Flashback Episode — Doing God’s Will: Mark 3:31-35

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If you have ever wondered what it meant to be included in God’s family, our passage for this episode gives us a clue. While on the surface, how Jesus responds in this situation might have been considered offensive by some in the crowd, regardless of whether it offended someone, Jesus’ response gives us a powerful picture of what God’s family is like.

While I don’t hear many people talking about this passage today, an idea or theme hidden in this passage must have made it significant enough for three of the four gospel writers include it in their stories about Jesus. Part of me wonders if it has to do with the theme of being included in God’s family.

Let’s read this event from Mark’s gospel, chapter 3, using the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 31, Mark tells us:

31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

In the first century culture, family was important – and especially honoring one’s parents – and in this passage, it sounds as though Jesus is blowing off or ignoring the family that has come to speak with Him. However, since the passage ends where it does, it is possible that Jesus uses His last statement as a conclusion to His message. All three of the gospels that include this event transition to something else afterwards.

However, regardless of whether Jesus stopped to go and visit with His mother and brothers, what Jesus shares about God’s family is powerful. The key point and key distinction Jesus makes which separates God’s family from everyone else is simply the test of whether someone is doing God’s will.

It sounds too simple, but Jesus rarely complicated things. In that culture, the religious leaders had complicated spirituality and religion to the point that many people simply gave up or resolved that they were already lost, so why even try. When Jesus steps onto the scene as God’s representative, He combats the complex with the incredibly, almost unbelievably, simple.

With this in mind, we turn to the question about why Jesus’ mother, brothers, and according to some gospels, sisters were there. While it is easy to speculate, included in this passage, and in their request, we can see a clue regarding why they had come.

Mark shares that the message that reaches Jesus is that His mother and brothers are outside looking for Him. If they had come to listen to what He was preaching, there would be no need to send the message. Also, taking from the theme of Jesus’ key point, members of God’s family do God’s will, and at that moment, God’s will for Jesus was to share about God with the people. Whether the Holy Spirit orchestrated this event to prompt Jesus’ words about God’s family, or whether Jesus knew the words to say while not knowing exactly when the opportunity would arise, the clue in this passage comes through the implied request for Jesus to stop what He is doing to go out and see His mother and brothers.

We don’t know the reason Jesus’ family had come. It may have been to share the bad news that Joseph just died or he was very sick. While this is a possible reason, it is unlikely, since a request like that would likely have come through a messenger or servant, and it would have been included in at least one of the three gospels that record this message. But, none of the gospels give any reason for their request. We don’t know, however, what we can see taking shape is a distraction from God’s will.

God’s will at that moment was Jesus teaching, and whatever reason Jesus’ family had for coming, their request appeared to interrupt and distract from Jesus’ mission.

With how each of the gospel’s end this event, and move on to something else, I am lead to believe that Jesus used this event to tie off the topic He was preaching about, and then He went out to see what they wanted. Jesus didn’t stop what He was doing because they had arrived, but He didn’t ignore it either. Jesus used this situation to draw our attention onto a bigger truth that we are adopted into God’s family when we are doing one specific thing. According to Jesus, when we are doing God’s will, we are Jesus’ mother, brother, or sister, and logically, we could describe this as being a part of God’s family.

This simple description about doing God’s will to be adopted into His family is a challenge for all of us. While there isn’t a specific action that makes us worthy of heaven, there is a set of simple things for us to do to align ourselves with God’s will for us.

The first is prayer, and the prayer I am referring to isn’t sporadic whenever we need God to do something for us. Instead, this prayer is regular, at the same time every day, and often first thing in the morning when we wake up. And this prayer is mixed with reading our Bible and just spending time with God looking for insights, inspiration, and encouragement from His Word.

The second is by making the commitment to depend on God and Jesus with whatever life throws our way. While it is easy to say we believe in God and trust Him for big things like our eternity, often times our actions don’t match our words, and we act like we are doing it on our own. God’s will is for us to live with Him, and He is more than willing to help us with our lives here on this earth. However, His help will always be focused on the ultimate goal of seeing us, and the most people possible, in heaven when history ends.

The third is by choosing to reflect Jesus’ character and His love to everyone God brings our way. The only way we can truly accomplish this is through the first two things. In order to reflect Jesus, we must know what He was like, which is found in the four gospels of the Bible, and we must depend on God and lean on Him, because that is what Jesus did, and that is where Jesus gained His strength for each day.

Being a part of God’s family is possible, and it is not complicated. However, it takes trust, faith, belief, and commitment, and sometimes it won’t feel easy or comfortable. But the challenges are easily outweighed by the huge truth that our ultimate reward for being in God’s family is living forever with Him!

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

Choose to depend on God today, for whatever life throws at you today, and make the commitment to do this each morning for this coming week. God wants to walk with us through life, and He is willing to help us when we need Him. It may be worth taking Him up on His offer.

Also, study the Bible for yourself to learn what God, Jesus, and doing God’s will is all about. The mission God has created us to live will have many similarities, but there will also be many differences. We are all uniquely created, and personal study is the best way to begin discovering why God has placed you here on this earth in the 21st century.

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

Flashback Episode: Season 3 – Episode 14: Cam discusses the time when Jesus’ family came to see Him, and why Jesus’ response when hearing they were outside is important for each of us living today.

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The Only Gift of Value: Mark 12:41-44

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After being challenged by the religious leaders, asking His own question to stump them, and challenging both the leaders and the crowd listening in about what they should pay attention to and focus on, it appears that before Jesus left the temple that day, He decided to take a strategic break to teach the disciples an object lesson.

Both Mark and Luke include this short event, and when we look at what happened and compare it with what Jesus taught, we discover some amazing principles. Our passage is found in Mark’s gospel, chapter 12, and we will read it from the New Century Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 41, Mark tells us that:

41 Jesus sat near the Temple money box and watched the people put in their money. Many rich people gave large sums of money. 42 Then a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which were only worth a few cents.

43 Calling his followers to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow gave more than all those rich people. 44 They gave only what they did not need. This woman is very poor, but she gave all she had; she gave all she had to live on.”

In these four short verses, Jesus attempts to shifts the disciples’ focus. When reading about this shift, I first wonder how affected the disciples were at this. Some of the disciples probably remembered this teaching later and realized it to be profound, while others, probably most notably Judas Iscariot, probably discounted it based on a greedy spirit. Looking at the time frame of events, we know that Mary had already poured the perfume on Jesus at this point, and Judas had challenged the extraordinary nature of this gift. John describes Judas Iscariot as not being truly interested in the poor, but being greedy and generous towards himself with the bag of money he was entrusted to keep.

This short object lesson is powerful when we look closely at it. When we look at what this teaches about giving and generosity, I don’t believe for a moment that God is challenging His followers to give away all their money. If that were the focus of this lesson, Jesus would have told the disciples that they should give like this poor widow.

However, no such command is given.

Instead, this teaching focuses on God’s perspective regarding giving, and it shows us several interesting angles regarding giving from God’s perspective.

First, Jesus describes the widow’s gift as giving all she had to live on, in contrast to the others who “gave only what they did not need”. This first angle teaches us that when giving to God, we should give to God first. Some people describe this as returning God’s tithes as His portion of what He has blessed us with. The term tithe simply means “tenth”, and this is where we get the meaning that a tithe is ten percent of our income, but when we look at this passage, nothing here is described as tithe or offering.

Instead, this widow gave everything she had to God because she trusted that He would supply her with everything she needed. This widow’s gift demonstrates a complete dependence on God and 100% trust in Him.

Mixed within this first angle of giving, we see the widow giving her heart to God with her money and her trust. Including her heart with her gift made the widow’s gift infinitely more valuable than other givers who simply gave money from their excess, which also means that their gifts would not include their hearts. A gift that includes the giver’s heart is always more valuable than a gift without a heart included.

Another angle of giving we can see described here is a percentage based giving. It’s possible that God looks more at what percentage we give of our income or our net worth when He calculates the value of our gift. Jesus describes this widow has giving everything she had, which would be like saying she gave 100%, and this contrasts a much lower percentage in those who gave only what they did not need.

This second angle is perhaps the more popular one, however I don’t think it fits the way God values giving as well as the first angle we focused on.

A third angle of giving flips the second angle around. Instead of focusing on percentages of what is given, the third angle focuses on what we keep in contrast to what we gave. We can see this perspective in Jesus’ framing of the first group of givers. These people give what they don’t need, which means that they keep what they needed to live on first. These givers focus on what they will keep first, and then give from the rest.

To contrast this, the widow doesn’t focus on what she will keep and instead gives everything. She is commended on giving more because she has nothing left after she gave which clearly contrasts the other people who have more than enough to live on after they have finished giving.

From both the second and third angle, we discover that the widow probably would have given more than everyone else even if she had only given one coin. It’s unlikely the other givers were giving more than 50% of their earnings or wealth, and they clearly had more left over after their giving than a single copper coin.

However, if the widow had only given one copper coin, it’s likely she would have failed the first angle of giving. If the widow had kept one coin back, it’s likely that her gift would not have included her heart, and without her heart included, her gift wouldn’t have been as valuable.

From looking at these few short verses and the object lesson Jesus pulls from them, we discover the amazing truth that God doesn’t value the number of coins we give. Instead, God values the percentage of our gift, God values gifts that we give where the giving affects our lives because we gave first and enough for our hearts to take notice, and God values gifts that are large enough that they include our hearts with them. Giving that includes our hearts makes our gifts valuable in God’s eyes!

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

Always place God first and when giving gifts to Him, be sure to give in a way that includes your heart.

Also, be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself. While a pastor, podcaster, or speaker can give you ideas to think about, only through personal prayer and Bible study can you grow a personal relationship – and when giving is involved, only through personal giving can you grow the spirit of generosity that will include your heart.

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

Year of the Cross – Episode 14: While sitting in the temple watching people give their gifts, Jesus sees something that amazes Him, and He teaches the disciples how a small gift might actual be bigger than a large one.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Flashback Episode — Apathy or Dependence: Matthew 11:20-30

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Sometimes I wonder how Jesus would be received if He were alive today. If someone were to perform the miracles and healing that He did, would the people living today (without having a historical Jesus to look back on) accept Him, or would He be rejected? Another part of me wonders if it was just the Jewish leaders who rejected Jesus, while the majority of the average people living in that culture chose to accept Him.

It is while I wonder this that I come to a challenging passage in the gospel of Matthew. As I read it, in a way it answers both of these questions I occasionally wonder about. So let’s read this challenge, from Matthew’s gospel, chapter 11, and let’s use the New International Reader’s Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 20, we learn that:

20 Jesus began to speak against the towns where he had done most of his miracles. The people there had not turned away from their sins. So he said, 21 “How terrible it will be for you, Chorazin! How terrible for you, Bethsaida! Suppose the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon. They would have turned away from their sins long ago. They would have put on clothes for mourning. They would have sat down in ashes. 22 But I tell you this. On judgment day it will be easier for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And what about you, Capernaum? Will you be lifted to the heavens? No! You will go down to the place of the dead. Suppose the miracles done in you had been done in Sodom. It would still be here today. 24 But I tell you this. On judgment day it will be easier for Sodom than for you.”

Let’s pause reading here for a brief moment. Matthew tells us that Jesus spoke “against” the towns where He had done most of His miracles. These were the communities who would have clearly had the evidence to tell them that Jesus was significant, and the miracles would build the case that He was from God. However, apathy seemed to be alive and well in the first century. Jesus speaks out against these towns because even with plenty of evidence, the average, regular person discounted Jesus’ message and ministry and continued living as he or she had always lived.

Jesus compares these two towns with two historical communities who were known for their sinful lifestyle. God personally destroyed Sodom because of the community’s sinful behavior, and while I don’t know if the city of Tyre was still around when Jesus was alive, one of the Old Testament prophets connected the king of Tyre with Lucifer, who fell from heaven. While Ezekiel’s prophecy clearly is speaking about a being who existed long before Tyre’s actual king, the fact that Ezekiel connected the leader of this city with Satan speaks to the reputation that Tyre had for its sin.

What seems to be the difference between the present communities Jesus was speaking to and their historical counterparts was simply apathy. The people in the past, even those who were actively pursuing sin, would have turned their lives around if Jesus had been present and working miracles earlier in history. This challenges me to wonder if apathy is among the worst character traits we could possess. If we ignore and discount all that is happening around us, then how will God ever wake us up to what He wants for us? Perhaps this is one reason why trials come into our lives.

However, Jesus also said some other powerful things in this discussion. Continuing in verse 25, we learn that:

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father. You are Lord of heaven and earth. You have hidden these things from wise and educated people. But you have shown them to little children. 26 Yes, Father. This is what you wanted to do.

27 “My Father has given all things to me. The Father is the only one who knows the Son. And the only ones who know the Father are the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to make him known.

28 “Come to me, all you who are tired and are carrying heavy loads. I will give you rest. 29 Become my servants and learn from me. I am gentle and free of pride. You will find rest for your souls. 30 Serving me is easy, and my load is light.”

In this last part of our passage, we have three big ideas.

First, Jesus applauds God for hiding “these things” from the wise and educated people, while showing it to those who are childlike. The context for the phrase “these things” must then refer to His words against the two towns we had just talked about, and perhaps it relates specifically to our discussion on apathy. Part of me wonders if the more “educated” a person gets, the more apathy they can also display.

I really don’t think that education guarantees an equivalent or proportional level of apathy, but perhaps as we learn and grow intellectually, we learn that there is so much that we don’t know that it becomes easier to ignore the things we don’t understand in favor of the things that we do understand.

The second idea is that the Father is the only One who truly knows the Son, and while the Son is the only One who truly knows the Father, Jesus tells us that the Son reveals the Father to a certain group of people that He chooses. This means that you and I, if we have been chosen, can actually know who the Father is. However, in order to be chosen, we must be friends of Jesus, and the likelihood is high that friendship in this case also equals alignment and obedience. It’s hard to be friends with someone who is living in a way that is opposed to your character or a belief you have, and it may be this way with Jesus too. The closer we can live like Jesus and be like Jesus, the easier it will be to be friends with Him.

Concluding these three ideas is the idea of rest. Jesus invites those present to follow Him if they are tired of carrying a heavy load. While it might not remove a physically heavy load that one may have to carry, what Jesus is describing is a load of spiritual rules and regulations that had become ever more confusing and convoluted as time had passed. What had been simple at one time was now more complicated than ever, and someone trying to live rightly according to the religious leaders of that era needed to be ever careful and cautious about breaking one of the countless laws that were present. There were even laws to guard against breaking other laws, and that made the standard of right living even more confusing.

But Jesus comes with the message that His way is simple. Jesus does have a load for us to carry, but it is light. This means that it does matter what we do, what we say, and how we live, but the frame of reference Jesus uses is not one of restriction but instead it is one of freedom. Jesus wants us to avoid the lifestyles, activities, habits, and other things that will ultimately trap us in favor of the ones that give us true life. By following Jesus, we can find rest for our inner selves and for our hearts and minds.

This passage, which opened with Jesus speaking out against the apathy present in the towns He did most of His miracles in, and which ends with an invitation out of the burden of trying to live up to an impossible standard, we see both apathy and self-reliance being opposite to the life God has for us. Education helps, but it is not the only key to breaking free from apathy and self-reliance. Instead, drawing close to Jesus, and learning to follow, obey, and depend on Him is the way into the life God intends for each of us to live!

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

If you feel as though you struggle with apathy, or if you are trying to live life apart from God, and in either case you feel tired, burned out, or empty, perhaps this passage and our discussion today is a challenge to seek God, follow Jesus, and commit to depend on Him for guidance, strength, and direction.

In order to learn what He wants from us, be sure to study the Bible for yourself, reading every verse and passage in context, and mixing this with prayer, reflection, and ample time. Rushing Bible study is rarely productive, and it doesn’t ultimately lead to rest. Instead, choose to pray and open your Bible with plenty of time available so you can rest, learn, listen, and discover what God wants to show you in His word.

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

Flashback Episode: Season 3 – Episode 13: Cam discusses a challenge Jesus gives to some of the towns where He had spent some significant time in, and how apathy and self-reliance can pull us away from God.

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Avoiding the Pharisee Trap: Matthew 23:1-36

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After Jesus finished countering the religious leaders’ growing set of challenges with a question of His own that they are unable to answer, Jesus turns and challenges the crowd and His disciples regarding the Pharisees and the scribes. However, while we are quick to point out the religious leaders’ hypocrisy in Jesus’ statement, we too easily miss something that Jesus tells the crowd that seems impossible.

While our passage is long and we might not make it through all of it, let’s dive in and discover what Jesus teaches us about the scribes and the Pharisees. Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 23, and we will be reading it from the New American Standard Bible. Starting in verse 1:

1 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. 4 They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. 

Let’s pause for a moment here because Jesus just said something that we might easily miss. While Jesus has just challenged the religious leaders and framed their hypocrisy as their words not matching their actions, we might be tempted to throw out everything the religious leaders said and did as worthless.

But this is not what Jesus has said here. He tells the crowd to follow what the religious leaders teach, but don’t mimic the religious leaders’ actions. The religious leaders teach an ideal that they are unwilling to live up to.

However, when we look at Jesus’ words, the ideal that the religious leaders are pointing people to is not bad. The ideal actually is living within the law on all fronts, and actually it is well away from breaking the law. But the religious leaders acted in a way that cheapened their influence and authority. They didn’t practice what they preached.

Before continuing the passage, the ideal that the religious leaders had placed on the people was all but impossible to attain. It was a great ideal for people to shoot for, but both the law and the ideal standard the religious leaders held up was based on not breaking the law. However, one of the biggest reasons God gave us the law was to help people see and remember their need of a Savior and to remind people that the punishment for their sin was placed on something and ultimately Someone else.

However, when the religious leaders lost the reason for the law and for the sacrifices, their religion became a ritual that had lost its true meaning. Without love and thankfulness in their hearts for what the law pointed to, the law become elevated into God’s standard that He would punish them for at the instant they broke even the tiniest clause. Without seeing the blessing the law pointed towards, the religious leaders feared God’s punishment and they set up regulations to keep people from even breaking the law.

This was great until the focus was so much on avoiding the law that they lost the love, and pride, arrogance, and status crept into their hearts and they began to value their status over their call to serve others. Verse 4 describes the current state of the religious leaders the following way: “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.

Continuing in verse 5:

5 But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries [small boxes that contained scriptures] and lengthen the tassels of their garments. 6 They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. 8 But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11 But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

We’ll stop reading here. The rest of our passage continues by both warning and challenging the scribes and Pharisees regarding their focus, their attitudes, and the hypocrisy of their actions. Jesus elaborates His statement about the Pharisees and religious leaders doing their deeds to be admired by others, and how they had elevated themselves over everyone else.

However, in this opening statement for the rest of the passage, Jesus gives us a powerful frame of reference that we should pay attention to. While the scribes and Pharisees focused on status, and being praised and looked up to by others, Jesus tells His disciples and all His followers that they should avoid this. When giving us a new frame of reference, Jesus challenges us to remember who God is and what He does for us.

In an interesting twist, we discover each of the members of the Godhead in Jesus’ new frame of reference.

The first thing Jesus shares is that we shouldn’t call each other Rabbi, which is another word for teacher. In a similar way, we might be better served by avoiding the word pastor, preacher, or teacher as well. All these terms focus on separating those with knowledge and information from those who don’t have access to it. These terms focus on looking up to those with the knowledge and following them.

Jesus challenges this frame of reference by reminding us that God is our Teacher; God is our Rabbi. While Jesus was the One teaching them in that moment, the member of the Godhead who is responsible for teaching is the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit comes, one responsibility He has is leading God’s people into all truth. We should look to God to teach us, especially relating to all things spiritual.

Next Jesus challenges us to not call anyone on earth our father, because we all have One Father, and this Father is who is in Heaven. We call this Father, God the Father, and He is just as responsible for us being alive on this earth as our biological parents are. God the Father created each of us, and because He did this, we can know and trust that He has a plan for our lives.

Lastly, Jesus challenges us to not call anyone our leader because we have One Leader, and this Leader is Christ. We shouldn’t focus on the idea of leadership but instead of service towards others. If we look up to anyone to lead us, the One we should be looking to is Christ, the Son, Jesus.

When looking at this clear challenge Jesus gives us in Matthew’s gospel, we discover that both in the Christian world and in the secular world, people call each other teacher, father, and leader. While each term might be not as widespread in certain groups, all three terms that Jesus challenges us to reserve for God are widely used to describe humans.

Some of these terms we cannot help but use in certain contexts, but with how Jesus concludes this section of His teaching, we discover that while we cannot stop others from using these terms, our focus should be different. Jesus challenges His people to focus on serving one another, and on being humble.

Each of the terms Jesus describes as reserved for God are terms of status. If we seek to be known as a teacher, a father, or a leader, we seek to exalt ourselves, and Jesus tells us that this will result in us being humbled. Instead, we are to serve others humbly, and if they see us as a teacher, a father, or a leader, we humbly point them to God, who is our Teacher, our Father, and our Leader!

Jesus challenges us to look to God for our knowledge, because He is our Teacher; our purpose, because He is our Father; and our mission, because He is our Leader!

As we conclude another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Seek God first and look to Him for knowledge, for purpose, and for mission. While the world wants to be the source of each of these things, God is the only source that can truly answer all of these desires in a satisfactory way.

As you seek God first and as you seek the answers for these areas of life, be sure to always pray and study the Bible for yourself. Through prayer and Bible study, we are able to draw near to God and we grow our relationship with Him. As we grow closer to God, all three areas of life become clearer.

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

Year of the Cross – Episode 13: After silencing the religious leaders and their trick questions and traps, Jesus teaches about where we should place our focus, and three major areas where we should focus on God in our lives.

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