The high cost of disobedience

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for me will find it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?  Or, what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26)

What do you have to give up to serve the Lord?  Well, for starters, you give up your sin and guilt, your anguish and your lostness.  You give up your waywardness and fears, your selfishness and your pride.  You give up being lord of your own life and master of all your own choices.

Paul called this “presenting your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1).

It’s a daily exercise, by the way.  While we wish we could do a one-time-works-forever thing, it’s not to be.  “I die daily,” said the apostle (I Corinthians 15:31).  And so do we, if we get this right.

Before long, as we grow in Christ, we begin to realize that not only did we give up a lot of bad things to come to Him and to serve HIm, now, He is asking us to give up some good things which happen to be outside His will for us.

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What priests do that you and I do also

(Fourth in a series of article based on the little incident in Mark 2:1-12)

“Then they came to Him bringing a paralytic, carried by four men.  Since they were not able to bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above where He was. And when they had broken through, they lowered the stretcher on which the paralytic was lying….”

A priest stands between God and the people. He is an intercessor before God on behalf of the people.  He is a witness (whether teaching, preaching, or simply speaking) before the people on behalf of God.

The priest has two strong attachments: to the Lord Himself and to the people in his care.

The four men of this story demonstrate both:  Their confidence in Jesus is what inspired them to go to all this trouble of getting their friend to Him;  Their commitment to the friend drove them to do whatever it took to see that he had the full opportunity to be healed.

With one hand on the Lord and the other on the friend, both hands locked into steel grips, the “priest” refuses to turn loose of either.

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Forgive you your sins as you forgive others theirs

 indeed (third article on the incident of Mark 2:1-12)

“Son, your sins are forgiven you.”

Look how eager the Lord Jesus was to forgive sins. The man hadn’t even asked for such.  No one had asked for forgiveness, for themselves or for the paralytic.

The Lord Jesus brought the subject up and unilaterally announced the man’s sins were gone. And the man lay there and took it.

It’s amazing, is what it is.

Forgiveness is in God’s DNA.

It’s the nature of God to forgive sins, much to the consternation of the enemy who keeps trying to brand God as a sin-inspector/catcher/treasurer.  Moses had asked the Lord to “show me your glory.”  God said, “I’ll show you my goodness.” (Exodus 33:18-19)  We take this to mean that God’s goodness is one element of His glory, although far less than the full measure.  In truth, Moses could no more stand to be shown the fullness of God’s glory than a housefly could hope to stand a half-mile from the sun and take it all its radiance without being fried to a crisp in the process.

“The Lord came down in a cloud, stood with (Moses) there, and proclaimed His name:  ‘The Lord, the Lord God.  Compassionate and gracious.  Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness and truth.  Maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations.  Forgiving iniquity, transgressions, and sins…’ ” (Exodus 34:6-7)

I enjoy pointing out that there is nothing else like this self-revelation from God except for all the places where it is quoted, throughout the Old Testament.  The prophetic writers correctly judged this to be one of the most important insights in all history.

We do well to keep in mind that the very nature of God means that He is compassionate and gracious and delights in forgiving iniquity, transgressions, and sins.

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Just doing my job…while I still can.

“Use it or lose it.”  –If that’s not a Scripture, it should be.  (Which means it’s probably in there, but stated otherwise.  Anyone?)

(Several suggested the text should be the Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25.  It begins: “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and another one talent, each according to his ability.”)

When a pastor with whom I’d just connected on Facebook thanked me “for your unique ministry,” I replied:

I’m only doing the same thing you are–using what God has given me to do what He has told me in the place where He has sent me.

That’s what basic Christian ministry is all about, and it’s available to every child of God, whether we serve in the pulpit or from the pew.

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Show us your faith!

(second article on the incident of Mark 2:1-12)

“When He entered Capernaum again after some days, it was reported that He was at home.  So many people gathered together that there was no more room, not even in the doorway, and He was speaking the word to them.  Then, they came to Him bringing a paralytic, carried by four men.  Since they were not able to bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above where He was.  And when they had broken through, they lowered the stretcher on which the paralytic was lying.  Seeing their faith, Jesus told the paralytic….” (Mark 2:1ff.)

The Lord can see our faith.

Faith at its simplest and most basic is confidence in Jesus.  “You believe in God,” He said. “Believe also in me” (John 14:1).

Confidence in Jesus Christ affects everything we do. Take the story in Mark 2, for instance….

In a house crowded by listeners, curiosity-seekers, and heresy-hunters, people with actual faith in Jesus stood out prominently.

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Everything begins with listening: Plant yourself at the feet of Jesus.

(The first of several articles on the incident of Mark 2:1-12)

“When He entered Capernaum again after some days, it was reported that He was at home. So many people gathered together that there was no more room, not even in the door way, and He was speaking the Word to them” (Mark 2:1-2).

Everything starts with listening.

Everywhere the Lord Jesus went, people flocked to hear Him.  They covered hillsides and blanketed lakeshores.  They packed out synagogues and homes, so intent were they on every word coming from those divine lips.  “Never man spake like this man,” they said (John 7:46).

People of our generation prefer to speak than listen, to argue rather than to hear and believe. They want their wisdom reduced to sound bites, to bumper sticker phrases.

“Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God,” says Paul in Romans 10:17. Faith in God is given to those who will hear His Word.

Really hear it. Not just register it or record it, and not just scan it. Take it inwardly and digest it.  Think about it, treasure it in our hearts, and meditate upon it.

You want faith? Want to know if God is real and Jesus is everything He claimed?  Interested in checking out the Christian faith? Perhaps you are tired of seeing people slam Christianity while others glorify it and have decided to see for yourself?  Good.

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False guilt: How to inflict it; How to safeguard against it

“When He entered Capernaum again after some days, it was reported that He was at home.  So many people gathered together that there was no more room, not even in the door way, and He was speaking the Word to them” (Mark 2:1-2).

The pastor walks to the pulpit, opens the Word, and reads that text. Closing the Bible, he peers over his spectacles at his congregation–filling perhaps half the pews in the auditorium–and begins.

“Did you see what happened here?  The word got out that Jesus was in town and people rushed to hear Him.  You don’t read anywhere about them being told to come. There are no commands given here for those people to assemble together.  And yet, they came. They overflowed the house, so eager were they to meet Jesus and hear His Word for them.”

“Now, contrast that with people today.  They just don’t come to church like that.  If they did, we would not have room in this building to hold all the people.”

From there, this man of God who holds a black belt in guilt, slams the people who did get up and come to church today because some did not.

This is the cheapest kind of preaching.  And the easiest.

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Those who travel first class on the path of righteousness

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

As a college student, I worked weekends for the Pullman Company, the people who operated the sleeper cars on passenger trains.  It used to fascinate me how people who wished to travel by Pullman had to pay through the nose.

First, their standard ticket had to be upgraded to first class.  This means they were paying extra for the privilege of renting space in the sleeper car.  Then, they paid for the suite or roomette.

I wondered if they did not know the company was sticking it to them. (I believe this three-tiered system is still the custom on Amtrak.)

When I began traveling by plane, I was amazed to see people paying astronomical fares for first class.  Same plane, a little more legroom, coffee in a china cup instead of Styrofoam, and get to deplane first. That was about it.  A status thing? I imagine so.

In the Texas of the 1800s, the stagecoach lines had three levels of tickets: first, second, and third class.  This had nothing to do with where you sat, the food you ate, or when you disembarked.  It involved what you did when the coach got into trouble.

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A cup of cold water to a disciple (a Billy Graham memory)

“And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42).

My friend Barbara was waxing nostalgic about the Coke commercials through the years.  “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” was the best song at the time (find it on youtube).  And the “Mean Joe Greene” commercial was the absolute best TV ad.

In that commercial, a kid comes up to this an all-pro Pittsburgh Steeler named “Mean Joe Greene” for his toughness and also because Joe Greene is his name and the prefix “Mean” gives it a certain something–and hands him a Coke. Greene has just played his heart out on the field and is clearly exhausted. He swigs down the soft drink. Then, as they are departing, the giant athlete calls out, “Hey kid.” The boy turns around and Greene pitches him the jersey in which he has just played the game.  Ask any fan. It was a great swap and a magic moment.

I thought about the business of giving a cup of cold water–or a Coke–to a great champion and remembered a time when I did something remotely akin to that.

It was November of 1986.

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