Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Rich Man (4)...Mark 10:17-31

“And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples,
‘How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!’”

     In the book Tuesdays With Morrie, a dying old man reflects on life with a young friend.  At one point he says, “We’ve got a form of brainwashing going on in our country.  Do you know how they brainwash people?  They repeat something over and over...Owning things is good.  More money is good.  More property is good.  More commercialism is good.  More is good.  More is good.  We repeat it — and have it repeated to us — over and over until nobody bothers to even think otherwise...
     “Wherever I went in my life, I met people wanting to gobble up something new.  Gobble up a new car.  Gobble up a new piece of property.  Gobble up the latest toy.  And then they wanted to tell you about it.  ‘Guess what I got?’
     “You know how I always interpreted that?  These were people so hungry for love that they were accepting substitutes.  They were embracing material things and expecting a sort of hug back.  But it never works.  You can’t substitute material things for love or for gentleness or for tenderness or for a sense of companionship...
     “I can tell you, as I’m sitting here dying, when you most need it, neither money nor power will give you the feeling you’re looking for, no matter how much of them you have.”
     Jesus would agree with Morrie.  As He and His disciples reflect on Jesus’ discussion with the wealthy man, Jesus declares the difficulty of wealthy people entering the kingdom of God.  Why does wealth keep people from the kingdom?  It is so alluring.  You fall in love with money and its benefits, and you fail to see your need of a Savior.  After all, if you have everything you would ever want to possess, why would you see your need of God?
     This may seem obvious to you as an abstract concept, but consider its effect in your life and culture.  How does money lure you into believing that if you have more of it, all will be well?  Might your desire for dollars drive out your pursuit of God?  How might wealth distract you from entering the kingdom?
     Happily, Jesus ends this part of the discussion with words of hope.  While the rich entering the kingdom can be as impossible as a camel going through the eye of a needle, God can accomplish more than all we ask or imagine.  He will turn the hearts of even the wealthiest people to Himself.  By the work of the Holy Spirit, the wealthy person may see their poverty of spirit and look to Jesus for forgiveness and new life.
     Salvation is a miracle of God’s grace.  It is obvious with the wealthy, but true for everyone.  Ask God to keep your heart fixed on the One who provides true and everlasting wealth.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The Rich Man (3)...Mark 10:17-31

“And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him,
‘You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’”

     Do you have claustrophobia?  Some of us do, and it manifests itself in odd ways.  I struggle when I am in large crowds of people.  If all those other bodies surround me and I see no way through the crowd or out of the crowd, I begin to feel it physically.  
     The heart is a crowded place.  As Jesus continues His discussion with this man, the man says he has kept the commandments from his youth.  He may be referring to the time he was welcomed into the adult community of faith and began to be held responsible for his actions.  Indeed, from all appearances, he may have kept the commandments.  But as we have seen, God’s standards are higher than this man knows.
     His heart is also more crowded than he realizes.  With love, Jesus addresses the crowd in this man’s heart.  He is possessed by his possessions.  We do not know what this looks like in the details of his life, but Jesus speaks to the man’s crowded heart and exposes the realities there.  He claims to love and follow God, but because he is possessed by his possessions, he is stingy toward the poor.  Jesus calls the man to sell his possessions, share with the needy people around him, and embrace a life of discipleship.
     The man cannot do this.  Jesus’ words dishearten him, and, with sadness, he goes away.  We wonder whether he ever returned to Jesus with a less crowded heart.  But we know Jesus calls His followers to have room for Him alone in their hearts.
     Is your heart crowded?  You may be possessed by your possessions.  Perhaps other desires are creating the crowd.  While Jesus does not use the word here, he is addressing the false gods, or idols, in the human heart.  Some pursue money.  Others seek power.  Many give themselves for sexual excitement.  Still others live for the approval of other people.  When other things crowd your heart, you have no room for Jesus.  Your desires for them crowd out your devotion to Him.
     Just as He challenged this man, Jesus challenges you.  Perhaps the crowd is keeping you from following Jesus at all.  Or maybe you say you follow Jesus, but your crowded heart prevents you from being fully devoted to Him.  
     Ask Jesus to show you the crowd in your heart.  It will be painful but profitable.  Seek His help to expel the crowd and give you a full-hearted devotion to Him.  This struggle will remain for all of your days on this Earth, but you will gain the joy of victory as you see Jesus taking the lone place in your heart.  May He enable you to leave the crowd and follow Him.


Monday, September 17, 2018

The Rich Man (2)...Mark 10:17-31

“And Jesus said to him,
‘Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone.’”

     When I was in sixth grade, I won the school spelling bee.  I still remember the word that secured my victory: denial.  I thought I was a pretty good speller until I entered the citywide spelling bee and began to study the book filled with lists of practice words.  I recognized about one in four words on these lists and could spell almost none of them.  I figured I was fine until I discovered the true standard.
     This rich man has asked Jesus an excellent question.  Now Jesus’ response begins the process of showing the man he is not nearly as good as he thinks.  
     Jesus starts by declaring, No one is good except God alone.  He is not denying His own deity or goodness, but He is establishing what this man should already know.  By human standards of goodness, we may say this or that person is good.  But genuine goodness resides only in the God of all holiness.  Both Jesus and this man are aware of human sin.  This reality alone should demolish any pretensions of human goodness.
     Jesus continues by highlighting the commandments.  In Matthew’s account of this scene, He adds Jesus’ proclamation that if the man wants eternal life, he should obey these commandments.  Once again, we may miss the impact of Jesus’ words.  He does not believe we can achieve salvation by our good works.  That is the whole point of his response to the man.  But by listing a few of the commandments and telling the man to obey them, Jesus challenges the man’s attitude toward the commandments.  Perhaps the man has heard Jesus’ teaching about the depth of the commandments.  If he realizes what God requires with these commandments, he will know he falls far short of the standard.
     Because of who God is and what God requires, this man is not good.  No ordinary human is good.  We believe we are good because we either compare ourselves to others or reduce the commandments to external rules that we believe we can keep.  But when we realize the standard is set by a holy God who requires full devotion of heart, soul, mind, and strength, we know we are not nearly as good as we think.  We can barely scratch the surface of the goodness God requires of us.
     As we will continue to see in this story, Jesus’ words drive us to our desperate need of His mercy and grace.  We think we want to stand before God on the basis of our goodness, but we can only survive His judgment if the righteousness of Jesus is given to us.  As we live before this God and His commandments, we should be humbly aware of our shortcomings.  And we should rejoice that He has made a way to forgiveness and salvation for sinful people like us.

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Rich Man (1)...Mark 10:17-31

“And as he was setting out on his journey,
a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him,
‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’”

     My wife and children will surely affirm this.  You do not enjoy being with me during radio or television interviews.  They drive me crazy, usually for one of two reasons:
     > The interviewer asks inane or docile questions;
     > The interviewee jabbers endlessly without answering the question.
     If you see me driving down the road alone and yelling, I am likely shouting, “Just answer the question!”
     In this scene, a man approaches Jesus for an interview.  He seems to be sincere because he kneels before Jesus and addresses Jesus as Good Teacher.  And unlike many other interviewers, he asks Jesus a very good question.  Others ask Jesus picky questions designed to trap Him, but this man truly wants to know how to inherit eternal life.
     This is the question of questions because we all seek such life.  From a quantity standpoint, we all want to keep living.  From a quality standpoint, we want this everlasting living to be full of the joy and peace we often lack in this life.  God has placed eternity in our hearts, and this man’s interview with Jesus reflects our search for eternity.
     Would Jesus receive this question today?  I doubt it.  Some…
     Assume the right of eternal life.  We live in a culture of performance, and many believe they have lived well enough to ensure their right to whatever reward God offers after death.  They would not ask Jesus this question because they presume they will receive what God provides.
     Assert the irrelevance of eternal life.  We live in a culture of skepticism, and many believe it is foolish to believe in life after death.  Still others may dream of eternal life, but live for today.  You see this present-only focus in the way advertisers appeal to fulfilling our dreams now.
     As we will see, this man has much to learn from his interview with Jesus.  But the path to the right answer begins with the right questions, and this is the right question for him to ask.  If God has placed eternity in our hearts, and if eternity is a reality before an everlasting God, we face no greatest issue than where we will spend eternity and how we will get there.  
     This is true for us and the people in our lives.  We must consistently remind ourselves and others that this life is short.  It is not meaningless, but it is also not endless.  One day, perhaps very soon, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God and receive either eternal life or eternal death.  Jesus has come that we may have eternal life.  We must praise Him for this indescribable gift, and we must declare this gift to the people around us.
     Are you asking the right questions?  Do you have the right answer?

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Children...Mark 10:13-16

“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child
shall not enter it.”

     Our neighbors recently welcomed their first child into their home.  They are active people, and this baby has slowed them down.  Life has become chaotic, inefficient, and tiring.  We observe the effect as we watch their grass grow longer than before the baby was born.  If you have ever had children, you can relate to the burdens they create!
     We know little about the families of the disciples.  Maybe some of them had children.  But now they are on a mission, and children are getting in the way.  People are bringing children to Jesus for His touch and blessing.  The disciples rebuke the parents for introducing such distractions.
     Jesus will have none of it.  Why?  Does the Savior believe children are cute?  Surely.  But He has a far greater agenda.  The kingdom of God “belongs” to people like these little children.  If we are to enter the kingdom of God, we must do it like a child.
     What characteristics of children might Jesus have in mind?  The word translated child seems to refer to a very young child — possibly an infant or slightly older.  As my neighbors are learning, such children are challenging because they need their parents for everything.  Life is a never-ending cycle of feeding, diaper-changing, comforting, and praying for sleep.  Children create burdens because they cannot do anything for themselves.
     Jesus might say, “Exactly!”  Little children are dependent on their parents, and we enter God’s kingdom when we confess our dependence on God’s mercy and grace.  Adults like to declare and demonstrate their independence.  As people, we want to show God and others how good we are.  Throughout His ministry, Jesus castigates the Jewish religious leaders for their self-righteousness and pride in their performance.  Quit telling God and others about your virtues.  Profess your need of Him, and He will welcome you into His kingdom.
     Is this your attitude as you come to Jesus?  The gospel is not for people who think they are good enough for God, but for those who know they are bad enough to need God.  You truly come to Jesus when you confess your sinfulness and sins and profess your faith in Jesus to secure the forgiveness and new life you need through His death on the cross.  You must depend on Him.
     Is this your attitude as you live before Jesus?  Kingdom living is dependent living.  In every season and situation of life, you ask God for help in following and serving Him.  Left to your own devices, you will flounder and fail.  But as you run to Him for strength, wisdom, love, and a thousand other godly qualities, He guides and provides.  Again, you must depend on Him.
     Children are a rich blessing because they show us how we must stand and live before God.  Enter and engage the kingdom like a child.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Marriage and Divorce (5)...Mark 10:1-12

“And he said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery 
against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’”

     “Just tell me what to do!”  Pastors sometimes hear this cry.  People face moral dilemmas, and they want to obey God.  They seek clear direction on life’s details and decisions.
     Some responses would be easy.  “No — do not commit adultery or rob that bank!”  But if you are thinking about doing something like that, you are usually not in your pastor’s office because you know what you will hear.  These conversations come when the options are unpleasant, the issues are dense, and the answers are ambiguous.
     This is where we find ourselves as we consider Jesus’ words to His disciples about divorce.  If you simply read this statement, you may believe Jesus never allows divorce.  But we have to remember two aspects of the larger biblical picture:
     > This discussion is a response to a dispute among Jews about situations that would permit divorce.  Jesus has criticized a practice that permits divorce for a wide variety of reasons.  
     > Matthew also records this discussion, and in Jesus’ words to the Pharisees, he allows for a divorce when there has been “sexual immorality.”
     So what is Jesus doing in this response?  He is not outlining a systematic list of circumstances that permit a divorce.  He is driving the disciples to see the seriousness of unjustified divorce.  If a man divorces his wife without good reason and marries another woman, he commits adultery.  If a woman acts the same way, she is also guilty of adultery.  Jesus’ words serve to correct an inequity in the Jewish system.  Some said men could divorce, but women could not.  But Jesus levels the playing field for everyone.  Yet He does not permit divorce for any and every reason.
     Where does this leave us?  The general principle we glean from the Bible is that divorce is only justified when there is sexual unfaithfulness or desertion of the marriage by an unbeliever.  Yet the discussion is complicated because human relationships are complex.  For example, how does physical, sexual, or emotional abuse fit into this picture?  Does the use of pornography constitute sexual unfaithfulness?  What is desertion?  The questions multiply.  It is difficult to sort through what has occurred in a marriage, and it is challenging to apply biblical principles to the reality of a splintering marriage relationship.  
     Is there a solution?  There is no perfect one, but here is wise guidance: Seek counsel.  If you are in a situation where divorce is a possibility, pursue sound advice from people who take the Bible seriously and care deeply for your soul.  While divorce is not an unforgivable sin, Jesus’ words call you to great caution in seeking divorce.  
     Repent of past or present failures in this area.  Whatever your situation today, strive to honor God as a steward of this vital relationship of marriage.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Marriage and Divorce (4)...Mark 10:1-12

“What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

     We have all had the painful experience of struggling to open a jar.  For me, pickles seem to be especially difficult to open.  I twist and strain, run hot water on the lid, and even use a rubber grabber in my attempt to loosen the lid.  At some point I wonder, “Did they design this jar so people could not get into it?”
     God designed marriage so that no one could get into it by separating the husband and wife.  In Jesus’ final declaration to the Pharisees about marriage, He reminds them that if a man and woman are married, God’s design and desire is for them to remain together.
     Why?  God has joined them together.  They are one flesh before Him.  You might say, “But in this or that situation, the two people never should have been married.  They are a bad match.  One of them is not a believer.  Or their personalities are a toxic mix.”  There may be truth to this objection.  Sometimes people marry foolishly.  No marriage is a perfect pairing.  Yet if such a union has been established, we can say that God in His providence has permitted it and wants it to continue.  Even if a marriage has bad elements to it, God can bring good from the relationship.
     This means we must be diligent to strengthen intact marriages and restore broken marriages, both for ourselves and others.  If your marriage is straining or breaking, your greatest desire should be for the restoration of a healthy relationship.  If you are ministering to someone whose marriage is struggling, you should work toward forgiveness and reconciliation for whatever sins have occurred.  
     This is why marriage is a community project.  Left alone, many marriages will flounder.  But the church and Christian friends are designed to encourage the strengthening and restoration of the marriages God has ordained.  Wise couples seek wisdom before problems begin and when troubles occur.  Godly believers intervene for the sake of the preservation of marriages.
     Does this mean divorce is never permissible?  No.  As we will see, Jesus allows for divorce in certain circumstances.  But divorce should never be the first or best option.  If you are married, and as you think of the marriages in your life, your greatest desire should be for no one to separate the union God has created.  Even when divorce is necessary, it is a tragedy.  We must work to prevent such a painful event, and we should mourn when marriages end.
     In your exasperation about the jar, you know the manufacturer wants you to get inside and use the product.  The lid is designed to come off.  As you think about marriage, remember that God’s ways are different.  He wants the two parts to stay together.  He calls you to do whatever you can to ensure that marriages survive and thrive.  May you join His heart for preserving and prospering marriage.