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Eight days ago I published a blog post titled, “Getting Unstuck,” which has to do with an absolutely crucial element in a Christian’s life–perseverance. And it’s not just a perseverance that comes and goes, but a perseverance that sticks around and keeps on growing right up until the day we die. It’s a perseverance that is neither timid nor shy. And it was Jesus who told us to “always pray and never give up” in the Parable of the Persistent Widow no matter what comes our way in life (see Luke 18:1-8). “Getting Unstuck” is about perseverance in the midst of a bad situation that seems totally unsolvable from human perspective. However, with God, absolutely nothing is impossible (see Job 42:2, Matthew 19:26; Luke 1:37, 18:27; Mark 10:27). Nothing. . . .
There is another absolutely crucial element in a Christian’s life that we often only give a surface glance at in our day-to-day lives. It is not so much about our circumstances and situations as it is in our attitudes and our focus in life. We tend to think (especially here in America) that we are on the right track with God if we are outwardly successful; have a cadre of Christian friends around us; live in a nice home in the suburbs; attend church regularly; sing worship songs on Sunday morning; and wouldn’t it be great to add “New York Times Bestselling Author” (or “fill in that blank” with something you really, really, really want) to that list, too. We judge others by their outward appearance; how successful they are; how they dress and what kind of car they drive; maybe how wealthy they are or at least appear to be, too; who they know, and how we can rub shoulders with those who are seen to be important. Never do we look at the homeless person on the street corner with such admiration, and maybe we even wonder (if we wonder at all when we see them) what happened in their lives to cause them to be homeless. And we might wonder how they could possibly be Christian given their circumstances. We judge by outward appearances and success, and if someone doesn’t look successful or has little in the way of earthly possessions or value in our estimation, we just ignore them. After all, we often equate God’s favor with outward success (material and professionally).
Enter Job. Job was one of the wealthiest men in his day back in the Old Testament. Let’s take a look at how Job’s life is described in the first couple of chapters in Job (Job 1:1-3:1):
In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. He was the greatest man among all the people of the East.
His sons used to hold feasts in their homes on their birthdays, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. When a period of feasting had run its course, Job would make arrangements for them to be purified. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, “Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular custom.
One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”
Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your power, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord.
One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys were grazing nearby, and the Sabeans attacked and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The fire of God fell from the heavens and burned up the sheep and the servants, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said, “The Chaldeans formed three raiding parties and swept down on your camels and made off with them. They put the servants to the sword, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
While he was still speaking, yet another messenger came and said, “Your sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine at the oldest brother’s house, when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.”
In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
On another day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. And the Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”
Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”
“Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”
So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.
His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”
He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”
In all this, Job did not sin in what he said.
When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.
After this, Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.
One day Job was one of the wealthiest men on earth, and he had everything he could possibly want or dream of having: a wife, many children, servants, cattle, his health, many possessions; and in very short order, he lost everything except for his wife (who, as we read above, was no help at all) and he was, in a word, homeless. And clearly from what we read above, it was God who allowed all of it to happen to Job. Yes, God allowed it to happen to Job to fulfill His purpose in Job’s life (but it did not happen by God’s hand but by the hand of Satan).
Let that sink in for a moment. . . .
This battle is between God and Job, and it took Job a long time to see what he needed to see about God, and about himself, before God finally resolved the situation in Job’s life. For many chapters (Chapters 3-31) there is dialogue between Job and his three friends mentioned above that essentially goes nowhere, then a young man, Elihu, enters the picture in Chapters 32, and in the first few sentences he points out Job’s error (Job 32:1-5):
So these three men stopped answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. But Elihu son of Barakel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, became very angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God. He was also angry with the three friends, because they had found no way to refute Job, and yet had condemned him. Now Elihu had waited before speaking to Job because they were older than he. But when he saw that the three men had nothing more to say, his anger was aroused.
Job was righteous in his own eyes, and he justified himself rather than God. Ehilu speaks on God’s behalf for five chapters (Job 32-37), but Job still doesn’t get it. And then God speaks to Job out of a storm for the next three chapters (Job 38-41), and Job has a brief response about two-thirds of the way through God’s speaking to Job (Job 40:3-5). Here is Job 38-41:
Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:
2 “Who is this that obscures my plans
with words without knowledge?
3 Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
Tell me, if you understand.
5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 On what were its footings set,
or who laid its cornerstone—
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?
8 “Who shut up the sea behind doors
when it burst forth from the womb,
9 when I made the clouds its garment
and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it
and set its doors and bars in place,
11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
here is where your proud waves halt’?
12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
or shown the dawn its place,
13 that it might take the earth by the edges
and shake the wicked out of it?
14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
its features stand out like those of a garment.
15 The wicked are denied their light,
and their upraised arm is broken.
16 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been shown to you?
Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all this.
19 “What is the way to the abode of light?
And where does darkness reside?
20 Can you take them to their places?
Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
21 Surely you know, for you were already born!
You have lived so many years!
22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
or seen the storehouses of the hail,
23 which I reserve for times of trouble,
for days of war and battle?
24 What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed,
or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
25 Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
and a path for the thunderstorm,
26 to water a land where no one lives,
an uninhabited desert,
27 to satisfy a desolate wasteland
and make it sprout with grass?
28 Does the rain have a father?
Who fathers the drops of dew?
29 From whose womb comes the ice?
Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
30 when the waters become hard as stone,
when the surface of the deep is frozen?
31 “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades?
Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons
or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
33 Do you know the laws of the heavens?
Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?
34 “Can you raise your voice to the clouds
and cover yourself with a flood of water?
35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who gives the ibis wisdom
or gives the rooster understanding?
37 Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?
Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens
38 when the dust becomes hard
and the clods of earth stick together?
39 “Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
and satisfy the hunger of the lions
40 when they crouch in their dens
or lie in wait in a thicket?
41 Who provides food for the raven
when its young cry out to God
and wander about for lack of food?
39 “Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?
2 Do you count the months till they bear?
Do you know the time they give birth?
3 They crouch down and bring forth their young;
their labor pains are ended.
4 Their young thrive and grow strong in the wilds;
they leave and do not return.
5 “Who let the wild donkey go free?
Who untied its ropes?
6 I gave it the wasteland as its home,
the salt flats as its habitat.
7 It laughs at the commotion in the town;
it does not hear a driver’s shout.
8 It ranges the hills for its pasture
and searches for any green thing.
9 “Will the wild ox consent to serve you?
Will it stay by your manger at night?
10 Can you hold it to the furrow with a harness?
Will it till the valleys behind you?
11 Will you rely on it for its great strength?
Will you leave your heavy work to it?
12 Can you trust it to haul in your grain
and bring it to your threshing floor?
13 “The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully,
though they cannot compare
with the wings and feathers of the stork.
14 She lays her eggs on the ground
and lets them warm in the sand,
15 unmindful that a foot may crush them,
that some wild animal may trample them.
16 She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers;
she cares not that her labor was in vain,
17 for God did not endow her with wisdom
or give her a share of good sense.
18 Yet when she spreads her feathers to run,
she laughs at horse and rider.
19 “Do you give the horse its strength
or clothe its neck with a flowing mane?
20 Do you make it leap like a locust,
striking terror with its proud snorting?
21 It paws fiercely, rejoicing in its strength,
and charges into the fray.
22 It laughs at fear, afraid of nothing;
it does not shy away from the sword.
23 The quiver rattles against its side,
along with the flashing spear and lance.
24 In frenzied excitement it eats up the ground;
it cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds.
25 At the blast of the trumpet it snorts, ‘Aha!’
It catches the scent of battle from afar,
the shout of commanders and the battle cry.
26 “Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom
and spread its wings toward the south?
27 Does the eagle soar at your command
and build its nest on high?
28 It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night;
a rocky crag is its stronghold.
29 From there it looks for food;
its eyes detect it from afar.
30 Its young ones feast on blood,
and where the slain are, there it is.”
40 The Lord said to Job:
2 “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
Let him who accuses God answer him!”
3 Then Job answered the Lord:
4 “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
5 I spoke once, but I have no answer—
twice, but I will say no more.”
6 Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm:
7 “Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
8 “Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?
9 Do you have an arm like God’s,
and can your voice thunder like his?
10 Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor,
and clothe yourself in honor and majesty.
11 Unleash the fury of your wrath,
look at all who are proud and bring them low,
12 look at all who are proud and humble them,
crush the wicked where they stand.
13 Bury them all in the dust together;
shroud their faces in the grave.
14 Then I myself will admit to you
that your own right hand can save you.
15 “Look at Behemoth,
which I made along with you
and which feeds on grass like an ox.
16 What strength it has in its loins,
what power in the muscles of its belly!
17 Its tail sways like a cedar;
the sinews of its thighs are close-knit.
18 Its bones are tubes of bronze,
its limbs like rods of iron.
19 It ranks first among the works of God,
yet its Maker can approach it with his sword.
20 The hills bring it their produce,
and all the wild animals play nearby.
21 Under the lotus plants it lies,
hidden among the reeds in the marsh.
22 The lotuses conceal it in their shadow;
the poplars by the stream surround it.
23 A raging river does not alarm it;
it is secure, though the Jordan should surge against its mouth.
24 Can anyone capture it by the eyes,
or trap it and pierce its nose?
41 [h]“Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook
or tie down its tongue with a rope?
2 Can you put a cord through its nose
or pierce its jaw with a hook?
3 Will it keep begging you for mercy?
Will it speak to you with gentle words?
4 Will it make an agreement with you
for you to take it as your slave for life?
5 Can you make a pet of it like a bird
or put it on a leash for the young women in your house?
6 Will traders barter for it?
Will they divide it up among the merchants?
7 Can you fill its hide with harpoons
or its head with fishing spears?
8 If you lay a hand on it,
you will remember the struggle and never do it again!
9 Any hope of subduing it is false;
the mere sight of it is overpowering.
10 No one is fierce enough to rouse it.
Who then is able to stand against me?
11 Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
Everything under heaven belongs to me.
12 “I will not fail to speak of Leviathan’s limbs,
its strength and its graceful form.
13 Who can strip off its outer coat?
Who can penetrate its double coat of armor?
14 Who dares open the doors of its mouth,
ringed about with fearsome teeth?
15 Its back has rows of shields
tightly sealed together;
16 each is so close to the next
that no air can pass between.
17 They are joined fast to one another;
they cling together and cannot be parted.
18 Its snorting throws out flashes of light;
its eyes are like the rays of dawn.
19 Flames stream from its mouth;
sparks of fire shoot out.
20 Smoke pours from its nostrils
as from a boiling pot over burning reeds.
21 Its breath sets coals ablaze,
and flames dart from its mouth.
22 Strength resides in its neck;
dismay goes before it.
23 The folds of its flesh are tightly joined;
they are firm and immovable.
24 Its chest is hard as rock,
hard as a lower millstone.
25 When it rises up, the mighty are terrified;
they retreat before its thrashing.
26 The sword that reaches it has no effect,
nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin.
27 Iron it treats like straw
and bronze like rotten wood.
28 Arrows do not make it flee;
slingstones are like chaff to it.
29 A club seems to it but a piece of straw;
it laughs at the rattling of the lance.
30 Its undersides are jagged potsherds,
leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing sledge.
31 It makes the depths churn like a boiling caldron
and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment.
32 It leaves a glistening wake behind it;
one would think the deep had white hair.
33 Nothing on earth is its equal—
a creature without fear.
34 It looks down on all that are haughty;
it is king over all that are proud.”
A few commentaries I have read in past years on Job have stated that Job never had any sin in his life as God commended Job to Satan at the very beginning of Job’s troubles. Yet, we learn in Job 32:1-5 that Job was righteous in his own eyes, and he justified himself instead of God during his dialogue with his three friends (a very long dialogue that spans Chapters 3-31). It was Job’s own self-righteousness and justification of himself instead of God to his three friends that created a wall between Job and God.
After God spoke to Job, Chapter 42 opens with Job’s response to God (vv. 1-6):
Then Job replied to the Lord:
2 “I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
5 My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”
And that’s when the wall came down. . . . Job humbled himself before God, and he came to understand the depth and gravity of his error. The rest of Chapter 42 (vv.7-16) tells “the rest of the story”:
After the Lord had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has. So now take seven bulls and seven rams and go to my servant Job and sacrifice a burnt offering for yourselves. My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.” So Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite did what the Lord told them; and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.
After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.
The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. And he also had seven sons and three daughters. The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.
After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. And so Job died, an old man and full of years.
May the name . . .
Of the Lord . . .
Be praised . . . .
I had an issue with my blog and while working on it I accidentally hit “publish” (re: the notice of a post titled “Testing” that was just sent out to my followers). It’s fixed now. 🙂 No new post at the moment. 🙂
However, I must say that I like the thought of a “Work in Progress.” Hmmm… maybe a new blog post will be coming out soon after all…
Please enjoy the following YouTube video while waiting for the next blog post to arrive:
YouTube Video: “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” sung by Annie Lennox and Al Green:
Getting stuck. . . grinding to a halt. . . immovable. . . trapped. . . . Stuck. It could involve a situation we find ourselves in, or being trapped in rush hour traffic and unable to move, or being required to do something we absolutely do not want to do but we have no choice in the matter. Whatever the case may be, it’s usually not a pleasant situation to be in. It could have to do with a relationship ending or a job loss. The kind of “stuck” I’m writing about isn’t about getting stuck in the past, getting stuck in a poor self-image, or getting stuck in a bad attitude. It’s about getting stuck in situations we didn’t see coming; it’s about getting stuck in something happening in the “here and now.” And we aren’t looking for “ten steps to acquiring a better attitude.” We want solutions. And we just want to get “unstuck.”
Given the world we live in today, with all of our technological wonders and “sleight of hand” negotiations, it is almost trite to say the solution to our “getting unstuck” relies totally on us and acquiring a more “positive mental attitude.” I’m not discounting the need to have a positive mental attitude in the midst of being stuck, but this blog post isn’t just another “be positive” bandaid to cover a cancerous situation. And, our focus should not be on a “woe is me” attitude because of our situation, either.
Most of us have been through enough battles in life to know that nothing goes our way all the time. Or even most of the time. Perhaps not even much of the time. And in any battle it is a given that we need to be positive and hopeful even in the worst of it. After all, Jesus opened his parable about the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8 with these words (the parable is included):
One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. “There was a judge in a certain city,” he said, “who neither feared God nor cared about people. A widow of that city came to him repeatedly, saying, ‘Give me justice in this dispute with my enemy.’ The judge ignored her for a while, but finally he said to himself, ‘I don’t fear God or care about people, but this woman is driving me crazy. I’m going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!’”
Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”
Jesus used two main characters from opposite ends of the continuum of power and privilege: a corrupt Judge and a persistent widow.
The picture Jesus gave of the persistent widow breaks significantly with the script expected of her in an unjust world. The courts were a man’s world. But this widow did not have a man to represent her so she persisted up against seemingly insurmountable odds.
Remember that this parable is presented to teach us that we “should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1).
Evidently the long view of the parable reaches to the time when Jesus returns. Jesus said, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:7-8). Yet this does not discount the immediate applications we should all make about God and prayer.
Look closely at the Lord’s purpose for this parable.
“Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1).
Although the parable itself contrasts a corrupt Judge and a persistent widow, the opening purpose statement implies two kinds of people:
- Those who always pray
- Those who give up
Jesus obviously advocates persistence in prayer.
When it feels like the odds are stacked against you, keep on praying! I know what it’s like to persevere in prayer, but I’ve also been guilty of giving up. To give up is to become wearied or dis-spirited. Sometimes we give up praying because we become impatient for answers. Other times we allow doubt to discourage us.
In his application of the parable, Jesus connected giving up on prayer with lack of faith, “…when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). This is important to recognize because Scripture teaches that the trials of this life are used by God to produce perseverance in us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-5).
As we persevere in praying, we learn a lot about ourselves and God.
Prayer offers an opportunity to grow in maturity. In his book, “Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?” Philip Yancey confessed, “Prayer has become for me much more than a shopping list of requests to present to God. It has become a realignment of everything. I pray to restore the truth of the universe, to gain a glimpse of the world, and of me, through the eyes of God. In prayer, I shift my point of view away from my own selfishness…. Prayer is the act of seeing reality from God’s point of view.”
Scripture repeatedly encourages us to persevere. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9; cf. II Corinthians 4:16; II Thessalonians 3:13; Hebrews 3:12-13). “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:35-36). “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…” (Hebrews 12:2-3). (Quote source here.)
We live in a society where is it fashionable to spend years on a counselor’s couch trying to sort out the issues going on in our lives instead of taking the words of Jesus (for those of us who believe in Him) and doing exactly what He told us to do. That, of course, is not to say that counseling is a negative and shouldn’t be considered. But as Christians, we have a power in our lives that we can turn to for help, and too often we ignore it. And that power is prayer.
In the parable above, the widow was in dire straights and had an enemy who would not leave her alone, and her situation may have gone on for years as the judge ignored her for a while (the NIV states “For some time he refused”). But she never gave up even though her situation never changed for a very long time, and her enemy continued his assault. She persisted, and, in fact, she repeatedly hounded the judge to grant justice for her from her enemy. And the judge finally relented and got the justice for her that she was seeking.
“Always pray and never give up.” By turning first to prayer in any situation we find ourselves in, we take the focus off our ourselves and place it where it belongs–on the One who is able to change any situation in His timing and not ours (and our timing is usually “please do it now”). For reasons we may never know this side of heaven, God’s timing in our situations is never what we expect it to be, and we usually want immediate relief. Perhaps it comes from living in an instant access 24/7 society, and patience is not one of our virtues.
James 1:2-8 (verses 2-5 are mentioned in Cornell’s post above) states:
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.
When our faith is tested (and we don’t fall away in the heat of the battle), our endurance (perseverance) has a chance to grow and develop. Our faith isn’t genuine faith without being tested, and when we hold on to our faith even in the midst of the most severe of troubles, we acquire endurance and perseverance. It also makes clear to an unbelieving world Who we believe in, even though that world is often not receptive and does not want to hear it. It also is a testimony to other Christians to hold firm to their faith when trials comes their way, and to “always pray and not give up.”
James 1:12-18 continues by stating:
God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.
So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.
There is much in our society that pulls at us and causes us to live with divided loyalties when it comes to Jesus. Money and materialism, fame or accolades, prestige, power, sex, not to mention anger, jealousy, revenge, and a host of other emotions we let get in the way. . . the list is endless. Sometimes even friends and family can try to divide our loyalty. Christianity is not a playground to get what we want in this world, but a battleground where we must clearly choose whose side we are on by the way we live our lives and the decisions we make (see blog post titled, “This World: Playground or Battleground” by A.W. Tozer). Too often, as James noted above in James 1:8, “Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.”
Getting back to the topic at hand–“getting unstuck”; even in the midst of “being stuck,” we (as Christians) should be some of the most winsome people on the planet. If the God of the Universe thoroughly knows our situation and He is intimately involved in all our ways and our lives (and He is–see Psalm 139), the joy described by James in the verses above comes from knowing that God is fully in charge no matter how “stuck” we might feel in any situation, and regardless of how long we’ve been stuck in that situation. And we should still always pray and never give up.
We can only see a tiny glimpse of what is really going on behind the scenes regarding any trial that we go through. Far more is actually involved then we can even comprehend. In a devotion by Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) in “My Utmost for His Highest,” titled “The Faith to Persevere” (May 8), Chambers states:
Because you have kept My command to persevere… —Revelation 3:10
Perseverance means more than endurance—more than simply holding on until the end. A saint’s life is in the hands of God like a bow and arrow in the hands of an archer. God is aiming at something the saint cannot see, but our Lord continues to stretch and strain, and every once in awhile the saint says, “I can’t take any more.” Yet God pays no attention; He goes on stretching until His purpose is in sight, and then He lets the arrow fly. Entrust yourself to God’s hands. Is there something in your life for which you need perseverance right now? Maintain your intimate relationship with Jesus Christ through the perseverance of faith. Proclaim as Job did, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).
Faith is not some weak and pitiful emotion, but is strong and vigorous confidence built on the fact that God is holy love. And even though you cannot see Him right now and cannot understand what He is doing, you know Him. Disaster occurs in your life when you lack the mental composure that comes from establishing yourself on the eternal truth that God is holy love. Faith is the supreme effort of your life—throwing yourself with abandon and total confidence upon God.
God ventured His all in Jesus Christ to save us, and now He wants us to venture our all with total abandoned confidence in Him. There are areas in our lives where that faith has not worked in us as yet—places still untouched by the life of God. There were none of those places in Jesus Christ’s life, and there are to be none in ours. Jesus prayed, “This is eternal life, that they may know You…” (John 17:3). The real meaning of eternal life is a life that can face anything it has to face without wavering. If we will take this view, life will become one great romance—a glorious opportunity of seeing wonderful things all the time. God is disciplining us to get us into this central place of power.
“I have chosen you” (John 15:16). Keep that note of greatness in your creed. It is not that you have got God, but that He has got you (quote source: “My Utmost for His Highest,” May 8).
If you find yourself feeling stuck in a situation that seems immovable right now, I hope this post gives you some inspiration to keep praying and never give up, no matter what. And, may “the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26); and, as stated in Romans 12:12, remember to . . .
Be confident in our hope . . .
Be patient in trouble . . .
And keep on praying . . . .
YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” by Phillips, Craig and Dean:
Sometimes less is best. Back at the beginning of 2015 I published a blog post to start off the new year (click here) that was short, sweet, and to the point. However, now we are well into this year already, and May happens to be the month of my birthday, too. (Hint–it’s at the very end of May so I have the whole month to celebrate!) So, before the month gets any older, I’ve decided to start it off with a repeat of that blog post I published back in 2015. And here it is . . . .
Out with the Old
In with the New
Brothers and sisters,
I do not consider myself
yet to have taken hold of it.
But one thing I do:
Forgetting what is behind
and straining toward what is ahead,
I press on toward the goal to win the prize
for which God has called me heavenward
in Christ Jesus. ~Apostle Paul
Forget the former things;
Do not dwell on the past.
See, I [God] am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up;
Do you not perceive it?
I am making a way
in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I [God] am going to do
something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told.
For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him
shall not perish but have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son
into the world to condemn the world,
but to save the world through him.
Whoever believes in him is not condemned,
but whoever does not believe
stands condemned already
because they have not believed
in the name of God’s
one and only Son. ~Jesus Christ
Short . . .
Sweet . . .
And to the point . . . .
YouTube Video: “And That’s All I Have to Say About That” ~Forrest Gump:
Photo credit here
Who doesn’t know Google? In fact, who doesn’t use Google on a regular basis? And as a matter of fact, I couldn’t do what I do on my blog posts without Google. Even my email address is a Gmail (Google) address.
I love Google. . . .
Yesterday I found a book titled, “How Google Works” (2014), by Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google and Executive Chairman of Alphabet Inc., and Jonathan Rosenberg, former Senior Vice President of Products at Google and current advisor to Alphabet Inc. CEO Larry Page, on the bargain book table at Barnes and Noble, and I couldn’t resist buying it (and for under $4.00, too). Now before it gets too confusing, Alphabet Inc. is “an American multinational conglomerate founded on October 2, 2015, by the two founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, with Page serving as CEO and Brin as President. It is the parent company of Google and several other companies previously owned by them. The company is based in Mountain View, California, at Googleplex. The reorganization of Google into Alphabet was completed on October 2, 2015.” (Quote source here.)
The motto of Google’s corporate code of conduct has been “Don’t be evil” since it was “first introduced around 2000. Following Google’s corporate restructuring under the conglomerate Alphabet Inc. in October 2015, the motto was replaced in the Alphabet corporate code of conduct by the phrase ‘Do the right thing’; however, the Google code of conduct is still prefaced by the phrase ‘Don’t be evil’.” (Quote source here.)
I find it interesting that the original motto was stated as “Don’t be evil” instead of “Don’t do evil” (a discussion on how it came to be “Don’t be evil” is available at this link). “Be” seems to indicates something that we are, and “do” seems to indicate something we do or have done. In a 2010 devotion titled, “The Difference between Doing and Being,” Dr. Charles Swindoll, senior pastor at Stonebriar Community Church, author, educator, and radio host and teacher at Insight for Living, states:
Doing is usually connected with a vocation or career, how we make a living. Being is much deeper. It relates to character, who we are, and how we make a life. Doing is tied in closely with activity, accomplishments, and tangible things—like salary, prestige, involvements, roles, and trophies. Being, on the other hand, has more to do with intangibles, the kind of people we become down inside, much of which can’t be measured by objective yardsticks and impressive awards. But of the two, being will ultimately outdistance doing every time. It may take half a lifetime to perfect . . . but hands down, it’s far more valuable. And lasting. And inspiring. (Quote source here.)
“. . . of the two, being will ultimately outdistance doing every time” regardless of how long it takes to perfect. Being is intrinsic; whereas doing is external. So, the switch from “Don’t be evil” (the Google motto) to “Do the right thing” (the Alphabet Inc. motto), is in the right order. What we are (as in “be”) determines what we do (whether vocational or in actions), and in order to “do the right thing,” it is determined by who we are deep down inside of us.
In the “Introduction” to “How Google Works,” there is a discussion about a seasoned CEO who invested a lot of time helping out a young executive at a different company in Silicon Valley. The seasoned CEO was asked why he invested so much time in the young executive, and he stated, “This is the way Silicon Valley works. We’re here to help you” (p. 22). The following two paragraphs come after this discussion:
Steve Jobs, the late founder and CEO of Apple, who often provided his neighbor Larry Page with advice, had a more colorful way of expressing this same spirit. Our friend Leslie Berlin, the Silicon Valley historian, was researching a biography on Intel co-founder Bob Noyce, and asked Steve during and interview why he had spent so much time with Noyce early in his career. “It’s like what Schopenhauer said about the conjurer,” Steve replied. He retrieved a book of essays by 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, and read her a passage from one with the chipper title of “On the Sufferings of the World”: “He who lives to see two or three generations is like a man who sits some time in the conjurer’s booth at a fair, and witnesses the performance twice or thrice in succession. The tricks were meant to be seen only once, and when they are no longer a novelty and cease to deceive, their effect is gone.” (Quote from Arthur Schopenhauer, “Essays and Aphorisms,” Penguin, 1970.)
We [the two authors of “How Google Works”] both came to Google as seasoned business executives who were pretty confident in our intellects and abilities. But over the humbling course of a decade, we came to see the wisdom in John Wooden‘s observation that “it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” We had a front-row seat as we helped our founders and colleagues create a magnificent company–you might say that we saw the conjurers at work–and used it to relearn everything we thought we knew about management. Today we see all sorts of companies and organizations, big and small, from all industries and all over the world, come to Silicon Valley to see if they can soak up the insights and energy that make it such a special place. People are eager for change, and that’s what this book is about: In the spirit of our forefathers here in Silicon Valley, we’d like to share some of the conjurers’ secrets and translate them into lessons that anyone can use. (Quote source, “How Google Works,” pp. 21-23).
“The humbling course of a decade”. . . . we all have those moments (or perhaps as long as a decade) that humble us and let us know that we don’t “know it all” after all. And we all have a tendency to think we know it all, too (and age doesn’t matter–the young do it just as much as the old do it). And when it comes to “doing the right thing” we are often subjective as to what, exactly, is the right thing to do.
In a blog post titled, “Why Doing the Right Thing is Always the Right Thing,” by Dan Waldschmidt, business strategist, former CEO, speaker, and ultra-runner, he states:
It is not always easy to do the right thing. At times it can be hard to know what the right thing even is.
Bad personal experiences and stressful work environments make long-term thinking and personal morals a challenge to execute consistently. Or even at all.
Life comes at you fast.
So fast that it’s natural to react to life experiences by making the choice that is least painful at the moment. By choosing to relieve temporary uncomfortableness with a decision to get you out of trouble for the moment.
But most of the time, the fast decision is the wrong decision. The easy decision is the wrong decision. The decision that fixes “right now” is the wrong decision.
The fact that you feel forced into the decision makes the odds of you making the right decision even harder.
You’re not thinking straight.
Your view of the world is screwed up.
It’s biased in a big way. Your mind and body is screaming at you to do whatever it takes to relieve the pressure and pain that is squeezing down on you at the moment.
So it’s important to remember how important making the right decision really is.
The truth is that what your life becomes is a direct result of all the stressed-out, painful short-term decisions you make each and every day. Each decision contributes to the results that you will realize one day. You are creating your future.
If you make the wrong decisions consistently — even small ones — you will end up with results that are embarrassing and expose you to be the fraud that you really were all along.
If you consistently take the “easy way” and pursue shortcuts in the hope of “getting rich quick”, then you’ll find yourself in a future where you continue to be poor — mentally and financially.
If you blame others for your mistakes and refuse to take correction or learn from bad decisions that you have made in the past, then the results of your life will only be misery and arrogance.
You will become the person you decide to be.
Which is why doing the right thing is always the right thing to do. Because doing the wrong thing molds you into the type of person that you don’t want to be. And it doesn’t lead to the results and lifestyle that you want for yourself.
For a few short moments, making the wrong decision feels incredibly right. But that’s a guilty pleasure you will come to regret in the not-too-distant future.
Do the right thing.
It’s tough at time. But a lot easier than living in a world of misery and pain you’ve created with poor choices and short-sighted decisions.
It’s easier to just do the right thing. (Quote source here.)
Short-sighted decisions miss the bigger picture of life, and our warped perception of “reality” at the moment might cause us to do something with detrimental long term consequences. In a chapter titled, “Never Again Trust Someone or Something Flawless,” in his book, “Never Go Back: 10 Things You’ll Never Do Again” (2014), Dr. Henry Cloud, leadership expert, psychologist, and best-selling author, states:
Woody Allen said, “I hate reality, but it’s still the best place to get a good steak.” Said another way, “Real people may disappoint me, but they are the only ones you can have a relationship with.” Why is that? It all goes back to the Bible.
The book of Genesis says that God created a perfect world. It was ideal. The Garden of Eden was “paradise.”
But then, sin, or “missing the mark,” entered into the world. Humankind turned against God and his right way of doing things. Ever since then, the world has been an imperfect place with imperfect people. Those who accept this reality can find great goodness and satisfaction in this life; those who don’t are always thinking the paradise, or perfection, is out there somewhere–in a person, a job, a city, or a situation. So when a seemingly perfect person or situation presents itself to them, they fall for it. Suckers for an immature fantasy of life as Disneyland.
The problem is that the Bible tells us a reality: paradise, or perfection, in this world is gone forever. We can never go back (Genesis 3:24). Now, our only alternative–other than denial–is to embrace living life in an imperfect world, as imperfect people, with imperfect others. If we can accept that, our eyes are open to the imperfections in ourselves and others, and that gives us a keen vision for the real goodness as well.
But naive people are caught up in the fantasy that Eden is still available, and because of that, they are open to great seduction by people and situations that look too good to be true, and in fact are. They are nightmares.
Our culture has tabloids with stars who look as if their lives are ideal. They find the perfect mate–their “soul mate”–whom they have always been looking for. They live in perfect houses. They have perfect lives. People spend all their money and time trying to be like them–getting liposuction and buying clothes to emulate these remnants of Eden.
But go to the supermarket the next month and the same stars have just split with their perfect “soul mates” and the tabloid headline reads, “The Breakup: What Really Happened?” Or, they lose their perfect mansions to a drug addiction, or outrageous behavior destroys everything that looked so good.
Don’t buy into the Hollywood version of perfection or even the church version. Many times Christian groups can appear as if they have it all together as well–as if their spiritual lives hold no struggle or pain or defeat. That is not the story of the Bible. God is real, not a fantasy, and he invites us into a real spiritual life and a real life on this earth. The good news is that if we will embrace the “real” instead of the “ideal,” we can often find experiences of heaven on earth.
So be on the lookout for good and real, not perfect and ideal. Look for people and situations that have great goodness but are also aware of their imperfections and are working on them. If you do that, you will find rich, fulfilling people, situations, employees, employers, friends, churches, and the like. There is real goodness in this world. But if we are looking for perfect, we will have to go to another world altogether. And that is a fantasy.
If you are dating, look for a person who is aware of his or her issues and struggles, as well as all the things you are attracted to. If you are looking for a church, find one that has a community of fellow strugglers along the journey of life. If you are looking for a circle of friends, find one where the people are real, not trying to look perfect or ideal. Look for people who are humble and able to laugh at themselves–those who are aware of themselves and are not troubled by their own kookiness. And by the way–strive to be that kind of person yourself.
Repent from the pursuit of “perfection.” Whether trying to be perfect or looking for it elsewhere, repent. Once you do, you’ll “never go back.” (Quote source: “Never Go Back,” pp. 107-109.)
The lines between right and wrong are often totally blurred in our culture today. And our justification for doing bad stuff for momentary pleasure or to others “just because” is endless, but there is always a price that will eventually be paid. And James 4 puts it right out there for us to see:
What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him. And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say,
“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”
So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.
Warning against Judging Others
Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?
Warning about Self-Confidence
Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil.
Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it. (James 4 NLT)
In most situations we usually know what the right thing is to do even if it is very difficult. Do it anyway. . . .
Don’t be evil . . .
And do . . .
The right thing . . . .
YouTube Video: “Doing What’s Right Song” Fun for Kids (and a reminder for adults):
There is a well known story tucked away in the Gospels about a couple of disciples of Jesus Christ who didn’t realize they were talking with Jesus on a road they were traveling to get to Emmaus, which was about seven miles away from where the crucifixion of Jesus had very recently taken place. It was the morning of the resurrection, but very few knew about it (or believed it was possible) at that point. The story is recorded in Luke 24:1-12:
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. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. 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.
Apparently, the eleven disciples [Judas Iscariot, the twelfth disciple, has already hanged himself after betraying Jesus] did not initially believe the women and thought they were talking nonsense. Only Peter got up and ran to the tomb to see if what they said was really true, and when he saw that it was true, he wondered what had actually happened.
That very same morning two of Jesus’ disciples were traveling on the road to Emmaus when Jesus came up to them and began talking with them, but they did not recognize him as he had just been crucified and they witnessed his death. Here’s that story immediately following the passage quoted above in Luke 24:13-35:
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.
He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
“What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
As noted on GotQuestions.org regarding their experience:
On the road to Emmaus, Jesus gave a lesson on the prophecies of the Old Testament which were fulfilled in His death and resurrection. What a lesson that would have been! The Author of the Book explains His work, making connections from Scripture to the events they had recently experienced.
The disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ lesson was one of deep conviction of the truth of what He was teaching. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked?” they ask each other (verse 32). Their physical eyes were blinded to the identity of Jesus, but their eyes of faith were being opened as Jesus opened the Scriptures to them.
Following this account, Jesus appears to His other disciples, removing all doubt that He was alive. Jesus had promised that He would show Himself to those who love Him (John 14:21), and this is exactly what He does on the road to Emmaus.
The story of the disciples on the Emmaus Road is important for many reasons. It provides an emphasis on the Old Testament prophecies related to Jesus, evidence regarding an additional appearance of Jesus, and a connection regarding the many eyewitnesses of the resurrected Jesus. Luke 24 is often seen as a model of the journey that Jesus makes with many of us today, as He opens our eyes, points us to the Word, and reveals Himself along life’s walk as the resurrected Savior and Lord. (Quote source here.)
“Jesus had promised that He would show Himself to those who love Him (John 14:21), and this is exactly what He does on the road to Emmaus.” Faith sees what the eyes cannot see. In this life, we all walk down our own road to Emmaus, and we all make our own decisions about who Jesus Christ is and who He claims to be. We either reject Him, or believe in Him. And while that may sound a bit too “cut and dried,” it’s the truth.
Unfortunately, there are many obstacles put in our way that send us on various detours, and unbelief is at the core. It is, indeed, the greatest obstacle that has to be overcome. We can show a form of pseudo faith by showing up at church on a regular basis (and there is nothing wrong with attending church), learning to speak the Christian “lingo,” and thinking we’ve got our “ducks in a row”; however, when it comes the rest of the week we pretty much live however we want to live until next Sunday morning rolls back around. And that’s not faith.
That is not to discount that many people claim to believe in Jesus Christ as many millions have believed in Him down through the centuries and many millions do today, too; however, there is a caveat to believing in Jesus Christ (or rather, the type of belief one has in Jesus Christ). As stated in James 2:19-20:
You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?
In context, that passage in James states the following (James 2:14-26):
What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?
So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”
You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?
Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.
Rahab the prostitute is another example. She was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.
The “actions” (or “works”) originate from within us, and are not done with the intent to have others see how “good” we are or to gain some type of approval from others (or, as the case may be if we are trying to impress God–as well as others–with our good deeds). For example, being genuinely kind to strangers is a type of action that comes from faith, from the heart, from the core of what and who we believe in (whether it is ourselves or God). Being nice on the surface while seething inside or pretending to be nice with ulterior motives has nothing to do with faith. In fact, it is the opposite. Faith does not look out for itself, first and foremost. It looks to Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith. In fact, after the “Hall of Faith” chapter found in Hebrews 11 (a review of this chapter will shine a very bright light on our own definition of “good works”), Hebrews 12:1-4 state:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith [see Hebrews 11], let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.
It is Jesus who initiates and perfects our faith. So as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ on this Easter Sunday, perhaps it is the perfect time for us to do some reflecting and resurrecting of our own faith and what it truly means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. We can look good and act great on the outside and fool a whole lot of people, but God knows our heart, and He is not fooled. A religious game is easy to play, but it has nothing to do with a genuine heart of faith.
As 1 John 5:1-4 reminds us:
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments. Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith.
Faith is the victory . . .
That overcomes . . .
The world . . . .
YouTube Video: “The Easter Song (1974)” by The 2nd Chapter of Acts:
The Last Supper is one of the most significant events that took place during the last week in the life of Jesus Christ. It was also Jesus’ last meal that he shared with his twelve disciples just hours before his arrest and crucifixion. It is commemorated by Christians around the world on Maundy Thursday which is the fifth day of Passion Week (also known as Holy Week) and “the day on which Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples” (source here).
The Last Supper is recorded in the Gospels in Matthew 26:17–30, Mark 14:12–26, and Luke 22:7–30, and Jesus washing the feet of his disciples just prior to this “last supper” is found in John 13:1-17. The significance of the Jesus washing his disciples feet cannot be underestimated. GotQuestions.org gives us the significance of this act:
Jesus washing the feet of the disciples (John 13:1–17) occurred in the upper room, just prior to the Last Supper and has significance in three ways. For Jesus, it was the display of His humility and His servanthood. For the disciples, the washing of their feet was in direct contrast to their heart attitudes at that time. For us, washing feet is symbolic of our role in the body of Christ.
Walking in sandals on the filthy roads of Israel in the first century made it imperative that feet be washed before a communal meal, especially since people reclined at a low table and feet were very much in evidence. When Jesus rose from the table and began to wash the feet of the disciples (John 13:4), He was doing the work of the lowliest of servants. The disciples must have been stunned at this act of humility and condescension, that Christ, their Lord and master, should wash the feet of His disciples, when it was their proper work to have washed His. But when Jesus came to earth the first time, He came not as King and Conqueror, but as the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. As He revealed in Matthew 20:28, He came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The humility expressed by His act with towel and basin foreshadowed His ultimate act of humility and love on the cross.
Jesus’ attitude of servanthood was in direct contrast to that of the disciples, who had recently been arguing among themselves as to which of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24). Since there was no servant present to wash their feet, it would never have occurred to them to wash one another’s feet. When the Lord Himself stooped to this lowly task, they were stunned into silence. To his credit, though, Peter was profoundly uncomfortable with the Lord washing his feet, and, never being at a loss for words, Peter protested, “You shall never wash my feet!”
Then Jesus said something that must have further shocked Peter: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” (John 13:8), prompting Peter, whose love for the Savior was genuine, to request a complete washing. Then Jesus explained the true meaning of being washed by Him. Peter had experienced the cleansing of salvation and did not need to be washed again in the spiritual sense. Salvation is a one-time act of justification by faith, but the lifelong process of sanctification is one of washing from the stain of sin we experience as we walk through the world. Peter and the disciples—all except Judas, who never belonged to Christ—needed only this temporal cleansing.
This truth is just one of several from this incident that Christians can apply to their own lives. First, when we come to Christ for the washing of our sins, we can be sure that is permanent and complete. No act can cleanse us further from our sin, as our sin has been exchanged for the perfect righteousness of Christ on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:21). But we do need continual cleansing from the effects of living in the flesh in a sin-cursed world. The continual washing of sanctification is done by the power of the Holy Spirit, who lives within us, through the “washing of water by the Word” (Ephesians 5:26), given to us to equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
Further, when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, He told them (and us), “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15). As His followers, we are to emulate Him, serving one another in lowliness of heart and mind, seeking to build one another up in humility and love. When we seek the preeminence, we displease the Lord who promised that true greatness in His kingdom is attained by those with a servant’s heart (Mark 9:35; 10:44). When we have that servant’s heart, the Lord promised, we will be greatly blessed (John 13:17). (Quote source here.)
During the Last Supper while they were eating, Jesus stated to his disciples that one of them would betray him and this news saddened them, making them wonder about themselves and their loyalty to him. The disciple who betrayed him was Judas Iscariot. As to why Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (see previous blog post titled, “Thirty Pieces of Silver,” GotQuestions.org states the following:
While we cannot be absolutely certain why Judas betrayed Jesus, some things are certain. First, although Judas was chosen to be one of the Twelve (John 6:64), all scriptural evidence points to the fact that he never believed Jesus to be God. He even may not have been convinced that Jesus was the Messiah (as Judas understood it). Unlike the other disciples that called Jesus “Lord,” Judas never used this title for Jesus and instead called him “Rabbi,” which acknowledged Jesus as nothing more than a teacher. While other disciples at times made great professions of faith and loyalty (John 6:68; 11:16), Judas never did so and appears to have remained silent. This lack of faith in Jesus is the foundation for all other considerations listed below. The same holds true for us. If we fail to recognize Jesus as God incarnate, and therefore the only One who can provide forgiveness for our sins—and the eternal salvation that comes with it—we will be subject to numerous other problems that stem from a wrong view of God.
Second, Judas not only lacked faith in Christ, but he also had little or no personal relationship with Jesus. When the synoptic gospels list the Twelve, they are always listed in the same general order with slight variations (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16). The general order is believed to indicate the relative closeness of their personal relationship with Jesus. Despite the variations, Peter and the brothers James and John are always listed first, which is consistent with their relationships with Jesus. Judas is always listed last, which may indicate his relative lack of a personal relationship with Christ. Additionally, the only documented dialogue between Jesus and Judas involves Judas being rebuked by Jesus after his greed-motivated remark to Mary (John 12:1-8), Judas’ denial of his betrayal (Matthew 26:25), and the betrayal itself (Luke 22:48).
Third, Judas was consumed with greed to the point of betraying the trust of not only Jesus, but also his fellow disciples, as we see in John 12:5-6. Judas may have desired to follow Jesus simply because he saw the great following and believed he could profit from collections taken for the group. The fact that Judas was in charge of the moneybag for the group would indicate his interest in money (John 13:29). (Quote source here.)
GotQuestions.org also states the significance of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus:
Being in Jesus’ “inner circle,” Judas had a closer relationship to Jesus than most people during His ministry. Judas betrayed the Lord to the Jewish authorities. The pre-arranged signal was that the person Judas kissed was to be arrested and taken away (Mark 14:44). In this way the Son of Man [Jesus] was betrayed with a kiss (Luke 22:48).
In the culture of first-century Israel, a kiss was not always a romantic expression of love; rather, a kiss on the cheek was a common greeting, a sign of deep respect, honor, and brotherly love (see Luke 7:45; Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14). For a student who had great respect for his teacher, a kiss fell well within the healthy expression of honor.
What really stands out in the mode of Judas’s betrayal is that Judas used such an intimate expression of love and respect to betray Jesus. Judas’s actions were hypocritical in the extreme—his actions said, “I respect and honor you,” at the exact time he was betraying Jesus to be murdered. Judas’s actions illustrate Proverbs 27:6, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Often, foes disguise themselves as friends. Evil often wears a mask to conceal its true purpose. . . .
When Jesus was betrayed by a kiss, He identified with the troubles of David, who wrote, “If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers” (Psalm 55:12–14). Job’s emotional pain also foreshadowed Jesus’ sorrow: “Those I love have turned against me” (Job 19:19).
Once Judas gave the kiss, the deed was done. Jesus was betrayed into the government’s hands to be crucified. Judas was “seized with remorse” (Matthew 27:3) over what he’d done. He gave the money back to the temple authorities and hanged himself out of guilt (verse 5). (Quote source here.)
The Last Supper brought the Old Testament observance of the Passover feast to its fulfillment. Passover was an especially holy event for the Jewish people in that it commemorated the time when God spared them from the plague of physical death and brought them out of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 11:1—13:16). During the Last Supper with His apostles, Jesus took two symbols associated with Passover and imbued them with fresh meaning as a way to remember His sacrifice, which saves us from spiritual death and delivers us from spiritual bondage: “After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, ‘Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’” (Luke 22:17–20).
Jesus’ words during the Last Supper about the unleavened bread and the cup echo what He had said after He fed the 5,000: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. . . . I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. . . . Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink” (John 6:35, 51, 54–55). Salvation comes through Christ and the sacrifice of His physical body on the cross. . . .
The Last Supper today is remembered during the Lord’s Supper, or communion (1 Corinthians 11:23–33). The Bible teaches that Jesus’ death was typified in the offering of the Passover sacrifice (John 1:29). John notes that Jesus’ death resembles the Passover sacrifice in that His bones were not broken (John 19:36; cf. Exodus 12:46). And Paul said, “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law, including the feasts of the Lord (Matthew 5:17). . . .
The Last Supper was rooted in the Old Covenant even as it heralded the New. Jeremiah 31:31 promised a New Covenant between God and Israel, in which God said, “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” (Jeremiah 31:33). Jesus made a direct reference to this New Covenant during the Last Supper: “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). A new dispensation was on the horizon. In God’s grace, the New Covenant applies to more than Israel; everyone who has faith in Christ will be saved (see Ephesians 2:12–14).
The Last Supper was a significant event and proclaimed a turning point in God’s plan for the world. In comparing the crucifixion of Jesus to the feast of Passover, we can readily see the redemptive nature of Christ’s death. As symbolized by the original Passover sacrifice in the Old Testament, Christ’s death atones for the sins of His people; His blood rescues us from death and saves us from slavery. Today, the Lord’s Supper is when believers reflect upon Christ’s perfect sacrifice and know that, through our faith in receiving Him, we will be with Him forever (Luke 22:18; Revelation 3:20). (Quote source here.)
From the Last Supper Jesus gave us three important things to remember and live by: (1) faithfulness (in the example of Judas’ betrayal); (2) taking the role of a servant and not expecting to be served (by washing the feet of his disciples); and remembering his death that atones for the sins of his people forever (by celebrating communion in remembrance of what he did for us). And may the Last Supper inspire us to live by faith . . .
In Jesus Christ . . .
And to serve others . . .
And not ourselves . . . .
YouTube Video: “Remembrance” by Matt Maher:
Perhaps one of the saddest and most telling stories to come from the last week of Jesus’ life was his betrayal by one of his own disciples, who was not only the treasurer for the group (and a dishonest treasurer at that), but he also witnessed Jesus’ miracles and healings, and he heard Jesus’ parables and his teachings. In fact, he followed Jesus along with the other eleven disciples during Jesus’ three-year ministry on earth. And in the end, this disciple sold out Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-16):
Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver. From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus. ~Matthew 26:14-16 NLT
Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC, and a New York Times bestselling author, notes the following about Judas Iscariot in his book, “All In: You Are One Decision Away From A Totally Different Life” (2013):
He [Judas Iscariot] couldn’t keep his hand out of the cookie jar. He didn’t just sell out by betraying Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Judas never bought in. And it’s evidenced by his lack of integrity from the get-go.
He was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. ~John 14:6
The betrayal of Jesus by Judas wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment mistake. He betrayed Jesus each and every time he pilfered the money pot. And while most of us can’t imagine pickpocket Jesus, we shortchange Him in a thousand different ways. We rob God of the glory He demands and deserves by not living up to our full, God-given potential.
No matter how we slice it, sin leaves us with the short end of the stick. Sin always over-promises and under-deliver, while righteousness pays dividends for eternity. Yet we sell out . . . now instead of holding out for . . . later.
Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of stew.
Samson sold his secret for a one-night stand.
Judas sold his soul for thirty pieces of silver.
What were they thinking? And the answer is, they weren’t. Nothing is more illogical than sin. It’s the epitome of poor judgment. It’s temporary insanity with eternal consequences. And we have no alibi, save the cross of Jesus Christ.
It’s not worth it, and we know it.
Yet we do it.
We sell out for so little instead of going all in for so much. . . .
Thirty pieces of silver. That was Judas’s price point. Jewish readers would have recognized it as the exact amount to be paid if a slave was accidentally killed under Mosaic law. Judas sold his soul for the replacement value of a slave.
The silver coins were most likely sanctuary shekels, since he was paid off by the chief priests. And while some estimates range higher, each coin may have been worth as little as seventy-two cents! So in today’s currency, Judas betrayed Jesus for $21.60.
We know very little about Judas from Scripture, but theories abound. Some scholars suggest Judas was a weak-willed coward with a manipulative wife pulling the strings. Others believe Judas betrayed Jesus out of pure greed. And some suggest he had revolutionary aspirations. He wanted a political savior, and when Jesus didn’t meet his expectations, he went AWOL.
And we do the same thing, don’t we? When God doesn’t conform to our expectations, we’re tempted to betray what we believe in. Like Judas, we’re in it for what we can get out of it. So when God doesn’t grant our wishes like a divine genie in a bottle, we are tempted to turn our back on Him.
This is what separates the boys from the men. Our maybe I should say the sheep from the goats! How do you react when God doesn’t meet your expectations? If you truly accepted the invitation to follow Jesus, you’ll keep going on through hurricanes, hail, and hazardous conditions. If you have simply invited Him to follow you, you’ll bail out at the first sign of bad weather.
As I’ve said before, it’s difficult to psychoanalyze someone who lived thousands of years ago, but it’s safe to say Judas was spiritually schizophrenic. And so are we. Our lives are mixed with lies. We steal from the One we have supposedly surrendered our lives to. And we betray Him in our own unique ways.
There is a little Judas in all of us. And any of us are capable of betraying God if we allow the fear of people to erode the fear of God, selfish ambition to strong-arm godly ambition, or sinful desires to short-circuit God-ordained passions. (Quote source: “All In,” pp. 149-151).
Batterson makes a valid point when he states that there is a little Judas in all of us. A longer explanation of “the Judas in us” is found in an article titled, “You’re Probably More Like Judas Than You Think,” by Ed Cyzewski and Derek Cooper, and published in Christianity Today. The two authors state the following:
We all want a Messiah whose plans mirror our own. But a true disciple surrenders to the Master’s will.
When Judas Iscariot, the disciple of Jesus, mouthed the Lord’s Prayer, especially when it came time to say “Your will be done,” perhaps he voiced this prayer with the tacit assumption that God’s will paralleled his own. We have probably all been guilty of that sin before.
But what happens when God’s will differs from my own? What happens when the fulfillment of the prayer, that is, the part when God’s will is accomplished, flies in the face of my will?
Judas may be the most intriguing of Jesus’s disciples. He is certainly the most elusive. Over the centuries, Christians have characterized him, some maliciously so, in any number of ways. He was a heartless miser, a power-hungry schemer, or a green-eyed apprentice overshadowed by a more talented master.
Maybe, but maybe not.
Perhaps we should more modestly characterize Judas as a man who initially latched onto the magnetic personality of Jesus but eventually became disillusioned as Jesus’s vision for the Messiahship began to contrast considerably with Judas’s vision. And when Jesus the Messiah failed to fulfill the obligations Judas had imposed on him, he craftily bailed out when there was still time.
There is good reason to believe that Judas was the most perceptive—”shrewd as a snake,” we might say—of Jesus’s disciples. He may have been the first one to recognize that Jesus’s intentions for the Messiahship embraced nothing pertaining to physical rebellion or military rule.
During their last week together in Jerusalem in celebration of the Jewish festival of Passover, on which occasion Jesus brought his ministry to crescendo, Jesus aggressively unpacked his teachings and did not mince words. As Jesus did so, he openly defied—in fact, condemned—the religious establishment to such an extent that he made his death inevitable. Jesus made enemies when he was in Jerusalem, and Judas, as astute as he was, knew it. It’s possible that some of Jesus’s other disciples also flirted with betraying their Master after their stint in Jerusalem. Within a few hours of Judas’s betrayal, in fact, practically all of Jesus’s disciples—even Peter—scattered like sheep without a shepherd.
When death is on the line, loyalty wavers. Unlike Judas, who knew exactly what was going on, the response of the other disciples evidenced their surprise at the betrayal, and their actions were clearly not premeditated. Peter wanted to fight, Mark ran away without his clothes, and John watched from a distance, while the others may have quietly left the scene.
We essentially have two options when God does not follow our plan for life: going our own way or readjusting our course. On the night when Jesus was arrested, Judas had previously made his decision to go his own way. That is to say, at some point in his apprenticeship to Jesus he rejected his Master and decided to cash out his chips while he still had a hand to play. . . .
As is well known, Judas left the Passover feast early Thursday evening. The other disciples were clueless about Judas’s duplicity. Only Jesus was aware of Judas’s impending betrayal. The public conversation between Jesus and Judas the night before at Simon the leper’s in Bethany went over everyone’s head, and the same thing happened at the Last Supper: “What you are going to do, do it quickly.”
At this point in the story, we should see the other option we have when God does not follow our plans: rethink our plans and adjust accordingly. Faithful disciples of Jesus put their plans at the feet of their Master.
We all have motives for the things we do. And Judas must have had a motive for his betrayal of Jesus. Although money may have been a contributing factor, it was not the primary reason. Judas may have been a pilferer, as the Gospel of John suggests, but the fact that he very shortly returned the “blood” money he initially received from the Jewish leaders indicates that greed was not the whole story.
Whatever motivated him, the Gospel accounts make it clear that Judas did not readjust his course. At best, Judas found Jesus genuinely perplexing and completely misunderstood how Jesus’s plans could be better than his own. At worst, Judas was so blinded by his plans and so desperate to secure a future for himself that he was willing to take part in a complex murder scheme. At the root of Judas’s betrayal was a belief in a particular kind of Messiah who would lead him to a prosperous future. He could not accept a suffering servant who bears the sins of others and lays his life down in order to conquer death. If we’re honest with ourselves, such things are not easily believed today, for that matter. Who wins through self-sacrifice? Who would want to trade in his or her own plans for a prosperous future and submit to a God-King’s new plan? Who says that the first shall be last and the last shall be first?
Judas couldn’t let go of his plans because he could not imagine any other way forward. . . .
Plans come between us and God slowly, almost imperceptibly sometimes. . . . Over the years I wanted to follow Jesus, but I always kept backup plans stashed away. I had goals I wanted to meet, assuming that I could keep them along with my relationship with Jesus. I was quite far from Peter’s statement, “Who do we have but you?” [Note: the article contains a section on Peter not included in this blog post.] If I was honest, I would have said, “Well, I sure would like you to be in my life, Jesus, but I also have some other great stuff that offers meaning and fulfillment. In fact, I’d like your help with some of those things.” Each time I let go of these plans or goals and allowed God to reshape them, I found that my original vision for the future wasn’t all that great after all.
A surrendered disciple can say to Jesus: I will live anywhere. I will travel anywhere. I will do any kind of work. The details don’t matter, as long as you are in my life.
Judas provides a stunning contrast between trusting in our own plans and a childlike faith that can hold loosely to goals and dreams for the future. His murderous plot isn’t something we can imagine doing. However, once we understand his commitment to Israel with specific political, religious, and personal outcomes in mind, we can at least understand why he struggled to follow Jesus. As we begin to notice the ways our prayers wander from “Thy will be done” to “My will be done,” we’ll find that Judas, if anything, provides one of the most important warnings against confusing our plans with God’s and one of the most visible contrasts with the childlike faith that helps disciples draw near to Jesus, even during the most trying moments of our lives. (Quote source here.)
This focus on “us” (as in “my will”) instead of Jesus and what He wants (as in “His will”) brings me to something I just read in a new book titled, “The Gospel According to Paul” (2017) by Dr. John MacArthur, who is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church, as well as an author, conference speaker, president of The Master’s College and Seminary, and featured teacher with the Grace to You media ministry. In Chapter 5 titled, “The Great Exchange,” MacArthur writes:
Today’s evangelicals often speak about the gospel as if it were a means of discovering one’s own purpose, a message about how to have a happy and prosperous life, or a method of achieving success in one’s relationships or business. In the minds of many, the best starting point for sharing the gospel is an announcement that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”
All those ways of presenting the gospel have become such common clichés among contemporary Christians that most people in the church today do not flinch when they hear the gospel framed in such language. They don’t notice how profoundly all those narratives deviate from the gospel Paul proclaimed and defended. A major problem with all of them is the way they turn the gospel into a message about “you”–your life, your purpose, your prosperity. You become the center and subject of the story.
Those are concepts that would have appalled and outraged Paul. One truth that should stand out boldly. . . is that the central figure in the gospel according to Paul is always “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). The apostle takes great care never to let the narrative drift.
Here in our text (2 Cor. 5:18-21), Paul’s intention is to explain how “God . . . has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ” (v. 18). He mentions both Christ and God in every verse. In the span of those four verses, he mentions God by name at least once in every verse (fives times total). Three additional times he refers to God with pronouns (“Himself” twice and “He” once). He uses the Messianic title “Christ” four times. And in that final verse he refers to Christ twice with the pronoun “Him.” The entire passage is decidedly God-centered, not man-centered. That should be the case anytime we talk about the gospel. It’s first of all a message about God’s purpose in the work of Christ; the sinner’s own purpose in life is secondary. That, of course, is the point we started with in this chapter: the gospel is a declaration about the atoning work of Christ.
Nevertheless, we are by no means left entirely out of the picture. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ is the subject of this narrative; His people are the objects. All told, pronouns referring to redeemed people are used nine times in the passage. People from every tongue, tribe, and nation constitute “the world” whom Christ has reconciled to God.* Everything Christ did, He did on our behalf.
Why? Not for our comfort or self-aggrandizement, but for His glory. So “that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (v. 21). [*Note in book: Paul isn’t suggesting that every individual who ever lived will be reconciled to God. Both Jesus and Paul emphatically reject universalism (Matt. 7:21-23; Rom. 2:5-9) “The world” in this context refers to humanity as a race, regardless of gender, class, or ethnic distinctions (Gal. 3:28)]. (Quote source: “The Gospel According to Paul,” pp. 89-90.)
Too often today our focus is on us and what we want, and just as Batterson stated when he said there’s a little Judas in all of us, we need to be aware of our tendency to go in that direction. Cyzewski and Cooper made a statement at the end of their article that is worth our consideration during this Passion Week leading up to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They stated, “As we begin to notice the ways our prayers wander from “Thy will be done” to “My will be done,” we’ll find that Judas, if anything, provides one of the most important warnings against confusing our plans with God’s, and one of the most visible contrasts with the childlike faith that helps disciples draw near to Jesus, even during the most trying moments of our lives.” It’s a good reminder . . . .
Not my will . . .
But Thy will . . .
Be done . . . .
YouTube Video: “Lose My Soul” by TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, and Mandisa:
The apostle Paul said that God’s handprint on the world is so strikingly obvious that people have no excuse for missing it:
For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. ~Roman 1:20 NLT
The above quote is taken from page 68 in the book, “God is Amazing: Everything Changes When You See God for Who He Really Is” (2014), by Bruce Bickel, an attorney, author, and speaker; and Stan Jantz, an author, marketing consultant, and Executive Director of Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA). The two authors continue with the following on pp. 120-123:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. ~John 1:14
For all the amazing aspects of God’s being, character, and personality–His infinite power, knowledge, wisdom, love, grace, and mercy–the most amazing of all just might be the Incarnation. It is staggering to think about a perfect God taking on imperfect human form, the infinite becoming finite, the immortal taking on mortality, the invisible God becoming visible through His Son, Jesus Christ.
God coming to earth in the form of a lowly human being is such a profound mystery, and so unexpected, that even today, two thousand years after it happened, people still struggle to understand how it was possible. Even followers of Christ often fail to grasp the significance of the Incarnation. Once a year they, along with the rest of the world, are reminded of this event when they celebrate Christmas, but the true implications of what the birth of Jesus means are generally lost amidst the pageantry, decorations, and gift giving. . . .
The incredible benefits of the Incarnation can be seen in what God accomplished by becoming human. As A.W. Tozer said so well, “God came to dwell with us in person so He could be united to us, only to ultimately dwell in us, so that even now, two millennia after Jesus left the earth, He is still present in each person who calls Him Lord and Savior.”
While He was on earth, Jesus lived out the mystery of the Incarnation by being both man and God. At no time in His thirty-plus years of earthly existence was Jesus never fully human and fully divine. He had a human body, a human mind, and human emotions.
The people who knew Him as He was growing up–including His own family–didn’t believe in Him. They certainly didn’t think He was God (see John 7:5). To them, He was just a carpenter’s son. Yet when Jesus began His public ministry, He defied the natural world by performing supernatural acts. He turned water into wine, fed thousands of people with a sack lunch, healed the sick, and raised the dead. Once, when Jesus calmed a raging storm just by speaking, His astonished followers were terrified because they realized they were in the presence of God (see Mark 4:41).
People today will often acknowledge that Jesus was a great teacher, a good man, and a fine example for us to follow. but to leave Him as just that is to tragically miss the whole point. That baby born in a manger was a frail human who grew in human wisdom and stature, but He was also almighty God, the Creator of the universe, the Lamb of God without blemish who came to seek and to save the lost. To leave Him in that manger and disregard the amazing implications of what His coming to earth means for all people for all time is to miss the very reason God became flesh. He did it for us. (Quote source, “God is Amazing,” pp. 120-123).
In a few days we will commemorate the last week (known as Passion Week) of Jesus’ life at the end of his three-year ministry which starts on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Sunday with Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. In between the two is the Jewish celebration of Passover (which lasts for eight days). The connection between the Old Testament Passover and the New Testament celebration of Easter is Jesus Christ, who became the Passover lamb. The following background on Passover is taken from GotQuestions.org:
Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) is a Jewish festival celebrating the exodus from Egypt and the Israelites’ freedom from slavery to the Egyptians. The Feast of Passover, along with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, was the first of the festivals to be commanded by God for Israel to observe (see Exodus 12). Commemorations today involve a special meal called the Seder, featuring unleavened bread and other food items symbolic of various aspects of the exodus. . . .
The Book of Exodus tells of the origin of Passover. God promised His people to redeem them from the bondage of Pharaoh (Exodus 6:6). God sent Moses to the Egyptian king with the command that Pharaoh “let my people go” (Exodus 8:1). When Pharaoh refused, God brought ten plagues on the land of Egypt. The tenth and worst of the plagues was the death of all the firstborn in Egypt.
The night of the first Passover was the night of the tenth plague. On that fateful night, God told the Israelites to sacrifice a spotless lamb and mark their doorposts and lintels with its blood (Exodus 12:21–22). Then, when the Lord passed through the nation, He would “pass over” the households that showed the blood (verse 23). In a very real way, the blood of the lamb saved the Israelites from death, as it kept the destroyer from entering their homes. The Israelites were saved from the plague, and their firstborn children stayed alive. From then on, every firstborn son of the Israelites belonged to the Lord and had to be redeemed with a sacrifice (Exodus 13:1–2, 12; cf. Luke 2:22–24).
The children of Israel in Egypt followed God’s command and kept the first Passover. However, none of the Egyptians did so. All through Egypt, behind the unmarked, bloodless doorways of the Egyptians, the firstborn children died at midnight (Exodus 12:21–29). “There was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead” (verse 30). This dire judgment finally changed the Egyptian king’s heart, and he released the Israelite slaves (verses 31–32).
Along with the instruction to apply the Passover lamb’s blood to their doorposts and lintels, God instituted a commemorative meal: fire-roasted lamb, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread (Exodus 12:8). The Lord told the Israelites to “observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever” (Exodus 12:24, ESV), even when in a foreign land.
To this day, Jews all over the world celebrate the Passover in obedience to this command. Passover and the story of the exodus have great significance for Christians also, as Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law, including the symbolism of the Passover (Matthew 5:17). Jesus is our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7; Revelation 5:12). He was killed at Passover time, and the Last Supper was a Passover meal (Luke 22:7–8). By (spiritually) applying His blood to our lives by faith, we trust Christ to save us from death. The Israelites who, in faith, applied the blood of the Paschal lamb to their homes become a model for us. It was not the Israelites’ ancestry or good standing or amiable nature that saved them; it was only the blood of the lamb that made them exempt from death (see John 1:29 and Revelation 5:9–10). (Quote source here.)
GotQuestions.org continues with the following:
The New Testament establishes a relationship between this prototypical Passover lamb and the consummate Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 5:7). The prophet John the Baptist recognized Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29), and the apostle Peter links the lamb without defect (Exodus 12:5) with Christ, whom he calls a “lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19). Jesus is qualified to be called One “without blemish” because His life was completely free from sin (Hebrews 4:15). In Revelation, John the apostle sees Jesus as “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain” (Revelation 5:6). Jesus was crucified during the time that the Passover was observed (Mark 14:12).
The Bible says believers have symbolically applied the sacrificial blood of Christ to their hearts and thus have escaped eternal death (Hebrews 9:12, 14). Just as the Passover lamb’s applied blood caused the “destroyer” to pass over each household, Christ’s applied blood causes God’s judgment to pass over sinners and gives life to believers (Romans 6:23).
As the first Passover marked the Hebrews’ release from Egyptian slavery, so the death of Christ marks our release from the slavery of sin (Romans 8:2). As the first Passover was to be held in remembrance as an annual feast, so Christians are to memorialize the Lord’s death in communion until He returns (1 Corinthians 11:26).
The Old Testament Passover lamb, although a reality in that time, was a mere foreshadowing of the better and final Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ. Through His sinless life and sacrificial death, Jesus became the only One capable of giving people a way to escape death and a sure hope of eternal life (1 Peter 1:20-21). (Quote source here).
Passion Week (also known as Holy Week) is the time from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday (Resurrection Sunday). Also included within Passion Week are Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, Spy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Passion Week is so named because of the passion with which Jesus willingly went to the cross in order to pay for the sins of His people. Passion Week is described in Matthew chapters 21-27; Mark chapters 11-15; Luke chapters 19-23; and John chapters 12-19. Passion Week begins with the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday on the back of a colt as prophesied in Zechariah 9:9.
Passion Week contained several memorable events. Jesus cleansed the Temple for the second time (Luke 19:45-46), then disputed with the Pharisees regarding His authority. Then He gave His Olivet Discourse on the end times and taught many things, including the signs of His second coming. Jesus ate His Last Supper with His disciples in the upper room (Luke 22:7-38), then went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray as He waited for His hour to come. It was here that Jesus, having been betrayed by Judas, was arrested and taken to several sham trials before the chief priests, Pontius Pilate, and Herod (Luke 22:54-23:25).
Following the trials, Jesus was scourged at the hands of the Roman soldiers, then was forced to carry His own instrument of execution (the Cross) through the streets of Jerusalem along what is known as the Via Dolorosa (way of sorrows). Jesus was then crucified at Golgotha on the day before the Sabbath, was buried and remained in the tomb until Sunday, the day after the Sabbath, and then gloriously resurrected.
It is referred to as Passion Week because in that time, Jesus Christ truly revealed His passion for us in the suffering He willingly went through on our behalf. What should our attitude be during Passion Week? We should be passionate in our worship of Jesus and in our proclamation of His Gospel! As He suffered for us, so should we be willing to suffer for the cause of following Him and proclaiming the message of His death and resurrection. (Quote source here.)
The resurrection of Jesus is important for several reasons. First, the resurrection witnesses to the immense power of God Himself. To believe in the resurrection is to believe in God. If God exists, and if He created the universe and has power over it, then He has power to raise the dead. If He does not have such power, He is not worthy of our faith and worship. Only He who created life can resurrect it after death, only He can reverse the hideousness that is death itself, and only He can remove the sting and gain the victory over the grave (1 Corinthians 15:54–55). In resurrecting Jesus from the grave, God reminds us of His absolute sovereignty over life and death.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is also important because it validates who Jesus claimed to be, namely, the Son of God and Messiah. According to Jesus, His resurrection was the “sign from heaven” that authenticated His ministry (Matthew 16:1–4) and the proof that He had authority over even the temple in Jerusalem (John 2:18–22). The resurrection of Jesus Christ, attested to by hundreds of eyewitnesses (1 Corinthians 15:3–8), provides irrefutable proof that He is the Savior of the world.
Another reason the resurrection of Jesus Christ is important is that it proves His sinless character and divine nature. The Scriptures said God’s “Holy One” would never see corruption (Psalm 16:10), and Jesus never saw corruption, even after He died (see Acts 13:32–37). It was on the basis of the resurrection of Christ that Paul preached, “Through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin” (Acts 13:38–39).
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not only the supreme validation of His deity; it also validates the Old Testament prophecies that foretold of Jesus’ suffering and resurrection (see Acts 17:2–3). Christ’s resurrection also authenticated His own claims that He would be raised on the third day (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34). If Jesus Christ is not resurrected, then we have no hope that we will be, either. In fact, apart from Christ’s resurrection, we have no Savior, no salvation, and no hope of eternal life. As Paul said, our faith would be “useless,” the gospel would be altogether powerless, and our sins would remain unforgiven (1 Corinthians 15:14–19).
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), and in that statement claimed to be the source of both. There is no resurrection apart from Christ, no eternal life. Jesus does more than give life; He is life, and that’s why death has no power over Him. Jesus confers His life on those who trust in Him, so that we can share His triumph over death (1 John 5:11–12). We who believe in Jesus Christ will personally experience resurrection because, having the life Jesus gives, we have overcome death. It is impossible for death to win (1 Corinthians 15:53–57).
Jesus is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). In other words, Jesus led the way in life after death. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is important as a testimony to the resurrection of human beings, which is a basic tenet of the Christian faith. Unlike other religions, Christianity possesses a Founder who transcends death and promises that His followers will do the same. Every other religion was founded by men or prophets whose end was the grave. As Christians, we know that God became man, died for our sins, and was resurrected the third day. The grave could not hold Him. He lives, and He sits today at the right hand of the Father in heaven (Hebrews 10:12). . . .
The importance of the resurrection of Christ has an impact on our service to the Lord now. Paul ends his discourse on resurrection with these words: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Because we know we will be resurrected to new life, we can endure persecution and danger for Christ’s sake (verses 30–32), just as our Lord did. Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, thousands of Christian martyrs throughout history have willingly traded their earthly lives for everlasting life and the promise of resurrection.
The resurrection is the triumphant and glorious victory for every believer. Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3–4). And He is coming again! The dead in Christ will be raised up, and those who are alive at His coming will be changed and receive new, glorified bodies (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18). Why is the resurrection of Jesus Christ important? It proves who Jesus is. It demonstrates that God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf. It shows that God has the power to raise us from the dead. It guarantees that the bodies of those who believe in Christ will not remain dead but will be resurrected unto eternal life. (Quote source here.)
Bickel and Jantz state the following in the last chapter of their book, “God is Amazing” (pp. 218-219):
In the ultimate act of love, God allowed His perfect Son to be crucified for our transgressions. Being sinless Himself, His death was a qualifying sacrifice sufficient to pay the penalty for our transgressions. Christ’s death proved His love for us; His resurrection proved that He was God.
God extends His offer of salvation to all people. It is based completely on the sacrifice of Christ. There is no “performance” required on our part. It is just as amazing as it sounds: those who put their faith and trust in Christ are immediately restored to intimacy with the almighty God of the universe.
Like our salvation, our continuing relationship with Christ is not performance-based. Followers of Christ are not in jeopardy of being kicked out of God’s family when they mess up. Of course, true Christ-followers desire to live according to God’s principles, but this is a matter of voluntary submission and commitment motivated by responsive gratitude. Perfection is not required. it is not even expected. God’s love, grace, and forgiveness extend to His followers with His foreknowledge that we will screw up along the way.
At some time in the future, God will restore order at the completion of His plan. Evil will be conquered permanently, and Christ-followers–from the past and present–will reign with Him for eternity in a perfect creation.
It is an amazing scenario . . . . (Quote source, “God is Amazing,” pp. 218-219).
Whoever believes in Him . . .
Should not perish . . .
But have everlasting life . . . .
YouTube Video: “Because He Live (Amen)” by Matt Maher:
I read a short article (actually, a devotion) on a blog last night and I said, “I must share it!” Not only is it short (most folks like short articles) but, as is the case with so many of my blog posts, it is written by someone who is famous and a lot more knowledgeable then I am, and he’s also a friend of mine. He was a pastor for 25 years, and he is a radio talk show host (among other things), and he’s written many books over the years, too. In fact, I’ve written about two of them previously on these two blog posts: “Three Free Sins–Say What?” (published on August 5, 2012) on his book titled, “Three Free Sins,” and “True Colors” (published on April 29, 2016) on his last book titled, “Hidden Agendas: Dropping the Masks that Keep Us Apart.” And, he’s currently working on a new book, too.
His name is Dr. Steve Brown (but don’t call him doctor; call him Steve), and if you know him or have listened to him talk in a myriad of venues including his radio program, you know that he has a very deep voice and a delightful sense of humor. He’s also honest to the bone. And, he is, without a doubt, one of a kind. Steve is a former pastor and professor emeritus, founder of Key Life Network, a Bible teacher, and he is a frequent and much sought-after speaker at conferences and in other settings.
Steve writes a regular devotional on his KeyLife website, and I want to share the devotion that was just published on March 27, 2017 as it speaks to an issue that is so prevalent in our society and world today. It is titled, “The Problem with Religion,” and here is what Steve has to say on the topic (quote source: KeyLife):
Do you sometimes grow tired of religious people? Do you ever want to just grunt, scream and spit? I know I do.
Sometimes I just want to say something shocking. And once that’s done, I’ll think, “There, I did it and I’m glad!” I try to stifle those feelings because, of course, no real Christian would even think such things. That is what I thought until I read Christ’s words in Matthew 6:1-8 and 16-18.
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. . . . And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
The fact is, you can always tell when someone is religious . . . but you can’t always tell when someone is a Christian. One of the most dangerous things we do in the church is to confuse sanctimony with saintliness. That is the problem Jesus addresses in Matthew 6.
So we need to be careful.
Watch Out For Religious Exhibitionism.
Someone has said that true religion is what you do when no one sees.
Jesus makes the point that if you don’t do it privately, for God’s sake, don’t do it publicly. If you don’t believe it in your heart, for God’s sake, don’t do it in your life. If it isn’t real to you when you’re by yourself, for God’s sake, don’t say it is real when you’re with others. Sometimes the more the outward piety, the less the inward reality. That is why you have to watch those who say and do religious things.
Are you sometimes intimidated by the religious folks who do so much religious stuff? They are always faithful, they memorize Scripture all the time, they talk only about God and they know the creeds backwards.
Watch Out For Religious Words.
There is a direct correlation between the reality you know and the number of words you have to use to communicate that reality to others. The more words, the less the reality.
You should have heard all the religious clichés that surrounded my father on his deathbed. In contrast, the doctor who led him to Christ was very brief and very clear. He said, “Mr. Brown, you have cancer and three months to live. We’re going to have a prayer and then I’m going to tell you something more important than what I just told you.” They prayed and then in a very simple way that doctor led my father to Christ.
It takes many words to keep a sinking religious ship afloat. Most of us have a problem with keeping quiet . . . I know I do.
Are you sometimes intimidated by those who know so much and make it sound so complex?
Watch Out For Religious Condemnation.
You can tell how guilty a person is by asking how guilty you feel in that person’s presence.
How surprising of God to sanctify the tears of the thief and judge the silent condemnation of the religious judge. How surprising of God, in the midst of proper worship, correct theology and strict Sabbath keeping, to simply leave the building.
Do you sometimes wonder if you’re the real thing because you get so much wrong and they point it out?
Watch Out For Religious Solemnity.
Sometimes I get tickled at the seriousness of the church. If there weren’t a God, I would understand. But last time I checked, God was still there and had not, as yet, gone into a panic.
When Jesus is present, there is joy, freedom and release. Under the watchful eye of a sovereign God, we can rejoice in the laughter of the redeemed.
Do you ever get the giggles in the wrong place, are criticized and then question your salvation?
I’ve got some good news for you.
Jesus says twice, “They have their reward.” When people tell me that I’m spiritual, it often worries me. I would rather receive my reward from God than from them.
I have a friend who says that the difference between believers and unbelievers is that Christians know the rules and how to play the game. Therefore we can fake it better.
In Luke 18 Jesus told a story about a Pharisee who knew the rules. He went to the temple to pray and looked down on the tax collector who was also praying. The Pharisee rejoiced before God that he was not like the tax collector.
The Pharisee told God that he was not like other men. The Pharisee told God that he wasn’t an adulterer . . . and he wasn’t. The Pharisee told God that he wasn’t a tax collector who stole money from God’s people . . . and he wasn’t. The Pharisee told God that he fasted twice a week . . . and he did. The Pharisee told God that he tithed all of his possessions . . . and he did.
The tax collector, on the other hand, barely looked up. Instead, he pled for desperately needed mercy . . . and received it.
The rest of the story? When the Pharisee left the temple, the religious folks told him how much they appreciated his help in building the temple. After all, he was a benefactor. The religious folks went on to admire him for his fasting, praying, purity and commitment. As a result, the Pharisee felt good about himself.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge him.
According to Jesus, that’s all he got.
Time To Draw Away
Are you intimidated by religious folk . . . so much so that you begin to doubt your salvation? Don’t let that happen. You belong to God. So rest and relax in his love, mercy and grace. It’s already yours. (Quote source: “The Problem with Religion” on KeyLife).
I titled this blog post, “Be Bold for Change,” as we who are part of the Church (see definition at this link) need to be far less religious and far more loving. We need to be far less self-righteous and far more genuine about our concerns for others (as in all others). We need to be far less concerned about materialism and far more concerned about those in need. We need to be far less judgmental and far more understanding of others. And we need be far less concerned about our “legacy” and far more concerned with trusting God and not ourselves and our own resources.
If we want to know just how “religious” we are at any given moment, just think about someone we don’t like very much. That’s all it takes. The example of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Jesus’s story quoted above in the devotion says it all. As Steve wrote:
He [the Pharisee] went to the temple to pray and looked down on the tax collector who was also praying. The Pharisee rejoiced before God that he was not like the tax collector.
The Pharisee told God that he was not like other men. The Pharisee told God that he wasn’t an adulterer . . . and he wasn’t. The Pharisee told God that he wasn’t a tax collector who stole money from God’s people . . . and he wasn’t. The Pharisee told God that he fasted twice a week . . . and he did. The Pharisee told God that he tithed all of his possessions . . . and he did.
The tax collector, on the other hand, barely looked up. Instead, he pled for desperately needed mercy . . . and received it.
And we all do it, too . . . judge others (and ourselves) according to our own measuring stick. That is why Jesus made it so clear that we should not judge others (and he knew our proclivity to do just that very thing, too) in Matthew 7:1-5 when he stated:
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
The Pharisee paid no attention to “the plank in his own eye.” He thought he was righteous before God in the things that he did (or didn’t) do. He justified himself; whereas the tax collector humbled himself before God and acknowledged that he was a sinner, and asked for (and received) mercy. The difference between the two is huge.
It’s far too easy to play a religious game and miss the whole point of who Jesus really is. And it’s too easy to point fingers at others and mock or make fun of those we don’t know or understand–we do it all the time whether outwardly or in our thoughts (and God knows our thoughts even if others don’t). As Steve said about a friend he knew in the devotion above:
I have a friend who says that the difference between believers and unbelievers is that Christians know the rules and how to play the game. Therefore we can fake it better.
And we can fake it so well, too (or at least we think we fake it well). It’s often why some people leave the church and never come back. They can smell fake a mile away.
The answer? It’s found in Micah 6:8:
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
And that’s as simple as it gets . . . .
Act justly . . .
Love mercy . . .
And walk humbly . . .
YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac: