us to a way of life that actually causes destruction instead of building the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth because we can become complacent and indifferent to the suffering world around us by trying to keep things as they are instead of working with God toward transformation and redemption.

What do we do when we succumb and give in to the temptations? Understand,

THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE FOR GRACE, REDEMPTION, AND TRANSFORMATION.

Hebrews 4:16 NIV says, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us out in our time of need.”

We are never too far off from God that we cannot be restored and redeemed (made right). We will all give in to the temptations we face in this life, but we do not have to let them continue holding a tight grip on us. We can be truly free from the temptations we face, and God is the source of our freedom, through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

James 4:7-8 (NIV) says, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” We see Jesus do this in Matthew 4 when he said, “Away from me, Satan!”[3]

Jesus knows EVERYTHING we go through in this life. He has walked it. He has lived it. So “when we do succumb to temptation, ‘approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy’ from the one who knew temptation.”

Allow God to remove the guilt from your life so we can learn of his great power and forgiveness. Stand firm in who God says you are, his “beloved with whom he is well pleased.” Live into this truth and always remember Jesus is with you because he knows what you go through, and is giving you everything, every power, you need to live this life.

All of this is so we can be part of the incredible mission God has for his family in the world.

Hear these words from the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians, “For it is by faith you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift from God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”[4]

 

Works Cited:

[1]Hebrews 4:15 NIV

[2]Jeremiah 31:33

[3]Matthew 4:10 NIV

[4]Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV

What’s Holding You Back?

“Why do people get uncomfortable talking about stewardship?” This was a question we talked about last week.

Last week we started a 3-week series on stewardship. We talked about not worrying about what we don’t have, or controlling our resources because everything we have is because of God and really is God’s anyway.

Here is a video that sums this concept up: 

Make sense?

We are all being challenged to look at where and how we utilize the resources (time, talents, gifts, money) God has given us. The topic of tithing was brought up. I know this is a topic most people do not like to hear about, but tithing really is important for our spiritual life. I mentioned that I believe people are more generous, for the most part, with the money given and time/talents used. It is easy to say, “10% is too much to give away,” but I bet if we really looked, we would see we are giving away 20% or more (especially if we count cash given). Now, the challenge is to look at where we are giving the money. We should always be asking, “is this going to help the Kingdom of Heaven? Or will this only be here for a very short time?”

This past week, I asked a group of people online, why don’t people give to the church? What was interesting is how most of the responses were about the people not liking the ministry or mission being done, so they withheld their money and said the church was not using the money wisely even though the church was being the church.

Our giving really does reflect how much we allow Christ to have control over our lives. As we pay attention to and assess our giving (in all areas of our life), let’s see where we are holding on to control.

Our passage today shows an interaction with a rich man and Jesus. He wanted to know how to have eternal life, but on his terms. His life was what was holding him back.

So, now we ask, “what holds us back from fully following Christ?”

READ SCRIPTURE: Mark 10:17-31 NIV

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it isto enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

There are a few things we have to pay attention to here:

First, the rich man called Jesus “Good Teacher” this means he already has respect for Jesus and his teachings.

How many of us have respect for Jesus’ teachings? If we think about it, Jesus never said, “Respect my teachings and live your life.” No, Jesus said the simple words, “Follow me.” This is the calling each of us has on our lives.

Sunday mornings are easy to profess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and respect what the pastor says in the sermons and during worship. But are our lives truly changed by the message of Jesus we hear on Sunday mornings? Is this reflected in the way we live our lives Monday morning?

We have to keep asking the question:

WHAT’S HOLDING YOU BACK?

In other words, how do we align our lives to reflect what we profess Sunday mornings? I know there are people who would hear these words and say, “I live my life for Jesus each and every day.” Still, others would say, “I live my life how I choose. This is why I don’t like ‘organized religion’. It’s just people trying to tell you how to live.” Have you heard or thought either of those responses?

When we profess Jesus Christ as our Savior, it is so much more than only respecting the words we hear and say each Sunday. It is about having all parts of who we are completely being transformed by the message, person, and Spirit of the Living Christ in the world and in our lives.

When we profess Jesus as our Lord, we make sure that, in everything, we give him the glory and recognition he deserves. We take the time to live our lives as Jesus lived, loving, serving and giving to the exact people who are different than us and whom we do not agree with.

Did you notice the rich man was looking for Jesus to tell him that he was a nice guy and was doing everything “right.” Notice, Jesus did not answer him the way desired. Instead, Jesus did was Jesus does best and asks him a question in return,

“Why do you call me good?”

Now if I were to ask you, what is “good?” I bet we would all hear many different things and the reasons behind them.

Why would we call Jesus “good”? Take a moment and write down, a thought, of why you would call Jesus “good”.

I often wonder if the rich man was trying to butter Jesus up by giving him a compliment, hoping a compliment would be given in return. Do we do this with Jesus? Do we do this with other people?

As we go through and hear the conversation between Jesus and the rich man, we notice the man’s inflated sense of himself and his character traits. What’s holding him back? His pride, in one respect. How many of us have been caught in the trap of not letting our pride get hurt?

Pride can do so much harm to our lives if not properly checked. He was trying to be told he was “good enough” just because he did not break a few of the commandments. Jesus took him deeper than the rich man was willing to go. He challenged the rich man to look at what he was lacking.

I am one of those people who continually reminds us not to focus on what we perceive to be lacking; but, instead, focus on what God is providing.

But this is a perfect example of how we should look at what it is we are lacking. Do we lack the desire to give up the control of our possessions and finances have on us to truly follow Jesus? This is an area I struggle with because the stuff I have makes my life easier in many ways. But dig into the question further.

Jesus is not only asking the rich man to sell everything he has, but he is challenging him to realize that “an unrestrained appetite for wealth or clinging too tightly to what we possess can hold us back and cause us paralysis in our following of Christ.”[1]

Just as the saying goes “you don’t see a U-Haul behind a hearse;” we understand that Jesus teaches we cannot be weighed down by what we have in order to follow him. We cannot be worried about our stuff so much that we do not fully and faithfully follow Jesus in our day to day lives.

Another way of putting it, “we do not work for the stuff we have, we work to make sure what we have is utilized for the Kingdom of God.”

Following Jesus is not as easy as we would want to make it out to be. It is more than just saying a simple prayer and leaving it at that. Following Jesus means we listen to what he says and follow him with nothing holding us back.

Throughout this entire exchange, we see Jesus speaking in extremes. Do you really think Jesus was asking the man to really sell everything he had? I don’t think so. Jesus was doing a heart assessment and the rich man did not like what Jesus said, so the man went away sad.

So, what is holding you back from fully following Jesus? How can we have the same excitement for a new TV, football game, clothes, etc. as we have for following Christ? What is something you possess (object, a feeling of pride, knowledge, etc) that is grabbing your attention more than Jesus is grabbing your attention?

I would be a big liar if I told you I had all of this together and nothing was holding me back. In many people’s eyes, pastors are supposed to be perfect people and have no issues. But the truth is, we are all human, all in need of grace, all in need of healthy relationships. We are all in this together.

This life is not easy. In fact, when Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”[2]He meant it.

But always remember and believe:

JESUS MAKES THE IMPOSSIBLE, POSSIBLE

We cannot try to get our way into God’s graces by “trying our best” or “being better than other people.” We can only get into heaven because of Jesus Christ.

It really is impossible to get into heaven by pleasing God because when we project something (action or person) as good, we are bringing God down to our own level. But instead, we should continually seek the Kingdom of God because God is the only One who can call something good and get it right.

We cannot do enough to get into God’s good graces on our own. But Jesus tells us, “With man, this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”[3]

When we give, we are demonstrating the work of the Holy Spirit within our lives. We are showing to the world, truthfully ourselves, that we are willing to do everything necessary to follow Jesus. We are showing that the only thing that has our complete devotion is, not our stuff or talents or anything like that, but that we only seek to follow Jesus in our daily lives.

When we give to the church, we have the opportunity to be part of the work of the collective Body of Christ in our community and around the world. Yes, the Gospel message is free to give; but the transmission and spreading of the Gospel message takes resources. There is a whole world looking to see churches fail. Many people are constantly trying to prove God is not real.

Do we ever wonder how we can show people that God is real? One big way is to give. Give away financial resources. Give away our time. Give away the talents and gifts God has given us. Give everything away possible because God is continually providing and pouring out his blessings and his presence on all of creation, especially his most valuable creations: you and me.

Bishop Robert Schnase puts it this way:

“Giving makes following God real. We can live a God-related life, or we can live without attention to God’s presence and will. The God-related life means our relationship with God influences all we do. When we seek to do the things God would have us do, including giving, our practice intensifies our love for the things God loves. Then the material possessions that can serve as a distraction or impediment to following Christ become an instrument for our serving Christ. Our material good, consecrated to God, nourish our desire to serve God. Generosity feeds our love for God.”[4]

Tom Chapman, in his book, Make All You Can Give All You Can, writes, “When God calls you to a major task, you will always have other options, and His plan is usually the most difficult one. Many times, it’s also the one that makes the least logical sense.”

We all have things that are holding us back from completely and fearlessly following Jesus every day and in every way of our lives. So, what is holding you back? For me, it really depends on the day and what I have going on and how much sleep I got the night before.

Last week we ended with a piece of Psalm 51. Today, let’s read verses 6-12 together as a form of prayer and praise to God for all the ways he is working in and through our life:

Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

As we go through this week, let nothing hold you back from following Jesus every day. Let your love for him be evident through your actions, words, and giving.

Seek Christ for the life he offers and pay attention to the people he loves and how he spends his time, energy, and resources. Praise God for how he is continually working in and through our lives for the transformation of the world!

 

WORKS CITED

[1]Schnase, Robert. “Practicing Extravagant Generosity: Daily Readings on the Grace of Giving”. Page 61

[2]Mark 10:25 NIV

[3]Mark 10:27b NIV

[4]Schnase, Robert. “Practicing Extravagant Generosity: Daily Readings on the Grace of Giving”. Page 62

Prepare: Daily Devotional for Advent

Click here for: Prepare – Devotions for Advent

Advent is soon approaching. How are you preparing to celebrate the Christ who came into the world and changed everything?

Christmas is much more than parties, giving gifts, and making everything perfect. Christmas is about celebrating and worshiping God, who came down to earth in the form of Jesus Christ.

This daily devotional begins on December 1 and helps prepare our hearts for the true meaning of Christmas.

I pray your Advent and Christmas season is filled with anticipation, hope, peace, joy, love. May the Holy Spirit come into your life and the Spirit of this season more real to you.

Click here for: Prepare – Devotions for Advent

Not For Sale

Click here to read Acts 8:5-25.

When you go to a garage sale, one of the first questions asked is “how much is _______?” We want to know how much it is going to cost us to get what we want.

There is a sweet couple who grow produce in their garden. The husband refuses to sell it. Instead, he wants to give it away.

Many people hear about God, the good news of Jesus Christ and the new life he offers, and think, “How can I earn this?” “What do I have to pay?”

We have this mindset to wonder how much something is going to cost us and we begin to figure out if it is worth the asking price.

Here’s the underlying truth about God’s grace. It cost him everything. It costs us nothing. God’s grace is FREE and undeserved. “You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed.” (Ephesians 2:8)

In the passage in Acts today, we look at the story of Simon the sorcerer. He sees all of the incredible acts (done by the Holy Spirit) Philip, and then the apostles Peter and John. He was so enamored at the attention they were receiving and realized he could not do what they could. He wanted what they have. So, he offered money to them to try and buy the “power” they possessed.

Think about how this can translate to us in our society today. There is a person who is peaceful and joyful in every situation. This person is one of the most respectful and respectable people in the community. They are in a position of authority and influence and their generosity is unmatched because business has been good. Then we find out this person is a follower of Jesus Christ.

This person can easily be admired, even to the point of others wanting what they have just to be recognized as a good person. So, this person tries to find a church and begins attending. The motives for joining the church (or really any organization) are impure because the underlying thought is “this will make be a better person so I can get the same respect and attention.”

God’s grace does not work this way. The power of the Holy Spirit is not given because we try to purchase it. The price was paid by God on the cross of Jesus Christ. He paid the price so we don’t have to. When we take the time to follow Jesus Christ, learn about who he is in the scriptures, and see how the whole revelation of God changes the world (read Genesis – Revelation), we can see the gift of grace is all because of God’s great love for us and his desire for us to be in good relationship with him and with other people.

I invite you to carefully consider motivations for being part of a group, organization, even church, to see if you are part of it because you want recognition, prestige, praise, etc. If this is you, take time to repent and turn you mind and heart to the things of God. When our heart is open to live into the grace that God freely gives, our lives are transformed from the inside out and we begin to experience life in an incredible way.

Or are you part of it because you sense a great desire to be truly molded into the image of our Creator and follow Jesus Christ with every step of our lives. If this is you, allow God to continue to keep your focus on him and his direction for your life. It will not always be easy; but true and full life is always ready to be lived in and through you.

This is something my wife and I consider daily. Some days are different than others. I’m sure yours are too.

Recognition & Generosity

Click here to read today’s text, Acts:5:1-16.

We live in a culture that makes us desire to look good and perfect in front of others. What this means is we are going to do everything we can to hide our faults, hide our weaknesses. Why do we want to be perfect? I think our pride, our desire to be liked, and our desire to be in relationship with others is what drives this “need.”

In the passage today, Ananias and Sapphira had witnessed Barnabas sell some property and people loved the action. Most likely, Ananias and Sapphira wanted to received this same kind of recognition and treatment. Does this sound like any people we know today? Receiving recognition really does not do anymore than feeding our ego so we can think we are somebody important.

If we take some time to assess our hearts whenever we give or whenever we do good works, we can see what our real motivation. Think about this. Why do we give our old clothes and worn out items to Goodwill? Many give because they want something new and the space is needed. Many give to make it seem like they are generous.

Generosity really is not giving our left-overs; but giving the best of what we have. If we were to truly be generous people, we would give away the things (food, clothing, items, time) that we could use for our personal consumption but know that another person will benefit more.

Our desire to be recognized for giving feeds our ego and gives us pride because we are doing something to “help others.” Ananias and Sapphira were in this same boat. They were trying to hide what they really had and only gave because they wanted to look good in front of the other people. They were not motivated by generosity; but, rather motivated by their pride and ego. Underlying all of this is really a lack of trust that God will provide what we need and we do not need to hold back to save for ourselves, especially if we have decided to be generous.

These are some harsh words to read in scripture. I imagine many people choose to skip this particular passage. My guess for why people would skip this passage is because it is something that God is desiring to work on in each of us and we don’t feel comfortable with the Holy Spirit convicting us.

Take joy in the fact you and I are being remade and recreated into the image God created us to be in. Take joy we go through inner conviction and turmoil so we can get to the place where God desires us. Take joy in the fact that when we allow God into our lives, his Holy Spirit works within us and transforms us. It is because of this transformation that great signs and wonders will be shown through our lives.

Because of the grace God has given us, we get to experience this incredible power in and through our lives and be part of the redemption of the world.

Stand Firm in Grace

Click here to read today’s scripture Acts 4:1-22.

Peter and John have been on the move proclaiming the gospel truth of Jesus Christ. There have been many lives who have accepted the message and many more that were infuriated with the message they proclaimed. Is this something you can relate to?

How would you do if you were called in front of a ruling class and had to answer for your faith? What would be your reaction if you were told you would have to stop professing faith in Christ? The truth is, many people around the world are still facing this kind of opposition. Whenever we proclaim the truth of Christ, there will be many who are excited and experience his presence and his grace and their life is transformed from the inside out. Still others, when faced with the truth of Christ, get nervous and hard-hearted because their way of life is being challenged. So, the message will fall on deaf ears and hearts.

There will be times when we do need to speak up about our faith. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it.” So now the question becomes not “how would you react if asked to answer to your faith;” but rather, “what will you say when people ask you about your hope in Jesus Christ?” See the difference? It changes from a reaction to being confident with the message you have been entrusted with.

One thing to be sure of is making sure the message you have to tell aligns with the teachings and life of Jesus Christ. Otherwise it is spoken without grace and causes hostility rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to bring people to faith in Christ.

The first thing we should do is be confident with the message. Your life is a message of grace when it is lived with Jesus Christ. God’s grace has been given to you so we do not have to worry or be afraid to speak. It is not about having just the right words; but rather knowing God and just speaking from your experience. All believers in Christ are called to be ministers of the gospel (1 Peter 2:9-10); and this means we have a great message to tell. We have been entrusted to share this message of grace wherever we are. God has entrusted us so we can be bold and be confident.

We do not do this alone. It is the Holy Spirit guiding us and giving us the words to speak when it is necessary. As stated above, as long as our intention is to be authentic and have a message aligned with the teachings and life of Jesus Christ, there is a good chance the message will be heard more, especially to those who are knowingly hurting. If we simply have to tell what we know and it doesn’t matter to us what the other person thinks. Then we are most likely speaking from our own guidance and not really listening to the Spirit’s guidance. Please let that sink in. We should always speak to exude grace, building people up and leading them to the throne of Christ, rather than tearing them down and saying what they’re doing wrong (Ephesians 4:29-32).

Finally above all, trust God. Believing in and following Christ does not make our life automatically easier; but we do have more joy, peace, and love within us. If we are lead to be in a particular place or speak with a particular person, trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding and will equip you.

Now, I invite you to process this. Ask yourself these questions and speak with God about them.

  1. Where do I rather trust myself and what I want to do instead of leaning on the grace God has given?
  2. What is the story of grace God is telling through my life?
  3. Who do I believe God is leading me to speak with about grace and life transformation?