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In so many instances where Jesus confronted the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law, I am amazed at how they respond to him. How could they reject Jesus, the son of God standing before their eyes, and not accept him as their Messiah? Yet I often see the same response to Jesus occurring today, not just in the world, but in myself as well.

Mark 12:12 is one example that reveals three key insights on how people rationalize rejecting Jesus: “Then the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away (NIV).”

The first insight is they “looked for a way to arrest him.” This shows they were trying to use the law to justify their actions. We see the same thing today in the world where certain laws are enacted as a way to stop Christians from sharing the gospel. Legalism in the church can also be a way to justify our actions when God’s plans seem to interfere with our agenda.

The second insight from this passage touches on how we respond to criticism: “because they knew he had spoken the parable against them.” So often when someone speaks against me, I want to justify my actions or my words to prove I am right. It becomes the motivation for the first insight, to support my cause with the law or legalism instead of listening and correcting my action or words. I become more intent on proving I am right than improving my relationship with Christ.

The third insight is: “But they were afraid of the crowd.” In this incident it appears they saw they were outnumbered by those who came to hear Jesus teach. It was a crowd not necessarily friendly to the Pharisees — perhaps a crowd with a lot of Gentiles. This shows they were not comfortable outside of their usual crowd. Too often I find myself more like the Pharisees instead of being like Jesus who mingled with people who were often rejected by the Jewish leaders, the downtrodden of their society. Too often I fear the crowd instead of God; too often I am not willing to step out of my comfort zone and mingle with people who are not like me.

Jesus often calls us to lay aside our personal agenda. At times the words of Jesus can convict us of things in our life we need to change. The challenge is whether we listen to Jesus and his call for our life, or insist on finding a way to justify our actions by hiding behind laws and legalism or siding with the crowd we know.

I have read the passage in Mark 10:17-31 many times and heard many sermons about the rich ruler. But this time when I read about Jesus’ encounter with this man, the first sentence in verse 21 caught my attention: “Jesus looked at him and loved him (NIV).” I think too often I have been quick to judge this man who “had great wealth” as someone hopelessly attached to his riches. I think Jesus saw something else in him.

In the opening verse of this passage, the man ran to Jesus “and fell on his knees before him (verse 17).” He addresses Jesus as “good teacher.” This shows the man has respect for Jesus and views him as someone with good advice on eternal matters. I think it’s also significant that the man asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said “inherit” instead of “earn” which indicates to me that he desires to be part of the family of God.

This a completely different posture than at the beginning of this chapter where the Pharisees approached Jesus to test him. The rich man seemed sincere in his pursuit of eternal life, but he is misguided in his method of obtaining it. Unlike the Pharisees who seem intent on proving Jesus wrong, this man appears to want a heart after God. Something inside of him is telling him he is missing something and he is excited to see Jesus, excited enough to run to him and to respect him as a “good teacher.”

I think the key point in Mark 10 relates to our attitude toward God. Are you more like the Pharisees where you think you are a mature Christian who needs to test the faith of others, or are you like the man in verse 17 where you desire to learn more; where you respond to the Spirit and fall at the feet of Jesus to ask him, “What am I missing Jesus? Point me toward what I need to change.”

Like this man, Jesus looks at us and loves us. He sees our heart and what we truly desire. Jesus has a way of convicting us with the Spirit of God in what we need to change in our life to have eternal life. He tells us to be sold out to a life in Christ. Like this man whose face fell and went away sad (verse 22), when the Spirit convicts us, it can sadden us as well. The question I like to ask is, “How much more than gravity is holding you to this world.” For this rich man, apparently his riches were holding him back from selling out to Christ.

As Jesus points out, earthly riches can make it difficult to enter the Kingdom of God (verse 23). Jesus said in verse 25, “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.” But we have to be careful we don’t fall in the trap of saying, “At least I’m not rich. I’m doing all the right things to enter the Kingdom of God.” That is exactly what the man told Jesus in verse 20, that he has kept all the commandments since he was a boy.

It’s easy to slip into the thought that our good deeds make us a good Christian. That’s why we need to focus on having a heart for God, a deep desire to follow Christ. Praise God that he looks on us with love and compassion. When we are convicted by the Spirit to address things that are holding us back from a deeper relationship with Christ Jesus, it can make us sad like this rich man. As God reveals more and more of our failings, we can feel like the disciples who remarked, “Who then can be saved (verse 26)?” To which Jesus responded in the next verse, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

To be sold out to Christ Jesus requires us to rely on God, not ourselves or our riches on this earth. Kneel at the feet of Jesus and ask him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” What he tells you might make you sad; it might seem impossible, but remember, nothing is impossible with God.

I stepped into the attic of our house and was amazed at how much stuff had accumulated in this small space. As I went through boxes and crates filled with things from my past, I kept telling myself, “It’s time to get rid of some of these things.” Suddenly I was struck by the discovery of an old Bible buried deep inside one box. It was a reminder to me of how clutter can sometimes conceal God’s word in our life.

James 1:21 encourages us to “get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your soul (NLT).” Like that attic full of stuff, we can fill our lives with things that are not good for us. That in turn can hinder our ability to accept God’s word inside of us and our ability to live our lives according to God’s will.

It’s an imagery that Paul presents in 2 Timothy 2:20-21 where he describes the different utensils and their use in a household. “If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.”

If that Bible buried in a box had been the only thing in the attic, it would have been easy to find God’s word and his purposes for my life. It’s a vivid reminder to remove the clutter from our life and to focus on God.

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published July 8, 2011.

One verse I like to read in the morning is Psalm 92:2, “proclaiming your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night (NIV).” I like how it recognizes God’s love as the day begins, a love that will not fail no matter what the day brings. It is a recognition of his care and the need to rely on him.

Equally important is the second part of verse 2, “proclaiming… your faithfulness at night.” At the end of the day we should take time to reflect on how God’s love helped us through the day; how he carried us through good and bad events. Verse 4-5 tell us God’s deeds make us glad; that we should “sing for joy at what your hands have done;” that we should recognize his great works and profound thoughts.

Without this proper orientation toward God at the beginning of the day, we are likely to not see his hand at work in our lives during the day. We are more likely to focus on the bad things that occur and miss opportunities to join God in his work. The danger is that we will become like the senseless people who “do not know” in verse 6, the fools who “do not understand.”

Take time this morning to proclaim God’s love for you. “It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High (verse 1).” Each day we start by seeking God is a day we equip ourselves to serve him and not our own agenda.

“They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” ⁃ Psalm 92:14-15 (NIV)

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published August 9, 2010.

I stood in awe at the undeniable splendor of it all. A deep orange sun setting upon the lake as it painted the clouds above with hues of pink and lavender. The sound of waves lapping the shore and a gentle wind upon my face added to the beauty. I took in a deep breath and marveled at the scene before me.

For a brief moment I took my eyes off the sunset and glanced at the shore behind me. I was surprised to see a large crowd of people gathered along the beach to watch the sun sink into the horizon. There before us was undeniable evidence of God’s creation in all its brilliance, yet I wondered how many would leave without thanking God or praising him – how many would slip back into the darkness of unbelief?

In Romans 1:20 Paul tells us, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Evidence of God’s presence surrounds us each day. He is there reaching out to us through his creation, his Word, his spirit and his people. God’s desire is to restore us to him through his son Jesus.

How often do we get so absorbed in the things of this world that we fail to recognize God at work in our life. How often do we see the beauty around us, but not acknowledge the source. How often do we get to the end of the day and realize we “neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him” (Romans 1:21 NIV). Paul cautions us in Romans 1:25 not to be like those who “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.”

While the picture above gives you a glimpse of the sunset I saw that day, it cannot compare to actually being there. The same is true with God. A sunset is only a glimpse of the eternal beauty we will experience when we are reunited with God. They are daily reminders that God continues to reach out to us. He has given us a way to rid ourselves of the darkness of this world and to be reunited with him through his son Jesus. “He gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). It is up to us whether we chose to believe in Jesus and follow him or settle for the artificial beauty of this world that will fade away like a setting sun.

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published June 22, 2010. The Gulf Oil Spill started in April, 2010 and was capped later that summer.

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been called an ecological disaster. As oil continues to flow from the damaged well deep below the surface, it continues to coat wildlife, beaches and wetlands with the gooey, black substance. A major effort is under way to clean up the oil, but the only way to solve the problem is to stop the flow of oil from the source by capping the well.

It’s a vivid picture of what sin can do to our lives. Sinful thoughts deep inside our minds don’t seem harmful until they spew forth, coating our lives and those around us with its gooey darkness. We struggle to clean the mess sin causes in our life, but the only way to really stop it is at the source. As Paul wrote in Romans 12:2: “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect (NLT).”

Each day becomes a struggle to control our thoughts and our sinful nature. Paul describes this in Galatians 5:16-18 as a struggle between sinful desires and the Spirit. “These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions,” Paul says to break free we must let the Holy Spirit guide our lives. “Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.” If we do not, then we become like Israel who Ezra described as “a land polluted by the corruption of its people (Ezra 9:11 NIV).” Sin continued to spew forth, coating Israel in darkness.

So how do we capture sinful thoughts and focus on the Spirit? We must cap them at the source. “O Jerusalem, wash the evil from your heart and be saved. How long will you harbor wicked thoughts (Jeremiah 4:14)?” We must fix our “thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess (Hebrews 3:1).” We must let Christ and the Spirit capture our mind. “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love (2 Peter 1:5-7).”

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published May 22, 2010.

In today’s world, there’s no shortage of words. A recent article in Wired cites a University of California at San Diego study that reports Americans consume about 100,500 written words each day. Then there are the thousands of words we hear each day. Add to that the thousands of words we speak on a daily basis and it quickly becomes apparent that we are surrounded by a hurricane of information.

So what exactly are we saying to each other with all those words? What are you saying? Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ getting through or is it getting lost in the massive number of conversations swirling around us? If you are not careful, you’ll get caught up in trivial

Does Jesus dominate your daily conversation?

debates that leave Jesus in the background. Paul cautioned Timothy about getting caught up in worldly discussions. “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.” (2 Timothy 2:23)

Jesus cautioned his disciples in Mark 13:5 “Watch out so no one deceives you.” He goes on to warn them of many who will come to try to deceive with their words. When we focus on the Word of God each day – immersed in prayer and conversation with Him — we are filled with words that endure and stand up to the test of time.  “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Mark 13:31 NIV).

Just as important as what you are saying, consider the words you are consuming each day. Are they nourishing your soul or are they distracting you from Christ? ”For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 John 2:16)

When we fill our lives with the Gospel, we anchor our lives in God’s wisdom. That makes it easier to displace the trivial words of this world with the enduring Words of God.

I would like to say that I am always ready to respond to God’s call with a positive attitude, but that would be far from the truth. There are days when I feel discouraged and beaten down by the world; days when I am fed up with grumbling people complaining about everything. So when I read Numbers 20:1-13, I could relate to how Moses was feeling when God showed him how to provide water to the Israelites.

From the moment Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt he endured endless grumbling, often pointed at him. We see the same old complaints in this chapter: “Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness (verse 3, NIV)? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place (4)?” Why? Why? Why? It is enough to make anyone angry. Who could blame Moses for letting off a little steam?

At first Aaron and Moses responded to these complaints with the right attitude by falling facedown before the Lord at the tent of meeting (6). The Lord appears to them and tells them to take the staff, speak to the rock, and water will pour out “so they and their livestock can drink (8).” However, when Moses gathered the assembly before the rock he snapped and said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock (10)?” Then Moses struck the rock and water gushed out for all to drink (11).

This show of anger was not exactly what God asked Moses to do. In return for this outburst God tells Moses, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them (12).” Because of his actions Moses missed out on the promised land.

Verse 12 caused me to stop and consider how I represent God to those around me. I contemplated what I might be missing by not controlling my anger. Do I trust God enough to follow his ways or do I take matters into my own hands? Do I honor God as holy in the sight of others or do I let my frustration mar my witness to others? I wonder how many times I missed out on blessing others with God’s love and grace because I let my anger guide my actions?

#ThrowbackThursday – This post originally published April 6, 2010

You’ve repacked your suitcase with God’s good things, his plan for your life. Everything is in order the way it should be with Christ folded neatly inside. But 2 Timothy 1:14 reminds us that though the spirit of God lives within us, we must guard against the flesh that tempts us. Satan is never far behind trying to convince us that those sinful ways you left behind still fit you like a favorite sweater.

Sin has a way of creeping into our life under the same disguise as in Genesis chapter 3. It has the same appeal to us as it did to Eve, pleasing to the eye and desirable for wisdom (Gen. 3:6). It promises to give us something we think we do not already have in our life. Whether it’s the physical appeal that creates desire or the emotional appeal of knowledge and status, it tempts us to indulge; to be the God of our own life; to create our own definition of good and evil.

Even more dangerous is the component of sin that makes it infectious to others. There is that moment in Genesis chapter 3, after Eve took some of the fruit and ate it, that sin is still contained only with her. But verse 6 ends with “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Adam was there watching the whole thing and decided to participate in the sin along with Eve. The same can happen to us if we expose ourselves to situations and people where sin abounds. Before we know it, the fruit is given to us and we take a bite.

That’s why it’s important to have a traveling companion on your journey through life – another believer in Christ who can tell you, “You know that old, worn sweater you’re looking at just isn’t you.” Someone who can remind you how bitter the fruit of sin tastes before you take a bite. Paul reminds in Romans 5:17, “The sin of this one man, Adam caused death to rule over us, but all who receive God’s gracious gift of righteousness will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ.” (NIV)

Hebrews 10:25 encourages us to not give up meeting together so that we can “encourage and warn each other.” (NLV) It is in this fellowship with others that we are able to nurture our faith and strengthen our ability to avoid sin. With other believers by our side, we have the strength to say as Jesus said when he was tempted, “Away from me Satan, for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” (Matt. 4:10 NIV)

#ThrowbackThursday — This post was originally posted April 2, 2010

Each day we write another page in the story of our life. If you stop now and examine the pages that have accumulated, how does your biography read? When we first meet Saul of Tarsus in the Bible, we read about a man who grew up in a wealthy seaport; studied at one of the best universities in the world; and was trained by the best religious leaders. In his own words, Saul described himself as “a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee (Acts 23:6).” He was a “Hebrew of Hebrews (Phil. 3:5).”

In the eyes of the world, Saul’s biography was about a man with everything going for him – riches, a career and very religious. He personally wanted to stop this new movement centered on this man Jesus. Acts 8:3 describes Saul as being on a mission to “destroy the church,” a man who was hunting down the followers of Jesus and putting them in prison.

But Saul turned a new page when Christ intervened in his life. While on his way to Damascus to find more followers of Jesus to imprison, “a light from heaven flashed around him (Acts 9:3-4).” Jesus confronts him and asks “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” From that point on, a new chapter is written in Saul’s life. His story is transformed to someone totally focused on Jesus.

It took a major intervention by Jesus Christ to change Saul’s biography. He becomes filled with the Holy Spirit and from that point on he is called Paul (Acts 13:9). The power of Jesus Christ changed his life story from one rich in the ways of the world to one rich in the Kingdom of God. Paul describes his new life in Phil. 3:7, “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus (NIV).”

What about your life story? As you look at each day, each page and each chapter, what is being written about you? Will your life story end as Jesus describes in Matt. 16:26, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” Or will your story be more like Paul in Philippians 2:17: “But even if my life is to be poured out like a drink offering to complete the sacrifice of your faithful service (that is, if I am to die for you), I will rejoice, and I want to share my joy with all of you (NLV).”

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