Flashback Episode — Forever In Debt: Luke 18:9-14

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Rarely in the gospels do we find Jesus’ audience for a specific teaching defined by the characteristics or character qualities of that group. Usually the groups Jesus addresses happens to be the crowd that was following Him, His disciples, or a specific set of religious leaders, such as the Pharisees, Sadducees, teachers of the Law, or even the scribes.

However, in one portion of Luke’s gospel, we learn that Jesus included an illustration that is so relatable, it may have even happened to one of those in the group Jesus spoke to. This event is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 18, and we will be reading it from the New International Version. Starting in verse 9, Luke writes:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

This parable and Jesus’ concluding remarks are powerful for every follower of Jesus to remember.

In the case of the Pharisee’s prayer, everything in it is focused on self, and on building himself up at the expense of others – even including someone standing nearby. In this illustration, the Pharisee comes before God and says, “Look at me and how great I am”. The danger in this approach to prayer is that we truly cannot hide any part of ourselves from God.

God already knew the great things this Pharisee had done and accomplished, and what the Pharisee has described himself doing, specifically tithing and fasting are both positive things. However, the Pharisee had blinded himself to any character flaws, and in his prayer, he did not even remotely hint at needing help from anyone. This Pharisee, like many people living today, suffered from the hidden sin of pride.

I call pride a hidden sin because we cannot see its root in ourselves or in others – but we can see evidence, like this Pharisee demonstrated in his prayer, that it is present. Pride is one of the most deceptive sins, because we are able to identify it in others a lot easier than we are able to identify it in ourselves.

One test I have found to help keep the pride in my life in check, is pushing back against the idea that I must receive the credit for everything I do or have done. Pride needs credit to feel good, and while it is by no means a perfect test that covers all areas, it does help me self-diagnose myself regarding certain aspects of pride.

However, while we might like to think of this Pharisee’s issue being that he brought pride into his prayers to God, under the surface, we can see parallels between this Pharisee and everyone who believes they are “self-sufficient Christians”.

Self-sufficiency is a goal in our culture for many people living today. However, this is one big way that culture stands opposed to God. While the concepts of getting rid of debt and forgiving others are both positive and approved by God, self-sufficiency when taken too far closes us off from acknowledging that we do at times need God’s help. This is a particularly sinister form of pride because while we don’t want to be indebted to anyone, there is nothing that breaks us out of being indebted to God: either we are in debt to Him because we are actively sinning and breaking the Laws He founded the universe upon, or we are in debt to Him for the amazing gift of forgiveness that He has given freely to us. Nothing we can do could ever match or repay Jesus’ death on the cross, so in a somewhat paradoxical twist, the gift Jesus gives us by paying the sin-debt that we owe puts us in even greater debt to God for His kindness.

However, let’s turn our focus onto the tax collector. His prayer is simple: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. The tax collector simply asks for mercy from God because he is a sinner. There is no comparison present, there is no self-exaltation, there is no self-sufficiency, there is only acknowledgment of who he is and that he needs God’s mercy.

Oddly, while mercy and forgiveness are connected concepts, they are unique. It is interesting to draw out the observation that the tax collector does not repent or specifically ask for forgiveness. However, these two concepts are implied because of how Jesus describes the man’s presence during his prayer: The tax collector “stood at a distance”, “would not even look up to heaven”, and simply “beat his breast” while he prayed. None of these characteristics would be shown from someone who was checking off a to-do list before going back to a life of sin.

Everything in this tax collectors prayer draws the focus onto a sinner’s need for God’s mercy. Only when we acknowledge that we are always indebted to God will we be truly able to come before Him humbly and leave justified like the tax collector. Self-sufficiency might win points with culture, but a self-sufficient spiritual life leads to destruction.

As we come to the close of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I want to leave you with:

Acknowledge that regardless of where we are in life, we are indebted to God. It is because either we are living sinful lives, or because we cannot repay the amazing gift Jesus gave to us on the cross. Because we are indebted to God, we should dedicate ourselves to Him and continually seek Him first in our lives.

Also, because we are indebted to God, we should focus time each day on growing closer to Him. This is best done through prayer and studying the Bible for yourself, because when we truly know and realize what He did for us, our lives will never be the same – and our perspective will be forever shifted.

And as I always end each set of challenges by saying, never stop short, back down from, or run away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Season 3 – Episode 33: Cam discusses a perplexing angle on two prayers Jesus describes prayed by two very different men. One man was justified, but it might not be for the reason you think.

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Praying Like Jesus: Mark 14:32-42

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Most of the time, when thinking about where to start reading on the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested, we begin when Jesus and His followers arrive in Gethsemane, and Jesus starts the night out in prayer. While we have just finished looking at a powerful prayer Jesus prayed from John’s gospel, Jesus wasn’t finished with His prayers this night.

Several of the gospel writers include Jesus praying in Gethsemane and for our time together in this episode, let’s focus in on Mark’s gospel, and maybe pull in a detail or two from another gospel if we have time. Our passage is found in the gospel of Mark, chapter 14, and we will be reading from the Good News Translation. Starting in verse 32, Mark tells us that:

32 They came to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John with him. Distress and anguish came over him, 34 and he said to them, “The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me. Stay here and keep watch.”

35 He went a little farther on, threw himself on the ground, and prayed that, if possible, he might not have to go through that time of suffering. 36 “Father,” he prayed, “my Father! All things are possible for you. Take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet not what I want, but what you want.”

37 Then he returned and found the three disciples asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Weren’t you able to stay awake for even one hour?” 38 And he said to them, “Keep watch, and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

39 He went away once more and prayed, saying the same words. 40 Then he came back to the disciples and found them asleep; they could not keep their eyes open. And they did not know what to say to him.

41 When he came back the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come! Look, the Son of Man is now being handed over to the power of sinners. 42 Get up, let us go. Look, here is the man who is betraying me!”

In this passage, we discover that Jesus prayed three similar, if not identical, prayers. In these prayers, we discover some amazing ideas, both about Jesus and about God the Father. While it would be nice to know more of Jesus’ prayer here than what is included, it is likely that only God and the angels know, since these three closest disciples could not keep their eyes and ears open. While it’s possible that the other disciples did stay awake, they were outside of earshot of Jesus’ prayer, and possibly talking amongst themselves.

Our passage includes the simple, profound opening to Jesus’ prayer and in this prayer, we see Jesus’ humanity, His humility, and His heart. Jesus opening to His prayer is basically, “Father, All things are possible for you. Take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet not what I want, but what you want.

In these four phrases, we see an amazing progression. First, Jesus starts out by acknowledging God as His Father. Jesus describes God the way He teaches us to describe God, simply as our Father.

Next, Jesus acknowledges that anything and everything is possible for God. If God wanted to, He could do anything. Jesus describes the all-powerful, or omnipotent, nature of God.

Then, after laying the foundation of God’s ability to do anything, Jesus makes the request. Jesus asks for the cup of suffering to be taken away from Him. While there were many layers of suffering that Jesus went through that night, we cannot even begin to know or understand what Jesus was going through. Some scholars say that here in Gethsemane, Jesus was receiving the weight of the sins of the human race on His shoulders, and it nearly crushed Him. In this request, we see Jesus’ humanity and a request for help.

If Jesus’ prayer had ended here, it’s possible that God would have come down and rescued Jesus, abandoning the human race to sin. God had placed the cross within Jesus’ power to face or not face, as we saw looking back at how John’s gospel introduces us to the Last Supper, and if there hadn’t been an additional line, we might not have a crucifixion to look back to.

Instead, Jesus follows His request with a bold statement of submission: “Yet not what I want, but what you want.” In this statement, Jesus basically lets God know His request, but He leaves it up to God whether this request is in the best interest for God’s plan. While the cross was Jesus’ decision to make, Jesus’ prayer tells us that He doesn’t make the decision alone.

In this prayer, and how Jesus ends it, we discover a powerful truth about God the Father. If God the Father did not love the human race, Jesus would not have faced the cross. Jesus asks the Father to take the cup of suffering away from Him, but He leaves it up to God.

Jesus’ prayer, and God’s response, or lack thereof, shows us the truth of the most famous passage in the entire Bible: John 3 verse 16. This passage John included early on in His gospel tells us that “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.” God the Father loved us enough to let Jesus face the cross to save each of us, and this is powerful to know.

God does answer Jesus’ prayer in a way that is helpful but not one that sacrificed the mission. Luke’s gospel described what happened. Luke 22, verses 43 and 44 tell us that after Jesus prayed this prayer: “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. In great anguish he prayed even more fervently; his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” Luke tells us that an angel appears to encourage Jesus and He prays even more passionately after this. Luke describes Jesus’ sweat appearing like drops of blood, and whether this was because Jesus had actual blood mixed with His sweat, which is possible, or whether Jesus’ sweat was dripping off His body like blood would if He were cut and the wound hadn’t closed up yet, we see how emotionally intense this night and prayer was to Jesus.

While it would be nice to know more of Jesus’ prayer following this, what we have in Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane is another powerful model we can use when praying to God. When praying using Jesus’ model, we begin by acknowledging God as our Father, and we acknowledge His ability to answer our request. Nothing is impossible for God to accomplish.

We then make our request like Jesus did, before finishing by asking God for His will to be done with our request, and not our own.

After praying in this way, we should move forward in life trusting that God has answered our prayer, and if our request isn’t granted the way we prayed, then we can know that our request isn’t beneficial for God’s kingdom like we might have thought it would have been. I doubt God will answer any prayer we pray that would result in us being excluded from heaven. God looks at life through the lens of eternity, and His ultimate goal is saving as many as possible for eternity.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

If your prayers to God have been more self-serving lately, the challenge I have for you is to frame your requests the same way Jesus framed His request. I don’t believe God is annoyed when we ask for things, but when we ask God for help or things, we should acknowledge that His will should be done. In this way, we clearly remind ourselves that God is first in our lives and we submit to His direction and leading.

Also, as I always challenge you to do, be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow your personal relationship with God. While pastors, authors, speakers, or even a podcaster can give you ideas to think about, never put anyone between you and God. God wants a personal relationship with you, and He doesn’t want to filter His truth to you through other people.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, chicken out of, or drift away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of the Cross – Episode 33: While in Gethsemane on the night He was betrayed and arrested, Jesus prays a passionate prayer to God about the cup of suffering He is facing. In this prayer, we can discover how to pray like Jesus prayed, even when it appears like our requests are not being answered.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Flashback Episode — One Death for the Salvation of All: John 11:45-57

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When reading the gospels, especially John’s gospel, I am amazed at the themes regarding Jesus’ that are focused on. With John’s gospel, one event stands above the rest as one of the most amazing things that could have ever happened. In my mind, a novelist living during that time period simply would not even think of weaving this sort of thing into their story, and I wonder if, because only John’s gospel includes it, John was given divine revelation into this closed-door event for John to see and hear what had been said.

To set the stage for what we will read, John tells us this event happened immediately following Jesus resurrecting Lazarus from the dead. Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead sent a shock wave of excitement through all of Judea as this had not been seen before, and this was one more reason that supported Jesus being God’s Messiah.

Following learning about Lazarus’ resurrection, John tells us in chapter 11, reading from the Good News Translation, and starting in verse 45 that:

45 Many of the people who had come to visit Mary saw what Jesus did, and they believed in him. 46 But some of them returned to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 So the Pharisees and the chief priests met with the Council and said, “What shall we do? Look at all the miracles this man is performing! 48 If we let him go on in this way, everyone will believe in him, and the Roman authorities will take action and destroy our Temple and our nation!”

49 One of them, named Caiaphas, who was High Priest that year, said, “What fools you are! 50 Don’t you realize that it is better for you to have one man die for the people, instead of having the whole nation destroyed?” 51 Actually, he did not say this of his own accord; rather, as he was High Priest that year, he was prophesying that Jesus was going to die for the Jewish people, 52 and not only for them, but also to bring together into one body all the scattered people of God.

53 From that day on the Jewish authorities made plans to kill Jesus. 54 So Jesus did not travel openly in Judea, but left and went to a place near the desert, to a town named Ephraim, where he stayed with the disciples.

We’ll stop reading here because I don’t want you to miss the significance of what John tells us. Caiaphas, the High Priest that year, which is another way of saying that He was essentially the highest religious figure in the Jewish faith, made a powerfully profound statement – and one that he did not even realize had a double meaning when he spoke it.

Through his position, Caiaphas could have been Jesus’ most powerful ally, but instead, Caiaphas had aligned himself with those against Jesus because he was content with the status quo, living under Roman oppression. This made Caiaphas Jesus’ most influential and powerful opponent from a human perspective.

While there was Satan, who was also Jesus’ enemy, working actively behind the scenes, and the Roman emperor and governors, who didn’t really care for or pay much attention to a single individual who showed no military interest, Caiaphas was the leader that the Jews looked to in order to give the final word regarding spiritual matters.

However, just because someone was an enemy of Jesus doesn’t mean God cannot use them. In this passage, John quotes Caiaphas silencing and uniting the religious leaders by saying to those present, “Don’t you realize that it is better for you to have one man die for the people, instead of having the whole nation destroyed?

Before touching on the big truth John wants us to see, let’s look at another subtle angle on this phrase that deserves our attention. Throughout the Old Testament, an unbroken theme exists that says God will be with and will protect His people. Regardless of whether God’s people are living in the Promised Land, in Egypt, or exiled for their disobedience, God promised to hear them and to be with them.

Time and time again in the Old Testament, nations and evil people tried to kill off the Jewish people, but they were never successful. God always stepped in, whether divinely or through a strategically placed individual and set of circumstances, and the Jewish nation was saved.

Why I bring this detail up is that Caiaphas has just revealed his lack of trust in God by stating that the Romans would destroy their entire nation if they didn’t eliminate Jesus. Caiaphas fell into a trap we all face that minimizes God’s victories for us in the past in light of our present struggles and challenges. In Caiaphas’ frame of mind when he makes this statement, all of God’s protection and guidance over the past 2500 years meant nothing when faced with the Roman threat.

Caiaphas may have not directly believed this statement, but he uses this literary comparison with excellence as a way of bringing out everyone else’s doubt in God. At the end of their meeting, these leaders who claimed to be for God had just replaced their trust in Him with fear of the Romans – and it is worth us paying attention to this because we face this temptation every single day, except for the Roman part. Every day we decide to trust in something, and every day, we are tempted to make the something we trust in not God.

But John brings out a powerful parallel meaning in Caiaphas’ statement. John draws our attention to the detail that while Caiaphas meant this statement to mean that Jesus must die for the preservation of the Jewish nation, God actually stepped in and inspired this prophecy to say that Jesus’ death was necessary for the preservation of all God’s people, wherever in the world they lived, and in whatever time of history they lived in.

This powerful truth tells me that regardless of whether someone, or a group of people, has aligned themselves for or against God, God is still able to use them for His purposes. Even though Caiaphas opened the door in his statement and rhetorical question to unite the leaders against Jesus and undermine their trust in God, God still used them in a powerful way to open the way for salvation as an option for all people, and to guarantee salvation for all of God’s people throughout history.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I want to leave you with:

Pay careful attention to where you place your trust each day. If you sense the temptation to trust in someone or something other than God, then resist the temptation. The best way I know how to orient each day for God is by intentionally placing Him first as the first thing I do when I wake up each morning. In my morning routine on most mornings, (hey, I’m being honest with you here), part of the time is spent reading a passage or two out of the Bible and praying for guidance.

Speaking of studying the Bible, be sure that you are doing that as well. While you may enjoy learning everything I have learned from my Bible study time, there is nothing to say that God doesn’t have something He wants to share with you directly. This is why I always encourage you to study the Bible for yourself, because through personal prayer and personal Bible study, you are able to grow a personal relationship with God. And with a personal relationship, He will grow you into the person He created you to be!

And speaking of growing into the person God created you to be, I also will conclude this set of challenges by telling you to never stop short, back away from, or chicken out of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Season 3 – Episode 32: Cam discusses a statement and question that unites the religious leaders against Jesus, while also revealing their lack of trust in God for protection from the Romans.

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Sent Into the World: John 17:1-26

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After Jesus had finished sharing with His disciples, John’s gospel records Jesus praying a prayer that is both powerful and profound. While I was tempted to split this prayer up into multiple episodes, I decided not to. Instead, let’s read Jesus’ prayer with minimal interruption, to get an amazing picture of Jesus’ heart. Afterwards, I’ll share one or two things that stood out to me during the brief bit of time we have left.

This passage and prayer is found in John’s gospel, chapter 17, and we will read it from the Contemporary English Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 1, John tells us that:

After Jesus had finished speaking to his disciples, he looked up toward heaven and prayed:

Father, the time has come for you to bring glory to your Son, in order that he may bring glory to you. And you gave him power over all people, so that he would give eternal life to everyone you give him. Eternal life is to know you, the only true God, and to know Jesus Christ, the one you sent. I have brought glory to you here on earth by doing everything you gave me to do. Now, Father, give me back the glory that I had with you before the world was created.

You have given me some followers from this world, and I have shown them what you are like. They were yours, but you gave them to me, and they have obeyed you. They know that you gave me everything I have. I told my followers what you told me, and they accepted it. They know that I came from you, and they believe that you are the one who sent me. I am praying for them, but not for those who belong to this world. My followers belong to you, and I am praying for them. 10 All that I have is yours, and all that you have is mine, and they will bring glory to me.

11 Holy Father, I am no longer in the world. I am coming to you, but my followers are still in the world. So keep them safe by the power of the name that you have given me. Then they will be one with each other, just as you and I are one. 12 While I was with them, I kept them safe by the power you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost, except the one who had to be lost. This happened so that what the Scriptures say would come true.

13 I am on my way to you. But I say these things while I am still in the world, so that my followers will have the same complete joy that I do. 14 I have told them your message. But the people of this world hate them, because they don’t belong to this world, just as I don’t.

15 Father, I don’t ask you to take my followers out of the world, but keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They don’t belong to this world, and neither do I. 17 Your word is the truth. So let this truth make them completely yours. 18 I am sending them into the world, just as you sent me. 19 I have given myself completely for their sake, so that they may belong completely to the truth.

20 I am not praying just for these followers. I am also praying for everyone else who will have faith because of what my followers will say about me. 21 I want all of them to be one with each other, just as I am one with you and you are one with me. I also want them to be one with us. Then the people of this world will believe that you sent me.

22 I have honored my followers in the same way that you honored me, in order that they may be one with each other, just as we are one. 23 I am one with them, and you are one with me, so that they may become completely one. Then this world’s people will know that you sent me. They will know that you love my followers as much as you love me.

24 Father, I want everyone you have given me to be with me, wherever I am. Then they will see the glory that you have given me, because you loved me before the world was created. 25 Good Father, the people of this world don’t know you. But I know you, and my followers know that you sent me. 26 I told them what you are like, and I will tell them even more. Then the love that you have for me will become part of them, and I will be one with them.

The prayer Jesus gives in this passage is amazing. One verse in particular stands out in my mind because it describes future followers of Jesus, including you and me. Verse 20 tells us Jesus prayed, “I am not praying just for these followers. I am also praying for everyone else who will have faith because of what my followers will say about me.” Those of us living today have faith because of what Jesus’ original followers told the world, and because the message of Jesus spread through the centuries moving forward in history. In this verse, Jesus extends His prayer to include Christians throughout the last section of history.

The other verses that stood out to me have to do with what Jesus prayed immediately before verse 20. Verses 15-19 say that Jesus prayed: “Father, I don’t ask you to take my followers out of the world, but keep them safe from the evil one. They don’t belong to this world, and neither do I. Your word is the truth. So let this truth make them completely yours. I am sending them into the world, just as you sent me. I have given myself completely for their sake, so that they may belong completely to the truth.

In this part of Jesus’ prayer, He tells us that God’s word is truth, and that when Jesus’ followers accept God’s word as truth, we don’t belong to the world but to God. Jesus isn’t praying for God to remove us from the world, even if that would be desirable, but that He will keep us safe as He sends us into the world.

This passage contains a commission for Jesus’ followers. In this section of Jesus’ prayer, we see a challenge for Jesus’ followers to take God’s truth and share it with the world. Jesus gave Himself completely for us, and through Jesus’ sacrifice, God was able to grant us the gift of eternal life that we don’t deserve because Jesus took the punishment that He did not deserve. Jesus gave His life for His followers and for God’s people who have chosen to follow Him over what the world wants to pressure people to believe, and through Jesus’ death and believing God’s truth, we are God’s while here in the world and forever into eternity.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Choose to follow and obey God’s truth over whatever “truth” the world wants to pressure you to believe. We can know God’s truth through what the Bible teaches. The Bible remains consistent even when every generation in history decides to change the definition of truth.

Also, be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself to discover what it actually says. While people in history have taken verses and ideas from the Bible to make them fit with their own beliefs, God has called us to build our beliefs with the Bible as the foundation, and to reject the lies of the world. Don’t let me or anyone else dictate what you should believe. Instead, build your belief through prayer and personal study.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or abandon where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of the Cross – Episode 32: The gospel of John records a prayer Jesus prayed that focused on Him receiving glory and on God giving protection and direction to His followers throughout history. Discover how this prayer was relevant for the disciples and for us living 2,000 years later!

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.