Through the eye

Read: Exodus 16-18, Matthew 19:16-30

Ask any Bible teacher or scholar, even a kid in Sunday school, and you’ll get an assortment of responses as to what Jesus meant when he spoke of a camel passing through the eye of a needle.

Matthew 19:24

Some may tell you that they eye of the needle was a reference to a smaller gate within a large gate. The main gate broad and high enough to admit a fully loaded camel, while the smaller gate was easier to open to permit men and women to pass through. Another may tell you that the gate was large enough for a loaded camel to pass through, but only on its knees. Yet another may speak of a customs gate of sorts. The gate being large enough to admit a camel, but not with its load. The purpose being that the load could be inspected before being allowed into the city.

All of these explanations can be tied with Jesus’ words. A man cannot bring earthly possessions through the gates of heaven. A man must humble himself in order to gain entry into eternity. All that we bring must first be inspected and judged by God before being permitted.

But what if no explanation is really needed? What if Jesus was speaking literally? Some scholars believe that the stories of a gate called The Eye of the Needle surfaced only after Jesus made the connection. The camel was the largest animal in the area at the time. The eye of a needle was the smallest commonly known passage. There was no way a camel would fit through.

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Matthew 19:26 (NIV)

Of course it is impossible for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle! That was the whole point of what Jesus was trying to say. He left no room for questioning. Salvation is impossible without God. Entry into heaven can only be gained when we leave our stuff behind. God will only take us as we are without the extras we have a habit of making so important.

Our treasures are not stored up when we hoard them on earth, but rather when we do the opposite and give it all away.

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.

Matthew 19:21 (NIV)

Instead of looking for the academic explanation, let’s look at this literally. As Jesus said it.

Leave the stuff. Give to the poor. Follow him.

It doesn’t matter

In a world where everyone wants something to matter, there are a few things that don’t matter at all when it comes to our Commission as believers.

1. It doesn’t matter where you are.

Matthew 14:13

Bono had it right when he penned these words:

You’ve got to get yourself together
You’ve got stuck in a moment
And now you can’t get out of it

We can get so caught up in our doing that we don’t notice that Jesus has gone somewhere else and we’ve failed to follow. The crowds that followed knew that Jesus had something they needed. It didn’t matter that he was in a boat and they were on land. They followed.

There are times that we may be hesitant to leave what we’re doing because we have so much time, energy, and resources invested. But is it really worth missing Jesus? We must all learn to keep our eyes on him and follow at a moments notice.

2. It doesn’t matter how you feel.

Matthew 14:14

Jesus had just received news that his cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded in prison. He wanted to be alone. Yet the crowds followed him and, even in his grief, he had compassion, ministered to them, and healed the sick. Whether we feel like it or not, our call to minister doesn’t go away or get put on hold. Jesus didn’t say, “When you feel like it, maybe go across the street and tell someone about me.” He said, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)

How we feel is not included in our call. In the following verses we will see that, even in one of his darkest moments as a man, Jesus was able to perform a great miracle and reach thousands of people. Perhaps by going ahead, especially when we don’t feel like it, God is able to accomplish more through us.

3. It doesn’t matter what is (or isn’t) in your hands.

Matthew 14:19

If you’re a pastor or a leader in your church and 10,000 people show up one Sunday and want to stick around all day, what would you do? Feed them or send them off with an invitation to return and hope they’ll come back? If the disciples had their way, they’d have sent away the crowds. Their hands were empty. Jesus had been performing miracles all day and the men who were closest to him still didn’t see that just because their hands were empty, it didn’t mean they had nothing.

Whether we feel qualified or equipped to fulfill the Great Commission is irrelevant. What’s in our hands doesn’t matter. It’s probably even better if our hands are empty because then we have no other recourse than to depend on what’s in Jesus’ hands.

When Jesus handed off the bread and fish to the disciples, they then handed it off to the people. And then it came back—far more than what they’d started with. Every hand that touched the food was a part of the miracle and as more people handled it, the greater it became.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

1 John 4:4 (NIV)

The message of Jesus is completely counter to our culture. We cannot maintain popular ideals and still be effective in ministry.

He must become greater; I must become less.

John 4:30 (NIV)

God wants you!

Read: Genesis 27-28, Matthew 9: 18-38

All over Israel, Jesus went with his disciples. He taught and he healed. There are no accounts of Jesus refusing healing to anyone who asked. Everywhere he went, crowds followed and Jesus had compassion on them. So he told his disciples to do something. Pray. Pray for workers because the harvest is plenty.

Matthew 9:38

We can assume that they prayed.

How often have you prayed this prayer? How often has your pastor asked you to pray this prayer? We all know that there is a great harvest of souls out there in the world and the only way that they can be brought into the body of Christ is if people go out and get them. So we pray. And we pray. And we pray.

But take a look at the next verse:

He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

Matthew 10:1 (NIV)

Who did Jesus ask to pray for workers? His disciples. Who did Jesus send out as workers? His disciples.

When he told his disciples to pray for workers, he wasn’t asking them to pray for a group of complete strangers. They were praying for each other. They were praying for themselves.

Chances are that, if you feel a burden to pray for workers to reap the harvest (and even if you feel no burden whatsoever), you are the worker God wants in the field.

Apprentice

Read: Genesis 9-11, Matthew 4

You’re a professional. You own your own business and you’re looking for a succession plan. You want to train someone in your line of work to take over the business when you retire. Where are you going to start looking? Most people will go looking in a similar environment. If you’re a carpenter, you’ll go looking at construction sites, cabinet shops, or a furniture builder. If you’re a baker, you’ll go looking at a bakery or restaurant. If you’re in insurance, you’ll go looking at an insurance office. If you’re a pastor, you’ll go looking in a church, seminary, or Bible school.

As Jesus began his ministry, he knew he only had a few years to get his job done. He needed a succession plan right away so he went looking for men he could train to take his place. Without knowing the story, most people would have him looking in the synagogues. If you’re going to be a Jewish minister, wouldn’t you want someone trained in Jewish ministry?

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.

Matthew 4:18 (NIV)

Instead of doing the expected, Jesus did as he always did—the unexpected. He didn’t go looking for help in the temple where he’d find learned—but idle—men. He went to the lake where he found men at work. Archaeologists believe that, at the time of Jesus, the Sea of Galilee had been overfished. Those who made their living on the lake were used to long hours and hard work. They would have had to come up with creative ways to do their work and repair their equipment. These are the men Jesus went to find.

Matthew 4:19-20

In a culture where very few left the family business, these brothers jumped at the opportunity to leave a failing venture. Some believe that the draw of Jesus was too strong to resist.

Jesus calls us all. Will he find us idle? Or will he find us at work? Will he find us willing? Or will he find us hesitant to leave behind the only thing we’ve ever known?

Jesus isn’t looking for people who know everything, but those who are willing to do anything. The only qualification you need is the call. And you’ve already got that. What are you waiting for?

Superstition

In the practical sense, I am not at all a superstitious person. I have a broken mirror in my hallway. I don’t care about black cats. And I walk under ladders all the time. So what? Superstition goes beyond the obvious.

Superstition, i.e. a way of live divorced from God and his guidance, is the parent of restlessness and instability and reduces men to the level of shepherdless sheep.

J.E. McFayden, The Abingdon Bible Commentary.

Zechariah opens chapter 10 telling Israel to ask the Lord for rain in the spring and then follows that up discussing sheep without a shepherd. At a glance, these two topics have nothing to do with each other. But a deeper look says that they have everything to do with each other.

Let’s say that a church has experienced great revival. The leaders prayed for it and, when it came, they couldn’t quite put their finger on what started it, but they refuse to change a thing so that it won’t stop. God’s Spirit moves. People get healed. People get saved. The church grows by leaps and bounds. But, after a while—like nearly every time of refreshing, things start to slow down. The leaders start to pick apart everything they’ve done. What changed? Who picked that song? Why did that greeter wear that jacket? Why did the colours on the screen change? Who folded the bulletin backward? We need to start right at 10:28, not 10:31!

What started out as an incredible move of God has been reduced to a method—specific natural steps taken in order to preserve something that began supernaturally. The supernatural becomes superstition and, soon enough, God is no longer in the method. It is merely human hands trying to replicate something they have no hope of repeating. And, instead of heading back to the prayer room, many people keep testing theories and methods in hopes of trying to spark something again. They are sheep following superstition rather than a shepherd.

Ask the Lord for rain in the spring and he will give it. It is the Lord who makes storm clouds that drop showers of rain so that every field becomes a lush pasture.

Zechariah 10:1 (NLT)

If God sends the rain in the first place, why would we ever look elsewhere when things start to look dry? Even Christians can become superstitious when a certain process works better than another. But the prosperity has nothing to do with the process and everything to do with the prayer that went into it. So ask the Lord for rain. And when it starts to get dry, ask Him again. And again. And again.

Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
He made us, and we are his.
We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Psalm 100:3 (NLT)

Daily Bible reading: Zechariah 10-12, Revelation 20

 

The Devil’s fence

There is a story that describes a person sitting on a fence. On one side of the fence, there are green pastures. It is clear and peaceful. On the other side of the fence is every pleasure the person could ever desire.

A man approaches from the peaceful side and offers a hand. “I’d like for you to join me here.” The person on the fence considers the offer. The peaceful green grass is mighty appealing.

Then a man approaches from the other side and makes a similar offer. “Join me here and you’ll have everything you ever wanted.” The man on the fence also finds this offer appealing, but cannot bring himself to make a decision and tells both men so. The second man shrugs. “Have it your way.” He turns and smiles to himself. “Good thing I own the fence.”

By making no decision at all, the man on the fence unknowingly made his decision. To do anything other than choose God is to choose against Him. Sitting on the fence doesn’t absolve you of anything, because the Devil owns the fence.

I will search with lanterns in Jerusalem’s darkest corners to find and punish those who sit contented in their sins, indifferent to the Lord, thinking he will do nothing at all to them.

Zephaniah 1:12 (NLT)

There is absolutely no benefit at all in sitting on the fence, waiting to make a decision. An offer has been made from both sides. It’s time to choose. Every day you sit on the fence is a day that could have been spent in the presence of the Lord.

Gather together and pray, you shameless nation. Gather while there is still time, before judgement begins and your opportunity is blown away like chaff.

Zephaniah 2:1 (NLT)

Even if you have already made a decision to follow Jesus, you must still make every moment count. There is no better time to deepen and strengthen your relationship with him than right now.

Daily Bible reading: Zephaniah 1-3, Revelation 15

Everyone else was doing it

Who never used the excuse that “everyone else was doing it” when you were a kid? It was a pretty simple go-to reason for why you did something your parents explicitly told you not to to. But did it ever work? If you tried it, you may have received “if they all went and jumped off a bridge, would you jump off, too?” as a response. Of course you wouldn’t. You’re smarter than that. Yet you did do something for which your only reason for doing it was because everyone else was.

John warns against following evil influence. The influence he’s talking about has far greater repercussions than getting your bicycle taken away or being grounded from the internet for a week. It’s your eternal soul at stake.

Dear friend, don’t let this bad example influence you. Follow only what is good. Remember that those who do good prove that they are God’s children, and those who do evil prove that they do not know God.

3 John 1:11 (NLT)

The evil influence John is talking about here is that a man, Diotrephes, is going around telling the church that they don’t need to welcome or care for travelling ministers—a teaching that is completely contrary to the example Jesus set. But we can take this word of advice and apply it to far more than just travelling ministers. It is advice for life.

Influence comes at us from all directions—all day, every day. It’s unavoidable. It comes from Christians as well as unbelievers. It is up to us as individuals to determine how we let it affect us. In this passage, John gives us a pretty simple answer—know God. When we know and love God, good deeds will be the visible byproduct. If we don’t know God, evil deeds will be the byproduct. And we cannot assume that everyone who calls himself a Christian knows God (John’s warning here was against someone in the church).

It’s all so confusing! How am I supposed to know what’s what?

It’s a good thing that God doesn’t expect us to know it all. And it’s a good thing that He does know it all. And it’s an even better thing that He gave us His Holy Spirit to guide us in that regard. The closer we are to God, the more in tune we will be with His Spirit and can allow ourselves to be influenced by Him rather than those around us. And the stronger God’s influence is in our lives, the more of a good influence we will be on those around us.

If you need an influence to follow, Jesus is your prime example. Get to know him. Don’t do something just because everyone else is doing it (even Christians), do it because Jesus did it.

Daily Bible reading: Daniel 11-12, 3 John 1

Watchman

We all have to follow rules in life. As kids, we must obey the rules our parents set out for us or risk a slap on the hand or being grounded for a week. As students, we must obey our teachers or risk failure or detention. As adults, we must obey our employers or risk being fired. For the most part, because we are not willing to risk the punishment, we’re okay with being obedient. We want to be obedient because it means that our lives will be better for it.

So why don’t we respond to God with the same attitude toward obedience?

“Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, pass it on to the people immediately. If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible, demanding your blood for theirs. If you warn them and they keep on sinning and refuse to repent, they will die in their sins. But you will have saved your life because you did what you were told to do.”

Ezekiel 3:17-19 (NLT)

When God called Ezekiel to minister to the Israelite exiles in Babylon, He demanded obedience. If the prophet relayed God’s words to the people when they were given as they were given, Ezekiel would not be held responsible for the actions of the people. But if he failed to present the word, he’d be punished right along with the Israelites.

To us, when most Christians treat obedience to God as optional, the guidelines God set out for Ezekiel may come across as rather harsh. But are they? If we claim to be followers of God, should we not also be obedient to His Word? If we are so willing to submit to those in authority over us, how much more should we be willing to submit to God?

When we profess Jesus as Lord, we become accountable not only to what we do, but also to what we don’t do. If God has called us to do or say something and we refuse, we are as guilty as Ezekiel would have been, withholding the truth from those who needed it. As God’s hands and feet, as His ambassadors on Earth, it behooves us to live our lives in obedience to His Word and His call on our lives.

Like Ezekiel, we are watchmen and should be waiting for every opportunity to practice obedience to our Father.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 1-3, Hebrews 9

Stay free

It would seem that the Galatian church struggled—as many churches still do—with the concept of freedom, how it works and how it is to be applied to our lives. Being free from the law—receiving salvation as a gift rather than earning it through works—is a difficult concept to grasp. And, no matter how much revelation some people get, there always seem to be those who want to find a set of chains and shackle the Church back to the law.

So Christ has really set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.

Galatians 5:1 (NLT)

How do I know when I’m getting tied up again? The answer is quite simple and you probably know it already.

But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Here there is no conflict with the law.

Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

If you are being led in a direction that produces anything but these things, you’re being led back into the bondage of the law. The Holy Spirit will never lead you into anything that is based on works and produces selfish results. He will only lead you into things that produce good fruit with selfless results.

For you have been called to live in freedom—not freedom to satisfy your sinful nature, but freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:13-14 (NLT)

So if you’re questioning where you’re being led, ask yourself a few simple questions:

  • Is this solely for my benefit or will others benefit from it?
  • Will this result in producing the fruit of the Spirit?
  • Does this reflect love for my neighbour? How so?
  • Am I serving myself or am I serving others?

In the end, our freedom is all about serving one another. If you’re not serving your neighbour—whether you like them or not—you’re not really free. There are no qualifiers on the love we are commanded to give. It’s not always easy and that’s why we need the Holy Spirit to guide us. If we are truly free and have nailed our own passions and desires to the cross (Galatians 5:24), we live by the Holy Spirit and must follow his guidance in every part of our lives.

Love your neighbour. Stay free.

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 10-12, Galatians 5

Apply Jesus

Do you ever read through the Bible and skip over all the verses that refer to the law? We know that Jesus came as the one perfect sacrifice, the only person ever to follow the law in its entirety. He then fulfilled the law so that we would no longer have to strive for something we could never attain. So why should we bother reading verses about the law that no longer apply to us?

If Jesus came to replace the law, what if we replaced the law with Jesus? Literally. In Proverbs, for example, let’s look at a few verses. We’ll take out the law and replace it with Jesus.

To reject [Jesus] is to praise the wicked; to obey [Jesus] is to fight them.

Proverbs 28:4 (NLT)

Kind of crazy how it still makes sense, isn’t it?

Young people who obey [Jesus] are wise; those who seek out worthless companions bring shame to their parents.

Proverbs 28:7 (NLT)

The prayers of a person who ignore [Jesus] are despised.

Proverbs 28:9 (NLT)

We see entirely  new meaning in scriptures we may have previously passed over believing they have nothing to do with us today. They have everything to do with us today if we look at them in the light of the new covenant we have with God through Jesus.

So the next time you’re about to skip over the law, apply Jesus instead.

Daily Bible reading: Proverbs 28-29, 2 Corinthians 7