One Thing You Lack

Advent 2017

December 23, 2017

Read Mark 10: 1-31

“Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go and sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me’” (v. 21).

The entire world was sleeping at the first Advent when the Lord Jesus was born in a stable, in ancient Bethlehem and laid in manger so many years ago. Will the world be just as asleep at the second Advent as it was at the first? Equally oblivious, as it was before, to the coming of the Lord of Glory?

Jesus told the rich young man that there was only one thing that separated him from eternal life, “One thing you lack”. One thing stood between him and heaven, one thing was lacking, seriously lacking in the life of a young man who was obedient to the Law. The rich young man was so close to the kingdom of heaven, and yet so far away from it. “Close” and “Almost” will not suffice in God’s economy. You either have it or you don’t. One thing was “needful” and he lacked it. Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha found the “one thing needful” for the Lord Jesus said of her, “Martha, Martha, you are troubled about many things, but only one thing is needful. And Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

We read in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew of the man who found a treasure in a field and then sold all that he had to purchase the field and of a merchant who, finding a pearl of the greatest value, sold all that he had to purchase it. Two similar stories of men, who having found the greatest treasures, their “one thing needful”, gave up all that they had to acquire it. While, the rich young man was unwilling to part with his worldly possessions to acquire an eternal treasure.

In the parable of the Ten Virgins (Ref: Matt. 25:1-13), we read of the five wise virgins who had sufficient oil for their lamps and where ready when the bride groom appeared. The five foolish virgins were unprepared and were not ready when the bride groom finally arrived at the late and unexpected hour. They needed oil for their lamps and went off to buy from the merchants. But when they returned the wedding banquet had already begun and the doors were shut to those on the outside. Those five foolish virgins lacked “the one thing needful” and when the bride groom finally arrived and the door was shut, it was too late to acquire what they lacked to gain entrance.


Listen to Him

Advent 2017

December 21

Mark 9:2-32

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.  Mark 9:2–8

Have you ever had a mountain-top experience with the Lord?  An experience that left you full of joy and hope and brimming with excitement and a zeal to serve him?

Peter, James, and John had been following Jesus for some time now. They had heard Jesus teach the people, heal the sick, feed the five-thousand, and even walk on water.  All they had experienced to this point, could not have prepared them for what they were about to witness.

Jesus took them to a high mountain where he was transfigured.  What Peter, James, and John saw, terrified them.  Up to this moment, Jesus had lived as a man, veiling his divine nature.  Now, for the first time, they saw Jesus for who he really was.

Peter who is watching this earth-shattering event unfold, then notices Moses and Elijah standing with Jesus.  Why were Moses and Elijah present?  They were representative of the Law and the Prophets who foretold the coming of Messiah.  Unfortunately, Peter misses the point and suggests that three tents be constructed, one for Jesus, one for Elijah, and one for Moses.  Peter puts Moses and Elijah on the same level as Jesus.

Suddenly a cloud appears and God the Father speaks; “This is my beloved Son, listen to him?”  It’s as if God is saying, “You have lived your entire lives listening to Moses and the Prophets, and well you should have, but now listen to my Son.”

Before we react too harshly towards Peter, we have to take a hard look at ourselves.  How often have you and I put other things or people on the same level as Jesus.  How often do we allow our relationship with Jesus to suffer due to the distractions of life?  This is not a call for asceticism, but priorities.

This Advent, as we await the coming of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords, God’s Son, I pray that each of us will ask these questions.

  1. Who is Jesus and have I given him first priority in my life?
  2. Have I made him the center of all I am and will ever be, making all things subject to his will?

Outside Looking In

Advent 2017

December 19

Mark 7:24 – 8:10

“’Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘but even the little dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’” Mark 7:28

Have you ever been “on the outside looking in”? A full witness to all that is taking place but not invited to participate, not invited to share in the festivities, the joy, the ‘blessings’? “Outside looking in” can be a very lonely place, a place occupied by the “unwanted”, the “unloved”, the “invisible”. It truly is a terrible place to be isn’t it?

At the Advent, the coming of the Lord Jesus, God incarnate, the invitation to “come and see” was given to those “on the outside looking in”. St. Luke recounts how an “an angel of the Lord” had brought to them “good news of great joy”. These shepherds, often the “lowest of the low” in Israelite society were “invited” to come to the Manger and see their “new born king”. And gentile foreigners, the Magi, were also invited to come and meet “he who is born King of the Jews.” What a marvelous mystery! Those who should have been present, had a “front row seat” to the greatest event in recorded history, yet were conspicuously absent while the outcasts and the foreigners were given a place of honor to witness such a wondrous event.

The Syrophoenician woman, an “outsider”, came ever so boldly to the “font of all mercy” and begged for deliverance for her young daughter. She asked but for the very crumbs that fall from the children’s table. She was willing and unashamed to complete with the household pets for them for those “crumbs” would have been a veritable “feast” for her. The ever-compassionate Lord instead bestowed upon her a “seat at the table” along with the “People of the Promise.”

We also read in the Gospel of Matthew, that when those who were invited to attend the joyous wedding feast of the King’s son refused to attend, the call went out far and wide to stranger and foreigner alike to be a guest at the wedding feast. Those who had been invited and deemed worthy to attend proved to be unworthy of the great honor and those previously deemed unworthy were now made worthy by the sovereign will of the King. (Re: Matt. 22:1-14)

Again, we read in the Gospel of Matthew of the Roman Centurion that is commended for his great faith, a faith that had never before been witnessed in all Israel. And it is those of such faith, those outside of the ancient Covenant, that the Lord now addresses saying, “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 8:11-12)

We are reminded throughout the Gospel accounts and Revelation concerning the great “marriage supper of the Lamb”. Your place has been prepared but will you be there? For as Scripture says, “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matt. 22:14)

Come Away and Rest

Advent 2017

December 16

Mark 6:30-end

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught.  And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” Mark 6:31

The season of Advent can be busy.  Decorating the house, buying and wrapping presents, preparing for the arrival of family, traveling to visit family, attending church services, the list goes on.  All of these things are good, but is this all there is to the season?  Think about it.  After it’s all done, you collapse onto your couch, close your eyes, and begin to think of how you are going have to do it all over again next year.  But is this really what the Advent season is all about?

In Mark 6:30-31, the apostles are returning from a preaching trip.  They are excited and can’t wait to tell Jesus what they had done and taught.  First, notice the word return.  This tells the reader that the apostles have been in the presence of Jesus before they went out to preach.  They sat at his feet, listened to his teachings, and applied what they had learned.

Upon their return, they were excited to share their experiences with Jesus.  Surely Jesus rejoiced with them, but his primary concern was for the apostles themselves.  We read his instructions to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.”  There are two parts to this command that I believe are important to us, not only during Advent, but during the entire church year.

  1. Come away by yourselves to a desolate place: Jesus understood the need for times of solitude.  There are times when we need to be alone so that we can re-connect with the Father.  Time to pray, read the scriptures, worship without distraction, reflect on what God is doing in our lives, and physically rest. So, what is a desolate place in our culture? In the past, I have taken trips to Anaheim to spend the day with Mickey Mouse.  While I am away, I am not in a desolate place.  A desolate place has the idea of being in a location with no distractions. Jesus’ command to go to a desolate place is one spoken out of example. Luke tells us, in Luke 5:16, “But he (Jesus) would withdraw to desolate places to pray.”
  2. Rest a while: Jesus wanted his apostles to get not only physical rest, but much needed spiritual rest.  Many Christians believe that in order to prove themselves to God, they have to stay perpetually busy.  Unfortunately, all this does is lead to burn-out and even resentment toward God. What we fail to understand is that God never asked us to be busy in the first place.  The Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,” How did we receive Christ Jesus the Lord? Paul answers this question in Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

This Advent season, I pray that we would become keenly aware of God’s grace in our lives, and that the result of this awareness would be to find where God is at work around us, join him, and then take time to rest and reflect on what God has done.

What Will the Lord Find?

Advent 2017

December 14, 2017

Read Mark 6:1-13

“He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:5,6)

“When the Lord Jesus returns at the Second Advent, his glorious second coming, what will he find among his people? Will he find the results of a people, his people, manifesting the lives and work of a people operating in great faith or will he find a people, his people, manifesting lives indicating a great lack of faith?” One result leads to the glory of God’s people while the other leads to their shame.

The sobering truth is that there is great power in “faith” and equally so, great power in a “lack of faith”. If we were to visit our kitchen spice rack and open a container of “whole mustard seeds” we would easily see how small they really are. But Jesus tells us in Matthew 17:20 “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” The power of faith to “move mountains”. Jesus was visiting his own home town and like all his other visitations he was eager to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom and bring blessings, healings and deliverance. But the lack of faith among his own people, his own neighbors, restrained his power to do so. “Unbelief”, the “lack of faith” successfully thwarted the very power of God to do good. “And he was amazed at their lack of faith.”

In contrast, when we read of the Roman Centurion’s faith, as recorded in Matthew 8:5, we discover that Jesus was equally amazed, saying, “When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, ‘I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith’” (v.10). Our English word amazed does not accurately convey the force of the Greek rendering, ekstasis, which tells us that Jesus was absolutely shocked by the lack of faith of his own people and the “great faith” of this Gentile soldier.

We read of a synagogue ruler coming to Jesus to heal his dying daughter, a Syrophoenician woman, a foreigner, coming to Jesus seeking deliverance for her daughter from an evil spirit, the blind Bartimaeus crying out loudly for Jesus to come and have mercy on him and the woman with an issue of blood for twelve years saying within her heart, “If I but touch his robe, I will be healed”. Faith, great faith, desperate faith of those in great need who were not ashamed to fall down at the feet of Jesus and make their desires known.

The power of “faith” or “lack of”. It is the key to release the limitless power and blessings of heaven or the power to restrain all the good that God desires to pour out upon his Church, his people. If the faith of the people is weak then the ministry of the Church is weak or at worst powerless. And so the question is asked, “If the Lord returns this Advent season, what will he find?” Or more pointedly, “If the Lord returns to our church, what will he find?”

Freedom from Bondage

Advent 2017

December 12

Mark 5:1-20

And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. Mark 5:15

During my Diaconal studies, one of my projects, was to attend a temple, mosque, or synagogue and ask questions of the person in charge concerning their beliefs and, if possible, observe a service or prayer meeting.  I chose to attend a local Hindu Temple. The first thing I noticed was the priest going to the front of the temple, opening a curtain, which revealed a number of statues.  He then went to a bell, which he rang three times.  After finishing his duties, I asked what the purpose was for ringing the bell.  He replied, “I have to wake up the gods.”  At that moment, my thoughts raced back to Psalm 121:4, “He who watches over Israel, neither slumbers nor sleeps.” At once my heart rejoiced that I served and worshiped a God who was living, who watched over me day and night, and who had freed me from death and my own idolatry.  At the same time, I couldn’t help but be broken hearted for those who were trapped in a religious system which promises no hope and no freedom, only the chains of dead idols.

Mark 5:1-19 tells the story of an encounter Jesus has with a man who has been possessed by a legion of demons.  This is a man who lived among the tombs, in other-words, he spent his life among the dead.  Those around him tried to bind him, but he broke any chains put on him. Jesus comes onto the scene and casts the demons into a herd of pigs, which proceed to drown in a near-by lake.

While Jesus’ defeat of the demons is important, as it shows his power and authority over Satan and the spirit world, the portion of this passage I want us to focus on is what happens to the possessed man after Jesus frees him.  Mark tells us that the demon possessed man was, “clothed and in his right mind,” Jesus had done what no one else could do.  Others had tried to bind him in chains, but Jesus freed him.

The demon-possessed man had lived among the dead, and his friends offered him no hope.  They could only offer him chains.  It was Jesus who offered him what he really needed, freedom from bondage.  It was an event so miraculous, that those who saw the man “clothed and in his right mind,” became afraid.  Why were they afraid when they should have been rejoicing?  I believe their fear was based on their inability to understand how the living God was at work in their midst.  Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” John 5:19.  Jesus came onto the scene because he knew that the Father was already at work in this man’s life.  He knew the Father wanted to free this man.

Just like those whom I met at the Hindu Temple, there are people all around us who are walking in bondage, and all the world can offer them is chains.  It is Jesus who offers them freedom, forgiveness, and new life.  God has called us to be aware of where he is at work, and to join him in that work.  This Advent, I pray you will ask yourself one important question, “Where is God at work, and how can I join him?”

Seed Time and Harvest

Advent 2017

December 9, 2017

Read Mark 4:1-20

“Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop – thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times what was sown.” (Mark 4:20)

“Seed time and harvest.” Unless you were raised on a farm or earned you living working in the fields, this concept might not mean very much to you due to the richness of this country where you and I live. The shelves in our markets are always filled with goods and produce that we consume whether they are locally in season or not. How would you relate the concept of “seed time and harvest” to the season of Advent?

The “Parable of the Sower”, as found in Mark’s Gospel, clearly shows us that it is the very nature of God’s word to cause to produce in the life of the believer. However, this same parable also illustrates quite clearly the effects of certain outside influences on our lives, “the world, the flesh and the devil”, that strive continually against the work of God and his Holy Spirit in our lives. Can you discern the “Parable of the Sower” in our understanding of Advent? I believe that we can relate quite easily this parable to the season of Advent.

The first Advent, the coming of Christ, is indicative of the appearance of the sower to the fields in which he will sow his seed, the word of God. Both the sower and the seed are from heaven above, coming in power and with life. Speaking God’s word, the prophet Isaiah says, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and will not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so it is with my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me void, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10,11).

The Lord Jesus planted the first crop of the Kingdom of God when he called his first disciples who soon picked up where their Master left off by taking the message of the Gospel into the whole world in obedience to the Lord’s final command, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19,20). We are still in that time of sowing the message of the Gospel throughout the world.

At the second Advent, the time of our Lord’s return, we will witness that final and great harvesting of all that the Lord has sown since his first appearing. Everything that the Lord has done personally or through his faithful servants comes to this moment. Everything is directed to the development and ripening of God’s seed, his people, who are commanded to reproduce and multiply. The question is asked, “What are you producing?” When the “Lord of the Harvest” returns, “what will he find growing in your fields?