Tag Archives: Jesus

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star…

“And he said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand?  For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light.  If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”  And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you.  For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”   Mark 4:21-25 

Living in Chicago means that it’s never totally dark at night.  Even at midnight when you should be able to gaze upon the constellations and think about how small you really are, the lights of the city create a mild hue that almost looks like twilight.  Most of the lights you see in the sky aren’t stars at all but are instead airplanes coming in for a landing or taking off for a new destination.  Every once in a while when I do have the chance to be out of the city at night I’m amazed at all the stars that are really there.

In this parable, Jesus reminds us that a lamp is not meant to be hidden, but instead is to be put on a stand so as to maximize its light.  And of course, in this parable the light is none other than Jesus himself, shining through the lives of those who follow him in faith every day.

There are some important things to notice here.

First, Jesus in your life is meant to be noticed.  He’s not happy being a hidden feature in your life.

Genuine faith means realizing that your life is dark, real dark, without him.  In fact, in this parable he is suggesting that he is the only light that exists.

That’s important to understand, for we live in  a world that claims many lights:  Buddha, Gandhi, MLK, and the like.  And that’s not to take anything away from the social contributions that many have had.  But again, Jesus speaks with exclusivity here–he’s not one of many lamps at your disposal.  If you want the true light of God in your life, it’s found only in him.

Second, there’s an element of reciprocation here that’s important to understand.  Jesus states that the attitude or disposition you have towards him will have a direct correlation on the blessings of God upon your life.

Sure, there are many people who have lots of “blessings” that have nothing to do with Christ (and don’t seem to care).  We see those people everyday and sometimes even find ourselves jealously gazing at their prosperity.

But true blessings from God are those that enrich your life by strengthening your focus on Christ and flowing out from that as the center.  All other blessings can quickly turn in to false idols that distract us from seeking the Lord, and thus are not really blessings in the grand scheme of eternity.  They may be nice things now, but in light of eternity they are (a) gone and (b) used to show that you were more concerned and satiated by them than the presence of Christ (and his light) in your life.

So where is Jesus leading you with this parable?

First, realize that the truest blessings of God are centered on and in him.  They flow from his hand.

Second, remember that your attitude towards Christ matters.  It has ramifications for your life now and in eternity.  This is why there will be degrees of reward in heaven based on how you live now, and why there will be degrees of punishment in hell based on how often (and to what measure) people rejected the light of God in Christ in this life.  Be careful how you hear!

Application Questions:

1.  On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate yourself when it comes to letting the light of Jesus shine through you? to your friends? to your coworkers? to complete strangers?

2.  Obviously not everyone around us will celebrate the light of Christ.  How do we balance common sense with outreach?  Which side  do you err on?

3. Think of all the ‘lights’ that our world celebrates.  How does Jesus fit in with this crowd? Or does he fit in at all?

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When Storms Threaten to Sink You

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.”  And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.  And other boats were with him.  And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.  But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion.  And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace!  Be still!”  And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.  He said to them, “Why are you so afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”    Mark 4:35-41

There’s a false idea floating around in the world today that can sink your faith in God.  It goes something like this:  If you really follow God, then your life will be great.  And not just average great–but really great!  No pain, no stress, no difficult circumstances, no storms.  The catch?  You just gotta believe (and if you do that well enough, then you achieve a spiritual state of nirvana in your life today).

Yes, we need faith.  Yes, we gotta believe.  But look at this passage and cut yourself some slack.

The disciples were following Jesus by faith.  They had already left their family businesses and careers behind.  While they certainly didn’t have everything figured out, they were doing their best to follow Jesus.  While they struggled to trust in God’s care for them, they at least took steps of faith where others wouldn’t.

You will face storms in life.  And some of these storms will rattle your faith to the core.  You’ll wonder if you are really a child of God.  You feel as if all is lost and you’re on a hopeless journey.  Life will threaten to drown you–and leave no trace of your existence.

But this story reminds us that Jesus will be with us during those moments.

Sure, storms can be needed practice for learning how to trust him more.  And yes, we will handle most of these in a clumsy way, looking back with a hindsight that will feel more like a kick in the pants than a pat on the shoulder.

But look again–this story reminds you that Jesus is with you no matter where you go.  No matter how high the waves or how much your boat is filling with water, Jesus cares.  You can rest, because you can say to your heart and your mind:  Jesus is here.

In this story, that one factor made all the difference in the world.  And in your story, that one factor will make the same difference too.  Will you surrender your life today to Christ?  Will you invite him to be the Captain of your ship?

Application Questions:

1.  Are you in a storm right now?  How does this story give you encouragement?

2.  Do you think Jesus was sleeping in order to challenge or grow the faith of the disciples?  Why or why not?

3.  How did this episode increase the faith of the disciples from this point on?  How do your trials and difficult circumstances strengthen your faith in God?

 

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Are you inside or outside?

“And when he was alone, those around him with the twelve asked him about the parables.  And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that:  “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.” 

And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable?  How then will you understand all the parables?  The sower sows the word.  And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.  And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy.  And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.  And others are the ones sown among thorns.  They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.  But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”   Mark 4:10-20

If you have ever wondered about the role God has in the hearts of those who respond, Jesus clears up any doubts about His supremacy in all things–including our own understanding.  Jesus identifies the spiritual “goods” that people seek:  seeing things as they really are, hearing the voice of God in their lives, having the ability to rightfully act within the eternal joys of forgiveness.  Unfortunately, these things are not found by those on the “outside”.

But what about other religions, you might ask?  What about the sincerity of the Jew?  or the devotion of the Muslim?  or the spirituality of the Mystic?  Keep in mind the audience Jesus taught.  They were Jewish.  And the devotion of the Pharisees of his day would make most modern Muslims blush.  Even the overall spiritual climate included a fair number of mystics who sought after God apart from society in the desert regions of Qumran.

So how does this relate to you and me?

There’s a part of you that finds your identity in being sincere and authentic.  But apart from Christ, you’re still outside of his good graces of forgiveness and eternal life.

There’s another side of you that relishes being religious.  It’s the side of you that leans toward ritual and tradition.  But even that part of you stands outside the smile of God’s favor.  The Pharisees, in all of their ritual and religion, still missed the Son of God in their midst.

Finally, there is a part of you that enjoys the mystery involved in pursuing a God you cannot see.  Your heart enjoys the journey of looking for a God who is there in a sort of cat-and-mouse game.  But the problem is simple:  you are looking for Him on your own terms.  This passage of Scripture reminds us that you cannot find God when you look for Him on your own terms.  Instead, you must receive the truth as revealed in Jesus.

For many people–perhaps most–this is too hard to take.  The idea that they must pursue God on His terms instead of their own is as foreign to them as me coming into their living room and changing the TV channel during their favorite show.  But this is exactly what Jesus does to each of us who truly want to follow him–on his terms.

May you rediscover the richness of surrendering to Jesus and come in from the cold.  He’s waiting for you right now.

Application Questions:

1.  Do you agree that seeking God must be done on His terms only?  To what degree do you believe this to be true?

2.  Are you still outside–trying to enter into true fellowship with Jesus on your own ability and sincerity?  How’s that working for you?

3.  Jesus doesn’t seem to leave any wiggle-room in this passage.  To follow him, we must do so on his terms only.  What do you think of that?

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Jesus Doesn’t Get Along Well with Religious People

“Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand.  And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him.  And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.”  And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?”  But they were silent.  And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”  He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.  The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”   Mark 3:1-6

It’s hard to believe, but in this story the religious people of the day were actually upset at Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath.  They had believed that the Sabbath meant no work–and somewhere in their tradition and understanding they had classified healing as “work”–and thus prohibited on the Sabbath.

What’s even more tragic is that a genuine miracle occurred right in front of their eyes and they totally missed it.  And to put a cherry on top of their “We hate Jesus” sundae, they united in their opposition against him and started planning for a way to kill him.

Look again and you see a downward slide of three stages:  (1) Religious tradition is more important than people; (2) Religious tradition can blind us to see God’s unique working in our midst–especially when he does so in ways that are ‘outside of the box’ for us; and (3) Eventually you must choose:  either follow some form of religious tradition or follow Jesus–but at some point there is a huge difference.

Now don’t get me wrong.  We all have some form of religious tradition.  For some of us, we go to a church that is filled with ritual and tradition–and it all points to Jesus.  And for others who may attend less formal or less structured services, they still have traditions of how to do things properly and in good working order.

But when we choose to trust our spiritual health to traditions and in our performance of keeping them, instead of trusting in Christ as the One who perfectly kept them for us in God’s eyes–we have crossed a dangerous line.

Now we’ve become people who can mindlessly go through the motions of worship and devotion–and still be hardened in our hearts to the real kind of devotion that Jesus is looking for.  It’s like when you drive the same route everyday–you must be careful that you don’t put things in ‘autopilot’ mode and one day find yourself in an accident that was preventable.

The other thing to learn from this story is that Jesus has a way of going against our traditions.  Just because we’ve always done church a certain way doesn’t mean that God likes it.  Just because we always pray a certain way doesn’t mean God hears it.  Just because we always give the same amount of money doesn’t mean that God is pleased.

On a different note, let’s spend a few moments thinking about this man.

In Bible days, to have a withered hand was a real handicap (even today too).  Since most labor in Bible days was menial, this meant that you were virtually unemployable and reduced to being a beggar.  You couldn’t shake hands with people, do meaningful work, or worship without this stigma (to the Jews who often lifted hands in worship, a withered hand indicated that the person had some kind of secret sin that they were holding onto and that God was judging them for).

Now, this man was free.  He could more freely love and interact with others, reach his labor potential AND worship without any kind of stigma.

You are that man.  And this is what God wants to do for you in Jesus.

God wants you to experience a new freedom in Him, allowing you to have more meaningful relationships with others, reach your potential, and worship Him without anything holding you back.

Take a moment now–ignore the critics in your head–and stretch out your hand.  As you do, pray for Jesus to completely heal your life.  You will never be the same!

Application Questions:

1.  What religious traditions do you keep?  Are they meaningful to you?  How so?

2.  Are you trusting in your religious traditions more than in Jesus?  How would you know?

3.  Is there a part of your life–a hand–that needs the healing touch of God?  Surrender it to Jesus now and see what God does…

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Two Simple Words That Can Change Your LIfe

“He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them.  And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.”  And he rose and followed him.”   Mark 2:13-14

Imagine the scene.  Levi, an established businessman (tax collector), is busy at his trade.  One day Jesus walks up, and with two simple words completely turns his life upside down.  Jesus looks him in the eye, and simply says, “Follow me” and Levi gets up and leaves everything behind.

Notice what Jesus didn’t offer.  He didn’t promise that things would get better.  He didn’t promise that Levi would have a more “successful life” or a nicer house to live in.  There are  lot of things that Jesus didn’t promise Levi.

But notice what Jesus did promise him:  the gift of himself.  Jesus promised Levi a future that was sure of one thing:  Jesus would be in it front and center.  And for Levi, that was enough.

It was enough because it was more than anything else he had.  He had a “career” that was as stable as the Roman government–and that was a sure bet back then.  And, he had money–lots of it.  Being a tax collector was a lucrative career–even though others viewed you as a ‘Benedict Arnold’ traitor because you had joined the other team–the Romans.  But none of that mattered now, because he left it all to gain Jesus.

What would it take for you to give up everything–to quit chasing after “stuff”–so you can really focus on following Jesus?  What would that look like for you?

To be honest–you don’t know.  In fact, none of us know.  When Jesus called him, Levi didn’t really know.

But that’s not the point.  We crave clarity–Jesus wants us to crave trust.  Want clarity?  Then don’t follow Jesus.  Jesus doesn’t promise that — he only promises you the one thing you need the most:  himself.

Application Questions:

1.  At what stage are you in this story?  You’re busy with your career…Jesus is approaching you…Jesus is looking into your eyes…Jesus is challenging you to follow him…you are deciding what to do?

2.  Does Jesus really ask people to give up everything to follow him?  Why or why not?

3.  How do you know if you’re really following Jesus?

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