Saturday, October 31, 2015

3 essentials for overcoming Temptation

Read Luke 4.

Few chapters reveal the deity and simultaneous humanity of Christ as this chapter.  If Jesus was not God, this spiritual encounter would have never taken place.  The comments and challenges of Satan would make no sense.  If Jesus were not human, the offers of Satan would not be temptations at all.  This is truly God in the flesh as John 1 describes.

Yet, all true followers of Jesus can identify with the temptations to sin.  Further, we may learn how to overcome temptation by Jesus' example.

1. Provision.  (vv.1-4)
Food is a basic human need.  The hunger was real.  After a 40 day fast, nourishment became life-saving.  The temptation was to misuse Jesus' ability, almost like a magic act.  In truth, He would have been doing the will of Satan.  The answer was that there is more to life than meeting a physical need.  Again, while food is crucial to sustain human life, if that one is not right with God they will still spend an eternity in torment and punishment.

God's provision was already on its way.  Matthew 4:11 states that when Satan left, angels came and ministered to Him.  This is the principle on which we stand.  Jesus said in Matthew 6 that we are not to worry about what we shall eat, or drink, or clothes to wear because our Heavenly Father already knows our needs.  In faith, we trust Him to take care of us by putting Him and His work first in our lives.

2. Power.  (vv.5-8)
Satan is a liar, a deceiver, and a destroyer of those who yield to him.  He has been allowed to exercise limited power on this earth.  His claim that the kingdoms of the world have been given to him and that he has the authority to give them to others is not true.  But all temptations are based upon a lying deception of a false fulfillment.  Again, this was an attempt to get the Son of God to do Satan's will.  The response from Jesus was not to argue against his statement but to refocus on the real issue.  There is only One who is to be worshiped and served.

The temptation was not true from the beginning.  The truth is that Jesus is the Creator of all things (Colossians 1) and He is the rightful Owner (Psalm 24:1).  As He said in Matthew 28:18, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."  Our response in times of temptation to sin is to remember the truth and practice our worship and service of God.

3. Protection.  (vv.9-12)
Again, this is an attempt to get Jesus to do his will and for Jesus to perform for him,  Interestingly, Satan knows and can even quote Scripture.  Is the passage from Psalm 91 true?  Yes.  But Jesus would have none of it.  His response that the Lord God was not to be put to the test ended the conversation.

God has promised to take care of us.  But, that does not include foolish decisions of presumption.  Is God able to rescue us from jumping off a cliff?  Yes, He is able.  But, He is more likely to allow us to suffer the consequences of our stupidity.

Three proactive steps in overcoming temptation:
1. Jesus never wavered from His purpose for being here.  Without understanding God's purpose for our lives, we will spend our days only in temporal activities.  
2. Jesus quoted Scripture.  God has given us His word in writing as the one and only offensive weapon for winning spiritual battles (Ephesians 6).  Learning and being able to call to remembrance exactly what God has said is vital.
3. Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit (v.1).  After the temptations, Jesus "returned in the power of the Spirit" (v.14).  He claimed that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him (v.18).  He ministered to the needs of others and taught in the power of the Holy Spirit (vv.22, 32 and 36).

How much more do we who seek to live for Jesus need these three things every moment of the day!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A call for public Commitment

Read Luke 3.

Thirty years have passed and we have no information about John, the Baptist from his birth until here.  He preached because "the word of the Lord came" to him (v.2).  His message was simple.  It was a call to repentance that would be evidenced by a change life.

John A. Martin wrote this insight into the quote from Isaiah: "When a king traveled the desert, workmen preceded him to clear debris and smooth out the roads to make his trip easier.  In Luke the leveling of the land was a figurative expression denoting that the way of the Messiah would be made smooth because through John a large number of people were ready to receive Jesus' message." (Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament Edition, p.211)

Being baptized in water pictured what had spiritually already taken place inside that individual; a burial of the old life and a resurrection to now live for God.  It was public so others would know that this one is no longer the same.

Because they were descendants of Abraham, many believed they were automatically in right standing with God.  They just needed, then, to keep up the outward demands of the Law.  But John, just like the prophets before him, reminded them that being right with God begins with a personal commitment from the heart.

John preached a coming judgment for those who did not repent and "bear fruits" of a changed life in keeping with their commitment to God.  He gave specific examples in verses 10-14 of what that may look like for certain individuals.

When he told them that their belief in "we have Abraham as our father" was not good enough, that got their attention.  Just as today, having believing parents, joining a church, going through certain rituals, and doing good deeds will not result in the forgiveness of sin and eternal life.  "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:12-13) 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Introducing Jesus

Read Luke 2.

At the birth of Jesus, there were several announcements and pronouncements.  Some of those were terrifying at first, while other statements were not immediately understood.

1. Shepherds at the barn. (vv.8-20)
A multitude of angels appeared to these men to announce Jesus' birth.  They were scared to death.  The lead angel first had to tell them "fear not."  This heavenly appearance was for "good news" and "praising God."  Immediately, the shepherds made their way to Bethlehem to see for themselves.  And, they, too, began "glorifying and praising God."

Those who heard the shepherds recount their experience were amazed.  Mary "treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart."  She heard what they said, but she could not fully comprehend it.  So, she continued to think about it and "weigh" it in her mind.

2. Simeon and Anna at the Temple. (vv.22-38)
By Old Testament Law, a baby boy was to be circumcised on the eighth day.  The mother was required to present herself 33 days later, after she had recovered from giving birth (Leviticus 12:3).  Simeon was another godly, praying priest in the Temple, looking for the Messiah.  When he saw Jesus, the Holy Spirit revealed to him that this is the One.  His words of blessing concerning God's salvation included the Gentiles!

Then, Anna, the elderly, praying widow began to praise God for "the redemption of Jerusalem."

Though Mary and Joseph heard these words, they "marveled" at them.

3. Jesus at the Temple. (vv.41-51)
At age twelve, Jesus traveled with all the other family members and friends to Jerusalem for the feast days.  How alarming for any parent when they believe they have lost a child.  "After three days," they found Jesus interacting with the lead teachers of the nation.  He not only held His own in the rabbinic discussions, but the teachers were "amazed" at Jesus' understanding.  When Mary and Joseph saw what was happening, "they were astonished."

Jesus reminded these earthly guardians that the Temple was His true "Father's house."

"They did not understand" what Jesus meant.  And, again, Mary "treasured up all these things in her heart."

If somethings in Scripture create a sense of wonder and amazement, you are experiencing the supernatural joy of God's word.  If certain passages cause you to think and meditate on their meaning and application, you are in very good company.

Friday, October 23, 2015

How can this Be?

Read Luke 1.

Luke was a medical physician of his day and traveled with the Apostle Paul.  There came a time when the Holy Spirit moved upon him to write down what he knew to be true concerning Jesus and then the early church with the book of Acts; totally, about 28% of the New Testament.  His gospel is the longest of the four by content and thematically he emphasizes the humanity of Christ.

Chapter one is power packed with miraculous events.  So much so, that twice an angel is asked, "How?" (vv.18 and v.34).

1. A miracle for Luke. (vv.1-4)
Dr. Luke was not one of the twelve Apostles.  So, how was it possible for him to be able to write such authentic and reliable information?  He did his homework.  He, evidently, had read what "many" others had written.  He listened to those who were "eyewitnesses and ministers" of the time.  He "followed closely" or investigated all these things "for some time."  But overriding all his personal research and findings was the movement and superintending work of the Holy Spirit.  The miracle was not just for Luke.  It was for the world to have this record.

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness..." (2 Timothy 3:16)

It is only by this miraculous work of God in Luke's life that this gospel could be proclaimed "that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught."

2. A miracle for Zechariah. (vv.5-25 and 67-80)
This elderly, faithful, and godly couple were childless.  But God had plans for them.  While representing the nation of Israel in prayer within the Temple, an angel appeared to foretell the birth of John, the Baptist.  How is that possible (v.18)?   It was beyond belief that these two, well-past the age of a pregnancy, would have a baby.  The miracle was not just for them.  It was for the world to be prepared for the appearance of the Messiah.

The coming Messiah had been on Zechariah's heart and in his prayers.  In the closing verses of the chapter, the old man broke out in a song of praise for answered prayer.  Their child "will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of sins..."(vv.76-77)

3. A miracle for Mary. (vv.26-66)
All we know about  to this point is her family lineage, her virginity, and her engagement to be married.  But God had plans for her.  Gabriel appeared to announce the birth of the Son of God (not Joseph's), one who would sit on the royal throne of his human ascendant David.  How could such a virgin birth ever happen (v.34)?  God chose to use this chaste, young woman for a miracle.  It was not just about her.  It was for the entire world to have a Savior.

Indeed, in her song, like everyone else, she acknowledged her own need for forgiveness of sin.  "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior" (vv.46-47).  She knew the promises from the Old Testament.  "He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever." (vv.54-55)

How does the miraculous happen?  It is beyond human explanation.  The angel Gabriel provided the answer.  "For nothing will be impossible with God." (v.37)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

3 personal responses to the Resurrection

Read Mark 16.

"When the Sabbath was past..."  The Sabbath is from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown.  Genesis 2:2-3 states, "And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.  So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation."   Later, resting on the Sabbath from work was incorporated into the Old Testament Law.

The resurrection took place on Sunday morning, the first day of the week.  In 1 Corinthians 16:2 it appears to be a given that followers of Jesus gathered on Sunday.  It is not a day of rest but of ministry.  There is much to do.

When the women came to the tomb, they did not expect a risen Messiah.  The mixed emotions of bewilderment, trembling, fear and joy overwhelmed them.  The angel's words brought comfort and confirmation of the identity of Jesus, as God in the flesh.  Everything Jesus had taught concerning Himself had come true.  With some allowance, his next words are applicable to us.

1. "You seek Jesus"
Some who claim to be Christians only think about the Lord on Sundays.  Though a true believer has found a personal and eternal relationship with Jesus, if we are to grow in our faith, we need to seek His will and way daily.  These women did not seek Him alone but together.  The church is a gathered group of believers seeking to encourage each other in the faith.  "...not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." (Hebrews 10:25)

2. "See..."
The angel's announcement could have been good enough.  But he invited the women to personally see for themselves the evidence of the resurrection.  A growing disciple of Jesus understands the necessity of reading and studying the evidence of our faith daily.  Christian books and other encouraging resources may be helpful, but there is no substitute for consistent, life-changing time invested in opening one's Bible and seeing the truth for ourselves.

3. "Go, tell..."
These women were the first to share the good news.  The message they told was not what someone else said.  It was what they saw and heard for themselves.  Every person who has experienced personal salvation in Christ has a story to tell.  It is not a story of our religion, our church, or our group.  It is the wonderful story of Jesus and what He has done for us.  "To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."  (Acts 10:43)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Disciples behind the Scenes

Read Mark 15.

While the selected disciples all fled and forsook Jesus, the Bible tells of others who filled the void.

1. Simon of Cyrene. (v.21)
The location of Cyrene was on the north coast of Africa.  Today, it is part of Libya.  The man had journeyed some distance in order to arrive in time for the Passover.  Simon's involvement appears to be a random act by the Roman soldiers.  The fact that Simon's sons are mentioned may indicate that this family were Jewish believers and known to the disciples.

2. The Centurion. (v.39)
This Roman officer watched Jesus die and experienced the surrounding events of the earthquake, darkness, etc.  How much he knew and personally believed by his statement here is unknown.  But the truth of what he said stands.  And, he stated it loud enough for others to hear it.  As Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16:17, "For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven."

3. Mary Magdalene. (v.40 and 16:9)
Magdala was in the northern province of Galilee.  Mary had been possessed by seven demons.  Then, she met Jesus.  As part of the crowd, she followed Him to Jerusalem for the feast days.  She ministered to Him in His life and now she would be there for His death and resurrection.

5. Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses. (v.40 and 16:1)
Often called "the other Mary,"  She, and apparently her sons too, followed and served the material needs of the disciples.

6. Salome. (v.40 and 16:1)
She was the mother of James and John and had followed Jesus for sometime.  She is famous for her request in Matthew 20 that her sons have the chief seats next to Jesus in the coming kingdom.  Salome, also, came willing to serve in the burial process of Jesus.

7. Many other women. (v.40)
This is a group for the most part unnamed, believing women who faithfully followed and served our Lord.  In Luke 8:1-3, some are identified as those who had been healed.  Joanna was the wife of Herod's household manager.  And, "many others, who provided for them out of their means."  As the disciples traveled and ministered, food and financial support came from these godly ladies.

8. Joseph of Arimathea. (vv.43-46)
This could not have been a popular move on his part.  He was "a respected member of the council."  His daring involvement indicated that not all on the Sanhedrin agreed with the mistreatment of Jesus.  Joseph had the positional influence in order to ask for Jesus' body.  He also possessed wealth to be able to have such a tomb.  In an act of faith and generosity, he gave it to Jesus.  Mark points out that it was Joseph who purchased the linen shroud for the burial.

These and many other quiet workers behind the scenes have always been the backbone of any ministry.  While the preacher and the persons "up front" receive the notoriety, there is a huge requirement of others to support with their time and resources.  This does not go unnoticed by our heavenly Father who will reward each one according to their service for Him.  Jesus taught that "many who are first will be last, and the last first." (Matthew 19:30)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The ups and downs of Discipleship

Read Mark 14.

No one lives life on a straight plane and certainly not on a constant upward slope of spiritual growth.  In the Christian life, we all experience highs and lows, good days and other times, successes and failures.  It was no different with the original followers whom Jesus selected.

This chapter demonstrates the humanity of the disciples in its rawest form.
1. Obedience.
High.  Jesus told them what to do.  They believed Him and did it.  Simple.

2. Commitment
High.  When Jesus prepared them again as to the trouble ahead, He mentioned that they would all scatter and deny they knew Him.  In verse 31, Peter's statement is a noble one and all the rest joined in a promise of loyalty to the death.

3. Praying.
Low.  In both His humanity and His deity, Jesus was feeling the extreme stress of becoming sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Jesus asked for the human support of  His friends and the spiritual support of watchfulness and prayer during this spiritual battle.  But in verses 37-38, the disciples were asleep on the job.

4. Desertion.
Low.  "And they all left him and fled." (v.50).  This was not their finest hour.  One young follower was so scared that he ran away naked (v.51-52).  Most believe this youngster to be Mark himself.

5. Repentance.
Getting up.  The closing verses of chapter 14 recounts Peter's denials, just as Jesus had predicted.  We need to keep in mind that none of the disciples stood up for Jesus during His trials.  When the reality hit of what he had done, Peter's heart was broken and he wept bitterly for his disloyalty to Christ.  "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret." (2 Corinthians 7:10)

There is no discipleship without personal discipline.

Every day, the Apostle Paul fought to spiritually discipline himself.    "So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand....Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord."  (Romans 7:21-25)

When we are up, His grace can sustain us.  When we are down, His grace and forgiveness are waiting to lift us back up.

Friday, October 16, 2015

While we Wait

Read Mark 13.

Peter, James, and John privately asked two questions of Jesus concerning the end times.  When will it be and what will be the indicators?  Jesus answered them in reverse order.

There is coming an unprecedented time of world-wide tribulation (v.19).  The good news is that after that time Jesus will visibly and powerfully return to earth (vv.24-27).  This is further described in the second half of Revelation 19.  Jesus went on to say concerning the timing "no one knows."  Luke quoted Jesus in Acts 1:7, "It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority."  So, when someone proclaims that they know, they are claiming knowledge and authority in opposition to the Scriptures and usurping the authority of God, the Father.  Indeed, they will be revealed as false prophets.

In the meantime, while we wait...
1. What are followers of Jesus to do?
Jesus said in verse 10, "And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations."  After 2000 years that mission remains unfulfilled.  The tireless missions' efforts of translating the Bible in all earth's languages and communicating the good news continues.  But still many people groups have not heard and do not have access to the truth.  We have work to do.

2. What are we to know?
Despite the changing times, diversities of cultures, and world developments, one thing remains constant.  Jesus said in verse 31, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."  The Word of God is always under attack and dismissed by many as irrelevant in an attempt to justify their sin.  But this is the unchanging standard by which every human being who ever lived will one day be judged.  Twice Jesus warned, "See that no one leads you astray" (vv.5 and 22).  Followers of Jesus may stand firm and with confidence of the truth.

3. What are we to be?
v.9-Be on your guard
v.23-Be on your guard
v.33-Be on your guard, keep awake
v.35-Stay awake
v.37-Stay awake
How many times does He need to remind us?  Obviously, a lot.

"Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."  (1 Peter 5:8)

Saturday, October 10, 2015

3 Final Questions

Read Mark 12.

Religious leaders of the day took turns in attempts to accuse Him of some punishable statement (v.12).  Though Jesus repeatedly demonstrated His true identity, the hardness of their hearts refused to accept Him as the Messiah.

1. The positional question. (vv.1-11)
This context begins in 11:27, with the chief priests, scribes, and elders.  These men were all about positional leadership.  It threatened them greatly that one not under their authority, such as John, the Baptist and now Jesus, would teach and serve great crowds of people without them.  John and Jesus did not received education from their system, nor were they authorized by the Temple leadership.

In response, Jesus told this parable.  The owner has full authority over what belongs to him.  Those he placed in charge of his property have accountability to the owner.  This is a very thinly veiled reference to these religious leaders and their lack of stewardship responsibilities for the nation on God's behalf.  God, the Owner, will reject these who have rejected His Son, and open the spiritual stewardship to others.

They were so selfishly protective of their positions that they failed to fulfill their Scriptural duties.  They should have been the ones to lead the nation in recognizing and worshiping Jesus as the promised Messiah, as Zechariah, the Temple priest, did in Luke 1:67-79.

2. The political question.  (vv.13-17)
Next, the Pharisees, who were the legalists, along with the Herodians, who were supporters of the Herods, came.  This was a strange alliance between these two groups.  But, if Jesus were not politically correct, then, perhaps, the Romans could arrest Jesus as some rebel, teaching people to disobey the government.

Jesus' responded with a shrewd bit of wisdom that rebuked both groups.  The Pharisees were more interested in their traditions than the Word of God.  The Herodians were more enamored with the ruling political family than God Himself.  Obeying human law is one thing.  Obviously, neither group was giving God His rightful place in their hearts.

3. The theological question. (vv.18-27)
Much like the liberals of today, the Sadducees spent time discussing silly issues and dismissing the authority of the Word of God.  This question of marriage reveals the error of their human reasoning.  Jesus rebuked this group stronger than the others.  He twice bluntly said, "you are wrong,"  How did these phony religious leaders get to this erroneous place?  "Because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God."

If they had been students of the Scriptures, instead of following human thought...
If they had surrendered themselves to God, instead of their group...
They would have experienced the power of a changed life and worshiped the great I AM who stood before them.

With that the questions stopped (v.37).

Friday, October 9, 2015

Jesus as fruit Inspector

Read Mark 11.

Jesus had made His way into Jerusalem being heralded with songs and shouts, praising God.  It was time for the Passover Feast and the city was crowded.  In verse 11, "he had looked around at everything," evidently sizing up what needed to be forthrightly addressed.  The next day, things began to change.

1. The cursing of the tree. (vv.12-14)
On the surface, this incident does not make sense.  Jesus knew there was no fruit on that tree.  In fact, the Scripture states that it was not the season for figs.  Yet, He pronounced that the tree would never bear fruit again.  The very next morning, the tree had "withered away to its roots." (v.20)

Obviously, Jesus was trying to communicate something greater by this demonstration.  The Old Testament prophets often compared Israel to a fig tree.  See Hosea 9:10 and 16.  There the LORD judged them for their lack of fruit.  In Jeremiah 8:12-13, the nation's lack of repentance from their sin is compared to a fig tree with no fruit.

The nation of Israel was producing no spiritual fruit.  But, they were ripe for judgment.

2. The cleansing of the Temple. (vv.15-19)
Of all places, the Temple at the time of the Passover celebration should have been the world's center for spiritual fruit.  But instead, the people were treated as objects of unjust gain.  The Temple officials were more concerned about profit than the Word and worship of God.  They forced worshipers to exchange their money to Temple money, for a fee.  Then, there was nothing wrong with trying to help those who needed an animal to sacrifice.  To inspect animals for suitability was ordered under the Law.  But to price-gouge was so sinful that Jesus intervened.

In righteous indignation, Jesus over turned the tables of the money-changers and drove out the animals of those who were cheating the people.  After all, this place belonged to God.  Those sellers had no relationship with God and not business in His Father's house.  John's Gospel (2:17) includes that the disciples connected this incident with Psalm 69:9-"For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me."

3. The challenging of the religious leaders. (vv.27-26)
These were the very men who should have been teaching the people God's Word, making leadership decisions based upon the Scriptures, and relying solely on that for their authority.  But instead of serving the nation in order to bear spiritual fruit, they had become the source of the nation's spiritual barrenness.

How dare Jesus to walk in and destroy their lucrative business in the Temple?  By what authority could He think He could get away with this?  Jesus' response was to asking a spiritually revealing question.  The religious leaders of the nation never considered answering truthfully!  Instead, they looked for the popular answer.  As politicians do under pressure, they tried to table it, even though they had made up their minds.  By doing so, they stood self-condemned.  It was not a trap question from Jesus but an opportunity for them to confess Jesus as LORD.
Jesus is inspecting our lives for spiritual results.
Later that week, Jesus addressed spiritual fruitfulness with His disciples.  "By this my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples." (John 15:8)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

What must I do to have eternal Life?

Read Mark 10.

Jesus was teaching outside with the crowds and then privately with the twelve.  But as they leaving, walking toward Jericho, something unusual took place.  A wealthy young man approached Jesus.  It was not a casual meeting; the man ran to Jesus.  Though obviously a man of position in the community, he knelt before Jesus.

1. He showed a sense of desperation.
He had plenty of stuff, but something was missing on the inside.  He came because he knew Jesus to be a wise teacher.  The question that plagued him and caused him to cast aside his dignity in public was how a person may attain eternal life?  Every person wants to know the answer.  Some have tried to ignore it.  Some have made up their own answer, as if they knew better than God.  But when a person reaches a point of desperation, they will listen.

He referred to Jesus as good and the response was that none are good but God (Romans 3:23).   So, do you see Jesus as more than a wise teacher?  The first issue  to address in answering the question is "This is not what you do, but who I am."  Then, Jesus took on the second part of his question.  "Well, if you want to do something, did you try keeping the commandments?"

2. He lived a disciplined life.
The Scriptures were important to him.  He had done his best to perform all he knew to do.  However, it was not enough.  Something was still missing.  He sensed he was not right with God.

Jesus looked at him.  Jesus saw beyond the clothing, jewelry, and the success of this man.
Jesus love him.  Here is a man who outwardly practiced all he had been taught to do.  Surely, his friends thought if anyone can make it, he can.  But Jesus saw the obstacle, the hindrance in his heart.  It was that one thing that blocked his having eternal life.  He had another god.

Matthew 6: 24-"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money."

This rich young man wanted to keep his wealth as the god he worshiped and have eternal life.  But the LORD of heaven will not share His throne with anyone or anything.  The issue was not the money but the priorities of his heart.  Jesus knew that and called him on it.  Instead of recognizing God's ownership of all things and living his life as a faithful steward of God's stuff, he claimed ownership in God's place as a so-called self-made success.

3. He left a disheartened man.
As much as he seemed to desire eternal life and to be right with God, he could not bring himself to give up what he could not keep to gain what he could not lose.  Mr. Success walked away sorrowful.

This is where the real teaching began.  If this guy cannot make it, "Who then can be saved?"  It is not possible on our own.  We have all tried and we can never be good enough.  It is only possible by forsaking all that hinders us from freely and fully receiving the unmerited favor of God through faith in Jesus.  It is not what we can do, but what He has done!  "But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become the children of God," (John 1:12)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Where is the Power?

Read Mark 9.

The Apostle Paul wrote, "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (Romans 11:33)

Even for the most diligent follower of Christ, it takes time and repeated hearing to begin to understand what God is saying to us.  After years of studying His word, we still can gain new insights and fresh applications for our lives.  In 8:31, Jesus foretold of His suffering, death and resurrection.  He repeated it in 9:9.  But Peter, James, and John did not understand, "questioning what this rising from the dead might mean." (v.10)  Spiritual growth is a never ending process.  It is evidenced in this chapter.

As the four of them came down from the mountain, they witnessed the other disciples arguing with the scribes.  A young boy could not speak and experienced seizures.  But there was more. The convulsions were violent to the point of self-destruction.  The disciples perceived that this was more than a physical or mental condition.  Demonic possession had become evident.

Previously, when Jesus had called and sent out the twelve, He empowered them to preach and "heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons." (Matthew 10:8).  But their attempts to help in this case went were in vain.  Then, came Jesus with His assessment and instruction.

1. No faith. (v.19)
Jesus did not hide His frustration with those who surrounded Him.  They should have known better.  The scribes, scholars of the Old Testament, should have perceived the situation and depended on the power of God.  The disciples should have remembered their calling and empowerment.  For them it was a crisis of their faith.  Do we truly believe God in every situation?

2. No ifs. (vv.22-24)
This is not an example of "if it be Thy will", looking toward the result of prayer.  This kind of "if" questions the character of God and His goodness.  This "if" questions the ability of God to help in time of need.  The strong statement by Jesus erases those types of "ifs".  "All things are possible for the one who believes."  Why would God answer the prayers of those who do not think He can help?

What a transparent admission by this hurting dad!  "I believe; help my unbelief!"  We all have been there.  We do trust God and we do know He can do all things.  But, in the midst of a crisis and pain we realize there is room to grow in our faith and to trust Him more.

3. No prayer. (vv.28-29)
The disciples saw the spiritual war yet wanted to know why they were powerless in helping this boy.  Jesus' answer seems to indicate that His followers tried to solve the issue on their own, instead of seeking God's power in prayer.  Yes, the Holy Spirit has gifted each believer to serve the Lord successfully.  But the empowerment is not in our abilities.  Our strength is not in our knowledge.  In John 15:5 Jesus spoke plainly to them: "...for apart from me you can do nothing."

Friday, October 2, 2015

Discipleship 101

Read Mark 8.

Jesus taught, revealed, and demonstrated His true identity as God in the flesh.  Progressively, He told why He came and what would eventually happen to Him.  However, the twelve did not immediately understand the full implications.

Yes, they responded to Jesus' call.  They heard His authoritative teaching.  They witnessed the many miracles.  But, in verse 15 when Jesus warned them about the dangers (leaven, 1 Corinthians 5:6-8) of legalism and politics, they did not understand.  The disciples were focused on physical needs and missed the spiritual point Jesus was making.

Then, even after the Holy Spirit helped the disciples declare aloud who Jesus is, they still did not understand why He came.  Jesus told them plainly, exactly, who and what would take place, including His resurrection.  Instead of being in awe, Peter voiced strong rebuke against Jesus.  Such opposition on a spiritual level has only one source and that is Satan.  It is his scheme to try to thwart any plan of God.  On a human level, it was a selfish response on Peter's part.  He did not want to entertain the thought of losing Jesus.

It was time for the next lesson on what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
1. Give up. (vv.34-35)
The cross was an instrument of death.  Salvation in Christ only takes place when a person realizes they cannot save themselves.  When the Holy Spirit points them to Jesus as the only hope of forgiveness of their sin and eternal life, changes will happen.  Death to self means a new life as a believer.  If you want to save your life, lose it.  Complete and total surrender to Jesus and gospel is the only acceptable definition of a follower of Christ.  This new life requires living in total dependence on Him.

2. Give in. (vv.36-37)
Throughout life we make exchanges.  We exchange our time for a paycheck.  We exchange our money for possessions, goods, and services.  Materialism leads one to believe that the measure of a successful life is in how much of those things we have accumulated.  Jesus' questions cause us to see what is really important.  One day we will leave that stuff behind.  It is all temporal and none of it can meet our eternal, spiritual needs.

3. Give out. (v.38)
If Jesus has changed your life, say so.  In verse 35, Jesus stated that a follower of His loses his life for "my sake and the gospel's".  In this sinful world, we who know Jesus are the only ones who have really good news to communicate.  We have been called to be "ambassadors for Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:20) telling others what we have personally experienced (Acts 4:18-20).

Unbelievers hold tightly to the things of this world, as if that could bring them comfort and hope.  Followers of Jesus use the things of this world in order to further communicate a sincere comfort and a lasting hope.