Archive for February, 2016

Matthew 20:29-34

Jesus Heals Two Blind Beggars

 

Have you ever had people make fun of you for something that you believe to be true? I remember an episode of one of my all-time favorite shows, “Friends”, entitled “The One with The Screamer” with guest star Ben Stiller. In this episode, everyone sees Ben Stiller’s character, Tommy, as this mild-mannered guy but Ross gets to see Tommy’s dark rage on two or three occasions but yet none of the other friends will believe him. They think he’s just jealous of any boyfriend that Rachel could have and is just making this stuff up about Tommy. Ross gets so frustrated with the others and their lack of belief that Tommy is like bipolar or something. Ross spends much of the episode trying to set this guy off so that the other friends will see that he is not just jealous of any boyfriend of Rachel. It is not til the very end of the episode when Joey’s duckling poops in Tommy’s hand that the others see the dark side of Tommy. Only then was Ross’ persistent belief vindicated. That idea of persistent faith is what I see in today’s passage. Let’s read Matthew 20:29-34 together, shall we:

 

 

29 As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. 30 Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” 31 The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” 32 Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. 33 “Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.” 34 Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

 

 

The first thing that I see here is that the blind men had faith that Jesus was the Messiah. The title of “Son of David” was the common title of honor given to what was to be the coming Messiah promised to Israel. These men were blind but they could pick out Jesus in the crowd of pilgrims headed toward Jerusalem for Passover. Just as Ross could see the real Tommy when others could not, these blind men could “see” Jesus better than the Pharisees and others of the religious elite. The called out to the Son of David in all humility “have mercy upon us”. The Pharisees were so wrapped up in the pride of their position that they could not see Jesus. Isn’t that the way we all come to Jesus is when we are humbled of our pride. These blind men were beggars. Blindness in the first century meant that you could not function in society any longer. You were at the mercy of the world around you. There was no social security disability in those days. They were humbled by their circumstances. They could have no pride because they were at the mercy of others. It is in their humility that they could see Jesus. When all pride is washed away is when we can see Jesus for who He is. When we have pride, we try to make Jesus a self-help guru or a great philosopher. We discount Him as just a man. We cannot see Him as the Son of David. Lord was a term of recognition of someone’s superiority over us. They called Him Lord. Lord you are greater than I. Please listen to me Lord. Grant me what only you can grant. I believe that you are the Son of God. I believe you are the Son of David, the promised Messiah that was to come from David’s line. I can see you as the Messiah and you are Lord. These blind men believed that Jesus was just that. It was in their desperate situation knowing that they could not change who they were without the help of the Messiah that they call Him Lord. Lord, Son of David, have mercy upon us! Have you come to a place in life where you have tried everything and nothing works? Are you ready to lay down your pride and see Jesus? Are you ready to proclaim Him Lord of your life in a loud scream? Lord, Lord, Lord! I humbly come before you and desire you to change my life. I have made a mess of it, Son of David. Have mercy upon me for I have torched a trail of dead bodies and burned bridges behind me, Lord. I come to you humbly. I need your mercy. That’s what I love about these blind men. They were humble enough to see Jesus.

 

Another thing that you see here is the persistence of the blind men’s faith. They were rebuked by the large crowd for screaming out to the Savior. They would have nothing less than getting the attention of the Savior. Many of us want to come near to the Savior but let the crowds of our lives drown us out from reaching Him. We let our sins get in the way. We let our enjoyment of our sins get in the way. We let our friends from our current sandbox draw us down. You are not good enough for Jesus. You have done too many things wrong in life to deserve to come near Jesus. You are already a goner just like us. Let us not be deterred by the crowd from reaching out to that which we know can only save us. Even when we have been saved by Jesus, sometimes we have enough faith to push ahead toward Jesus. Sometimes, we do not have the faith to believe that Jesus can do miracles in our lives. Some of us have dreams of serving the Lord in a radical way but we do not have the faith to scream out to Jesus to bring us near for the miracle. Do we have the faith to believe that Jesus can heal our dying child? Do we have the faith to believe that God can provide for us the miracles needed to achieve our calling in His name? Do we have the faith to boldly move forth with a dream of a soup kitchen for the homeless when we don’t have a dime to start with? Do we have the faith to follow our calling by Him into ministry and leave our nice little nest of a nice salary from our secular job? Do we have the faith to step out in faith? That’s what we see in these blind men. They were undeterred by the crowd. They knew that Jesus was the Messiah and they knew that only He could provide the miracle. We need to start living undeterred and expectantly that if we humbly seek out the Lord that He will provide for us and He will provide the miracle to those who humbly believe in Him.

 

Jesus responded to their faith. How big was their faith? They fought through the blindness and the noise of the crowd. How hungry are we for Jesus? Is He the only thing that will satisfy us? Jesus responds to those seek Him. He will respond to our desperate need for Him to be our Savior, and our Lord. Come be the fire inside of me says a Jesus Culture song. How hungry are we for Jesus? Do we want Him more than anything else? Do we seek Him regardless of the crowd noise of our lives? Do we want to be in His presence more than else? Jesus responds to our faith in Him as the One who can change us, save us, and provide for us. These blind me had a singular focus. Nothing would deter them from coming before the Lord. They screamed for His attention and they got it. How focused are you and I on being in the presence of the Lord? How clear is our soul such that Jesus can be the fire inside of us? How desperate are we for Jesus? Many of us act as if Jesus is just something we do on the side. Jesus doesn’t have the central focus of our lives. We act like Jesus is a box that we pull down from a shelf and play with when we want to play with the contents of the box and then put the box back up on the shelf. Jesus should be a flood in our houses. He should permeate every corner of our houses and lives. He is God in the flesh. He is the Son of God. He is the Messiah. He is the Creator through which all things have been made. He should flood our lives. He should be on that which we float our lives. We should be talking to Him every minute of every day. He should be the filter through we see everything in our lives. Are we honoring God with this action, this thought, this deed should be our thought in everything we do. Are you and I seeking Jesus in this way? Are we like these blind me who sought Jesus no matter what? They shouted. They screamed. Jesus responded. Just as Ross was undeterred in his belief that Tommy was a bad seed no matter what the other friends said, so should we be in our pursuit of Jesus. He should be so important to us that we seek Him over and above everything else, no matter what the crowd says, no matter who tries to deter us, no matter what Satan whispers in our ears. Lord! LORD! LORRRRRD! Hear me oh Lord! Have mercy upon me. I don’t care what the crowd says, “Lord! Lord! I beseech you! Be the center of my life! I humbly seek to be in your presence! I need you Lord!” Nothing in this world could ever keep from you oh Lord! It is a relentless pursuit! Scream out for Jesus! Scream out for Him! Lord! Lord!

 

 

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 20:20-28 (Part 3)

Jesus Teaches About Serving Others

 

As we take our last look at Matthew 20:20-28 today, I think of the Bizzaro World episode of the classic TV comedy series, Seinfeld. In the episode, Elaine makes a new group of friends who represent inverted types of the normal Seinfeld gang. Jerry even labels his counterpart “Bizarro Jerry”, much to Elaine’s confusion.

 

These characters are kind, considerate, curious about the world around them, and good citizens. Though Elaine is initially attracted to their friendly ways, she is ultimately turned off by the formality and lack of simple camaraderie which she enjoys with her old, selfish, shortsighted group. A second reason for her leaving the Bizarro group is the fact that she is, in turn, so flawed that the Bizarro group reject her in much the same way that Elaine rejected her old friends. Conceivably, her Bizarro version would be ladylike. To this day, fans still write in and tell the producers of the show of all the things that can be pointed out in the background of the Bizarro apartment. These include a Bizarro figure on an apartment shelf, just as a Superman figure sits on a shelf in Jerry’s apartment. Viewers can also see a unicycle hanging from the wall instead of a bicycle, and images of horses instead of cars. The locks on the doors are on the opposite side and actually used.

 

There are many other examples of Bizzaro World in television lore. Star Trek: The Original Series had an episode where everything was opposite of what we had grown accustomed to onboard the starship Enterprise. The concept itself can be traced back to DC comic books of the early 1960s where all the heroes and villians of DC comic lore on a planet Bizarro are the opposite of what they are here on Earth. It is that concept of the opposite of expectations that pops into my brain as we take this one final look at this passage. Let’s re-read Matthew 20:20-28 once again today:

 

20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.

21 “What is it you want?” he asked. 

She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

“We can,” they answered.

23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”

24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

 

 

In his closing remarks in the passage,Jesus indicates that being a Christian is not anything like what one would expect in the world we know. Jesus says that in the secular world, rulers and high officials and most leaders of any kind lord their authority over those whom they have been placed in charge. Jesus says leadership among His followers will be different. He introduces the concept of servant leadership, as we call it today. Just what is a servant leader? That seems a contradiction in terms as we know them in the business and political realms. Let’s take a look at the qualities of a Christ-like servant leader.

 

First, a servant leader is a follower of Jesus Christ. This means that a true servant leader has accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. What does this mean for a leader? It means that as a follower of Jesus Christ, the leader realizes that He is under the authority of Jesus Christ in his life – all of his life, not just his personal life. Thus, there is a humility in that. When we realize that we are not the top dog, the all to end all, and that Jesus is Lord of our lives in every area including those areas in which we find ourselves leading other people, we think of ourselves as serving Him and not about “hey, this is my opportunity to serve my own desires and my own agenda.” A follower of Jesus Christ leads in a way that serves the best interests of those they lead. As a Christ follower, we realize our flaws and sins and thus live in a space of gratitude for the grace shown us by Jesus Christ. It makes us less power hungry and more concerned about the success of our team that we lead than about personal glory. Certainly, because we are flesh, this ideal is hard to achieve in every moment in every situation. The difference is that a Christ-like leader realizes when he is being selfish and realizes that about himself and guards against it.

 

Second, a servant leader is willing to deny himself. He knows the difference between ambition and vision. A servant leader is one who leads others toward a goal that is good for all rather than just for the leader himself. A servant leader must submit his own wills and desires to that of the vision for the group that he leads. For example, I have heard my senior pastor, who founded our church, say on more than one occasion that if he ever sees that he is holding back the development of LifeSong Church or that he can no longer has the skill set that will allow the church to become what God needs it to become, then he would step aside. Think about that, a church, a business, an organization of whatever kind that you founded. Would you step aside if it meant the better health and better future for the organization that you founded? A servant leader is one who desires the best for the organization and recognizes where he is weak and compensates for that through developing those who have those strengths. A servant leader is selfish about one thing – the vision that God has given them for the organization’s they lead. They deny their own selfishness but cling hard to the vision and keep it in front of everyone at all times. Vision. Vision. Vision. Just as Jesus kept the vision of what He had to do in Jerusalem in front of Him and was never deterred from his business at the cross so should a servant leader never let personal desires impede the health of the organization of people that he leads.

 

Third, a servant leader is willing to stand on his Christian principles and does not have his morality conditioned to the situation. A servant leader if nothing else is consistent. A servant leader whose words 10 years ago are the same as they are today. You can count on a servant leader to react consistently in the same way because his leadership is based on biblical principles that are ageless and timeless and never change. Some leaders react to situations based on what the results or intended outcomes will mean to them personally. Thus, ethics become situational. I will react in a moral way as long as it does not interfere with my personal needs, desires, and goals. This type of leader will throw other people under the bus to save their own skin. Many of us struggle with this. We would rather hide our mistakes, throw other people under the bus for it, so that we can survive in our organizations. A servant leader will own up to his mistakes and deal with the consequences because of his faith in the provision of His Lord and his belief that the health of the organization is greater than his own need to cover up his mistakes. A servant leader will also seek to honor his Lord and Savior by his actions within his organization. All actions are measured by whether it is honoring to God. That may mean saying no unethical but profitable activities. It may mean not participating in the good ol’ boy network and missing a promotion. It may mean standing against the tide of values within your organization. But one thing people can count is the consistency of values from a servant leader. People will know where you stand.

 

Fourth, a servant leader helps others succeed. Jesus invested three intensive years in his immediate disciples. He pour himself into them. He wanted them to succeed after he was gone physically from the earth. He taught them so much. He taught them things that they needed to know. He wanted them to be successful. That is the way we should be with the people we lead. We should always be developing the people we lead such that they one day can step into our positions and excel at them. A servant leader will understand the skill sets of the people that work for them and develop their giftedness. Other leaders simply ride there people so that the job gets done and they get the glory for it. A servant leader realizes that everything is temporary and we must ensure that our organizations survive when we are no longer there. We have an eye toward to long-term health of our organization such they we do not have to rebuild it every time a leader is promoted or leaves the organization. Like a great college football program is said to reload instead of rebuild, we should be the same way with the organizations that we lead. We have developed our people so that when it is time for “next man up” that it is said that our organization reloads instead of rebuilds. A servant leader wants his people to grow and be able to make decisions because they have learned how from you. Just think of the mighty power of Jesus’ disciples with the combination of his training and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus invested in His guys. He developed them. He didn’t give up on their training.

 

Fifth, a servant leader will never ask those he leads to do something that He is not willing to do himself. How can you ask someone to walk through the mud if you have never walked through the mud yourself? How can you ask someone to clean the toilets if you never are willing to clean them yourself? We must be willing to do the very dirty work that we ask our people to do. We must have the humility to get down in the dirt with those we lead. If you never knew the blood, sweat and tears of working on the front lines of your organization then how can you teach those who must do that work now how to do it. You can textbook it but you can’t know it unless you’ve done or are willing to do it. If you don’t know what it’s like to be a janitor cleaning up someone’s vomit off the floor, it is hard for you to understand what a daunting task that can be. We must understand the jobs that people have to do. That is why it is so important in Christianity that Jesus broke into human history and became Immanuel, God with us. He lived the life we lead. He understands what it is like to be human. He understands this existence. He understands us! He could’ve sat in heaven and just ruled over us but God loves us so much that He came to earth in the flesh. He set aside His glory just for us. He got down and dirty with us. A Christ-like leader then understands the work that his people must do and empathizes with the challenges of that job. Never ask someone to do a job that you are not willing to do yourself.

 

These are just some of the qualities of servant leadership. When we are servant leaders, we are emulating Jesus. When we are servant leaders, we do not lord our power over others. We want them to see Jesus-style leadership in us. Think about it! Jesus’ organization, the church, has survived for over 2,000 years. Sure, it has its problems but it has survived through the guidance of men filled with the Holy Spirit who get it back on track when it strays away from its Jesus center. Because of that, the church has survived its own mistakes, some of them continuing ones, and even has thrived when it has been true to Christ. It is still here. There must be something to this Jesus-style leadership. There must be something to this servant leadership. Amen and Amen.

Matthew 20:20-28 (Part 2)

Jesus Teaches About Serving Others

 

There is an old saying, “Be careful what you wish for! You just might get it!” There was a television show back in the late 70’s-early 80’s called “Fantasy Island”. It was a show where people paid to come this island owned by a character played by Ricardo Montalban. He would create these scenarios where they could live out their greatest fantasies and dreams. During each episode the visitor would find out that their dreams had drawbacks or side effects that they had not counted on. In the end, they would learn that their current life as it is was not so bad after all. The characters were different and the background of each story was different but that theme was the same every week. In this passage, we see the disciples jockeying for position in Jesus’ kingdom. His response was similar to the Fantasy Island theme, “Be careful what you wish for! You just might get it!” Let’s read the passage once again today:

 

20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.

 

21 “What is it you want?” he asked.

 

She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

 

“We can,” they answered.

 

23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”

 

24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

 

 

James, John and their mother failed to grasp Jesus’ previous teachings on rewards (Matthew 19:16-30) and eternal life (Matthew 20:1-16). They failed to understand the suffering that they must face before living in the glory of God’s kingdom. The “cup” was the suffering and crucifixion that Christ was to face. Both James and John would face great suffering. James would be put to death for his faith and John would end up exiled and alone on the island of Patmos. Many of us think that because we have accepted Christ as our Savior that our lives are going to be one blessing after another. Jesus is here to tell us that there is not necessarily a relationship between acceptance of Jesus and a wonderful earthly life of blessing. It is often quite the opposite. Why is it though that some who have accepted Christ as their Savior seem to live a charmed life and other live a life of suffering in the name of Jesus.

 

The answer to this question is one that has puzzled man for centuries. Some Christ followers seem to have everything they touch turn into something positive. We look at some of the great preachers of our time that are true servants of Christ and not just scam artists. Guys like Andy Stanley who are great servants of the Lord have had great ministries and lead burgeoning middle class American churches that are truly making an impact for the kingdom. I am sure that Andy has had his share of suffering in life, but in general, the guy has been blessed with a great pedigree (his dad is a celebrity preacher in his own right) and God has seen fit to bless Andy with being at the right place at the right time with the formation and exponential growth of North Point Church in Atlanta. Yet, at the same time, there are unnamed pastors in inner cities around the country that are pouring out their hearts into their churches and it is a mighty struggle daily. They toil in anonymity and live on a shoe string budget. There are many pastors out there that are toiling hard for the kingdom and we will never know their names outside the communities they serve. It’s not just inner city preachers, there are rural ones serving poor communities and bleeding their hearts out to serve their communities. They cry themselves to sleep at night because of the poverty and desperation they see daily. Because they serve poor communities, they, too, are poor.

 

It’s not just preachers who either seem blessed by our standards or are suffering by human standards. We all see it in all walks of life. I have friends who own their own business who are two of the finest Christians that I know. They are loving and generous people. They seem to live a charmed life. They have wealth and are surely blessed by the Lord. They know that they are and give God the glory for it. However, at the same time, I know friends of mine that barely make ends meet that are fine Christians. What gives? Why are some blessed and others just barely getting by. Why is that we Christians in America have it seemingly easy compared to Christians in tougher parts of the world like Christians in Muslim-dominated countries or in communist countries such as North Korea or China. Have you ever wondered why you were born in the United States and not some third world country such as Haiti or another desperately poor nation. Us being born in the United States and not somewhere else is an amazing blessing when you think about it. It is blessing beyond compare just to be born here. Even the poorest people in the United States are wealthy by standards of the rest of the world. Why is that? Why do some suffer and others seem blessed.

 

Whether we suffering or live a blessed life is first something that we must consider. The measure that we use for whether we live in a state of suffering or a state of blessing is a human standard. What we might consider extreme suffering may not be that to the person that is living it. They may be living out their calling from Jesus Christ and they couldn’t get a bigger rat’s butt as to whether they have a big fine car and big fine house. They are joyful in the fact that God made it so that they would be uncomfortable doing anything else but following their calling from the Lord. What we consider suffering to them is just all in a day’s work working for the Lord. We all have known or at least read of people who have given up earthly riches to serve the Lord in the inner cities of our country, or remote third world countries, or in the slums of major cities in underdeveloped countries, or to serve the Lord in Muslim countries or communist countries. They consider it all in a day’s work to just scrape by. There are those who suffer away in prisons in communist countries for having not renounced the name of Jesus that consider it part of the deal. They find joy in serving the Lord in prison. They do not look at it as a death sentence. They look at it as that God’s not done with them yet even in prison. As long as they are drawing breath, they are going to serve the Lord where they have been placed, whether that’s in or out of prison. We count suffering and blessing by our human standards, generally. We should be analyzing blessing and suffering as to whether we are living in God’s will for our lives or not. Those that are rich without Jesus are some of the most unhappy people in the world. Those that are poor with Jesus are some of the happiest people in the world.

 

Bottom line is that whether we have wealth or poverty, position or the lack thereof, a king’s ransom or a beggar’s lot, it is all in God’s sovereignty. Just because we profess faith in Jesus Christ does not mean that we automatically are going to be blessed by our human standards. Some will. Some won’t. It is up to God the lot in life we have as Christians. The main thing that we must learn is that we must depend on the Lord. Whether we are blessed by human standards or are poor by human standards, our relationship with God is not dependent on that. We should consider our lot in life as our ministry field. We do not need wealth to be happy and if we are poor we should not automatically be angry about it. God has placed us where we are as Christ followers to speak to those who need speaking to, to help those that need helping, and to tell them of the kingdom of God no matter what lot in life we have. If we are living in God’s will for our lives and we truly love Him and believe in His provision and care for us, then we are blessed. We don’t have to have the big fine car and big fine house to feel blessed by the Lord. When we are living the life that He has for us and sharing the gospel and giving Him glory for everything then we are blessed.

 

If you are wealthy or have a well-off life, then God gives you the responsibility to use your wealth for the glory of the kingdom. Only then will you feel blessed. Some wealthy folks that I have had the privilege to know over the years are some of the finest Christians I have ever known. You know these types. The ones that would give you the shirt off their back and they support their church in unimaginable and quiet ways. They help people in need whenever they get the chance. They give glory to the Lord for every penny that they have and they use it wisely so that they have opportunities to bless others. These are amazing people to know. They get why they have wealth. It is their ministry tool and their wealth comes from the Lord in their eyes. On the other hand, I have known some dirt poor folks as well that are equally amazing helpers of the Lord. They help others not with money but with gifts of food, gifts of wise advise, gifts of just being there for others. That person that you call when you need someone to give you wise counsel and so on. That person that is known in the community for always being there for others. We all know that Christian too. We all serve the Lord in the ways He gifted us. He puts us in our positions and we must see that we are there to serve. It is not about social position. It is about living and serving in the place that God has placed us.

 

Our blessings that we seek as true Christians are not the trappings of this world but rather the eternal blessings in God’s economy. If we are blessed financially by the Lord in this life, we see it as our ministry tool to bless others and help others and in so doing give glory to the Lord. If we find ourselves poor in this life, we know that the trappings of this life are temporary and that we simply are put in that position to serve the Lord. We do not have to have earthly wealth, fame, and honor to be happy in Jesus. If our joy is tied to our things or the lack thereof, let us examine ourselves. Our joy comes from our relationship with the Lord. Our joy comes from serving Him no matter what our lot in life is. Things don’t make us happy. Our relationship with the Lord does – suffering or blessing, sunshine or rain, fame or anonymity, wealth or poverty, life of pleasure or life of pain, persecution or exaltation. All that stuff is window dressing. It is just the setting for our ministry of our daily lives. Amen and amen.

 

Matthew 20:20-28 (Part 1)

Jesus Teaches About Serving Others

 

We have all met them before. We have all experienced so-called friends such as this before. These are the people that are users. I am not talking about drug addicts but those who use us to get what they want. It’s like the teenage boy that has a drop-dead gorgeous older sister. Some guys will make friends with the little brother so that they can get close to the beautiful sister. Lottery winners all over can tell you of friends who come out of the woodwork just to get cash out the winner not because of a real desire to rekindle a relationship with the lottery winner. These are the users I am talking about. Those who use other people to get what they want. That’s the first impression that I get from reading this passage. It is one of many impressions that I get from this passage. We will spend a few days here in this important passage.

 

In the scene, James’ and John’s mother was trying to use Jesus to get what she wants. Let’s read through the whole passage:

 

20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.

 

21 “What is it you want?” he asked.

 

She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

 

“We can,” they answered.

 

23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”

 

24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

 

 

Have you ever noticed that we are sometimes just like James’ and John’s mother? We want Jesus for what He can do for us rather than making Him Lord and Savior over our lives. There are several ways that we treat Jesus in this way. One way is that we expect blessings for good behavior. Another is that we invest in Jesus with the expectation that He will yield some type of return on investment for us. The last one that we will discuss, though there are many other ways, is that we pray to Jesus as if we are in control and not Him.

 

We often here people exclaim that they do not understand why God is withholding blessing from them even though they are trying to be good. You know the refrain. I am being as good as I can but God will not make my life any better. We want God to reward us like candy treats for a kid or a doggy snack for a dog who has done a trick. We seek something from God because we have done the checklist things. We play religious games but there is no life change. We want to do the right things but not give our life fully over to his control. A lot of times in life, we falsely give our life to the Lord because of a jam that we are in and we hear a good sermon and get all emotional and think we have made a commitment to the Lord but really what we are doing is promising to behave better. We want the shelter of Jesus’ good vibes but we do not truly accept Him into our hearts. We want the benefits of the Jesus relationship but none of the life change. We want to be rewarded for good behavior. We want Jesus to get us out the messes that we have made in our lives. And, we get mad at him because He is not magically cleaning up the mess we have made of our own lives. When we approach a relationship with Christ in this way, a false salvation, we fall away quickly when Jesus doesn’t magically make our life immediately better. Jesus did not get us in the jams we made for ourselves but we expect Him to get us out of them. Some of the sins that we commit in life have long-term implications. Just like it took me seven years to put on these extra thirty pounds and I expect them to fall off in one year just because I have committed to exercise and have better food habits. In salvation we do not get immediately better lives. The two do not go hand in hand. What we do learn in salvation is that our circumstances do not matter, it is having that abiding relationship with Jesus through the ever present help of the Holy Spirit is what matters to us. We find joy in Jesus even when things around us may be going to crap or are already crap and not improving. Improvement in your circumstances should not be our criteria for a relationship with Jesus.

 

Many too believe that if I give of my time, talent and resources, God will reward us with financial blessings. We think that if we do all the right things, Jesus will hand us the lottery check. Some of us want to invest in Jesus just so we can get a payback in blessings in financial ways. It’s an investment payback scenario. If I invest this much in Jesus, He will pay me back this much and I will be happy. When tithing does not produce the tangible financial blessing that we have scheduled out in our minds we fall away. Others perceive our alignment with God’s will through the financial position that we have. If I have wealth, it is because God sees what I am doing and is blessing me. If I have poverty, I must not be doing the right things. The prosperity gospel it is called. God never promised us financial blessings if we tithe. He promised us blessing. The blessing is in the giving. The blessing is in the obedience. That’s where the blessing comes from. We learn to put God first in our finances and quit trying to play the American Dream game is the blessing. We learn to be content with what we have is the blessing. It is not some investment return scenario. It saddens me when the prosperity gospel gains traction with people and it has over the years. Look at Jim Bakker years ago. Look at Joel Osteen now. If you live your life just right, God will give you prosperity. If you send your money to my ministry, it’s good investment strategy. God will bless you! Let us break the connection. Let us love God so much that we are obedient to Him in our finances not because we expect monetary return on our investment but because we want the eternal blessings that come from obedience to the Lord.

 

Another way we use God for what we can get out of Him is in our prayer life. We pray for God to give us this and give us that. We pray for what we want. We treat God like a vending machine. How many of our prayers start with I, me, or my. We pray for our desired outcomes. We rarely have a discussion with the Lord. We demand things from Him. We will even promise to do better if God answers our prayers. You know this kind of prayer. I know this kind of prayer. We all do it. Some of us it is the only kind of prayer we offer up. Some of us get selfish sometimes and offer these prayers up. I know, I know that we are to be bold in our prayer life. I know that we are to pray with expectation. I know that we are to believe and pray to a God who can do the impossible. Yes, I believe in these concepts. However, what I am saying is that we have to have the right perspective. Our prayers should be praise to God for who He is. Our prayers should be submission to His mightiness. Our prayers should be glorifying to Him. We must come to God with submissive hearts to His greatness and place ourselves in the proper place – beneath His greatness. He is not our vending machine. He is the one we come to with great respect and honor and ask meekly and humbly for His action in our lives. We humbly ask Him for guidance in His way. We ask Him to show us what needs to be done. We ask his favor like a subject to a king. We must make Him on top and us below Him. Let us treat God with the honor and respect that He deserves and not treat Him like the vending machine that we treat Him as sometimes.

 

Users. Those who use others to get what they want. Do we use God in this way? Let us examine our relationship with God and see if we are in this relationship with Him just to get what we want or whether we are in this relationship because we are so in love with our Maker that we honor Him, we respect Him, we humbly seek Him and His favor, we obey Him because we love and respect Him. Are you using God? Am I using God? Let us pray about this today and meditate on it today. Amen and Amen.

Matthew 20:17-19
Jesus Predicts His Death the Third Time

Everything goes in cycles. Especially in college football. I remember when I was between the ages of 15 and 29, from 1977 to 1991, my favorite college football team was one of the most consistently winning football programs in the country. Those were the Charley Pell/Danny Ford years of Clemson football. Only four other programs won more games during that period of time than the Clemson Tigers. They would win the national championship in 1981. After the national championship year, they only lost more than 2 games per season twice. They were just shy of being a national title contender each of those years because they would lose a game here and there because Danny Ford refused to fully invest in a passing game. His teams were marked by rugged ground games and fierce defenses. Those defenses were some of the best to ever play at Clemson. During that time period, I was a young man and there was an expectation every year that Clemson would be a top 15 team and if they got the right breaks would finish in the top 5. They were that consistent. It was glorious time. We, who were young Tiger fans, thought this ride would never end. We thought success would always be with the program. However, that is never true. The run ended with some poor coaching hires and coaching hires that flirted us with the glory years of old but would never get us over the hump. It was not until the 2010 season that Clemson began its return to glory. There were 20 years of mediocrity that we dealt with as Clemson fans. We were beginning to think until 2010 that Clemson was locked in mediocrity. We had returned to the dark ages of 1960-1976, a time that I remember little of. That is what makes this current run so sweet to me. We were a few special teams mistakes of winning the national championship this past season and it was the fifth season in a row that my dear Tigers have won at least 10 games. This year we finished 14-1 – not too shabby. Even the vaunted Alabama Crimson Tide who has won 4 national championships in the last 7 seasons will cycle. Bama fans remember the Curry years and the Shula years. It is just the nature of things that success in college football cannot be sustained forever. Just ask the Miami Hurricanes. They were one of those four teams that won more games than Clemson in the 77-91 seasons but their run came to an end as well. Since the early 90’s, the mighty Canes of the 80’s and early 90’s were no more (with a brief run in the early part of this century).

I would imagine that the disciples felt the same way about their run with Jesus over those magical three years of His earthly ministry. If Jesus had sold merchandise back in those days, His disciples would have been proudly wearing their Jesus jerseys as they were part of this up and coming program of Jesus University. It was the new thing. It was the wow thing. They were part of the new wave. Yeah, they would have been wearing their jerseys. Jesus was rising up in the polls and was about to take on the established programs and take them down, Pharisees University and Sadducees University. They were the established teams and Jesus’ team was the new team. The Pharisees and Sadducees were the old programs that relied on running games and defense and the Jesus’ team was the hurry-up, no huddle team that was wowing the crowds. I make light of it here but you get the idea. Jesus’ style was something the Israelites had never seen before. Jesus was performing miracles. He was telling people that God loved them no matter what their past may have been. He was forgiving people of their sins. He was saying that the Pharisees and the Sadducees were whited burial caves that were beautiful on the outside but all ugly, smelly, and dead on the inside. He said it was the heart that matters and not the motions that you go through. He said eternal life was determined by how much you loved and obeyed God and not some punchlist of religious do’s and don’t’s. He was drawing large crowds with His message of God’s redemption and God’s desire for our obedience in our hearts. His message of redemption was radical and new. He was the rising star in Judaism. His message was new and fresh. Their message was of judgment and permanent banishment if you did not perform. It was old and tired. The disciples must have been enjoying the ride. In the next passage, you will see them jockeying for position within their perception of Jesus’ new world order.

Here though, Jesus is warning them that what they perceive as this popularity ride will soon come to an end because Jesus has a higher purpose to achieve than to be the #1 ranked religious leader. He tells them plainly for a third time in Matthew 20:17-19 that His trip to Jerusalem will end in His death:
17 Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”

Jesus clearly tells them that this seemingly popular ride that they are on is not the purpose. They seem to be perceiving in human standards that Jesus is going to Jerusalem to claim his throne like a national champion in football and that He was going to knock of the equivalent of Alabama in doing so. He was going to take down the old order and establish a new one. In context of the next passage, you know that’s what these guys are thinking as the move along toward Jerusalem with the throngs of people that were headed there for Passover. I bet they were seeing Jerusalem during Passover as it was going to be the crowning achievement of their season with Jesus. With the crowds there, Jesus would most assuredly take on their perception of the Messiah that they desired. The one who would vanquish the old order of the religious establishment and then take on the Romans and run them out. They wanted that. They wanted to be a part of that. Jesus knows this is in their hearts. That’s why He takes them aside and reminds them for a THIRD time that He will be killed in Jerusalem. He reminds them that this is not a popularity ride. If that is what they were thinking, He’s telling them that the popularity ride is about to come to an end. The message is clear. But do they get it? They will if they don’t already. Being part of the popular new team in town is all well and good while the ride lasts but will you be there when the ride ends?

It was never to be about popularity. Jesus came to Jerusalem to fulfill a specific purpose. It was not to be popular. He came to die as a sacrifice for our sins. He came to not to commit suicide in some rebel cause. He came to be a sacrificial Lamb for the atonement of our sins. No one else could do that. He lived the only sinless life that has ever been lived. The cross was the mechanism of the day for God in the flesh to be the atoning sacrifice to end all atoning sacrifices. He was perfect and no more sacrifices were to be needed. He came to be put on the cross for our eternal health. He was investing in our eternal future. He was not here to be the most popular religious figure. He had a reason. He was here to fulfill God’s redemptive promise that He made in the Garden of Eden. It was to be fulfilled. The disciples were not opened to this until His resurrection. Then they understood it was not about a popularity ride. Then and only then could they appreciate the years that they spent with Jesus.

Are you like that with Jesus? Are you with him for the popularity ride? Are you with Jesus because it seems to suit your desire to be a championship team? Jesus is here to tell you that if that is the Jesus you desire then He is not that. Jesus is not here to meet your ego needs. Jesus is not here for your political advantage. Jesus is not here for you to be seen at His side. He is here for a specific purpose. He is here to die for your sins. He is here for you to make Him your Lord and Savior. He is here to be your rock and your salvation whether you are on top of the mountain like a successful football program or whether you are in the valley mired in mediocrity and/or suffering wondering when it will all end. Jesus came not to be your self-help guru. He came not to make you wealthy and successful. If that is the Jesus you want, He is not that. He came to be your Lord and Savior. He came not for popularity. He came to fulfill a specific purpose – to offer Himself up as a sacrifice for your sins so that you can be reconciled to God and live eternally with Him in heaven. You may achieve wealth and fame as byproducts of your relationship with Jesus but they are just byproducts of a life lived in honor and obedience. He did not promise us popularity. He did not promise an unending string of championship seasons. He came to be your Lord in championship seasons and losing seasons. He came to be your Lord in good times and bad. He came to be your Lord no matter what. He came not to give us success but to give us eternal life. Amen and amen.

Matthew 20:1-16
Jesus Tells the Parable of the Vineyard Workers
When I think of this parable, I kind of modernize it to some of the experiences I have had in life. Growing up as a Methodist preacher’s kid, you move a lot. New towns. New places. New churches. Have to start over again. Growing up I was pretty good basketball player because the countless hours that my brother and I would spend back then in the backyard playing basketball. My brother was always like 3 to 4 inches taller than me and still is. So I became a pretty good outside shooter in basketball. I could never drive inside on my brother because he would make it so hard for me to get a shot off over him. So I got pretty good at jump shots from outside. It served me well growing up. Always a good shooter for whatever team I played on. So this parable is kind of like that for me.

It’s kind of like moving to a new town and you are a really good basketball player but when you go try out for the youth team or high school team in the new town that there is already an established team in place and no one really knows your talent so they don’t consider you as a starter because you haven’t grown up in the town. You are an outsider. You are not part of the original crew. So, you do what you can. You play when you can. You know you’ve got the skills to be a starter but you just do what you can when you can. You contribute in whatever way you can. One day, you will get the chance to be on the court full-time. On that day, it will not matter how long you’ve been on the court full time. It will matter then only that you are on the court. When the time comes, you will be on the court. It will not matter if you have been playing with your teammates since you were kids, it will matter that you are on the court and in the game. Regardless of how long you’ve been playing the game, when you are on the court none of that matters. You are in the game and on the court. In that light, let’s read Matthew 20:1-16 together:

 

20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius[a] for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

 

This parable teaches a whopping big lesson in what it means to be a Christian. It does not matter when you come to the game of salvation, it only matters that you get to be on the court. There is no difference to the Lord that you came to the game later than others, it only matters that you came to game. When you boil it down to the barest essence, none of us deserve to be in the vineyard of God no matter how long we have been there. One minute of salvation is the same as 50 years of salvation. We are all just sinners saved by grace.

To continue with the basketball analogy, some of us got on the court late in the game. But you know, the box scores will show that we were in the game. Our minutes played may not be the same as those who were in the game from the tip-off, but it will show that we were in the game. It is the same with salvation. One minute saved is the same as someone who is in their late forties and has been saved since they were seven years old. Sure, there are maturity issues that are different between the one who has been saved since seven years old and the one who has been saved for seven minutes. Sure, the long-time Christian may be more mature and can discern that which is of God and that which is not better than the seven minute Christian, but the only difference between the two is the fact that the Holy Spirit has been at work longer in the more mature Christian than the infant Christian. Both the infant Christian and the mature Christian are constantly in need of grace. We are all sinners in need of grace. We all sin. Mature Christians are better at identifying sin as sin but we still sin all of us. The one thing that we all have in common is our need for grace. We all need the covering of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for us. On our own, we deserve nothing whether we have just walked out of a life of sin or have been saved for years and years. What matters is that we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We should celebrate those who come to Christ in the eleventh hour as much or more than we celebrate those who have been saved for decades. We should encourage those who have been saved for minutes to join right in there with those who have been saved for years working in the vineyard. Our wage will be the same no matter how long we have been saved. When we pass on into eternity, it will matter not how long that we have been saved, it will matter only that we are. Same wage no matter how long you have been working the vineyard. We are all to celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ saved us from an eternity separated from God. We celebrate the victory of living in the presence of God for eternity. We celebrate being there.

There are those who think that because they have been in church and have been saved for years and years that there is some hierarchy to this thing. You’ve only been saved for two years. I’ve been saved for twenty. You’ve only been saved for fifteen years. I’ve been saved for fifty. Some of us get jealous when we see those who have been saved less time than us move into positions of visibility within a church and think that they don’t deserve it because we have been here longer. We should rather celebrate that they are using their talents that God has given them rather than being jealous of them. We should seek our own ways of using our talents for the glory of God rather than being jealous of others because they are younger in the faith. Also, we should not hold those back who are following their calling just because they have not been in this church business as long as we have. Just because a person hasn’t been working for Christ as long as we have should not cause us to hold others back from expressing their faith through service to the Lord in the talents that God has called them to use. Just because someone got into the game later than we did doesn’t mean we should deny them the ball and only pass to those who have been in the game as long as we have. We should seek out those new in the faith and develop their skills so that they can be future leaders. If a new believer has the skills of hospitality, we should push them toward that. If a newer believer has the skills of preaching, we should encourage and push them toward that. If a new believer has skills that makes him or her great with young people and children, we should encourage them to do that. If a new believer has great skills of writing about God’s Word, we should encourage that. We should help the new believer identify their giftedness and push and encourage and challenge them toward that. We should never hold them back from using their giftedness just because they are younger in the faith than we are. I think we all have been in churches where there was a hierarchy of service. Older Christians did not trust new Christians to handle responsible positions in the church. We’ve all been there and done that. Let us not be that church. Let us be the church that encourages the evangelist to be the evangelist. Let us encourage the teacher to be the teacher. Let’s encourage the prophets to be prophets. Let’s encourage the apostles to be apostles. Let’s encourage the pastors to be pastors. Let us encourage all to follow their individual callings and push and challenge them. Let us not pigeon hole people into areas of service just because of the newness of their salvation. The body of Christ is edified by all of us being encouraged to follow their giftedness in the faith as Paul instructs us in Ephesians 4:11-16. Let us never be a church that makes man-made decisions as to who can do what and when they can do it. Help us to be a church that pushes our people to become what God has called them to be. Let us challenge our faith babies to step up and step out in faith. Let us provide our faith babies with the same opportunities that use their giftedness that we were given. No matter if you have been at this for 20 years and they have been at it for 2 years. Encourage. Challenge. Get them on the court and into the game.

Father, help us to be a church that expands by multiplication of the gifts that we have all been given. Help us to not smother opportunities for those new in the faith to express their God-given talents. Help us to support, nuture, guide, challenge, and lead those younger in the faith into opportunities to use their talents. Help us to recognize talent and use it in our local bodies. Help us to encourage that talent and train that talent. Help us to celebrate and not hold it back. Help us to unleash the floodgates of talented Christ followers so that the world is flooded with those who seek to glorify you in a world that needs it desperately. The harvest is great and the workers are too few for us to hold new believers back just because they have not been here as long as us. Help us also to remember that that the only difference between a new believer and us is time/maturity. We both still need grace because we both still sin. We both need Jesus every day. We both are sinners covered in his grace. It does not matter than they have only been in the game a short time. We both need grace. Amen and Amen.

Matthew 19:16-30
Jesus Speaks to the Rich Young Man

On Valentine’s Day, we like to be recognized for having been a good husband, good boyfriend, good wife or a good girlfriend. We starve for recognition. We want to feel important. We like for attention to be drawn to ourselves and have a moment in the spotlight. That is the nature of the Valentine holiday is the recognition of the importance of the people that we love in our lives. It means that we notice. We see what our loved ones do for us. But Valentine comes just once a year. If we do not spend the other 364 days (the other 365 this year, a leap year), loving our husband, wives, boyfriends, and girlfriends daily without recognition then Valentine’s Day is meaningless. If we do not do the hard work of being sacrificially loving to our loved ones during the rest of the year, Valentine’s Day is just done because it is what you are expected to do. Valentine’s Day should be a celebration of saying, “Hey, baby, I notice all the little things that you do everyday that show you love me! It doesn’t go unnoticed! I just save up all the goodwill and shower you with it on one day!”

Yesterday, my wife and I were discussing the fact that she so appreciated me going with her and spending all day long getting her mother moved from her senior independent living apartment into an assisted living facility. It was a day-long affair because her mother though had packed some had not packed a lot. We also had to cram a two bedroom apartment into what amounts to a studio one bedroom apartment. Elena was very thankful that I decided to go with her because this ended up being an all day affair. She said I scored points big time with her! It got us to thinking about with men relationships are point systems. The more points that you accumulate the better probability of getting paid back in amorous ways by our wives. We built up points so that we can cash them in amorous ways. But, as the discussion continued, the points we men gain do not have permanent value. You know, a point gained today devalues over time. A point gained with your wife in 2016 is worth like may a quarter of that value, if any at all at this time next year. So, we as men, must cash our points in within a certain short period of time after we earn them because as we said, our points lose value the longer we hold on to them. As well, if we do not cash them in pretty quickly, we may do something that causes points to be taken away from our point bank by our doing things that disappoint or hurt our wives. We laughed hysterically about the fact that men must cash in their points quickly before they lose value or they do something to lose points. It’s all about the points in the bank baby, I said. We laughed hysterically! As you know, the thing that makes humor, humor, is that the funny is in the kernel of truth that exists in it. Husbands and wives play the points game. Wives control the issuance of the points or the point deductions, we all know that and we all live with it as part of the wonderful dance that we call male-female relationships.

The sad thing about this fact is that we often make our relationship with God about points. Just we men try to earn love points with our wives so that they will give us something in return, we often make our relationship with God the same way. Let’s read about this fact in Matthew 19:16-30:

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

18 “Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’[a] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”

20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[c] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
Are we living life to earn points with God like we try to earn favor with our wives? There is nothing that we can do to earn enough points to gain access to heaven. That’s what the rich young ruler wanted to learn. How to assure himself of heaven by his deeds! Just as husbands may try to go over the top today to earn favor with their wives to get the reward that they seek, this rich young man wanted to know what the check off list of ideas, what combination of good deeds would assure him of heaven. In this passage we learn that it’s not about the deeds. Yes, we do good deeds as part of being Christians but the good deeds are not the thing, they are the effect. Jesus is the cause and the good deeds are the effect. As Christians we realize that we are sinners and it is only through the mechanism of grace that we stand right with God. No checklist of good deeds can every make us worthy of heaven in the absence of the humble sovereignty of God in our lives. We must love God like we love nothing else. We must love God with intimacy. We must love God with great joy. We must love God in a greater way than any possession that we have. When we love God that much and are so humbly thankful for our salvation that comes only through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross on our behalf, our good deeds pour out of us. We do good deeds as a natural outpouring of our humble service and love of God for what He has done for us. We are so thankful for what He has done for us and from our own realization that hell was our future without Jesus that we pour out good deeds so that others will come to know what we know.
Good deeds just for the sake of good deeds means nothing. If we do not have love for God in our hearts, good deeds are just for show and nothing else. It is the same for us in our relationships with our husbands or wives. If you are not loving your wife daily in sacrificial and sometimes unnoticed ways on a daily basis, your point system is diminished. Your good deeds without love in your heart for your spouse are just meaningless shows if you are not loving your spouse with conviction and heart the other 364 days of the year (365 days this year, a leap year). The points we gain and put in the bank with our wives have greater value and sustain their value longer if we show them that we love them in small loving ways each and every day. If you depend on Valentine’s Day to gain points with your wife and are an ass toward her the rest of the year, you cannot gain enough points on Valentine’s Day to make things right. Love your wife all year long in small loving ways that may or may not get rewarded by her. Just love her and be thankful that she hasn’t kicked you to the curb for being a jerk all these years. Be very thankful. Start today to love her every day and not just Valentine’s Day because you expect a great reward today.

May we love God daily too. We cannot do enough good deeds to earn his love. He loves us despite us only being worthy of being kicked to the curb by Him. But He continues to love us anyway. He gave us Jesus as our reconciliation to Him. He loves us that much. Should we not love Him that much back for what He has done for us. We deserve to be kicked to the curb, but He loves us. Oh how He loves us! Be thankful for that! Celebrate God’s love for us daily in how we live, how we treat others, what we do for others…because we are loved by God and because we cannot do enough to earn it but He loves us oh how He loves us!

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 19:13-15 (Part 2)
Jesus Blesses the Children

The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. We must become like children to inherit the kingdom of heaven. What is it about children that makes them the perfect examples of those who inherit the kingdom? Let’s think about this a little bit.

When I was little, my dad was larger than life. He could do anything and preach on Sunday, literally. I grew up as the son of Methodist preacher in, for the most part, rural South Carolina. It was a normal thing for me to see my dad do public speaking on a weekly basis. During the week, he was a regular guy though to me. He could fix anything. He grew up on a farm so he just knew how things worked and could fix them easily. He was also an authority figure to us, my brother and I. We knew he loved us but we knew also not to cross him when it came to His rules of behavior. When we were bad, we got whippings. There were consequences to bad behavior. Even though he was a tough man, he would also rough house with us. He would laugh and joke around with us. I just thought he was larger than life. I thought my dad knew everything. And to me, he did. He had an answer for every question. He was the storebook of knowledge. If I didn’t know something, I knew my dad would have an answer. Also, regardless of situation, I knew that my dad would take care of me. He would provide for me. Even though as a Methodist preacher’s kid, I had to move a good many times growing up, I knew that I would always have a home because of my dad. There would always be some kind of rough over my head. I trusted my dad with that. I had no question and complete faith that I would be provided for. After I began growing up, my dad became less of a titan and more of a man. I was able to see his flaws and sometimes his inconsistencies. The relationship became strained when I was a teenager. He was the dumbest, meanest man in the world to me during those years and even into my twenties. Then I had children of my own, and as they say, my dad started getting smarter again. As I grew into being a parent, I realized that my dad did the best he could raising us. The main thing that he did, as learned as a parent myself, was that he was there. He was present in our lives. He cared. He loved. He did the best that he could to raise boys who could function in the world independently. To do that, he had to sometimes be loving in tough ways that did not make him popular with us. All of it had and end and purpose. To grow up young, responsible men. Bottom line though, there was never a doubt in my mind that my dad loved me and still does. I trust that as one of the bedrock principles of my life – that my father loved me and provided for me. There was always that unspoken trust, that acceptance of something being true, that something on which you could rely – that my father loved me and would provide for me.

That trust, that reliance, that unquestioning trust is what Jesus was talking about when He was speaking of children in Matthew 19:13-15 says,

 

13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

 

Children trust their parents with their very lives. We, as children, could not make in this world alone without our parents. Even teenagers who think their parents are the dumbest people in the world still live in their dumb parents’ house. Teenagers would not be caught dead saying they love their parents, but you never see them leaving their parent’s houses. They stay. Children depend on their parents regardless of what they think of them. There is this implicit trust that they have in their parents. This is the way that we should be about our Father in heaven. We should be like little children when it comes to Him.

We must trust that no matter what that He is going to pull us through and provide for us. I think we all have had moments when our dad had to come pull us out of a jam of some sort. We dreaded having to make the phone call. We dreaded even more having him come get us. Yet, when he came to pick us up, there was just a hug and quiet assurance that everything was going to be ok. Sure, there was going to be consequences for our stupid mistake, but for this night, dads are just glad their kid is OK. Dads are the ones that we count on to get us out of the jams of our own making. Dads are the one we have to come to and admit that we make a mistake and ask him to help us figure a way out. Aren’t we supposed to be like that with God? We know that He has our best interest at heart always. We know that He will be the one that can fix things for us. If He can’t fix, He will show us the way to recover from the disaster. He will show us the way out of the valleys of our own making or the valleys that others have thrust upon us. Our earthly dads are teachers. They teach us about real life and how there are consequences to our actions and that sometimes life is unfair. In it all though, we trust that our dad knows what is best for us. Shouldn’t we be the same way with God? Why is it that we want to take his job? We must learn to return to our days as little children trusting our dads with our very existence when it comes to God. He will pull us through and He will provide.

Let us be like the little children again. Let us have joy again. Let us place our complete trust in our Lord and Savior. There is freedom in that. There is the freedom of a child in that. We try to control our world as adults. We think we are the masters of our universe. We think we got all under control and we freak out when we lose control. Why can’t return to those joyous days of childhood where there was trust in our parents to provide and protect and on that we built our lives. Complete trust. Complete faith. Complete recognition of our need for our parents. Complete understanding that they loved us. Let us be that way with our Father in heaven. Let us trust in His care for us. Let us trust in His provision for us. Let us trust in His love for us. Let us trust in His protection of us. Therein lies the keys to the kingdom my friends. Therein lies the joy of being a Christian. We have God on our side. If God is for us, who can be against us. What joy there is in that! No matter what happens to us, as a Christian, we know there is a purpose and there is a brighter day ahead. That hope gives us joy even in the worst of situations. No, we are not going to kid in a candy store happy but we do have that basic inate joy of a child as Christians. We know that whatever we are going through that God has got our back. We trust that. We know that. We do not question that. It is accepted. We have comfort and security in that, just like I knew as a child that my daddy would provide for me, protect me, raise me, care for me and love me. That was a given. It was understood. It was accepted. Let us be that way again about our Father in heaven!

Amen and Amen.

Matthew 19:13-15

Jesus Blesses the Children

Our children imitate us. Everything that we do; they watch! My children were not different. I have stories of each of them where their eyes have been upon me and they have imitated what I did and it necessarily wasn’t a good thing.

 

With Meghan, it was when she was about 3 years old. She was my shadow at that age. Wherever Daddy went, so went Meghan. Even on Saturdays when I was home from work and doing chores around the house, she was right beside me, imitating. One particular Saturday, I was having attach some kind of wind chime thing to the side of the house and it required the use of a hammer and some nails. You see where this is going already don’t you? Yes, there was a moment when I missed the nail and hit my thumb. If you remember the movie, Christmas Story, and the scene where the son was helping his dad change a tire on the car in the cold of a winter night and the son drops the lug nuts in the snow. As the voice over says, he then uttered the mother of all curse words….fudge. Well, we all know what the kid said reality. When I hit my thumb with the nail, I said “fudge” repeatedly. Meghan was of course worried about her daddy at that moment and was trying to comfort me she was listening for sure. Later, that evening, we had my parents over for dinner, and we were having dessert afterwards. I was trying to make Meghan more independent at an early age so when it was time for dessert we allowed Meghan to assist her mom in getting the dessert to the table. It took longer cause Meghan was carrying the dessert-laden dessert plates over to the table from the kitchen one by one. It was cute. She did really well until…the last plate. Her plate. She was carrying her pie and she lost control of it and it fell out of her hand and landed upside down on the floor. You know where this is going, don’t you? She said what she had heard earlier in the day, the mother of all curse words….yes…Fudge. Talk about being embarrassed! Children are watching and recording!

 

With Taylor, she has always imitiated my daredevil mentality. Not as much of a daredevil now but my daredevil mentality remained with me well into my thirties. When I was in my early thirties is when Taylor was a toddler. Even then if someone said not to do something I would do it. Taylor inherited that from me. So one time when she was staying with my parents, she was on the front porch and she had just seen a TV special the night before about Evil Knievel. She then proceeded to find material around the house while Papa was cutting grass to build her a ramp on the really big front porch of the parsonage where my parents were living at the time in Charleston. You know where this going, don’t you. She tried to jump the shrubs surrounding the front porch on her tricycle. Of course, she didn’t make and landed on top of the bushes. Cut, battered and bruised, she lived out her daddy’s daredevil mentality. Children. Watching. Imitating.

 

These stories of childhood are not necessarily my stellar moments in parenting. We sometimes forget that our children are watching. That’s what leads us to today’s passage. Matthew 19:13-15 says,

 

13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

 

14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

 

That idea of imitation is what jumps out at me today. I was not saved until I was in my late thirties, thirty-eight years old to be exact. By that time, Meghan was 15 and Taylor was 10. I had already divorced their mother and was remarried and had to that point not lived much of a life worth imitating. But, my friends, the damage we have done to our children may not be repairable through our salvation but we can begin setting new examples. When I look back at my life now, I wish that I had come to Christ sooner not just for my own sake but for the sake of my children. I would have done a whole lot of things differently for sure. I would have made different choices including possibly marrying their mother. But God has a purpose in everything and I would have had kids, probably two girls, but without marrying their mother, they would not have been the unique children that I call Meghan and Taylor. So, our past is past. It becomes part of the testimony of what Jesus can do with a redeemed life. Even if we have been boys and girls behaving badly, Jesus can reclaim it and He can allow us to redeem the example we set before our children, even as they are adult children. They still watch. They still observe. They still imitate.

 

The thing that strikes me here today is not the child-like faith of kids before Christ that most people write about when arriving at this passage (as I will write about that tomorrow morning). Today, though, it is the fact that the parents had their children there before the Lord. Notice that we have thousands of years and the New Testament to tell us who Jesus really is and why His ministry on earth was important. We know that He was the Son of God. We know now 2,000 years later that He was God in the flesh. We know now that He was the Messiah. We have two thousand years of scholarly review and theological meditation on who and what Jesus means to us. But these parents recognized that Jesus was the Messiah right then and there. They did not have the New Testament at that time to tell them this. They understood and knew it from rightly understanding the Old Testament and its prophecies of the Messiah. They were therefore parents who had relationships with God that were meaningful. They knew and obeyed the Lord. They had a real relationship with and a dependence on God. This relationship, not just some religious machinations that they went through, allowed them to understand that Jesus was the Messiah. That is what these children had to imitate was that they had parents who loved the Lord in real and tangible ways. They lived the life of loving God and seeking God’s will and His blessings. This is the legacy that we should strive for with our kids, even if you came to Christ late like me. We should be seen by them talking about the Lord. We should be seen by them praying. We should seen by them living lives that are marked by morality. We should be seen by them living lives where sometimes we have to make tough choices between what is our desire and what is right. We must be seen by them doing what is right in God’s eyes even when it might cost us something. We must be seen by them, above all, loving the Lord. We must live lives where our children say, I know my daddy is a changed man now and what would he do in this situation. We want them to imitate our seeking after the heart of God.

 

The next thing that I see here is that the parents were ones that put their faith into action. They brought their children before Jesus to seek His blessing for them. What good parents are these! You love your children, right? You want nothing less than the best for them. You want them not to make the same mistakes you made. You love them so much that you would do anything to make sure that they grow up with the least amount of pain and suffering possible. What we want most for our children is for them to grow up and be responsible, well-adjusted adults. That’s the whole aim! Look at these parents here in this passage. They are exposing their children to the Son of God. They want them to be near Jesus and at His feet. Should we not be doing the same for our children, especially knowing that they are our imitators. We should expose them to the gospel at every opportunity when they are growing up. We want the best for them, right? What is better than our relationship with Jesus Christ. These kids may have not wanted to go meet Jesus that day. They may have wanted to play with their friends. But these parents made sure that they got to meet Jesus that day. As we see multiple times in the Bible, children were drawn to Jesus. So, I bet that day, that even if the kids had not wanted to go meet Jesus, they were glad they did when they met Jesus. He had a way with kids that captivated them. He is after all God in the flesh. Isn’t that what we should be doing with our kids. Making sure that they are around Jesus. If you have young children, you are lucky. You get to set the standard now. You start family prayers with them. You start Bible reading with them right now even when they are little. Sociological studies prove that many of the behaviors that we have as adults are set by the time we are two or three years old. Watching, imitating. What better gift can we give our children than the gift of a solid foundational relationship with Christ. What better gift that a child not knowing anything other than Jesus being a firm part of their lives from birth. If you are like me and did not come to Christ yourself until you likes were teens and preteens, the example begins now. Let them see you living a changed life where Bible study is important. Let them see in your actions and your words that Jesus Christ is front and center in your life. They are still imitators of us even as adult children (either by gladly doing what we do or by angrily doing the opposite of what we do – even opposite behavior is a form of antithetical imitation). Getting your children to think about Jesus as adults by how our lives have changed is what you want to happen if you are parent like me who came to Christ after your kids were teenagers or adults. Bringing our kids near to Christ is what we should strive for as parents. Getting them close enough to Him so that Jesus can touch their lives. That’s what we want. No greater imitation can we strive for is for them to have seen Christ because we have brought them near to Him.

 

They are watching, imitating, recording everything we do. Even as adult children. Our job is not done when they leave home. They still imitate even then. Let us bring them near to Jesus. Let them see Jesus in us. Amen and Amen.

Matthew 19:1-12
Jesus Teaches About Marriage & Divorce

Baby mamas and baby daddies. Sex without marriage. I was having a discussion yesterday with my oldest daughter about a class that she had to go to about pregnancy as part of her own journey in pregnancy. Yes, my oldest child is about to give me my first grandchild. She and her husband, Curtis, to whom she has been married to for almost 7 years now, are about to have their first child together. But at this class, my daughter was one of the few married women in the class. It was shocking to her that in our Southern society where we once prided ourselves in adhering to acceptable social conventions that we now live in a society where all of that has broken down. There is a growing trend toward simply having babies outside of marriage. There is less stigma attached to it than ever before. Even greater than that, sex outside of marriage is not considered a big deal anymore. Before you think me high and mighty, before and my first two marriages, I have justified my participation in this scene. Sex is how I validated my inner value when I was not married. I didn’t think of it as sin because that is just the way the world is now, I would say to myself. Sex and dating are almost a given in today’s world. Our churches are full of otherwise wonderful single Christians who are participating in premarital sex and it’s not just teenagers.

It is virtually all adult singles. Even Christian singles have had multiple sexual partners to whom they never married. In a recent study by ChristianMingle, an internet dating service for Christians, they found that “A majority of single Christians are rejecting biblical doctrine by choosing to have sex before they are married. Sixty-one percent of self-identified Christian singles said they are willing to have casual sex without being in love, while only 11 percent said they are waiting to have sex until they are married.” With that background, let us read Matthew 19:1-12 again, one last time, with eye toward what it means for those who are single (pay close attention to vv. 10-12):

19 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2 Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a] 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

Wow! The standard is pretty high. In response to His disciples saying that if marriage is an institution with such high standards of behavior then it is better to not marry. Jesus answer indicates that Jesus taught that singleness and marriage are both acceptable to God. This means that marriage is not commanded of anyone, neither is abstention from marriage, even for the sake of the kingdom of God. For some, as the disciples expressed, ‘it is better not to marry.’ But others could find celibacy too hard to handle. The ability to function effectively as a single person had not been given to them. For these people, marriage would be preferable to singleness. The standards for sex according to the Bible are pretty high indeed, regardless of being single or married. If we marry, we are expected to be married for life. If we are single, we are expected to wait until marriage to have sex, as it represents the only situation in which sex is acceptable. If there is ever a sin for which the vast majority of us stand condemned it is this one. How do we live up to such a high standard in a society that glorifies sex almost as a sport or at least as feature of any relationship?

I guess the first thing that we have to do is to understand that sex is an overpowering human urge. Yet, we live in age where we are told to do what feels good to us. One of the hallmarks of the fruits of the spirit is self-control or self-discipline. In our culture today, when it comes to sex, there is no longer self-control when it comes to sex. Single parent families. Children with different last names than their mothers. Government service agencies overrun with meeting the needs of single mothers. Fathers who have fathered multiple kids by different women and some who have never met their own kids. This is not a black or white thing, it is a culture thing. Even we as Christians, as I cited the Christian Mingle survey/study, are failing miserably in this area. How are we to change things in this area? It seems almost as the biggest insurmountable problem that we face as Christians. As I said we are failing miserably in holding up the high standards of marriage and sexuality. Even as a Christian myself, I know that if I was ever single again, this would again be my most significant challenge as Christ follower. Having sexual relationships as a single person is so easy these days. It is certainly not looked upon with any disdain by society so it would be easy to fall into that trap again. It’s OK. Everybody’s doing it and it feels good so it’s OK. It’s certainly easy to sit her as a married Christian and say that if I was ever single again that I would have self-control. That’s a hard sell when we are so programmed toward sexual conquest just by our nature and certainly by our culture now. We must recognize our weak spots and seek Holy Spirit guidance.

How to change even the culture around sex even for us Christians I have no clue how to change other than to say that we should aspire to higher standards. We should not say that just in this one area that it is OK to be like the culture. Easier said than done. We must first quit equating sex with love. Sex is the fulfillment of bodily desire but it is not love in and of itself. How many times have you, as a man or a woman, been brought you lowest because of the end of a relationship when you were dating that hurt 10 time more because sex was involved? Help us Lord to be the change in our society. We have seen what unrestrained sex has done to our society. I think that we must examine as Christian what sex is in our relationships. It is not the end game. It is the prize. One of the unique things about my marriage now is that because of my job situation while we were dating was that I ended on the West Coast and she on the East Coast. We are a bi-coastal couple for the vast majority of our dating years. You know what? It forced us to become friends because by simple logistics physical intimacy was off the table. For two people who had defined their personal value by and through sex all of their lives (which caused us to choose unwise marriages for us as individuals previously), the fact that we had to learn to talk and learn to be friends first was unique. What a difference it has made in our marriage. We see our friendship as important as our sexual relationship. It takes a lot of pressure off of sex as the glue that holds us together. In past marriages, sex glossed over a lot of problems. Maybe this is the approach that we should be taking as singles is that we must have some self-control and want to find out a whole lot about a person before we even entertain the idea of sex with them. Sex should never be the basis of a relationship. Friendship between lovers should be the goal first. If you can’t be friends with them outside the bedroom then we should never entertain thoughts of bring them into. Sex clouds incompatabilities between potential mates. I can attest to that. Two marriages and many failed relationships in between were often clouded with sex over content. Am I compatible with this person? Can I be friends with this person? Would I be hanging out with this person if I was not in a sexual relationship with this person? These are the questions that we should be asking ourselves when it comes to sex. Access to sex from a person should never be the reason we get married either. If more marriages were based on being friends first then maybe just maybe the divorce rate would go down. In our society though and even among Christians, we are blinded by sexual passion as love. When passion fades and you are not friends with the person you married, then, the trouble begins. Then, we start throwing away marriages like we throw away and old pair of worn out tennis shoes. Let us, as Christians, lead the way in defining that first comes friendship, then comes marriage, and then comes sex. It is going to be a tough sell. I know that. It’s going to be a tough sell even among Christians. We have got to sell our own people on it first before we can sell it to the world. The only way that we win the battle here is through prayer first for Christians to find our way to Jesus’ ideal for singleness and marriage. Through prayer to change our own hearts first then the culture’s.

So, here we have it. Jesus says that marriage is like those dangerous jobs that only the highly skilled are qualified for. Marriage is only for those that are not faint of heart. It is a lifetime commitment, according to Jesus. There are few outs for marriage. Let us change the culture of the culture of marriage today. Let us change the culture of the culture of singleness today. Let us see marriage as something tough to enter into and that it must be to a person that I can be friends with not only in the bedroom but outside it. We spend more time outside than we do in it, but we tend to marry today based on those brief encounters rather than the long haul of being outside the bedroom. Nobody said being a Christian was easy. In fact, it is the hardest job you will ever love. We are pruned daily and we are expected to be in the world and not of it. We must be the ones to set the example here and not just say because the culture is doing it and it is an insurmountable problem that we might as well join in. God help us. We must have His help. Father lead us and convict us and help us live by the standards that you have set for marriage and for singleness. Amen and Amen.