Sunday, November 26, 2023

Living in Love, Not Fear


Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God is saved, then God remains in him and he in God.

Because of this confession of belief in Jesus and God living in him, we believers have come to know and believe the love that God has for us. God is love and love (God) lives in the person when the person remains in God (love).

By remaining with God and in His love, love is perfected within us. In that way, we may have confidence on the day of judgment of our eternal inheritance with God in His kingdom because we are as He is in this world, living in it but not bound by its temptations and sins. We are saved by Jesus. 

There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love—God’s love— drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. We believers should have no fear of punishment for, by their belief in Jesus, God, with His perfect love, removed the judgment for our sins.

So, any believer who fears has not reached perfection in love. For what do we have to fear since, by Jesus’ death, our sins have been wiped from our name in God’s books. 

Jesus makes believers righteous by His sinless death. God’s love lives in us and we in Him if we remain in a close relationship with Him. As we draw closer to God and become more like Jesus, love is made more and more perfect—complete—in us. Because we have God’s love in us, we believers have no reason to fear. Instead, have confidence in the promise of our hope of eternal life with God. For from God’s love in us, we have no reason to fear punishment. We are walking with Him and growing in love of and from God. 

Taken from 1 John 4:15-18

Monday, October 30, 2023

Being Least


They (James and John) said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. But to sit on My right or on My left is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” Hearing this, the other ten felt indignant with James and John. Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles domineer over them, and their people in high position exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you; rather, whoever wants to become prominent among you shall be your servant; and whoever wants to be first among you shall be a slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:37-45, NASB, 2020)

    This example of hearing something different from what the speaker intended happens often with people. James and John, two of the three apostles in Jesus’ inner circle, asked to have a position of authority forever in Jesus’ glory. Their idea proved they still had the world’s mindset. The other ten apostles heard what they asked with the same mindset and responded with surprise. That misunderstanding led them to challenge the two brothers. The ten apostles wanted people to see them as having authority and leadership, not just John and James. Understanding these things, let’s walk through this lesson.

    Amazingly, Jesus did not get frustrated or angry with his twelve disciples, but was patient and gracious as He taught them and made them to be fishers of men. By this time, Jesus had been with His twelve chosen men for almost three years. The Twelve had seen the miracles Jesus did, heard the teachings He spoke, and watched how He interacted with people. Right before James and John made their request of Jesus, Jesus told His disciples the chief priests would condemn Him to death and hand Him over to the Gentiles (Romans) to be mocked, spit on, flogged, and put to death, but He would rise three days later (Mark 10:33-34).

    This causes later readers and hearers of the disciples’ discussion with Jesus to wonder if the disciples had been listening to Him. Jesus had taught them several things in the earlier verses. To Him, each person is important. Consider the following teachings by Jesus in Mark 1.

     In Mark 10:1-12, Jesus corrected the Pharisees’ interpretation of Moses’ law that they could divorce their wives and marry another woman. The Pharisees only understood the words Moses said and allowed that to guide them in life. They had not recognized Moses and God, who guided Moses’ leadership over the Israelites, had given this law because the Israelites had hardened hearts. They did not want to follow God’s command that each man should have one wife. With the law God gave to Moses to proclaim, God protected the wives from becoming outcasts because of being divorced—a used woman, not a virgin. He protected them from a life of ostracism and poverty. As a married woman, she would have a husband to provide for and protect her. As a divorced woman, she had no one to provide for and protect her, unless she had a son who would take care of her. This law protected the husband, too, by keeping him from being considered an adulterer when he married another woman. The people did not care about God’s intent for the law, just the letters of the law, what was seen and heard. Women and men are important to God. Nobody should be cast off like dirt. Likewise, men should not cast off their wives, just as God would not cast His own people away.

    Next in Mark, Jesus welcomed and blessed the children. His disciples had tried to keep them away from Jesus. Jesus was “indignant” with them for keeping the children away. Young children were nobodies in society. They were trained at home. Children shepherds, carried the day’s water from the well, learned the family trade, were taught the Law and Prophets, and a person spoke to them. With Mark 10:13-16, Jesus saw the children. He welcomed them. Jesus took them in His arms, blessed them, and laid His hands upon them. Jesus’ recognition of them and deep care of and blessing of the children showed all who saw and heard that they are important. People should love and bless children, as Jesus showed by example. Children are not nobodies. God welcomes them into His kingdom with open arms. They are important.

    In Mark 10:17-31, Jesus spoke with a rich, young ruler. The disciples asked questions of Jesus about what He said to the ruler. This young ruler asked a deep question. He asked, “What shall I do so that I may inherit eternal life?” This young man recognized Jesus as a teacher of Scripture. He sincerely wanted to be with God in heaven. When Jesus reminded the ruler of the last six commandments, the young man said he had kept them since he was a youth. Jesus zeroed into the heart of the man and the matter. He knew the thing that would keep the young man away from God and inheriting heaven. Jesus next replied to the young ruler to sell all he owned and give to the poor, then he would have treasure in heaven. Jesus’ answer continued. He added, “then come follow Me.” Mark explained the man left “deeply dismayed.” The young man kept the commandments. He recognized obeying the commandments would not make him sinless to he could “inherit heaven.” His mind knew the laws. Jesus’ words went deeper; they went to the young man’s heart. The young ruler wanted to keep doing things without a change in his life’s circumstances. Jesus knew what kept the man from inheriting heaven. The young man’s things of earth held greater sway over him than being right with God. He made his possessions his god instead of Yahweh. When Jesus confronted this young ruler, the young man understood what Jesus meant; he knew Jesus spoke to his heart, not just his head. This man did not want to go beyond the letter of the law, the words. He wanted to do things without considering his heart. Jesus loved this man, just as He did the children and the Pharisees. He wanted them to understand who they are, who He is, and to believe in Him for salvation.

    Jesus explained this to His disciples after the rich, young ruler walked away dismayed. He said people who are rich have a harder time entering heaven. Poor people enter the kingdom of God more easily, Jesus added. The disciples expressed astonishment at this teaching. They asked, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus explained, salvation comes only by God. People cannot earn salvation by following the commandments or any other law or precept. The rich young ruler was weighed down by the treasures of earth and would not cast them off even to follow Jesus and be saved.

    After hearing this conversation, Mark wrote Peter told Jesus, “We have left everything and followed You.” The disciples each had left everything behind to follow Jesus when He commanded them to follow Him. Jesus heard Peter’s words and understood his unspoken question of, “Will we inherit heaven?” Jesus said, everyone who has left all his possessions and his loved ones to follow Him will get more in this world, including persecution. Inheriting heaven requires more sacrifice than losing earthly treasures. It involves being closely identified with Jesus. That means the follower may be persecuted just as Jesus was. Yet these followers will inherit eternal life. True disciples leave behind all ties in and to this world and follow Jesus, even though they will face persecution. Their reward is greater than what they forsook. The reward is eternity with God.

    One other point Jesus made. His followers should place themselves last, not first (vs. 31). Serving God should be foremost in their minds, hearts, and actions. The rich, young ruler willingly gave his mind and actions up to a point. He was unwilling to give his heart and obedience to Jesus’ leading from his heart’s conviction. Jesus spent time with this young man because he was important, like the children and Pharisees were important. The rich ruler was not a nobody in the world’s eyes and he refused to give away what made him a somebody in his world. Jesus spoke to and about religious leaders (the religious and moral leaders of the Jews, who were important because of their jobs), children (the lowly nobodies of society), and a rich, young ruler (important by wealth and status). Each of these people received their status by human standards. Jesus turned the tables on their understanding of people’s importance. The last (the least/lowliest in people’s eyes) shall be first (the ones who would believe in Jesus and inherit salvation easiest) and the first (the people who see no need for believing in Jesus because they have everything they need) shall be last.

    Jesus spoke to and taught about the greatest and least in society according to humanity’s standards. He explained they each are important, and He came so each person can inherit heaven. With Jesus’ next teaching, He explained how that would be. Jesus foretold the suffering and death He would experience (vs. 33-34). He would be arrested, condemned to death, flogged, beaten, hung on a cross, and die, yet death would not confine Him. Jesus would return to life from death. In Mark’s account of Jesus telling His disciples this, Peter did not rebuke Jesus for saying these things, unlike in Matthew 16:22. Instead, Mark recorded James and John asking Jesus to grant them to be seated on His left and right hand in the kingdom of heaven. John and James believed in Jesus, served Him, and wanted to have a seat of priority and authority in heaven. These two brothers wanted recognition from people. Had they not heard what Jesus had just said about the rich, young ruler? Did they misunderstand leaders would serve and the last would become first by their so doing (vs. 31)? Matthew 20:20-28 records James’ and John’s mother asked this of Jesus for her sons. She did not understand what she requested for her sons.

    Jesus explained what it meant for a leader, one who is first in the eyes of people, to become one of the least. He knew these two disciples of His did not understand what they asked from Him when they desired to be first in His kingdom among all the people. Jesus taught by asking them a question. He began by telling them they did not know what they asked of Him. Jesus then asked James and John in verse 31, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” Without pause, they replied they understood, but did they? Jesus did not mean they were to drink from the same dinner cup Him drank or to rise from the Jordan River after being baptized in water. Drinking the same cup meant to follow Jesus in the same way He walked, lived, and died. Jesus had explained to them just a moment before that He would be tortured, condemned to death, and die on a cross. Had these two disciples misheard or misunderstood? Did they misunderstand Jesus’ analogy of the cup and baptism? Maybe they were too eager and did not count the total cost of discipleship in their head. Possibly, they were too quick to ensure they received the coveted position of authority. Perhaps these two disciples asked and replied hastily to get done what their mother asked them to do. Whatever the reason, Jesus granted them the servantship of a leader who would become one of the least. He told them, “The cup that I drink, you shall drink, and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized” (vs. 39).  Jesus gave them what He intended for them as His disciples. Then He answered them about their request. Jesus said, “To sit on My right or My left is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared” (vs. 40). Jesus, the Son, knew the Father’s intention about this. He understood God had prepared these seats of authority for others.

    Jesus did not and could not give the seats of recognition, authority, and power to James and John because the Godhead had already determined who would occupy them. In keeping with what He had been teaching, Jesus reiterated the heart of the person is what God requires, not action from position or status. Those who inherit heaven are the meek—the nobodies of society and the ones who serve God by serving other people. Even with these teachings and examples, the disciples feared others would have authority and power over them. How do we know? Mark recorded in verse 41 the other ten disciples became indignant with John and James. Each person understands the feeling these ten disciples experienced. We ourselves may have experienced it in our families or at work when someone who we considered our equal or lesser gets a position, coveted task, or reward we felt we deserved. It can occur when that person tries to get noticed for a position above ours. Our response might be anger and indignation toward that person. The ten disciples may have felt these things toward James and John. Why did James and John think were so special? Peter, of those ten disciples, must have felt this more since he was one of the three in Jesus’ inner circle. Jesus understood the hearts of men and of these twelve men who had lived with him for three years. He realized they were angry in their hearts at James and John, though they did not say so. Jesus reminded them Gentile leaders ruled over them and they themselves had people who ruled over them. The world works in that way. A hierarchy of power exists in the way humanity runs the world and all creation in it. Yet, that is not the God’s way.

    Jesus reminded the twelve disciples that is not the way they are to be. He explained that the prominent one serves the others and the one who aspires to be the first among them must be the slave of them all. Jesus explained that even the Son of Man (the Son of God) did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for people (vs. 45). A true follower of Jesus does what is necessary in life to help/serve other people, not considering if wealth or sickness will come because of serving as God leads him. In this way, the one who is first (the one who has received the promise of eternity in God’s kingdom by his faith in Jesus) is the one who must serve others at God’s command so they will live better lives and come to know Jesus as their Savior, too. Lest we think we are too good to do what God asks, or we have done what He required and now deserve a better job, remember Jesus did what was necessary to provide humanity with salvation and eternity in heaven with Him. He also came back to life and lived among people continuing to teach for 40 more days on earth before His ascension. We are never too good to do what God tells us to do. No matter how often God tells us to do a task, we are only done with it when God tells us to do something different.  

    No person is beneath any other. Christians especially need to make this mental note a permanent part of their lives by living it out through their hearts. Nobody is worthless and unworthy to be saved. No person in the world is a nobody who does not deserve recognition. Jesus saw, loved, and blessed the children. He recognized the hearts of the Jews who wanted to divorce their wives and provided the correct teaching to love and protect wives from becoming outcasts and labels as sinners. Jesus understood the heart and mind of the rich, young ruler who tried to work his way into heaven. He loves them and wants them to recognize Him and receive an inheritance in the kingdom of God. No person is beneath another. We each are sinners who need the Savior. No one is superior to others. The one whom God puts into leadership/authority has responsibility for serving the people who need help, who have less, or who do not know Jesus. God puts each person in positions not to flaunt it over others or drive them into the ground, but to help them and be a channel of God’s blessings to them by word and action. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. His way of living led to condemnation, persecution, and death. His death provides salvation. Jesus’ resurrection provides eternal life to each person who believes in Him. His authority provides all anyone needs in this life and eternally.

     The questions that come from this chapter are: In which position has God placed you? What does God want you to do with your position, authority, and resources He has given you? Today, for whom will you become least so that you can serve him or her?

     James was the first apostle to die for following and preaching Jesus and the salvation He gives. He was killed by the sword. John was the oldest and last apostle to die. He spent his life teaching and preaching. John was exiled from people but continued to teach through his letters until his death. Both men drank of Jesus’ cup and were baptized with His baptism. Are you drinking of Jesus’ cup today? Are you willing to be baptized with Jesus’ baptism? Be like these leaders who became least to serve Jesus and people until their dying breath.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Gracious Undeserved Love



“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them, expecting nothing in return. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”

— Luke 6:35


Do not just love—phileo—but love with the agape love by which God loves you. This is a present tense command. Do it now, not later. Love them because I, the Messiah, love you, even though you were My enemies. Love the people who intentionally set out to cause you harm. 


Do more than that. Let your agape love—the love with which I (Jesus) love you and have put in you—cause you to do good to your enemies. Don’t stop at the idea of good the world has. Do the good that comes from God’s character—absolute good that seeks what is the best for that person—even though the person is intent on harming you. 


To the extent of giving to the enemy what he asks from you, do that good. Go further; make your intent not to expect the loan of what they borrowed to be returned. Lend with this intention and don’t despair when it’s not returned. Lend with God’s mindset of loving by doing what’s best. Jesus did not come to earth so we could borrow salvation from Him. He came so that we might have salvation. Jesus gives salvation to us with no conditions other than we believe in Him as the Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. Our gift from Him is unconditional. We don’t have to return it. We can’t die a crucifixion to give life back to Jesus. We can’t make anything live by our death. We can’t make Jesus alive because He did that for Himself three days after His death. Additionally, we can’t make anything come back to life because we are mortal and powerless over death and the grave. So, lend with the goodness that comes from God and with His love not intending to get back that which you give. 


Do we need a reward or any kind of notice for loving and doing good? On this earth, our fame, if we get any, will fade with our deaths. Our reward in heaven will be based on our intent. The reward we should seek is from God in heaven. He looks at our hearts and rewards us for the love, love, and good we’ve given. Our greatest reward, as people who believe in Jesus, is to be children of God and heirs of heaven with Jesus. This inheritance cost us nothing. That is our ultimate reward and hope. 


Remember, we once were ungrateful enemies of God, yet He still loved us, did good for us, and gave to us sacrificially. So, take what you’ve been given by God and use it to love your enemies, do good to them, and give them what they need. All these—love, goodness, and gifts—come from God. He expects and hopes you will channel what He is giving you even to the people who intend to harm you. 


God was kind to the ungrateful and wicked. He is gracious and benevolent to them when they don’t deserve it, even to giving salvation and eternal life with Him in heaven. So, you be kind and show God’s gracious love to your enemies so they may one day believe in Jesus and receive God’s grace, too. 


“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).


But to those of you who will listen, I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone takes your cloak, do not withhold your tunic as well. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what is yours, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:27-31)

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Watch and Pray


A second time He went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cup cannot pass unless I drink it, may Your will be done.” (Matt 26:42, BSB)


Anyone who has been to a Christian church at Easter or when the Lord’s Supper is observed likely will have heard this passage from Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane after serving the Lord’s Supper to His twelve disciples. He was hours away from being led to His crucifixion. Jesus, in His human form, was sorrowful about what He would endure by the Jews and Romans. Yet, because He was wholly God as well as human, He knew what He came to earth to do must be done to save people from the sins and judgment of their sins—death, an eternal separation from God. 


Why is this important for us? The foremost reason is that God does not want us to live in eternal hell separated from Him because He loves us. God wants to give us the best life now and forever, a life full of peace, love, and joy, all of which come from Him.


Why else is this verse important for us? The example Jesus, the man, gives to us of surrendering to Father for His best plan, His perfect purpose, is what we need to see, understand, and enact. Jesus first approached the Father in verse 39. Matthew wrote, “Going a little farther, He fell facedown and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.’” Jesus sought the Father for strength for His human self to be brave and to endure the terrible trial He would go through very soon. He sought to be with the Father for closeness and connection, just as a child of any age seeks closeness and connection with his/her parent. One other important point we need to see is Jesus was solely surrendered to the plan the Godhead (including Himself, the Son) made to redeem each person who believes in Him. Jesus surrendered to the Godhead’s will and perfect plan. He sought closeness with the Father. Jesus sought strength to endure the terrible torment He would soon experience. 


Why, then, does it seem Jesus said the same thing in verse 42? In the two verses between Jesus’ two statements to the Father, Jesus walked to Peter, James, and John and found them sleeping. He asked if they weren’t able to keep watch with Him for one hour. At first thought, one hour is not a long time. Most people read, watch tv, or talk with people easily for an hour. Consider now what Jesus expected them to do. He expected them to watch and pray. How many people do you know who pray for one hour? What about for thirty minutes? Fifteen minutes? Jesus expected them to do more than stay awake and pray. He expected the three to keep watch. Being watchful is being alert to temptations, temptations to not look at God but self, that potentially lead to sin. Jesus expected the three men to keep watch against coming temptation by praying to have God’s strength to defeat that temptation and continue onward with God. Jesus wanted Peter, James, and John to prepare to face their battles against temptation. They could do this by recognizing their human weaknesses and praying for God’s strength to overcome their weaknesses so they could stay close to and surrendered to Him. When Jesus walked to them in verse 40, He found the three men surrendered to their bodies in sleep. They didn’t see that hour for what it was, one of few hours before their Messiah would fulfill the prophecies to give release to the captives. Instead, the three disciples sought no strength from God to endure through the night, pray for their Messiah, and pray for the people who would hear about Him to believe in Jesus. A lot can happen in an hour. An hour isn’t very long after all. 


In verse 42, Jesus said, “My Father, if this cup cannot pass unless I drink it, may Your will be done.” Compare it to what He said in verse 39, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” In these verses, Jesus basically said the same thing. The first time, the three disciples may not have understood what Jesus said at the Lord’s Supper would actually occur. They might not have understood the necessity of praying that night. In verses 40 and 41, Jesus told them for what they should pray. He then returned to His own prayer place to be with the Father as the disciples watched and heard Him pray. Jesus modeled for them again why to pray—to be close to the Father in heart, mind, and spirit. He showed them with this prayer time about asking for God’s strength to do what is God’s will. Most importantly, Jesus showed the three how to submit and surrender to God’s perfect plan. It begins with being in a close relationship with Him. By communing with Him daily, the disciples could get God’s strength and walk His journey for their lives with Him. 


Did the three disciples stay awake that second time? No, Jesus returned to them and found them asleep. Jesus asked the disciples in verse 38 to stay at the place He told them and keep watch with Him. His goal was multi-purpose. Jesus wanted to be with His Father. He, as a man, would experience a terrible torment on the cross. Jesus submitted and surrendered to the will of the Godhead to love humanity in this extreme way. He wanted to show the three disciples how to stand against temptation by praying for God’s strength to defeat it. Temptations can come in simple ways like falling to the human weakness of tiredness and not taking time to draw close to God. It can come in sensational ways, too, like tormenting a person’s heart, mind, body, and spirit. 


Submitting and surrendering to God can be as easy as asking for more energy and focus to be with God in prayer. The three disciples fell asleep. It appears they didn’t ask for God’s strength to stay awake to watch and pray for themselves, the other disciples, unbelievers, and Jesus. Each of us know what most likely keeps us from praying. Without prayer, it’s hard to submit to God and surrender to His will. Without prayer, we won’t know His will or have His power to surrender our will for His.


Instead of Jesus saying to us like He did to the three men, “Watch and pray so that you will not enter into temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak,” may He put His mind into us that willingly says, “My Father, if this cup cannot pass unless I drink it, may Your will be done” (Matt 26:41-42). What do you need to surrender to God today to be able to be with Him in prayer?  Will you take the time to watch and pray?


My prayer for you and me is what Jesus prayed in verse 42. “My Father, if this cup cannot pass unless I drink it, may Your will be done.”

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Motives Matter



“But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a man.”

— Matthew 15:18


This parable offended the Pharisees, the disciples expressed. Why is this offensive? Because it speaks to motive not just action. It speaks to a person’s desire and purpose in life. 


Jesus said the inner being is what can defile a person. Yet, not just defiles (dirties) but makes the man (the Pharisee with whom Jesus spoke, then the disciples as He explained it—Jews then every person) ceremonially unclean—defiled by sin and unable to enter into God’s presence. 


Why insist on human traditions, which are transmitted orally from one generation to the next, or man’s rules and laws, which are just human interpretations from man’s sinful mind and understanding? What comes from the mouth comes from the heart. 


What then has greater power in your heart, mind, and spirit—being in a right relationship with God or proving to and getting the “approval” from other people? Consider your heart. What is your desire, purpose, and driving force in your life? What leads you?


 Instead of offending God, part with tradition and align your heart, mind, body, and spirit with God. Be not defiled, but cleansed by Him through belief in Jesus.