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Monthly Archives: April 2015

Don’t Ever Go to Sleep

book wormThere have been moments in my life when I really, really wanted to sleep. Generally these have been academic situations, although I suppose it has happened in church too. Mind you that’s not a comment on whatever preacher it might have been necessarily, for I have fallen asleep on some fine sermons in my time. But I digress, my point is that sometimes I have really wanted to go to sleep.

I’m sure I’m not the only one. Sometimes you’re just tired. Maybe it was a late night, or insomnia struck. Whatever the situation, you find yourself longing for a horizontal position and a view of the inside of your eyelids.

I bring this up because of the closing thoughts in Mark 13. Jesus has spent a long discourse on the end of days, what will happen when he returns, at the end of time, and then he closes this way…

Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake– for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning–lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” Mark 13:33-37 (ESV)

Note carefully what He is saying here. Whatever you do, don’t go to sleep. Never. Certainly not at 10 p.m. But also not at midnight. Not at 2 a.m., when you are crying out to close your eyes, But also not at first light.  Never…and do it again for the next day and the next.

Talk about tired. If I thought Social Psychology was a dozer, what Jesus is asking seems much harder. In his commentary on Mark, R.T. France says, “The metaphor is vivid, but apparently impractical. No one can stay awake all the time…How we can remain prepared while maintaining the ordinary responsibilities of life (yes, and its relaxations) we are left to work out for ourselves.”

But of course, France is right – it is obviously not a literal command.  It is a metaphor…about readiness. And I think I have an idea about what Jesus is getting at – He’s warning us about wasting time…about having a seriousness of purpose…about making this one and only life count.

Diane and I were at Wheaton College to hear Josh sing in the Thundertones last Thursday. After dinner with us, he was off to rehearsal and we had some time to wait for the concert. So for the first time we wandered slowly through their beautiful and huge athletic facility. And at one point she drew me over to the trophy case and a picture of a championship team from 1950’s era. Diane teased me with a line from one of my all-time favorite movies…

“Listen,” she said, “I think they’re saying something…Carpe Deum. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” And many of those fresh-faced young men are now pushing up daisies. Their race is run, and from the portals of time, they whisper to us…to run ours well.

Ah yes, for aside from the starker warning to continue to follow Him and not fall away (surely part of this injunction to stay awake), I think this is the other part of what Jesus is saying: “Only one life will soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” So labor, and serve, and toil hard with all your might at Kingdom work. And of course…

Stay awake.

 

For Tomorrow, Thursday, April 30: Mark 14

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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A Sacrifice…That Costs Me Nothing?

It happened toward the end of King David’s reign that he sinned against the Lord and needed to make a sacrifice. Gad the prophet came to the repentant King and told him exactly where to do this – at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. And as David approached him, Araunah went to meet the King and pay homage to him…

And Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?”

David said, “To buy the threshing floor from you, in order to build an altar to the LORD, that the plague may be averted from the people.” 2 Samuel 24:21 (ESV)

And Araunah said what most of us would have probably said – you’re the king, take whatever you need:

Then Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Here are the oxen for the burnt offering and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king.”

And Araunah said to the king, “May the LORD your God accept you.” 2 Samuel 24:22-23 (ESV)

David had a sacrifice to make, and Araunah was offering to give him whatever he needed to do it, and yet, David knew in his heart that something was not right about this arrangement. After all, they don’t call it a sacrifice for nothing:

But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.”

So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. And David built there an altar to the LORD and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD responded to the plea for the land, and the plague was averted from Israel. 2 Samuel 24:24-25 (ESV)

David knew what all of us know: there is something about a sacrifice, you see, that should be…sacrificial. We know this in our hearts. The widow of Mark 12 certainly did…

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.

And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44 (ESV)

The rich people put in far more than the poor widow, but the difference was that they gave a “sacrifice” that cost them…nothing. It came from their abundance. In other words, they weren’t going to miss it. In contrast, she put in everything…all she had to live on.  And her sacrifice pleased the Lord. And when you step back to consider things from God’s perspective, it all makes sense.  It’s not as if He needs our money, or our cattle or threshing floors. For the Psalmist said that He “owns the cattle on a thousand hills.” (Psalm 50:10) But the Lord would surely agree with His apostle:

Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. Philippians 4:17 (ESV)

I don’t pretend to understand it all, but as she gave so sacrificially, more than bringing blessing to others, she was able to bring blessing to herself, as Paul said, “the fruit that increases to your credit.”  But it begs the question…why? What led her to give so sacrificially? Now Jesus doesn’t address the question of motivation in this story, but Scripture leads us to a definite understanding of why someone would make such a costly sacrifice: such gracious giving is ultimately not about currying favor with God, nor even largely about increasing favor to my credit…but about love. Undoubtedly, the widow gave sacrificially because she loved deeply.

Love is, after all, what brought about the most costly sacrifice ever:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16 (ESV)

 

Tomorrow, Wednesday, April 29: Mark 13

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Two-Faced People?

Merging theater masksTrue or false? The people who worshiped Jesus by calling “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday were the same folks who shouted “Crucify” on Good Friday.

Probably false, and I don’t know if I ever said that – I hope not, but then again, I’ve said a lot of things – but either way I’ve certainly heard it said. And it didn’t quite smell right, because, after all, how would anyone really know that?

So I was glad to see this article on Five Errors to Drop From Your Easter Sermon in the recent web issue of Christianity Today. The authors write how the first statement makes for a good sermon point illustrating the fickleness of the human heart. But…they say:

“…it is not entirely clear that the ‘Hosanna!’ crowd acclaiming Jesus’ triumphal entry is the same group of people as the ‘Crucify him!’ crowd gathered before Pontius Pilate. The former seem to be mainly pilgrims from Galilee along with Jesus’s disciples, while the latter seem to be largely those from Jerusalem.”

Well, that makes sense.

So the next time I’m preaching and looking for a point on fickleness, maybe I’ll tell the congregation about David writing Psalms on a hillside and then years later writing the ruin of a man’s life from a rooftop. Or perhaps I’ll say something about Peter proclaiming his forever faithfulness to Jesus after the Last Supper and then hours later reneging with three denials before the rooster crowed.  Or maybe it will be Demas standing by Paul’s side in Colossians 3:14 and then “in love with this present world” in 2 Timothy 4:10.

There are plenty of examples, not to mention the one that stares back at me in the mirror.  So next time, I’ll plan to leave the “Hosanna”/”Crucify” crowd out of it.  Maybe they were all perfectly stable people.

Then again, somehow, I doubt it.

 

Tomorrow, Tuesday, April 28th: Mark 12

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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A Declaration of Dependence

Jesus not only loves the little children, He also demands that all of His followers be just like them…

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. Mark 10:13 – 16 (ESV)

So if we must become like little children to enter the Kingdom, what does it mean to become like a little child?

Of course, little children will generally believe whatever you tell them, so many people think that to become like a little child is to simply trust. And I’m sure there is an element of that in Jesus’s word. After all, trusting is key to eternal life. But I think there is another trait of children which is even more in view.

It is the trait of dependence. Little children are nothing if not dependent.

They…need.

They need someone to feed them, and they need someone to clothe them. Someone else provides their shelter. They speak because someone teaches them to speak. They need someone to teach them right from wrong. They are desperately, totally, needy.

And so are we. We are all needy, but only some of us recognize it. And that’s what Jesus is looking for – followers who recognize their dependence on Him. In fact, I think we can say that recognizing our dependence is the great trait of godliness. Consider that dependence is not only the way to become a Christian, but also the way to live the Christian life.

You become a Christian by renouncing independence, that is, renouncing dependence on your own works, and declaring that you need Jesus’s works. And you continue in the Christian life by daily declaring in prayer that you need Him. In fact, prayer is the great act of dependence.  Therefore, the Christian who spends very little time in prayer is not being child-like.  And the Christian who spends much time in prayer is honoring God who loves to be depended on.

The facts are this – we are all like little children, that is dependent. But some people act like they’re all grown up. This is a foolish plan. So today…if you are under the impression that you are “good enough” to one day be granted access into heaven, recognize that your righteous deeds are like a filthy garment (Isaiah 64:6), and act like a little child by declaring your dependence on Christ’s work at the cross for your salvation. And if you have become a Christian, then today…and all days…crawl up on your Heavenly Daddy’s lap and show Him that you need Him…by setting aside time to seek Him in prayer.

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Cute Little Sinners?

We tend to think little thoughts about sin.  In other words, we tend to think that sin is not such a big deal, as if we were two-year-olds being disarmingly disobedient before our Heavenly Daddy. You know: “Oh, isn’t he cute the way he smiles that impish smile and walks the other way when I tell him to come here?”

But Scripture teaches us something entirely different. Consider R.C. Sproul’s word from his classic work, The Holiness of God:

“Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself.”

No, sin isn’t cute, and if anything should lead us to understand sin as “cosmic treason”, Jesus’s teaching in Mark chapter 9 should get us there. In some of his starkest teaching in all the gospels, Jesus says…

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. Mark 9:42 (ESV)

Apparently, you would be better to die a horrible death by drowning than to entice a little child to sin. But wait, what exactly would be worse than drowning, or death in general, for that matter?  The answer is clear from the next verse: Hell. The millstone warning in verse 42 makes no sense unless you interpret it with the verses that follow.

And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, Mark 9:43-47 (ESV)

Hear this: Jesus is saying that Hell is a real possibility for people, that real people go there, and that real people are in torment there even as you read this now. And, gracious Savior that He is, Jesus tells us exactly what causes people to go to Hell…sin.

These verses have been misunderstood for 2,000 years, but surely their message is more than clear.  It’s certainly not that Jesus wants us to dismember ourselves. It is rather that He wants us to…TAKE SIN SERIOUSLY. He wants us to be careful not to trifle with it…not to think of it as “2-year-old cute.”  In fact, for instance, if you have a 2 year old, don’t even think of their sin and disobedience as cute. Obviously, wisdom is needed to discern whether they know right from wrong, but once you are sure they do, their disobedience is no longer cute, any more than yours is.  It is cosmic treason, all of it.  And all of us need to consider our own sin and the sin of others as dangerous, for sin sends people to everlasting Hell every moment of every day.

We must take sin seriously, but even when we do, our hands and feet will still lead us into sin more times than we would like to admit, so what hope do we have short of dismembering ourselves? Well, of course, the Christian message is that we hope in the One Who did not cut off His hands and feet, but allowed them to be pierced through for us. On the cross of Calvary, Jesus literally took sin, and took it very seriously, so that those of us who trust in Him might never fear its horrible ramifications again.

“Man of Sorrows, what a name, for the Son of God who came, ruined sinners to reclaim…Hallelujah, What a Savior!!!”

 

Tomorrow, Friday, April 24: Mark 10

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Provision is not a Problem

Jesus is in the boat.

That’s what you and I need to remember.  it’s what we too easily forget.   Jesus is in the boat.

In a sense, I’ve already written about this chapter here, but I wanted to say one more thing and make it as clear as day, which it never was for the disciples. You see, it’s really important that you and I remember who is in the boat with us.

And so it happened that one day Jesus and the twelve pushed off from shore after an argument with the Pharisees, and Jesus said to beware the leaven of the Pharisees, meaning their teaching.  But the disciples thought he meant something about bread, and they began to be worried that they only had brought one loaf with them.  So Jesus becomes a math teacher and gives them two word problems (years ago, I heard a great speaker who had some fun with the “word problem” idea. Can’t remember his name):

“When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.”

“And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.”

And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

Mark 8:19-21 (ESV)

The scene is in contention for one of the most ironic in the Bible.  Jesus has just miraculously fed the multitudes and now the disciples are worried about lunch.  The lesson that the Lord is passing on to us? Provision is not a problem. He is in the boat.

Now, it is always our way to be worried about provision, so Jesus preached part of his Sermon on the Mount on this idea:

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:31-33 (ESV)

I’m writing to myself today, as I often do.  God has so wonderfully provided for me and mine throughout life – He’s multiplied loaves so many times – and yet sometimes I still wonder and worry.  But the mathematics lesson from Mark 8 is that I should repent. Whether I have one loaf or two…Jesus is in the boat.

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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