Posted in John, Mark, Matthew, Romans

Kingdom Abundance 

“For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance…” Matthew 13:12

To walk in the kingdom of God we have to change our thinking from lack to abundance and it’s not easy.  The disciples thought Jesus was referencing bread when he started teaching about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They immediately became afraid because they had forgotten to bring the left over bread with them. Jesus was frustrated by their assumption that He was concerned about the lack of bread.

“‘Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? Having eyes, do you not see? Having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’ ‘Twelve,’ they replied. ‘When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’ They answered, ‘seven.’ He said to them, ‘Do you still not understand?’” (Mark 8:19-21)

They were supposed to change their thinking. God fully resources those who are giving their lives for Him. Did you notice that He didn’t even ask them about how many were fed, but only about the leftovers. God has more than enough. There is an abundance in the kingdom which is why we reign in this life “through the abundance of grace” (Romans 5:17), and why Jesus said He came to give “life abundantly.” (John 10:10) Not just enough for us, but leftovers for others.

If we don’t embrace the abundance of the kingdom, we will end up living in the fear of self preservation. When we do this, the kingdom can’t spread. We must give our lives away with abandon knowing that God will take care of us. In the words of Jesus: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:23-24)

Posted in Mark, Matthew

What About Us?

“Then Peter said to Him, ‘Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?’” Matthew 19:27

Peter wanted to know what was in it for him. He paid a price to follow Christ and like any man, he wanted to know practically what the return would be. Jesus said in reply, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)

Jesus explained to him how grace works. He had already made it clear that they couldn’t earn eternal life by telling them in response to their question, “Who then can be saved?” that it was impossible with man. Peter and the other disciples aren’t going to be paid back for their sacrifice, as if God could be in their debt. Yet God is generous, and He is pleased when people go “all in” for Jesus and the gospel.

Jesus says something like this to Peter (my paraphrase): “Your life in this world will be 100 times better for following Me. God will multiply your relationships – you will have family everywhere you go. Everything that is Mine (which is everything) will be available to you – I will open houses and lands for your use. However, there will also be trouble for you in this world. Don’t take persecution as rejection from God, it will simply be part of your life in this present time. In the world to come, you will have eternal life with God and all the trouble of this life will be removed.”

Grace is amazing. We don’t follow Jesus to earn anything but because we love Him. God doesn’t bless us because he owes us anything but because He loves us and because He is unbelievably generous. He made us His favored sons and daughters in Christ, so He can pour His grace in and through us. Just walk with Jesus today and know that the favor of God rests on you.

Posted in Mark

Easier and Harder

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me… whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospels will find it.” Mark 8:34-35

In his classic book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis compares being good through the power of the natural self to paying taxes. Conscience and culture make demands as to what “good and acceptable” behavior is, so we submit to them with the hope that after we have met those demands there will be time left over to do what we want to do. We pay taxes because it’s our duty, but we mostly think about the money we’ll have left over to spend however we want to.

“The Christian way,” he maintains, “is different: harder, and easier. Christ says, ‘Give Me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: My own will shall become yours.’

“Both harder and easier than what we are all trying to do. You have noticed, I expect, that Christ Himself sometimes describes the Christian way as very hard, sometimes as very easy. He says, ‘Take up your cross’ – in other words, it is like going to be beaten to death in a concentration camp. Next minute He says, ‘My yoke is easy and My burden light.’ He means both. And one can see why both are true.”

We don’t have to try to change the old self; it must die. As we embrace this death, we are absolutely free to live in the resurrection life Jesus abundantly provides through the Spirit.

Posted in Hebrews, Mark, Psalms, Romans

Speaking from what God has Spoken

“For He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ so that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?’” Hebrews 13:5b-6

God wants you to know that He will never desert you or forsake you. People will come and go, even those who love us the most can’t be there all the time, but God is always with us. One of His covenant names is Jehovah Shammah, which means, “The Lord who is present.” Psalm 46:1 says: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

Do you believe this? If you do then take the second step of faith and speak it with confidence. It is important that we speak what we believe.  To overcome our fears, we need to believe in our hearts God is with us, and confidently say with our mouths that He is our helper.

Romans 10:10 gives the importance of believing first in our hearts, but then also speaking with our mouths. “For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. Jesus gives the same principle of faith in Mark 11:23: “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.”

Some have used this verse to teach “name it and claim it,” which has led to many abuses and caused many to throw out the baby (the importance of confession) with the bath water. But look closer at this verse and you will see that it’s not about confession first, but about believing in the heart first, and then speaking from the place of faith.

The only way you can ever believe with your heart is if God Himself has spoken to you first. Romans 10:17 says that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word (rhema) of Christ.” A rhema (the Greek for “word” used in this verse) is a specific word from God for a specific situation. After God has spoken into our hearts (about a specific mountain we are facing), we complete our faith by speaking with our mouths what God has said about our circumstances. That’s when mountains move!

Posted in 2Corinthians, Mark, Matthew, Romans

Are You In Christ?

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you – unless indeed you fail the test?” 2Corinthians 13:5

Are you in Christ and is Christ in you – for real? Christianity is not about being nice or about having a certain set of beliefs or rules. It is about the very life of God being inside of us igniting a lifestyle of faith, devotion, and love. How could someone fail the test the apostle Paul encourages us to take? I think there are two ways to fail:

  1.  You were never really converted to Christ in the first place. Jesus said, “Unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) Faith takes us beyond our logic and reasoning, so to be saved you and I must embrace what Christ has done for us on the cross and trust our eternity to Him in childlike belief. When we respond to God’s drawing in that way, the Holy Spirit will bear witness in our spirit that we are the children of God. (Romans 8:16) It’s not that you will never have a doubt in your mind, but there will be a knowing deep inside that God has saved you by His grace. 
  2.  You were once saved but you have backslidden. All of us have ups and downs so I thank God that we don’t go in and out of grace because of our weakness and immaturity. However, the seed of salvation can be choked out by the fear of man, the inordinate desire for other things, the worries of this life, and the deceitfulness of riches. (See Mark 4:16-19) Can it be so choked out that the life of God that was once there is completely removed? I don’t know, but there are enough warnings about it that if you don’t need new life, you certainly need the life you had before resurrected. Repent and ask the Spirit to renew His work in you with childlike faith.

I think it is important to take this test from time to time in light of the fact that Jesus said that “many” would presume to be saved that won’t enter into heaven. (Matthew 7:21) But I also think that continually taking the test can lead to the paralysis of analysis. Check presumption, but don’t let the enemy get in and rob you of legitimate faith by accusing thoughts that undermine your confidence in God’s goodness toward us in Christ.

Posted in Galatians, Mark

The Engine of Grace

“I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly. You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” Galatians 2:20-3:3

The story is told of the man who first heard about the Model T and decided to have a look. He was impressed with the shiny chrome and the leather seats so he paid the asking price, hooked it up to his horse, and started pulling it home. What the man didn’t realize was that the Model T came with its own engine.

The Christian life is not difficult; it’s impossible. Oh, you may be able to polish up the outside a little through mere will power and even impress people, but genuine from the heart Christianity is impossible with man. When Peter asked Jesus who could be saved, he answered frankly: “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)

Thankfully God designed the Christian life to come with its own engine; His powerful grace. The Galatian Christians knew that they were saved by grace through faith, but then they started living as though it was by works. They were in danger of nullifying the engine of God’s grace by hooking all the demands of Christianity up to their own ability to keep the law. The joy and peace that comes when we share Christ’s light burden and easy yoke (because He does most of the pulling) were quickly disappearing, and their religion was becoming hard, dull, and void of the miraculous power of God.

Paul questions them in verse five, “Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” Whenever our Christianity becomes man centered we are left with what man is able to do, and that’s not much. 

Whenever I fall into the trap the Galatians were falling into I remember the man with the Model T. It sure is easier to sit down and let the engine do the work!

Posted in Luke, Mark, Romans

Wholehearted Love

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Mark 12:39

Jesus told the experts of the law that this was the greatest commandment: to love God with everything in you. I don’t believe we can obey this command apart from the filling of the Holy Spirit. You can choose to worship God and you can choose to obey God and you can choose to say “no” to temptation; but you and I can’t choose to love God wholeheartedly; we need help. Here’s why: I can choose to worship, but I can’t make myself enjoy it, which is what is required if I’m going to be wholehearted. I can choose to obey, but I can’t force myself to be excited about it; and if I’m not impassioned, it’s not wholehearted. When a man is cheering for his favorite team to win, all of his emotions are invested because he wants them to win with all his heart. If it’s somebody else’s team and he’s asked to cheer for them, he might do it as a favor, but his heart isn’t really in it. You can’t make your heart be into something; that’s God’s part.

“The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:5) True love begins with God, not with us. When the Holy Spirit is filling us He is able to tap our deep passions and desires and turn them toward God. It takes God to love God. We can choose to obey God and do what is right but Jesus is worthy of more than that! He is worthy of us being passionate about our obedience and wholehearted in whatever we are doing because we’re doing it for Him and with Him. For this we need to ask and keep asking to be filled with the Spirit. (Luke 11:13) We are His temple and we only operate rightly when we’re filled with Him.

Sometimes the problem is that our hearts have been damaged, or hurt so badly that we can’t do anything wholeheartedly any more. Jesus is anointed with the Spirit to mend broken hearts so they can regain the ability to love. (Isaiah 61:1) Once again, we can’t heal ourselves, but we can recognize our need and earnestly ask for His healing power to restore us. Ask Him to heal you so you can love yourself and others again; that’s good. But a greater prayer is that He would heal your heart completely so that you can give Jesus the kind of love He is worthy of.

Posted in John, Mark

John’s Secret

“One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. Simon Peter motioned to this disciple and said, ‘Ask Him which one He means.’ Leaning back against Jesus, he asked Him, ‘Lord, who is it?’” John 13:23-24

Chris Gore (one of the leaders at Bethel in Redding, CA) has a little booklet called, “John’s Secret”, where he contrasts the foundation of John’s faith with the foundation of Peter’s faith. Peter was mostly concerned with how much he loved Jesus, while John’s focus was how much Jesus loved him.

At the last supper Peter declared that “even though all may fall away, yet I will not.” (Mark 14:29) He was sure of his love for Jesus but ended up denying Christ three times and didn’t believe even when he saw the empty tomb.

Peter was sure of his love for Jesus, but John was sure of Jesus’ love for him. All through his gospel, John, the great apostle and prophet, chooses to refer to himself only as, “the disciple Jesus loved.” John was the only disciple that remained at the foot of the cross, and when he saw the empty tomb, he believed. (John 20:8)

The faith and relationship Peter worked so hard for came very naturally to John. We see Peter deferring to John’s relationship in the text above when Jesus had revealed that someone would betray Him. And in John 21 after Peter is told by Jesus how he was going to die, his only response was, “Lord, and what about this man (John)?” Jesus’ answer to him strikes right at the heart of Peter’s competitive, striving spirit. “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” (John 21:21-22)

I’ve taken John’s secret to heart. I’ve gotten into the habit of reminding myself that Jesus loves me. When I wake up, usually the first thing I say to myself is: “Jesus, You love  me. I am Your beloved, favored, child.” This may sound simplistic but it has had a profound effect on my relationship with God. Maybe you should try it, Beloved?

Posted in Hebrews, Mark, Matthew, Revelation

Wake Up!

“You have a reputation of being alive but you are dead.  Wake up!… Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly.  Repent and turn to Me again.  If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.” Revelation 3:1-3

 The Christian life is a long journey at night.  God has ordained that we would have to choose Him in a world of moral darkness that is opposed to the gospel, so that those who choose Him in the dark will never reject Him in eternity when we see Him in the light.  But we have to stay awake!

 Presumption put the church at Sardis asleep.  They had a reputation of being alive, probably gained by past experiences of life and reflected by a doctrine of life, yet in reality, they had become dead.  Like the foolish virgins (See Matthew 25) they presumed that the oil they received at the beginning would be enough, so they didn’t bother to keep their relationship with God fresh.

 America is one of the most dangerous places in the world spiritually.  I’ve had missionaries tell me that they are glad they don’t live here because life is so easy and busy in America that they find it difficult to stay spiritually awake.  On the mission field they sense their absolute dependence on God’s protection and provision so it’s easy to trust Him day by day, but here they find the urgency to seek Him is lacking.

 The enemy seeks to put the church to sleep by the cares, worries, and pleasures of this life. (Mark 4:19)  Do you have a strategy to stay awake?  When I drive at night I make sure there is a passenger to help keep me from dozing off.  I believe God has given the church to be that spiritual passenger for each of us. (Hebrews 10:24-25).  There’s something about gathering together and hearing the word of God that reminds us of who we are, who God is, and of what’s truly important.  Are you part of a group where someone regularly asks you if you’re still awake?

Posted in Mark, Psalms

The Gift God is Offering

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?… One thing you lack: go and sell what you possess and give it to the poor… and come follow Me.” Mark 10:17; 21

 What if the gift we are asking God for is different than the one He’s offering?  The rich young ruler already had a good life but saw it could be better if he had the promise of eternal life.  He asked Jesus what He had to do to ensure that gift but didn’t like the answer.  “But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” (Mark 10:22)

 He was willing to do something, but Jesus asked him to let go of something.  He wanted to improve his life, but Jesus wanted to become his life.  He wanted to add a room to his house, but Jesus wanted to tear down the house he had built and start over with Himself as the foundation of a new building.

 He ended up walking away sad.  The gift he asked for was different than the one God was offering.  I wonder if we have answered Jesus’ call to let go of our control, or if we have redefined what He’s offering to accommodate our own desires?  

Better to be sad than deceived. I wonder if the rich young ruler ever reconsidered and followed Jesus on His terms?  If he did, he would have found that God is not opposed to us having stuff; He just doesn’t want our stuff to have control over us.

A few verses after this young man walked away sad, Peter said: “We have left everything and followed You.”  Here was Jesus’ response to him: “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)

 When we withhold nothing from Him, He will withhold no good thing from us! (See Psalm 84:11)