Archive | February, 2014

A Very Short Lesson on Difficult Scripture

February 28, 2014

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Most of the time, a difficult Scripture can be worked through logically.

Most of the time, a difficult Scripture can be worked through logically.

Matthew 9:38-41 is one of those challenging scriptures that have as many explanations as there are teachers of the word. It is an extraordinary example of why we do not take any person’s word without comparing it to what the Bible says.

The disciples experienced a tinge of jealousy when they saw someone who wasn’t a member of their group able to cast out demons in Jesus’ name. The person could have been a follower of John or he could have been one of the 72 (Luke 10:1 ff) after he completed his commission.

Jesus forbid them from stopping him.

Trying to figure out how to apply this teaching has challenged Christians since the gospel was written. Comparing what people teach about it with logic and other Bible passages gives us a good start on how to treat it. Here are a few thoughts I have about what the passage does and does not do for the Christian:

What it doesn’t do:

  • …allow a church to overlook her members living in a sinful way – we cannot use it as a way out of having “difficult discussions” with fellow Christians
  • …excuse error and false teaching just because it is in Jesus’ name – we still have to call out and avoid false teachers
  • …relieve us from trying to teach someone the better way – we are always responsible for teaching the one true gospel

An excellent example of these points can be seen in Priscilla and Aquila. They did not allow Apollos to keep teaching the baptism of John. (Acts 18:24-28)

What it does do:

  • …tells us not to be judgmental of others solely because they are not among “our group” – this is vastly different from identifying a specific sin and helping someone correct it.
  • …allows us to give others that believe differently enough room to continue to learn and eventually correct their beliefs – the same goes for us! Don’t forget to allow the possibility that we have it wrong.
  • …discourages the feeling of jealously of what others are doing at the expense of what we have going for ourselves – The disciples were sitting at the Messiah’s feet but were more worried about what another was doing!

The Parable of the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30) and Hebrews 5:12-6:7 among others can help us resolve these discussion points.

So Here’s the Point

A key part of faith and loving Jesus is keeping his commandments. (John 14:15) When we are reading and studying the Bible, we can never use any of his teachings to get around that basic concept. Some of the improper applications of Mark 9:38-41 try to do just that.

In the same way, what we believe a passage of scripture says should never be in conflict with what another passage says. We can use this simple logical method to make our Bible study a more rewarding experience.

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This is How Listening Will Help

February 27, 2014

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For so many, listening is not their strongest habit.

For so many, listening is not their strongest habit.

The Bible really captures the essence of human nature.

A group of people who do everything together should know and understand each other perfectly. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit the opposite happens most of the time.

Jesus is recorded in the gospel of Mark three times foretelling his death and resurrection. (Mark 8:31-33, Mark 9:30-32, Mark 10:32-34) All three times, the apostles missed the point. I’m pretty sure the core problem is they were not listening.

So many put their relationships under the same stress that Jesus must have felt with the disciples. We get into a routine, we turn on autopilot, then we forget to pay attention:

  • We live, eat, and sleep with our spouses and forget to take time to have real conversations. Sometimes for days at a time.
  • We interact with family, coworkers, fellow church members, etc. and can barely remember having spent the time with them.
  • Worse of all, we go to worship, go through the motions, but often cannot recount anything that was said during the service.

I really wanted to bullet point a three step plan to help improve this for everybody, but we aren’t really ready for that are we?

We are not listening.

Once we listen to our spouse, we will know what they need.

Once we listen to the others we interact with, we will know how to contribute to the collective.

Once we listen to God, through his word, we will know how to serve him properly.



That’s one habit we should all have!


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Jesus Knew it Would Cost Us Plenty

February 26, 2014

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The cost of following Jesus is high. Do you have enough in you to do it right?

The cost of following Jesus is high. Do you have enough in you to do it right?

Being a Christian isn’t very popular right now.

The world’s leaders, the personalities on television and those with popular platforms are doing their best to exchange what God commands for what they define as “good.”

Even some Christians are picking and choosing what part of God’s word they want to obey.

Mark 8:34-38 contains some very straightforward teaching from Christ to his followers:

  • One must deny himself – What we want is irrelevant in the big picture (Mark 8:34)
  • We should be ready to sacrifice everything for Christ – Up to and including our lives (Mark 8:35)
  • Worldly luxuries and recognition are worthless compared to our soul (Mark 8:36-37)
  • We can make Christ ashamed of us – We should always be willing to confess Jesus as the son of God and talk about him whenever we get the chance. (Mark 8:38)

In the United States, there used to be a general respect for a person’s beliefs. This has slowly become an attitude of “Your beliefs are offensive” and tolerance has become a very one-sided proposition.

To be the kind of follower that Jesus wants, we have to be ready to face that kind of attitude. If we don’t, I’m afraid we will allow the momentum against us to continue to build.

Christians are in a tough position. Especially the kind of Christian who has the wherewithal to take Mark 8:34-38 seriously. Jesus knew it would be tough and he told us to “count the cost” before we take on the responsibility of being his follower. (Luke 14:28)

But think about it – if we are not willing to make that kind of sacrifice for Jesus, how much faith do we really have in him?

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What Did the Four Thousand See Out There?

February 25, 2014

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Jesus feeding a crowd with 5 loaves of bread and two fish - Early 1600's - Bernardo Strozzi

Jesus feeding a crowd with 5 loaves of bread and two fish – Early 1600’s – Bernardo Strozzi

Something awesome was happening!

The people were even willing to starve to see it!

The one thing that really helps me see the details and nuances in the Scriptures has to be the number of times I have read through it in recent years. I like how every time I pass through certain events, I see new details that I have never noticed.

The feeding of the four thousand (Mark 8:1-10) makes me slow down and study it more every time I get to it. On one hand, it seems like a repeat of the earlier feeding of the five thousand, but upon closer inspection, a number of differences in the situation pop out:

  • The people had been following Jesus for three days
  • The disciples never offered to feed the crowd, Jesus had to initiate it
  • They started with more food, but had less left over

Those three days must have been something special to keep the crowd together that long! What would it take for you to drop what you are doing and follow someone you had only heard rumors about?

The word of God is like that. The more we are exposed to it, the more we can get from it. The more we get from it, the more we want. That’s pretty much what Paul meant in Romans 10:17

I would love to have witnessed the feeding of the four thousand. I’m not a fan of camping, but I would sure have spent the three days out there with Jesus.

But we are even more fortunate than they were…

…we have the Bible.

…we can set aside time for it in the comfort of our home

… in time we can become mature Christians by studying it

Find out what made those people want to stay out there with Jesus – Start a Bible reading plan today!

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How Does God Like Your Worship?

February 24, 2014

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Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees - between 1886 and 1894 - James Tissot (1836–1902)

Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees – between 1886 and 1894 – James Tissot (1836–1902)

“The way I like to worship is ______”

“My favorite part of worship is ______”

“Worship is a personal thing with me …”

These statements and their variants are common in any conversation about the worship service and church attendance.

If we are going to have a conversation about worship, it should certainly should include a discussion of Mark 7. Here, we get to witness Jesus and his disciples running afoul of the Pharisees because the disciples chose not to do the ceremonial washing before eating. (Mark 7:1-4)

Jesus responds with a prophesy from Isaiah:

This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. – Mark 7:6-7

When we read these passages and compare what they are teaching to the typical comments we make about our worship, we should realize the danger! Is God telling us he doesn’t care about traditions and what we like when it comes to proper worship?

Take a look at Cain and Abel for a minute. (Genesis 4) We can assume from this event a couple of things:

  • Abel obeyed God with his sacrifice
  • Cain did not please God with his sacrifice

God goes on to ask Cain, “…if you do well, will you not be accepted?” The take away from this is that God is rather particular about how we worship him. The Hebrews writer praised Abel for having enough faith to worship exactly the way God told him to. (Hebrews 11:4)

To restate that: Obeying God in our worship is a measure of our faith!

Jesus equated the forming of new traditions to the rejection of God. (Mark 7:9) In light of his teaching, it sounds like a good idea to review how we worship. Today I challenge us to ask ourselves:

Are we offering God what he wants?

Are we putting what we want before his commandments?




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How to Avoid a Shut Out

February 21, 2014

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Raising of the Daughter of Jairus - ca. 1546 - Paolo Veronese (1528–1588)

Raising of the Daughter of Jairus – ca. 1546 – Paolo Veronese (1528–1588)

Shut out!

Jairus’ daughter was dead. There were people telling him not to bother Jesus anymore. There were people in his house making great theater out of mourning her passing. There were people laughing at Jesus when he tried to restore order and calm to the group. (Mark 4:36-40)

Since we know we are going to read about the resurrection of the little girl, we usually forget about all those people who Jesus ran out of the house. Who were they?



The faithless.

They missed out on something incredible. They weren’t warned or given another chance. When Jesus was ready, he only took the believers into the room to see the miracle.

Through Jesus’ examples and the parables, we have been told how it will be. From everything we can read in the Bible, we shouldn’t expect warnings or second chances when he returns.

To avoid being shut out, the time to believe, obey and serve him is now.


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Wanted: Seed Scatterers

February 20, 2014

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Landscape with the Parable of the Sower - 1557 - Pieter_Bruegel

Landscape with the Parable of the Sower – 1557 – Pieter_Bruegel

The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. – Mark 4:26

Jesus’ parable about gathering souls to Christ is short, (Mark 4:26-29) but it offers one strong reminder of how souls find their way to Christ. We are the man that scatters the seeds on the ground.

Just like the farmer, we don’t have to know how the seed grows (Mark 4:27) – God will take care of the growth once we plant.

Just like the farmer, we will not see immediate results (Mark 4:28) – we should not get discouraged when there is no growth right away.

Just like the farmer, we gather the harvest as soon as it is ready (Mark 4:29) – our example and encouragement helps bring maturity.

Sowing the seeds of the kingdom is a lot of hard work. It is necessary work though. Just like the farmer cannot expect his field to yield a fine crop without sowing seed, we cannot expect people of the world to come to Christ without an introduction and an invitation.

What can you do today to improve how you scatter seed?

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Why the One Talent Man Got it Taken From Him

February 19, 2014

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Biblia ectypa : Bildnussen auss Heiliger Schrifft Alt und Neuen Testaments - 1695 - Johann Christoph Weigel

Biblia ectypa : Bildnussen auss Heiliger Schrifft Alt und Neuen Testaments – 1695 – Johann Christoph Weigel

My light isn’t so bright sometimes.

I know you know what I mean … It is hard to add a new activity to our routine, or take on a new responsibility. No matter how much the church needs something or could benefit from it, it is easy to let someone else take care of it.

That is a dangerous place to be!

I’ve pointed out before that Jesus chose busy people to be his disciples. In Mark 4:21-25, he is using the shining light parable to tell us just how important he considers our productivity in the kingdom. The passage makes three points:

  • The higher we hold up a light, the brighter it shines.
  • The bigger the measure we offer, the more abundant our return
  • The more we have, the easier we will acquire

That last point, taken from Mark 4:25 is often hard to understand in the context of Jesus’ parables. Jesus also made the same statement about the man with one talent: (Matthew 25:19-29)

For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. – Matthew 25:29

This is what Jesus was trying to teach us with that lesson: Those who are not diligently doing the work of the master will find themselves unable to please him at any level! So much so that even what little skill and knowledge they have acquired will also be useless. We can see how that applies very easily to …

  • Knowledge – The more we keep up with Bible study, the more the scriptures make sense
  • Skills – The more we participate in the needs of the church, the easier it is to do so
  • Effort – Momentum applies to the busy and the lazy, just like a stone on a hill
  • Responsibility – Those who accept responsibility are trusted with even more responsibility

One of the threads that run throughout the New Testament is that Christians are to be giving and productive workers – even at the expense of everything else. Jesus told us time and time again that God is going to frown upon those who didn’t participate to the level he requires. He wants us out there doing the things that will make the kingdom grow –

It is hard work …

It is usually thankless …

But the retirement is excellent!

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How to Get Adopted by Jesus

February 18, 2014

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jesusteachingJesus looked directly at you!

Sitting in a crowd of fellow followers you notice he makes eye contact with every person. Then he announces:

“Here are my mother and my brothers!” – Mark 3:34

Jesus wants to adopt each and every soul to his family. To get in, there is a simple requirement:

For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother. – Mark 3:35

Doing the will of God takes a lifetime of dedication.

But then, so does keeping any family strong.

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How Faith Makes us Strong

February 17, 2014


Christ Heals a Man Paralyzed by the Gout. Mark 2:4 - 1780 - Bernhard Rode (1725–1797)

Christ Heals a Man Paralyzed by the Gout. Mark 2:4 – 1780 – Bernhard Rode (1725–1797)

They had to tear the roof off the place.

How often does it happen that we set our mind to finally fix something in our life and roadblocks suddenly appear? It doesn’t seem to matter whether it is financial, physical or spiritual in nature. Show me an airtight plan and I’ll show you the pin that can pop it.

That is probably what those four guys felt like when they were trying to get to Jesus to help their friend. (Mark 2:1-12) The crowd was pressed in so tight, there was no way to force the bed through there. They faced the exact same decision that we do when something tries to get in the way of our faith. They could have…

  1. …said, “Oh well, we tried” and went home or
  2. …looked for another way to make it happen

Of course we know they climbed up and opened a hole in the roof. By the time they lowered their friend down to Jesus, they had made quite an impression.

Look at what Mark 2:5 says about their faith:

…when Jesus saw their faith …

Faith is much more than some mental acknowledgment. Faith is something that is visible to others. Faith makes you act so that others are not surprised that you are a Christian. Faith makes you respond to tough situations in the way you know would please God.

That is why a little faith can move mountains, (Matthew 17:20) those with a living and active faith don’t let a little challenge or worry get between them and God.

Tough question of the day: How many of your coworkers would pick you out as the Christian in the group?

Bonus: Here’s what I wrote previously on Mark 2:1-12

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Hebrews 11 – Faith is an Action Word

February 15, 2014

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Here is an exhaustive listing of the places in the Bible that mention “faith only” (Or “faith alone” depending on your version)

Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. – James 2:24 KJV

Yes that’s it. The complete and unabridged list.

Belief is a Milestone

While faith is definitely a foundational step in salvation, it does not end there. God has never once in the Bible accepted a man at his word. Faith has been seen outwardly or demonstrated through an action each and every time God required it.

Sacrifice of Isaac - 1635 - Rembrandt (1606–1669)

Sacrifice of Isaac – 1635 – Rembrandt (1606–1669)

We can see that God requires the same kind of demonstration from us on our path to salvation:

  • We must hear and believe God’s word – Romans 10:17
  • We must repent of (turn our back on) our sinful lifestyle – Acts 17:30
  • We must be willing to confess Jesus name – Mathew 10:32, Romans 10:9-10
  • We must be baptized for the remission of our sins – Acts 2:37-38, Galatians 3:36-27
  • We must live a Christian life – Revelation 2:10

When discussing the “faith only” doctrine with those who teach it, we can make some very solid points to show that it contradicts the rest of the Bible:

  • In Ephesians, the works Paul said wouldn’t save us were works of the Law of Moses.
  • In James’ letter, he is talking about works of obedience without which, our faith is dead.
  • John 6:29 shows us that faith is a work
  • Romans 2:6 is very clear that the judgment will include an account of our deeds.
  • In Mark 2:1-12, Jesus saw the faith of the friends of the man with palsy
  • In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus told the sinful woman that her faith saved her even though she never vocalized it.
  • In Hebrews 11, a list of faithful men had to act on their faith to please God.

Faith is a necessity of salvation, to be sure. What is also a necessity is to teach and follow the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:26-27)

The “Heroes of Faith” Didn’t Get Away With Faith Only

The Hebrews writer wanted us to understand that salvation does not come from some mental acknowledgement of God and Christ. If the world cannot see our faith, then it is not the kind of faith the Bible is talking about.

When we read through Hebrews 11, we can examine each and every hero and see that they had to go do something before God’s promise applied to them:

  • Faith led Abel to make the correct sacrifice – Hebrews 11:4
  • Enoch lived so that God was pleased with what he saw – Hebrews 11:5-6
  • Noah built an ark from believing that God would do something he had never seen – Hebrews 11:7
  • Abraham packed his family up and moved at God’s bidding – Hebrews 11:8-10
  • Abraham and Sarah had innumerable descendants through the faith that overcame doubt – Hebrews 11:11-12
  • Abraham was not afraid to give because he knew God could raise Isaac if he sacrificed him – Hebrews 11:17-19

….the list keeps going. We absolutely need faith to please God, (Hebrews 11:6) but we can also see that if any of these Hebrews 11 folks had failed to obey God, the outcome would be very different. (A great example is from the account of Moses striking the rock: Numbers 20:8-12)

If faith comes from hearing the word of God, and what we practice is different from his word, how can we say we have faith?

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This is How the Jews Missed Out

February 14, 2014

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The Angel of the Lord Announcing the Resurrection - 1805 - Benjamin West (1738-1820)

The Angel of the Lord Announcing the Resurrection – 1805 – Benjamin West (1738-1820)

There was something fishy going on there.

Why in all of history has there never been posted a “resurrection watch” on a tomb except this once? (Matthew 27:66) Nicodemus was there (John 19:39) and could verify that Jesus was dead. His word should be as good as any among the Jews.

Whatever the reason, there were now people in place who could be paid to lie, no matter what they had witnessed. (Matthew 28:15-16) The soldiers did so at great risk because they faced death for sleeping on the watch.

That’s how the Jews who never became Christians missed out on the single most important event promised in their heritage. They allowed someone else tell them what to believe despite the evidence they had witnessed throughout Jesus’ ministry. In the process, they missed out on salvation.

The same thing is going on right now.

Many are going to miss out on salvation because they are ignoring the evidence. They fail to give God a second look because of a few lies that someone told them.

Many are going to miss out because even though they believe, they are allowing someone else to guide them. They are willing to trust a teacher but not willing to verify.

Many are going to miss out because they will pick and choose what they hear that reinforces what they want to believe.

We may not encounter people who are actually paid to lie to us, but there are plenty of folks willing to make up stories that fit their agenda. It is up to us to stay diligent. Keep looking at the evidence!

Matthew ends his gospel with Jesus’ command to teach all that he commanded. I infer from that that we should hear all that he taught.

Since it affected an entire nation, I wonder what the Romans bought with that money …


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The 10 Resurrections in the Bible

February 13, 2014

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The Entombment of Christ - 1602–1603 - Caravaggio (1571-1610)

The Entombment of Christ – 1602–1603 – Caravaggio (1571-1610)

We don’t talk about the other resurrections much.

I can’t recall ever hearing about the one recorded in Matthew 27:58 in any major context. After doing a little research, it turns out that it is a historically debated event for the last several centuries.

I wanted to take the time to look at the other resurrections recorded in scripture today, so here they in Biblical order:

  • The Widow of Sarepta’s son – 1 Kings 17
  • The Shunamite’s son – 2 Kings 4
  • The man that touched Elijah’s bones – 2 Kings 13
  • Jairus’ daughter – Matthew 9
  • The saints in Jerusalem – Matthew 27:58
  • The widow of Nain’s son – Luke 7
  • Lazarus – John 11
  • Dorcus – Acts 9:41
  • Eutychus – Acts 20:9-10

Obviously, none of these matter to us the same way that Christ’s resurrection does, but they do server as an excellent reminder of the God’s power.


I will file this one away as an example of God’s providence. Did you ever notice that Jesus was provided with a brand new tomb? If he had been put into a used tomb, his resurrection could have been attributed to touching the bones of a prophet like the 2 Kings 13 event.

It’s no wonder the Centurion was convinced. It looks like the only graves that opened were of those Matthew considered saints. This is probably a good preview of how it will happen on judgment day.

Nicodemus was there too. (John 19:39) He helped Joseph and the Marys tend to the body. Here is an official Sanhedrin member that witnessed his death. No “not really dead” theories have legs to stand on because of this.

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Swayed By the Crowd

February 12, 2014

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"Give us Barabbas" Illustrations from volume 9 of The Bible and its Story Taught by One Thousand Picture Lessons, edited by Charles F. Horne and Julius A. Bewer, published in 1910.

“Give us Barabbas”
Illustrations from volume 9 of The Bible and its Story Taught by One Thousand Picture Lessons, edited by Charles F. Horne and Julius A. Bewer, published in 1910.

What is it about a crowd that makes it persuasive? Why are individuals of a certain opinion willing to change it based on what the crowd tells them it should be?

  • The crowd forced Aaron into making the golden calf
  • The crowd was ready to hand David’s kingdom over to Absalom
  • The crowd chose Barabbas

We can look throughout history to see how leaders were able to use the crowd to get their way. Just like the Jewish leadership convinced the crowd to crucify Jesus, (Matthew 27:15-23) change of any kind can be made by winning enough buy-in.

I’ve written before about the need for Christians stop being silent on social issues. If we use our voices, we can reverse some of the momentum they have achieved.

The power of the crowd works in both directions. Just like it was used to erode moral values, it can be used to teach (and in many cases – re-teach) the majority what is good and right in the site of God.

The “safety in numbers” that we usually feel is more often than not, a false sense of security.


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When We Deny Christ

February 11, 2014

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The Denial of Peter - ca 1610 - Caravaggio (1573–1610)

The Denial of Peter – ca 1610 – Caravaggio (1573–1610)

What if we were to lump a decision not to act on behalf of Christ, into the same category as Peter denying Christ? (Matthew 26:69-75)

When we hear others make disparaging remarks about our Lord, isn’t failing to defend him the same as agreeing?

When consciously we do something sinful, isn’t that like turning our backs on him?

What if the Lord were to turn and look at you every time you deny him like he did to Peter that day? (Luke 22:61)

How would that feel?

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