Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Mark 15:29-34: Holy Week and Christ's Amazing Love

Mark 15:29-34 (GNT): Holy Week
Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.
At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

Mark gives us this raw image of humiliation and mockery that Jesus undergoes. In Mark's gospel, we do not get the good thief and Jesus' offer of paradise. Instead, we get, "Those crucified with him also heap insults on him." Amazingly, Jesus was dying for them.  He was reconciling the mocking crowd in the midst of their mockery.  I don't like to think about my own sins. Who does?  But this passage reminds me that no matter how hard I try to be like Jesus, there are times when I, too, mock him on the cross. Whether it is internal irritation and resentment toward someone, arguing with with my family, or sometimes being indifferent, my shortcomings amount to insults hurled at the cross. Through the love of Christ, however, we need not despair.  On Calvary, Jesus offers himself to the Father because no matter how hard we try, we cannot reconcile ourselves; the Old Covenant proves that. In the hymn "And Can it be Said That I Should Gain," Charles Wesley reminds us about the amazing love of God embodied in Christ crucified:

Died He for me, who caused His pain-
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Matthew 25:15-28: Investing in Jesus Christ

Matthew 25:15-28 (ESV): Investing in Christ
To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money.
Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’
He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! …
This past week, I attended my church’s Lenten retreat. There, a guest speaker discussed the above parable, and what he said struck a familiar chord.  What would “the master” have said if the servants’ talent investments would have bore no immediate return? The answer he gave, and the one to which I agree, was “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Yes, God appreciates when we witness and touch others’ lives for His sake, even if we are persecuted and bereft of all we give.  
The speaker, furthermore, told a story about his mother who recently passed.  He mentioned her constant love toward others and faith in Christ, even in the midst of suffering and facing her own mental and physical death (she suffered from dementia).  During her life, his mother, moreover, never saw her “return,” but everyone who approached him at her wake and funeral had a story to tell about the difference she made in their lives -- in how they became more loving people, deeper in their faith, and better witnesses to Christ.
We are called to invest our “talents” in Christ no matter the return.  We cannot be like the unfaithful servant who states, “I knew you to be a hard man... so I was afraid.” God will provide in the midst of our fears, even if we cannot see it at the time. Let us invest ourselves in the rich ministries God gives us daily as parents, spouses, teachers, and neighbors.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Ruth: God's Blessings in Hindsight

Ruth: God's Blessings in Hindsight
Ruth clings to Naomi; Orpah is satisfied with saying goodbye and remaining in Moab. Ruth tells Naomi that she will remain loyal and devoted, saying to Naomi, “Your people will be my people; your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16). Because of Ruth’s humble love and selfless devotion, she sacrifices living among her own people to live in a foreign land.

Ruth’s humility and devotion are attributes we should strive for in our devotion to Jesus Christ.  Ruth says, for instance, “Wherever you go, I will go . . . whenever you die, I will die.” This is total surrender and how we should approach our relationship with Christ.  His will, not ours.

The following are some parallel verses:
  • (Luke 9:23):  In following Christ, we are called to take up our cross and forget ourselves. Ruth does this and the reward is beyond imagination. She becomes the grandmother to David and is in the family line of St. Joseph, Jesus’ foster father.
  • (Luke 9:57-62): When we follow Christ, it is all or nothing. We cannot look back, question our old ways, or consider whether we should postpone discipleship. Ruth shows complete devotion and abandonment of self in her walk with Naomi.
  • (Luke 14: 25-33): Jesus reminds us that no one can be his disciple unless he first counts the cost and devotes everything to Jesus, leaving behind property and even family. Ruth puts this into practice by leaving her homeland and Orpah, her only sister, to devote her life to Naomi. Ruth, moreover, is the model of a disciple.

Like Ruth gleaning in Boaz’s field and receiving God’s blessing, I, too, have been in many places where God has blessed me. One place particularly in time was during my college years.  I was a young single dad, too shy to ask girls out on dates and too embarrassed to experience rejection.  By being at the college I attended, however, I indirectly met Dana, my lovely wife and the mother of my children. Dana’s friend, who I met through a mutual college friend, introduced us. After we met, moreover, we dated, became engaged, and married. Currently we are raising a beautiful family.  And, in time, God would rescue us by His grace into a life of faith in Christ. God’s blessing is so clear, and to think I did not even acknowledge His hand in this for so many years amazes me. Thanks to the rescue God provides daily in the gifts of faith, hope, and love, our lives are blessed. This was Boaz’s field for me.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Mark 7:1-23 -- Removing the Root of Sin

Jesus rebukes the Pharisees (Mark 7: 6-9) due to their focus on the letter of the law and their own invented traditions, Due to their righteous piety, they inadvertently refuse to garner their hearts toward God. The Pharisees, moreover, “reject God’s law in order to uphold their own teachings” (9). Jesus, God incarnate, tells them this directly and with authority. Their focus on ritual cleanliness (religiosity) detracts from where the true focus should be, the purification of the heart and rending its corrupt nature; this is the reason God sent Jesus, to save us from our sinful hearts.

In many conservative churches today, however, the focus can gravitate toward man-made traditions.  These traditions, moreover, are even, at times, proof-texted with scriptural support.  As a result, these pious declarations of man are held on the same level and sacredness as Scripture and, at the behest of traditionally-minded leaders, are occasionally forced on the Body of Christ as essential doctrine. When tradition conflicts with Scripture (church leadership denies this ad nauseam) and opposes reason and formed conscience, there is a vast and relevant problem, the same problem Christ points out to the Pharisees in first-century Palestine. We need to condition our hearts to God through prayer; the reading of Scripture; a well-formed, reasonable conscience; and scripturally-sound tradition. We must allow Christ to rend our unclean hearts of sin, refuse the “outside of the cup” rules imposed by pious church leaders, and adopt the heart of Christ.

Jesus directly links evil thoughts with evil deeds in verses 21-23. Likewise, in the gospel of Matthew 5:28, Jesus says that desire for adultery is the same as committing it. Jesus is pointing to a wonderful, liberating truth that identifies the cause of sin in our lives: It is in the heart, for sinful actions are mere results of a sinful nature. Sinful action, moreover, is the symptom of a sinful heart. What Jesus teaches points us to the root of sinful behavior, our corrupt disposition and thoughts.  These heart-based dispositions are what Jesus will, by his grace, change in us.  But we must allow him, through humble submission and true repentance, to work in our hearts. By rooting out our sinful hearts, Jesus makes us new and fills us with his Spirit. This concept is well illustrated in Shakespeare’s Hamlet when Claudius tries to privately confess his sins. During this false confession  (see Hamlet 3.3.36-101), Claudius realizes that words and external signs in are meaningless without true repentance evidenced by giving up the gains of his sin, namely Gertrude and Denmark.  Unlike Claudius, however, we must truly repent in our hearts, handing all of our sinful desires over to God. This is the only way, through Christ working in us, that our sinful symptoms (physical sin) will stop.  We have to, in essence, allow Christ to surgically remove our sinful hearts and replace them with his. This is a lifetime process and never easy; it will entail a tough cross to carry. But the rewards of being a new creation in Christ are immeasurable and eternal.