Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 5 August 2015

Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. Mark 9, verse 41.

Is Jesus talking about heaven or earth here?   Is He talking about an eternal reward in the life everlasting with Him, or is He talking about being rewarded more temporally here in ways we can relate to now?

Yes.

Yes?   It’s really that simple?   Yes it is.   This is simple?   Actually, again, yes it is. Not answering the questions above would be a dodge, and if our Lord does anything, He doesn’t dodge.   Jesus is upfront, teaching and loving even in justice, and always getting to the nub of an issue.   If He answers things in ways that seem oblique to us, it isn’t He who is oblique.

Of course Jesus is talking about that earthly reward, the things you get here.   He’s not going all Joel Osteen, preaching a prosperity gospel of “get rich through My wishing well, guys.”   Not hardly.   But Jesus is promising us a reward here and now: Him.   In Him is more than enough for everything we could comprehend; in Him are found solutions to any issue we could devise. What’s more, we don’t have to live our lives in Him: we get to.   That’s a concept we’ve explored before and it’s worth doing so again.   Faith is a ‘get to’ kind of thing, a real groovy kind of love kind of thing. We don’t have to do it: we get to live our lives following Jesus.   Make no mistake about it:   Joel and the other perfect-hairs have it wrong.   Jesus doesn’t promise us riches or prosperity; if anything, He promises we will walk a tougher earthly road by following Him.   And yet, in reassuring us, He also promises us the unending wealth of Himself, which makes us richer and more prosperous inside that we ever could be with billions and bling.

We get to live with Him now.   We are part of eternity now.   It is part of our lives here and now, and that can change everything.   If we get rich off it, well, count that as another good blessing.   But money isn’t the point:   Jesus is the point.   Jesus is the point now, in our lives here and now on the Third Rock so that we might share Him with others and they might be rich in Him as well.

And, yes, of course Jesus is talking about life everlasting.   It really is a both/and kind of answer, a having your cake and eating it too on a level we hadn’t thought of. Jesus is talking about how, when we profess Him to the world, He smiles and prepares our places with Him forever.   All too often, we use heaven as the ultimate cop out; something we can promise to people but never have to deliver, never have to prove.   The truth is we really don’t have to prove it because Jesus already did.   In this verse, He reminds us that His words are true and reliable. Because of that we can count on receiving a permanent reward with Him in heaven forever. Being for Him means we aren’t against Him and He is never against us, always for us.

Yes, it really is that simple.

Lord, thank You for Your promises of my reward, and for making all of it possible.

Read Mark 9, verses 42-50.

 

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Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 12 December 2014

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. Mark 2, verses 18-20.

This is the first time in the book of Mark that Jesus predicts His death. “The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them:”   that’s a foreshadowing of the crucifixion. Jesus is saying “be happy all the time but be happy especially now because I’m with you here.” He knew, even then, that we needed Him more than ever.

So why do we fast so often?   I mean, Jesus isn’t physically here with us but He is here in ways we simply can’t see with our eyes. So why do we still fast?   Fast?   Yes, fast.   Just like giving up food as a way of devotion, we daily give up Jesus as a monument to anything but Him. In a way, you and I are fasting for idols; we are fasting in our souls to celebrate idolatry.

But…but…but I tithe and I go to church and I sometimes help the poor and I listen to my mother in law and I do all the good things I’m supposed to do (unlike those reprobates in Hollywood, you know).   I’m still an idol-worshipper?

You bet your biffy you are.

See, Jesus was with His friends and they were celebrating life.   Every day with Him was a celebration of life because He is life; He was then and He is now. They were His disciples:   His loyal followers.   They had subordinated their lives to His, adopting His ways and learning His path.   That made each day a celebration.   I’m not going all Pollyanna here: it’s the truth. They were learning to look past the world and all the muck that’s in it in order to be His eyes, ears and arms in a world that desperately needed Him. To do that, they gave up the world, gave up on being fixated on small things or worldly pleasures.   This isn’t to say they became perfect; they were flawed men not unlike us (see what happens on Maundy Thursday for the proof of that). But they walked the walk with Jesus.

Tell me:   when was the last time you or I gave up being fixated on small things, worldly pleasures, or things other than Jesus?   When was the last time we walked His walk, acted as His disciples, fasted for Him?   The sad truth is that, if we aren’t following Jesus, we are following something that isn’t Him.   And if it isn’t Him, then it’s nothing good.   Remember, John 15:5 says “apart from Me you can do nothing.”   Nothing means nothing good.

That means we’re following idols if we aren’t following Jesus fully; we fast for the world. I’ll say it again: is it any wonder that Jesus started predicting His death – the action which would make eternity possible for us – so early in His ministry? Even then, even though his friends didn’t know it, Jesus knew how we would constantly fall away from Him despite our best intentions.

Lord, strengthen me to follow only You, to break my fast for the world and to fast only to celebrate You.

Read the whole story again in Mark 2, verses 18-22.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 9 December 2014

Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. Mark 2, verses 13-14.

Follow…what does it mean to follow?   I mean, I follow the news.   We follow people on Facebook. Kids play Follow the Leader.   “Will you follow,” was the message from “Braveheart.”   But what does it mean to follow?

Consider Levi, also known by the name of Matthew, who became Jesus’ disciple.   Levi was a tax collector, meaning he was the dirtiest of the dirty in Jesus’ time.   Tax collectors were treacherous scum who collaborated with the Roman occupying force to defraud people of their money.   Very often, the tax collectors of Jesus’ time would extort much more from taxpayers than what was simply owed.   Like now, when the tax man calls on you, you pay.   They were lying, conspiring, powerful cheats. This was the kind of man who Jesus encountered on His walk beside the lake.

Jesus spoke to Levi/Matthew, and immediately Levi/Matthew got up and followed Jesus. Levi didn’t go home to put things in order. He didn’t say “first let me do something.”   He didn’t go to buy a new pair of sandals. No, immediately – right there and then without delay – Levi left his job as a tax collector and walked away with Jesus.

Go ye (we) therefore and do the same, right?

Yes.

Yes, because Levi wasn’t intimidated by the fact that Jesus was a prophet and rabbi of growing fame and stature.   And we shouldn’t be either. Jesus had spoken to Levi and touched him deep inside, addressing Levi’s deepest need:   the need to be loved.   Nobody loved the tax collector, not even the Romans who oversaw his vocation. Yet Jesus loved him.   Jesus loved Matthew enough to say “I want you with me right now, out of the life you’re living because there’s so much more than this.   There’s me.   I want you, Levi, to be with me.   Follow me.”

So Levi did.   Where Jesus walked, Levi walked.   Where He rested, Levi rested.   The people Levi met were the people Jesus met.   You get the picture.   It became a life-long friendship, namely that, for the rest of Jesus’ earthly life, Levi was one of the men by his side.   And for the rest of Levi’s life, Jesus was his guide, inspiration, and Savior.

Go ye (we) therefore and live the same, right?   Absolutely.

We absolutely need to do this because Jesus is calling you and me to follow Him right now, in these words, at this very moment.   Maybe you already do; He’s calling you to encourage you on your walk today.   Maybe you don’t know Him; He’s calling you to introduce Himself.   Maybe you reject Him; He’s calling you to say He loves you, He forgives you, He wants you for just who you are.   Wherever we find ourselves, Jesus is immediately calling to us, in whatever our predicament, to leave who we are now and follow Him.   He promises the road we walk with Him will be worth it.   It may be – no, it will be – tough, and much will be demanded of us during the walk. Yet He promises that we, like Levi, will love following Him because He loved us first.

Lord, I will follow You now, wherever You lead me   Strengthen me for this journey and thank You for choosing me.

Read Mark 2, verses 13-17.

Practical Proverbial, from Mark, 3 October 2014

 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him – Mark 1, verses 16-20.

I don’t mind confessing: I sometimes earnestly wish I could pick myself and leave.   The other day I shared a story about moving to Tennessee; that’s a manifestation of this wish.   My desire to keep my traveling job (that keeps me on the road about 30 weeks a year) is another. How I crave time alone; same thing. Sometimes I just wish I could drop everything I know and simply go:   go to follow the Lord in wherever He’s leading.

To me, the logical response to all this wishing is, “Dave, what’s holding you back?”

Maybe God IS advocating that some people leave their responsibilities behind and simply follow Him; that could be.   A lot of hippies did this in the 60s, but it didn’t work out so well for them or their families. A lot of Detroit has done this in just the last few years. I read just yesterday that there are over 90,000 abandoned houses in Detroit because people simply walked away; how many of those people walked to follow Jesus? We may never know.

Yet for each of us, here and now, God is still calling.   Perhaps the most usable lesson to draw in this is that we should be ready to abandon everything and follow the voice of Jesus instead of the voices around us. For some that may indeed mean picking up and moving out.   For some it may indeed mean leaving everything on a moment’s notice. In fact, if you think about it, THAT is the meaning for ALL of us.

Don’t believe me?   Then riddle me this, Batman Reader:   how many of your sins is God willing to tolerate?   How much of Jesus’ message, starting with the ones we’ve read here this week, have said “repent of only some of your sins and believe?”   No, the hard truth – and the saving grace – is that Jesus called His best friends to their highest calling:   to proclaim to the world the good news of Jesus’ salvation.

Yet that salvation demands a price, and that price is to give up everything.   Freely give up ALL your sins, all your worries, all your junk, all your wrongs, all the ways you’ve failed.   Give ALL those up to Jesus NOW, then follow Him.   Follow Him, sometimes minute by minute, in letting Him wipe clean the guilt in your heart and the doubt in your mind.   Follow Him on the next logical steps when He gives you the strength to leave things that hurt you and others behind and change how you live. Follow Him in where He then leads you to use your life story to help others.

THAT is what Jesus called Simon, Andrew, James, and John to do. That’s what He’s calling us to do as well. Now.

Lord, I turn from my past to follow only You.

Read Matthew 4, verses 18-22, and Luke 5, verses 1-11.

Daily Proverbial, from James, 17 October 2013

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?  James 2, verse 14

Be very careful here.   If you want to grasp the meaning of this verse, don’t read it alone.   Go back and re-read all of the 2 chapters before.   Don’t get fooled into interpreting this verse as “work out your own salvation.”

It’s a mistake we all make from time to time.   Especially if you’re bull-headed like me.  It’s easy to think that we can do it all ourselves, or that the things we do earn favor in God’s eyes.   After all, we’re put here to work, to share Jesus in all that we do… to ‘do’ things in life.  Isn’t it easy, then, to think that it’s our doing that makes Jesus love us more?   Just look at how good I’ve been, how hard I’ve been working.   Just look at my good intentions!  James even agrees, saying that our faith only means something because we’re doing something about it, right?

If that’s what you think, you couldn’t be more mistaken.   Go back and re-read again, then come back to me here.

Now that you’re back, let’s get back to the truth that James is telling us about his brother, Jesus.   All through chapter 1, he says that believing in Jesus is going to be tough, that we’ll need to persevere.   And that persevering in Jesus means something.   It builds others up, toughens our skin, and prepares us to move forward in the faith.  It is evidence of faith to people who watch us, who are looking to see what evidence we show that we believe in this Jesus, that He is all He says He is.

The ‘doing’ matters because it is the doing that shows others.  It prepares us for more, like tuning an instrument.  What good is it to believe in Jesus if we don’t let Him change what we say & do, then prove we’re changed by living in changed ways? 

Believe me, this is the toughest part of following Jesus.   It’s hard to back away from the arguments because my self-righteous nature rails against doing so, and I don’t like to lose.   It’s hard to keep away from the things that tempt us because, after all, just one more won’t hurt.   It’s hard to stand up for what you believe when everyone else compromises on principle instead of compromising on practice.

We aren’t in it alone; we never are.  The doing matters.   It matters to help build others up so that Jesus might have a work in them too.

Lord, help me more and more to do for You.   Keep me from temptation, forgive me when I mess it up, and help me to move forward in following You.

 

What are your thoughts on working out your own salvation?

How do you confuse what you do & working for faith?

Do you sometimes feel alone in what you do?