Flashback Episode — Hating Family: Luke 14:25-35

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Throughout the gospels, we read about Jesus sharing some pretty harsh things, and making some very challenging statements. However, if we were to rank Jesus’ difficult statements, in my own mind, one specific passage, specifically one verse in a specific passage, tops the list. If you are looking for a reason to not follow Jesus, look no further than the challenging verse near the beginning of our passage for this episode.

This difficult passage is found in the gospel of Luke, chapter 14, and we will read it from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 25, Luke describes the scene for us:

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Let’s stop reading here because this might be one of the most challenging messages Jesus makes in the entire Bible, and the way Jesus starts is perhaps the most startling.

If we ignore Jesus’ opening message, the rest of the passage sounds challenging, but it isn’t very harsh. Planning, saving, and being strategic with our finances and our resources is simply a smart way to live, and the majority of Jesus’ message is telling us to focus on the end goal when we are making plans to start. One big theme we can see in this entire message is to think with the end in mind.

In the case of the tower, we need to think with the end in mind and focus on what we will need to save in order to finish the project. And in the case of a war, it is only smart to analyze whether we have enough resources to win. In both cases, if we don’t have enough resources, it would be better to either wait or look at our other options.

The same consideration is present when we choose to follow Jesus: We must think with the end in mind. In the case of our faith, thinking with the end in mind seems on the surface to be easy. It is wonderful to think and dream about what heaven will be like. Thinking about heaven and focusing on eternity is one way we can have hope when our lives are falling apart.

But then why would Jesus start out by talking about hating those in our family if we truly want to be His disciples. This sounds needlessly cruel and in many cases, God has brought those people into our lives.

While we could look at this statement and think that Jesus simply said it to get the attention of those present, similar to a speaker today saying something shocking to get the attention of a crowded auditorium, I don’t think this would be a technique Jesus would use if the statement was truly false. If the statement’s only value was shock value, it would mean that Jesus lied to the crowd of people, and I don’t believe Jesus could or would deceive anyone.

However, I believe that the way Luke describes the scene prompts Jesus’ words and His message. Luke opened this passage in verse 25 by saying that “Large crowds were traveling with Jesus”. Another way to say this is that Jesus had become popular among the people. The challenge Jesus faced with a large crowd of followers is that Jesus did not come to start a popularity competition, and He did not want the popularity of the crowd.

Jesus came to give God the glory, to give His life for sinners, and to give us a picture of God’s love for each of us. Jesus pushed back against followers who were not sincere. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the majority of those in the crowd traveling with Jesus that day simply wanted to be near the most popular person in the country, and they enjoyed seeing miracles, and being able to tell their friends about what Jesus did and said.

Instead of giving into the popularity trap, Jesus cuts straight to the core of this crowd of “followers”. Just like Jesus describes in later portions of this passage and in other parts of the scripture, His followers are to think with the end in mind.

This means that we should really take a hard look at whether we are ready to be followers of Jesus, because followers of Jesus are hated by others, ridiculed by many, and killed in plenty of cases. If the choice comes to loving our parents, our siblings, our spouse, or our children over following God and His mission for our lives, we must choose God’s way over family – and even over our own lives.

A recent episode pointed out the truth that nothing anyone can do to us in this life can compare to what God will reward or punish us with after this life has ended. Because of this truth, we should be ready for trials to come from any and every direction. However, because of what Jesus teaches here and in other places in the gospels, we should keep our hope alive by thinking with the end in mind.

We can face more than we believe we are capable of when we keep eternity in focus. When trusting Jesus and looking forward to heaven is our focus, we rightly realize that the challenges we face today are insignificant in the big picture of eternity. If friends or family members choose to reject us because we have committed our lives to Jesus, know that Jesus has promised us a brand new family of believers in the New Heaven and New Earth.

While Jesus speaks challenging words to those of us who call ourselves Christians, His big challenge is to keep the end in mind when we face challenges in our lives today – and to intentionally choose to stay connected with Him each and every day moving forward into eternity!

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

Be sure to always seek God first in your life and to keep Him in focus as you go through each day. Be sure to live your life in a way that gives Him glory and in a way that is pleasing to Him.

Also, be sure to always pray and study the Bible for yourself to keep your connection with Him strong and your relationship with Him personal. A pastor or podcaster can give you great ideas to think about, but never let anyone come between you and Jesus!

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 fall away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year 4 – Episode 30: Does Jesus really want us to hate people? Would Jesus tell us to hate our own family members? Discover what we can learn from one of the most challenging passages in the entire Bible!

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.

Testing the Strength of Our Faith: Matthew 15:21-28

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In what some may call the most insensitive event in all the gospels, we come to a passage where it appears as though Jesus ignores someone asking for help, before out rightly insulting her. While this doesn’t sound at all like Jesus, part of me wonders if some of this was meant to be an example for those present and for us today regarding the idea of faith and persistence.

Let’s read what happened, and what we can discover from this event. Our passage and event are found in Matthew, chapter 15, and we will read it from the New International Reader’s Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 21, Matthew tells us that:

21 Jesus left Galilee and went to the area of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A woman from Canaan lived near Tyre and Sidon. She came to him and cried out, “Lord! Son of David! Have mercy on me! A demon controls my daughter. She is suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not say a word. So his disciples came to him. They begged him, “Send her away. She keeps crying out after us.”

24 Jesus answered, “I was sent only to the people of Israel. They are like lost sheep.”

25 Then the woman fell to her knees in front of him. “Lord! Help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their owner’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! You will be given what you are asking for.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

This passage amazes me. On one hand, we see Jesus acting the most insensitive He has ever acted, while on the other hand, we don’t really know why Jesus went to Tyre and Sidon in the first place. These two towns were located in far north-west Israel, along the Mediterranean Sea, and they were likely some of the most secular, least Jewish places in the entire region. These towns are on the edges of most Bible maps of the region, and we might easily wonder if these two towns were even a part of Israel or not. The best-case scenario is that they were border towns.

In these towns, there were likely clusters of Jewish people, but being port towns, they were also very likely to be secularized and Roman.

With this in mind, I again wonder why Jesus went up to this region. Nothing else is said about what happened during this visit and both gospel writers who include this event share how Jesus leaves after this miracle to go elsewhere. According to what made it into the gospel record, it’s almost like Jesus made this trip to the region just to insult, though also to ultimately help, this gentile woman.

However, why would Jesus travel a decent distance to get to these two towns just so He could ignore the requests of a gentile woman? It doesn’t make sense, unless we can learn something in Jesus’ actions.

While I won’t begin to think I know all the reasons why Jesus did what He did, in this event, I see an amazing opportunity to demonstrate persistence in faith. I haven’t looked, but this might have been the only time Jesus traveled to this region, so this gentile woman likely knew that this was her only opportunity to get help for her daughter.

By this point in Jesus’ ministry, word had spread that Jesus could simply say the word and it would be done regardless of the distance, so while this took faith, it wasn’t faith without prior evidence.

However, this miracle is one of the only ones where it appears as though Jesus was reluctant to do it. I don’t think Jesus was actually reluctant to help someone in need, but I think He could see in this situation an opportunity to teach us about persistence.

In this situation, from very early on, Jesus knew that this gentile woman had an incredible, persistent faith. However, the only way to demonstrate this type of faith is by giving it resistance to push against it. If Jesus had shouted from a distance when the woman first was heard that her faith had saved her daughter, no one would know how persistent this faith was.

Instead, Jesus ignores and insults this woman to show everyone present that nothing would stop her, distract her, or shake her determination to get Jesus’ help. This gentile woman serves as an example for all of us. Regardless of whether we mess up, fall down, or fail God, the only way we truly fail is if we don’t get back up and press forward. If our faith disappears at the slightest push of resistance, it is worthless and weak.

In contrast, if we keep pushing forward, holding strong to our faith, and persistently pray for God to step in while moving forward in life knowing that He will direct our paths and step in when needed, we cultivate the faith that God is looking for. When we persist in prayer and don’t take “no” for an answer, we demonstrate the persistence this woman demonstrated and this woman ultimately received the answer to her prayer.

While I don’t believe God likes to ignore us, and I don’t believe His desire is to insult us, I believe that the only way to truly test the strength of faith is by giving it resistance. Without pushback, it is impossible to test the strength of faith. Without resistance, it’s impossible to become like the first century church heroes and model Christ to a world needing a Savior.

For too long, the Christian church has pressed for influence through any and every angle they have thought of, except the angle that mattered the most. As follower of Jesus, we should persist in prayer asking for the Holy Spirit to grow our faith in the areas that matter, and help us live like Jesus lived, and love those who are hurting like Jesus loved those who were hurting. Our faith should persist against all obstacles until we ultimately reach heaven.

When we live our faith through prayer and persistence, we overcome every setback and we truly become the people God has called us to be!

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

Always seek God first and live your faith in an intensely persistent way. Intentionally get back up when setbacks come, and always pray and move forward with the confidence that God will answer your prayers and that He will direct your steps forward.

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow your personal relationship with God. While other people can give you great things to think about, take everything to God personally as you pray, read, and study His Word.

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 walk away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of Miracles – Episode 30: In one of the most insensitive events in the entire Bible, discover how Jesus teaches everyone present about persistence and how God tests the strength of our faith.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Flashback Episode — Avoiding the Closed-Door: Luke 13:22-30

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As Jesus taught the crowds, He frequently challenged them based on their level of commitment. Sometimes Jesus’ challenges were based on His divine knowledge of other people’s thoughts or the state of their hearts. Other times, Jesus challenges the people based on a question He receives or a situation that presents itself.

In our passage for this episode, Jesus challenges all His followers based on a question He receives, and from the answer Jesus shared, we are warned about salvation not being easy and how there will be a group of people who think they are safe who end up being excluded.

Our passage is found in the gospel of Luke, chapter 13, and we will be reading from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 22, Luke tells us:

22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”

He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’

“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’

26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’

27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’

28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

In this passage, we see a clear warning that not everyone will be saved, even if they wanted to be. This is a challenging thing to think about especially when we know that Jesus came to save all people. Jesus died on the cross to make the way for anyone and everyone to be saved, but when asked how many will be saved, without directly saying so, Jesus strongly suggests that only a small number of people will be included.

However, from Jesus’ sobering response, can we learn anything about those who incorrectly believe they are safe so that we don’t fall into the same trap they did? Absolutely!

The first truth I see in Jesus’ response is that there will be a time when the door is closed. After this point, it appears that those who choose to repent will have decided too late. I will be the first to say that I have no idea when the door for salvation will truly close, but the clear truth in this passage is that we shouldn’t delay or stall choosing Jesus.

Whether the door for salvation closes when we take our last breath, or if there is a separate, distinct time that applies to everyone, the sad truth is that those who come knocking at the door probably would have paid attention and come sooner had they known the door was closing. We avoid making the same mistake they do by choosing today to live for God, and entering His kingdom.

The second truth I see in this passage is that those who knock outside the door are described as people who the homeowner does not know. This means in our own lives that simply knowing about God, about Jesus, or about the need for a saving relationship will not be enough to actually save someone. To put it another way, us knowing Jesus isn’t enough; what matters is that Jesus knows you and I. This is accomplished by intentionally growing a relationship with God. Regular prayer, Bible study, and living a faith-filled life that depends on God is the way we grow our relationship with Him.

In many ways this second truth is more important than the first one because the implication is that if the homeowner recognized those who knocked at the door, He would have let them in. We should not let our relationship with God drift away because life is busy or full of distractions. If we are distracted away from God, we risk Him not knowing or recognizing us when we come knocking at the door.

This is also the case if we knew Him at some point in the past. Even those who are excluded say they ate and drank with the homeowner and know He taught in their streets, but a past relationship isn’t as significant as a present one. We need a strong relationship with Jesus in the present in order to be recognized by God.

The third truth is found in the homeowner’s final reply to those knocking at his door. He tells them in verse 27, “Away from me, all you evildoers!This statement strongly suggests that doing evil will forfeit your salvation. We’ve touched on this already this year, and it is worth repeating that being saved is a gift we receive through faith, but our actions can forfeit the gift God wants to give us.

Those who find themselves on the outside will be guilty of keeping sin in their lives and letting their sin delay their decision to come to Jesus.

The final truth we will touch on for this episode is Jesus’ concluding remarks. Jesus describes Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but those He was talking to, specifically a group of Jews, being thrown out. Jesus then shares how people will come from all directions of the earth to be a part of the feast.

This strong final theme is that our ancestry, heritage, or any decision we made in the past is not enough to guarantee we will be saved. While many Jews believed that simply being a descendant of Abraham covered any fault they might have in their own lives, we fall into the same trap thinking that a single decision we made in the past is enough to cover any wrongdoing in the present. Simply being a Jew does not mean salvation any more than praying a prayer of confession into the Christian faith means we will always be saved. Each starting point needs to lead to a changed lifestyle and a focus on growing closer to Jesus!

We are saved when we focus on growing closer to Jesus to the point that Jesus knows who we are, when we don’t delay making that choice, when we live each day with our hearts and minds focused on living faithfully like Jesus did, and when we don’t rest on our past decisions or ancestry believing they alone are enough.

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

Intentionally make the choice to accept Jesus into your heart and life today. This is the most important single decision you can make. But don’t stop there. After making this decision, be sure to then intentionally choose to focus on growing closer to Jesus and spend time with Him each day. Focus on developing that personal relationship so that when the end comes, God will know you and open the door for you if you are not already inside.

We learn and grow closer to God and Jesus through prayer, through studying the Bible for ourselves, and through living a life of faith and dependence on God. If you need help with any of these areas, be sure to reach out and I am happy to help where I can. The important thing for each of us is to make our relationship with God our own and to not let anyone else get between us and God!

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 let Satan trick you into leaving where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year 4 – Episode 29: When asked how many people will be saved, Jesus shares a sobering reality that not everyone who believes themselves to be saved is correct. Discover what we can learn from this event and how to avoid facing the closed door.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.

Copycat Faith: Matthew 14:34-36

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At the end of a long twenty-four hours and the end of a tiring night of fighting the wind while crossing the lake, Jesus and His disciples arrive at Gennesaret. However, while some of the gospel writers have stopped giving details, Matthew and Mark include a few verses about what happened after they landed.

While it would be very easy to skim over these verses in favor of a more glamorous miracle, I wonder if you’ll catch some interesting details in these three verses that remind you of miracles we have already looked at.

Our passage is found in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 14, and we will read it from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 34, Matthew tells us that:

34 They crossed the sea and landed at Gennesaret. 35 The men there recognized Jesus and sent messengers all around the countryside. The people brought him everyone who was sick. 36 They begged him to let them touch just the edge of his clothes. Everyone who touched his clothes was made well.

Do you remember earlier this year we spent an episode that focused on a woman pushing her way through a crowd just to touch the edge of Jesus’ garment? When reading our passage for this episode, this miracle comes to mind. This got me thinking about where the woman’s miracle took place. While the gospels aren’t real explicit about where the synagogue leader who Jesus was going to help lived, when we read the broader context, we can conclude that that set of miracles likely happened in Capernaum.

I then did a quick search and discovered that Gennesaret and Capernaum were neighboring cities on the north side of the Sea of Galilee. What we read in the three summary verses we are focusing on in this episode is likely a direct result of the miracle we read about where the woman pushed her way through the crowd. All these miracles show us one big, clear theme: Faith, when added to just a sliver of Jesus, is capable of extraordinary miracles. The faith of all these people, when mixed with a momentary touch of Jesus’ garment experienced healing.

However, while looking up Gennesaret, I discovered that another prominent miracle happened here, and this other miracle is one that we looked at earlier this year as well. While Matthew and Mark are the gospels that give us the summary we are focusing in on in this episode, Luke, chapter 5, shares a different miracle that happened at Gennesaret.

Luke’s Gennesaret miracle is where Peter and the other fishermen disciples get a miraculous catch of fish. It is likely that while Jesus may have been raised in Nazareth, the group of most famous disciples, specifically Peter, Andrew, James, and John very well could have grown up in Gennesaret. This is where their fishing business was centered, and it was where Jesus invited them to become followers and “fishers of men”.

While some might think that it is too great of a stretch to take, my mind clearly sees a connection between the miraculous catch of fish miracle, and the miracles we see included in these transition verses. While it would be easy to connect the passages by saying that both events include faith, it is significant in my mind the type of faith that each of these events display. When we look at both of these events and the faith that each includes, we discover that each event and each miracle has faith built on the foundation of another person’s experience or word.

When we look at Jesus asking Peter to go out fishing when it was the worst time of day for catching fish, Peter takes Jesus up on the challenge. The little bit of faith Peter had, whether it was based on seeing if Jesus would be right or proving Jesus wrong, Peter and the other fishermen take Jesus at His word and experience a miraculous catch of fish that should not have happened.

In our transition passage of miracles, we discover that this region likely had heard about the woman’s almost secret miracle, and they were willing to claim the truth that if touching Jesus’ garment healed someone else, then touching it personally would be enough to heal me. All the sick people who were brought to Jesus simply wanted to touch his garment because they knew in their hearts that this simple act would heal them.

This makes me wonder something about faith: When we see people demonstrate faith in Jesus, does it show more faith to think Jesus can touch them and heal them personally, or does it display more faith to simply believe that touching the edge of His garment will make them well?

As I think about this, I imagine that those who believed that touching the edge of Jesus’ garment had more faith. If we were to imagine the formula for a miracle as the sum of two element: Jesus and faith, the more we increase Jesus, the less faith we would need, but the more faith we have, the less Jesus we would need. However, this does not necessarily mean that Jesus is not needed for a miracle to happen; it simply means that it would take an extraordinary level of faith to overcome the absence of Jesus.

This detail is incredibly relevant for us today. If miracles work based on this formula, and provided that the miracle will bring God glory, then our faith in this life is critically important. If we read about miracles in Jesus ministry where little faith is present, we can see Jesus is clearly present. This is the case for the miracle of the miraculous catch of fish. Peter likely had no faith, but only a desire to prove Jesus wrong. Any faith that was present was likely just enough to follow through with the actions of fishing to get his point across.

The next stage of faith is displayed by the sick people in the next time we see Gennesaret mentioned in the gospels. They have a lot of faith based on the evidence they had seen and heard about Jesus, and this means that their faith only needed to touch something connected with Jesus to be healed.

This doesn’t look too good for us living today, because the closest we can come to touching something of Jesus’ is by connecting with a group of people who are His followers – specifically people who are reflecting His character. This is something we can and should do, but it doesn’t mean that we can skimp at all regarding our faith. Instead, this means that we would need extraordinary faith in order to see miracles in our lives, and while this may sound discouraging, in our case, we have another option.

For those of us living 2,000+ years later, we have the option of leaning into the Holy Spirit for both our connection to Jesus and for our source of faith. With a Holy Spirit connection, we can have both the faith we need and the connection we need to see and experience miracles in our own lives. The big test of our faith is actually choosing to step out in faith that we will get answers and see the miracle.

I will be the first to say that sometimes the miracle doesn’t happen the way we’d expect it to, and other times, the miracle we are asking for doesn’t happen. However, the big thing for us to remember is that all the miracles Jesus did brought glory to God, and all the miracles we see Him doing today will ultimately bring glory to God as well. While it takes faith and trust to believe God knows what He is doing, we can have faith that every miracle we see today is given to help bring more people into a saving relationship with Jesus for eternity!

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

If you are uncertain how much faith you have or how much faith you need, don’t let your questions or doubt stop you from seeking God and from stepping out in faith. God rarely gives people the end picture before they have begun, and this is because knowing the end from the beginning, God knows we would either chicken out of His plan for us, or we’d get arrogant and try to push our own way. Learn to trust God and walk with Him one step of faith at a time!

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to continue growing personally towards God. God wants a personal connection with you and prayer and Bible study are two of the best ways to grow this connection!

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 walk away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of Miracles – Episode 29: In a transition two of the gospels include, we discover a series of miracles Jesus does that remind us of a miracle that happened earlier in Jesus’ ministry, and in a place that had a much different miracle take place as well. Discover how three verses can transform your view of the importance of faith in your life living 2,000+ years later!

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.