In Jesus’ Words: The Last will be First (Matthew 19:23-30)

1673225-inline-750-homeless3In these uncertain and crazy times, we always ask “Why?”  We search for truth and meaning, and at the same time question why are things so unfair.  We only have to turn on the news for a few seconds to make us feel this way.  If it were not for my Faith and my personal and close relationship with Jesus Christ, I would definitely feel uncertain and unsafe in this world.  But we have God’s written promises to assure us.  They assure us that even though mankind may fall short, all things are possible with God.  And as far things being unfair, God reminds us about that too. “Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”  This is very different than what we so often hear in the world.  Rest assured when reading God’s Word today.

~ Matthew 19:23-30  Possessions and the Kingdom ~

Then Jesus said to His disciples, “I assure you: It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven! Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

When the disciples heard this, they were utterly astonished and asked, “Then who can be saved?”

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

Then Peter responded to Him, “Look, we have left everything and followed You.  So what will there be for us?”

Jesus said to them, “I assure you: In the Messianic Age, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses, brothers or sisters, father or mother, children, or fields because of My name will receive 100 times more and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

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In Jesus’ Words: Lest we offend… (Matthew 17:24-26)

We are a generation that is offended by almost everything.  Somewhere along the way we have decided that we deserve to be right above all else.

But when Jesus addressed his disciples regarding the decision of paying the temple tax, he said, “Let us not offend them.”  Jesus knew what he was entitled to, but it was not about proving he was right.  Jesus loved people, and relationships were at the heart of all his teachings – a relationship with God and relationships with others.  We will be most remembered in this life by our relationships and how we treat others.  Jesus knew this well.  He knew what life was all about.

When we offend someone, intentional or not, we close off that relationship to reconciliation and healing.  It may even stand in the way of sharing God’s love.  Sometimes, grudges can last a very long time…

pope%20russian%20orthodox%20patriarch%20meet_pngLast week there was a historical meeting between the Pope and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.  The two churches have not spoken with each other since their split in 1054, almost a thousand years ago.  The purpose of the meeting was to discuss their shared concern over the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.

“We are brothers,” Pope Francis said as he embraced Kirill in the small, wood-paneled VIP room of Havana’s airport, where the three-hour encounter took place.

“Now things are easier,” Kirill agreed as he and the pope exchanged three kisses on the cheek. “This is the will of God,” the pope said.  (USA Today)

Times are changing as we are witnessing significant events in our world never before seen in any recent lifetime.

~ Matthew 17:24-26  Paying the temple tax ~

When they came to Capernaum, those who collected the double-drachma tax approached Peter and said, “Doesn’t your Teacher pay the double-drachma tax?”

“Yes,” he said.

When he went into the house, Jesus spoke to him first. “What do you think, Simon? Who do earthly kings collect tariffs or taxes from? From their sons or from strangers?”

“From strangers,” he said.

“Then the sons are free,” Jesus told him. “But, so we won’t offend them, go to the sea, cast in a fishhook, and take the first fish that you catch. When you open its mouth you’ll find a coin. Take it and give it to them for Me and you.”

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In Jesus’ Words: The parable of the good crop (Matthew 12:48-13:9)

grocery storeThere are 7 billion people in the world.  350 million live in the United States of America.
America has 5% of the world’s population, yet consumes 40% of the world’s resources.
One billion people in the world do not have access to clean water.
The average American uses 400-600 liters of water every day.
800 million people will not eat today.  Every 7 seconds a child dies from hunger.
The average American family throws away between 15-40% of the food they purchase.
92% of the world’s population does not own a car.  One-third of American families own at least three cars.
Research suggests the cost of providing basic human needs (water, food, basic health care) for everyone in the world to be around $20 billion.  Each year Americans spend around $20 billion on ice cream.
Americans spend more every year on trash bags than half of the world does on all goods combined.
(source: UNICEF)

I am an American.
I am every one of these statistics.

“Americans are more than just unaware of their affluence – they almost seem to despise it at times.  I stared in amazement at how they treated their beautiful clothes and shoes.  The richness of the fabrics and colors was beyond anything I had ever seen.  As I would discover again and again, this nation routinely takes its astonishing wealth for granted.
Americans seemed to have a need to surround themselves with noise all the time.  It was as if they were trying to escape from a guilt they had not yet defined or identified.
Sometimes I cannot freely order food when traveling in the U.S.  I look at the costs (and the carelessness) and realize how far that amount of money would go in India or Philippines.  Suddenly I am not quite as hungry as before.”
– K.P. Johannan, Revolution in World Missions

But there is hope.

“The U.S. is one of the only nations in the world founded by believers who made a covenant with God – dedicating a new nation to God.  Born into influence – we should be most thankful and ask what we should do with these unearned favors.
If you want to meet the needs of the poor, there is no better place to start than sharing the Gospel.  It has done more to lift up the downtrodden, hungry, and needy than all the social programs imagined by secular humanists.”
– K.P. Johannan

I don’t want to wait until the end of my life to fully embrace what Jesus is telling us.

~ Matthew 12:48-13:9  The Parable of the Good Crop ~

“Who is My mother and who are My brothers?”  And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, Jesus said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, that person is My brother and sister and mother.”

Then He told them many things in parables, saying: “Consider the sower who went out to sow.  As he was sowing, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and ate them up.  Others fell on rocky ground, where there wasn’t much soil, and they sprang up quickly since the soil wasn’t deep.  But when the sun came up they were scorched, and since they had no root, they withered.  Others fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them.  Still others fell on good ground and produced a crop: some 100, some 60, and some 30 times what was sown. Anyone who has ears should listen!”

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In Jesus’ Words: How to give and pray in secret (Matthew 6:1-8)

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It’s been an incredibly hard week.  I’m sure we’ve all had a week or two like this… It starts out normal, with the usual routines and the usual hello’s, and the promise of making plans – a party to attend, a get-together for dinner, that work project… and then wham!  Something unexpected happens.  Plans stop, you begin to remember the last conversation you had with someone, and suddenly life takes on a whole new meaning.

This week, my Bible study teacher passed away at a too-young age.  Sunday morning, I sat in my regular chair listening to him talk about Jesus with a smile on his face.  He talked about how life is a vapor and we should be spending our time and talents on the things that matter in heaven, not on the empty things which do not last, for none of us know how much time we have left on this earth…  On my way out, he asked how my family was doing, always thinking of others.  Less than 24 hours later, he was in heaven.

Though it was a complete shock with no satisfactory answer for his quick passing, I too would want my last 24 hours to be spent talking about Jesus with a smile on my face.  Jesus never promised us a long life, but he warned us many times about making our days count.  I would rather have 40 years of living for God than 80 years living without.

So as I come to the next passage on my journey of reading through Jesus’ words in the New Testament, it seems to be a very appropriate one on how we should live our lives:  Give to the poor. Give in secret, so your motives are like Jesus. Pray. Pray all the time, in secret, just between you and Jesus.  We may not always get everything we ask, but we will never walk alone and will be closer to Jesus for having done so.

~ Matthew 6:1-8  How to give. How to pray. ~

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give to the poor, don’t sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be applauded by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. I assure you: They’ve got their reward! But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble like the idolaters, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.”

My grandfather was an old country preacher.  There aren’t many like him any more.
It’s been told that when he was on his deathbed in his old age, surrounded by family, he took his last breath and then opened his eyes from an unconscious state, looked up toward the hospital ceiling and smiled.  I believe he saw Jesus at that moment, coming down from heaven to greet him and take him home.  I cannot think of any better way to leave this life than to know you will be greeted by Jesus and that he knows you personally.  Jesus will say to God, I know him. He’s with me and he’s been forgiven.”

This is the statement of faith we proclaim: If you confess with your mouth that “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  Romans 10:9,13

The Response

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It has been heartbreaking to watch the news this last week, with riots and looting and angry words being thrown back and forth.  But what I noticed most on the faces of the people I saw on television was a look of deep pain and hurt and frustration.  It goes much deeper than the cries of racism.  This was a look of pain accumulated from many years of injustice – from substandard schools for the poor, people not caring, families torn apart from alcoholism and drugs, single moms trying to raise their families against the odds, being poor in a country that has so many extremes in wealth, and a general lack of morality in our culture.  The tone spread throughout the country like a bad virus, and spilled over into family Thanksgiving celebrations and times where we should be coming together.  It brought home the fact that the holidays are very hard for many people, those without families or means to provide, and loneliness and hurt feelings are heightened.

What is the correct response, and what is the solution for a hurting country and the world?

There is only one answer, one person, that can satisfy all our questions and truly take away the pain and injustice.  Jesus Christ.  No other person, no other religion or doctrine or leader, has spoken the words that Jesus said and acted as Jesus did.  Jesus faced many of the same issues that we have today, but he is not just a historical figure to be studied.  His truth is still true today.  Jesus offers compassion for the forgotten, the poor and lonely.  Only Jesus offers grace and forgiveness, no matter who you are or what you have done.  Jesus often spoke against the wealth and power of this earth, yet no one has ever found any fault with him other than he claimed to be who he said he was.  He healed.  He understood.  He cared.  He carried all of our pain to the cross.  He died for us.  No one else has done this.

As my younger self, I might have considered this to be a lesser response to the world’s problems.  I wanted to solve it my way.  But as I have seen more of the world now, I know there is no other answer.  Jesus is the only way out of our circumstances, and the only one who can ease our pain.  During this Christmas season we see the images of baby Jesus lying in a manger, but I hope we will also see Jesus the man.  Read the spoken words of Jesus in the New Testament (red-letter edition) and you will see why He came and what He stood for.  In your pain, look to Jesus.  Trust in Him as your Savior and He will lead you out.

For there is one God and one mediator between God and man, a man, Christ Jesus.
1 Timothy 2:5

 Jesus said, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”  John 12:46

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