When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us,” then he will answer you, “I do not know where you come from.” Luke 13:25
“Lord, open to us,” those outside the narrow door cry as they knock. “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets,” they plead.
“I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!” Jesus responds.
Oh, they knew who Jesus was. They even ate with Him, listened to Him teach, and likely saw Him heal many. But they didn’t KNOW Jesus. They were part of the “many.” The onlookers. The ones who enjoyed the wide worldly door. The ones who thought they could wait to repent; wait to follow wholeheartedly until it was a bit more convenient.
And while for now, the narrow door is open wide as God eagerly waits for everyone to strive for it, a time will come when the door is shut. Forever. Many will seek to enter and will not be able.
At judgment day, everyone will know the truth. But it will be too late once the door is locked. J.C. Ryle says, “Hell is truth known too late.” We strive and strive for all the wrong things. The narrow gate – Jesus alone – is what our striving should be about.
Strive for the narrow door. Strive for the FREE (to you) gift of entrance through the blood of Jesus; for saying, “Yes, Jesus. You are my Savior. You are the Lord of my life. You are the ONLY way, truth, and life. I don’t want to just know about You, I want to KNOW YOU. I surrender.”
A day will come when the choice will no longer be available. Drop everything that is keeping you from squeezing through the narrow gate, and with a light load of only the work of Jesus, enter.
Question: Where are you striving? Are you or a loved one waiting for true repentance and whole-hearted surrender to be a tad more convenient?
He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Luke 13:22-23
“Will those who are saved be few?” A question from among the following crowd. Assessing the numbers; assessing the odds.
Jesus flips it back on them, essentially saying, “You wonder if there will be few? What about you?” We are often overly concerned with the business of everyone else without looking within.
Jesus doesn’t answer the question directly, but instead gives some advice on how to be saved: “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”
Strive to enter. Strive implies a great deal of agonizing effort. But it is a striving effort toward the narrow door. A door where our good works for show won’t fit; our accomplishments won’t fit; our appearance on the outside won’t fit; our ancestry won’t fit; our possessions won’t fit.
“For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able,” Jesus continues.
Sin and society put many obstacles and detour signs in front of the narrow gate. If we are following the crowd, we might be running with the “many.” We might be on the wrong path. The crowd may be distracting us from the road that leads through the narrow door.
It takes an intentional striving effort to go against the cultural masses. God doesn’t share His throne. Partial obedience – partial surrender – isn’t obedience or surrender. We are to love God with our WHOLE heart, our WHOLE mind, our WHOLE soul. Half-hearted isn’t striving.
Questions: What do you think the entrance to the narrow gate looks like? Why do you think it is narrow? Why does it require striving for? What does this type of striving look like?
If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light. Luke 11: 36
“Let there be light,” God speaks.
The world is dominated by dark and light.
Time is separated by day and night.
Be careful the filter for what is light and what is a shiny imposter.
The eye is a lamp unto the body.
Be careful little eyes what you see.
Everything bright and attractive and enticing isn’t light.
Don’t mistake darkness for light.
For even Satan masquerades as an angel of light.
When we think we have light, we might be in a dangerous place.
Here is where to find true light:
God’s Word is a lamp to our feet and a light for our path.
In Christ alone is life; the light of all mankind.
Jesus is the light.
The light came into the world.
But the people loved darkness instead because their deeds were evil.
What do you only do in the dark?
Open your eyes to the light.
The Jewish people were surrounded by light.
But they didn’t see the light; they missed the light.
See the light.
Receive the light.
Actively and intentionally live in the light.
Then bravely, boldly, unashamedly shine the light.
Don’t hide it, and don’t hide from it.
Lift it high for all to see.
Questions: Are you chasing after the light? How can God’s light be your guide? How can you shine your light – sourced from God’s power – to those you come in contact with?
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none…” Matthew 12:43
Jesus tells a story about an unclean spirit that leaves a person. Good news, right?
Unable to find rest, the spirit returns to find it empty, swept, and put in order. Still good, right?
It brings with it seven other spirits even more evil than itself to dwell there, leaving the state of the person even worse than the first. Wait, what?
Jesus goes on to say so also it will be with this evil generation.
Isn’t it a good thing to get rid of evil? Isn’t it good to have a clean “house”…empty, swept, and put in order? We spent a lot of time breaking these habits and cleaning up our mistakes, after all. Shouldn’t that count for something? Or at least NOT be an invitation for more evil?
The truth is, when we leave something empty it becomes ripe territory to be filled. And if we don’t fill it with Jesus, the devil is happily waiting to find some temporary things to take His place.
Do we do as much filling as emptying? Deep abiding in God. Prayer. Meditation on His Word.
Jesus spent His days emptying Himself, always teaching, healing, mentoring. But He also constantly fills Himself. Jesus -- God in the flesh -- regularly gets quiet time alone to pray and talk to His Father. No mission could be more important than His, and He always found time to get filled.
Lord, empty me of me…both in the worldly things I cling to and in lovingly serving others…but don’t leave me empty. Fill me with Your power, Your peace, Your wisdom, Your discernment, Your love. Fill me with YOU.
Questions: What needs to be emptied in your life? How can you make sure it is filled with the goodness of God?
And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. Luke 10:39-40a
Jesus enters the house. I can’t believe He is here. Will He notice those leak stains on our ceiling? Look at all the people who came with Him…it is going to be so hot in here. I should have made tea instead of coffee.
I’m anxious. My mind wanders, pondering my deficiencies as a hostess.
Meanwhile, everyone else is enthralled by Jesus. I wonder what He is even talking about. I try to focus; to clear my mind and just listen. That lasts about 2.5 seconds. My mind goes to the trash bag left at the back door. If I sneak out quickly, I can remove it before anyone notices.
What have I missed? They are all listening and even laughing together. They are filled with joy and peace while I am a mess. This isn’t right. I’M THE ONE WHO INVITED HIM. I should be the one filled with joy and peace.
Two hours pass I have not really heard Jesus at all. I’ve been eagerly waiting to meet with Jesus, and I missed it all. My heart breaks. And now He is getting up to leave. What is wrong with me?
I lean against the doorframe as they exit one by one. Tired. Unfulfilled.
Jesus walks up to me and stops for what feels like an eternity. He gazes deep into my eyes and says, “You are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.” It isn’t judgmental or cruel; quite the contrary…it is compassionate and calm. The opposite of my countenance.
His words cycle on repeat in my mind. Yes, I did everything but the ONE THING that was necessary; the one thing that needed to be done. To sit at the feet of my Savior and just be present; just listen; just soak in His glory. Never again, I vow.
Questions: Are you often so distracted with minor things that you miss the big things; miss Jesus’s presence and work in your life? How can you make an effort to be more focused on and present with others?
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. Luke 10:38
Do you ever picture yourself in the story of Jesus’s visit with Mary and Martha? Sadly, I can envision my “Martha-ness” too well…
“Sam, kids, Jesus is coming to our house. Can you believe it?! Hurry, we have so much to do. The house is a mess. WE ARE A MESS!” I’m so excited, but a little anxious at the same time.
“Maddie, clean your room. Jake, I told you a million times to put your dirty soccer socks in the washing machine.” My stress level starts to rise.
“What in the world will we eat? Of course, we have nothing but cereal and leftover pizza. Maybe I can whip something up.” My heart is beating faster. I’m starting to panic a bit.
“Sam, we should have done that yard work last weekend. It is a disaster.” Irritation begins to brew.
“Maddie, why haven’t you cleaned the bathroom… and your room is full of clothes. Too late to clean now…just shove it all in your closet…if you can find room in there.” My tone is full of bitterness and sarcasm.
“Jake, are you going to wear that? When was the last time you brushed your hair?” I am yelling now.
“Oh my gosh, he is heeeeere! This is great! But wait… we aren’t ready. Quick, get the door and distract him while I try to finish up. Someone help me in the kitchen. We can at least make some coffee. Kids, remember your manners.” I’m all over the place and freaking out. I don’t even go to the door as I scan the room examining all that is left undone.
To be continued…
Questions: How do you prepare for and welcome guests? Is it a scramble to impress or calm anticipation of sweet fellowship and community?
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22
Jesus teaches us what to do when we are wronged by a Christian brother or sister. Repentance and restoration are always the heart of Jesus. Not bitterness, gossiping about it, or trying to ignore it.
Forgiveness isn’t based on others’ actions, but instead on our attitude. It doesn’t always mean reconciliation has to occur. Where reconciliation takes two, forgiveness only takes one. It doesn’t mean approval or acceptance of the wrong done to us. It doesn’t mean we forget. It doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for the offender. It simply means we free ourselves of the burden of it.
Jesus ends these instructions of addressing wrongs with statements on the power of unified agreement in prayer. Things like, “if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” And, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Friends, if you are struggling with forgiveness, invite your friends to join you in prayer. Jesus will join you too.
Peter is feeling especially generous when he suggests we forgive someone who sins against us seven times, certainly much more than the traditional norms.
“I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times,” Jesus responds. Not a literal seventy-seven times, of course, but a lot. And then a lot more than that.
How can we be expected to forgive so freely and so often? Because we have been so extravagantly forgiven. Over and over and over again.
We can forgive much because we have been forgiven much.
Questions: Why is forgiveness SO HARD? How does reflecting on all Jesus has forgiven us for help us to forgive others?
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Matthew 18:1
How do you define great? The disciples are still hoping for an earthly political kingdom, more powerful than that of their beloved David. Not only are they looking forward to this kingdom, as friends of Jesus – the king – they want a high-ranking position. They want to be great in Jesus’s kingdom. So they pose a question about who is the greatest in this kingdom.
As is often the case, Jesus’s response is not the one they wanted to hear. He calls a child to himself and sets the child up as the example of the greatest, saying, “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Humility is what makes one great in this kingdom. Jesus modeled this by leaving His holy position on the throne in Heaven and being born as a child, humbly living, teaching, serving, healing, and ultimately dying to save us. THIS is greatness in this kingdom.
Humility is the foundation and backdrop for the ministry of Jesus in the Kingdom of God. Humility to strip ourselves of anything that causes us to sin and separate us from God. Humility to suppress our pride and pain and offer forgiveness when we have been deeply wronged. Humility to surrender control to the only One who really is in control. THIS is greatness in His kingdom.
Greatness is not found in social status, wealth, accomplishments, possessions, or earthly power. It is found in humbly submitting to and serving the One who is the greatest.
Questions: How does your idea of “great” differ from what Jesus is teaching? How can we make a mindset shift about what true greatness looks like?
For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20b
The foursome – Peter, James, John & Jesus – come down the mountain following the transfiguration and meet up with the crowd below. A man greets them whose son the disciples were unable to heal. The disciples had been given authority and power to heal by Jesus and they healed many, but this was a stubborn one. Jesus criticizes their lack of faith and instantly heals the boy.
“Why could we not cast it out?” the disciples ask. Jesus tells them they must have faith. It is tempting to read this and think we just need to muster up more faith. But Jesus is quick to point out that faith even as small as a mustard seed can move mountains. It isn't more faith...it is faith in the right thing. Faith in Jesus and His power alone. Faith in His purpose and plan and will. With this faith, nothing is impossible.
Sometimes we can get in a rut, going through the motions of what worked before. We can easily slip into putting our faith in a formula and lose sight of the true source of power. We need to come to Jesus. We need to put our faith in Him and His power.
We choose where to put our faith. If we are honest, we often put our faith in other things…things we think are within our “control.” Our sinful nature gravitates toward faith in ourselves. Big faith in our strength or wisdom or resources or past successes may produce little things at best, but even tiny faith in a big God can move mountains.
Question: What do you put your faith in? Really think about it. It is so natural to try to put our faith in ourselves instead of God.
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. Mark 9:2-3
A pause on the stifling, constrictive, skin-wrapped humanity, the glory of God peeks through Jesus up on a mountain. It isn’t a reflection of light from another source, but a light within Jesus bursting forth, finally uncontained.
Moses – the recipient of the law -- is there. Elijah – the great prophet – is there. Jesus – the fulfillment of the law and the prophets – is there. A beautiful, holy encounter.
Remember roughly 1,400 years earlier Moses died on a mountain overlooking the earthly promised land God didn’t permit him to enter? Now all these years later, Moses is again on a mountaintop, this time with Elijah and Jesus. It doesn’t say what they are talking about, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the world-changing events that are about to take place. Events that according to worldly standards would be considered an utter failure, but according to God’s plan are the gateway to redemption; to the true and eternal promised land. Only a short time to go and the glory of Jesus would no longer be squeezed in human flesh; the sacrificial system no longer necessary; the sins of the people washed clean once and for all time; the pathway to righteousness before God in place. Perspective and God’s truth changes everything.
How often do we find ourselves in the mundane, unsettled, tedious wilderness surrounded by grumbling and feeling like a failure because we don't measure up to the world’s definition of success? Perhaps we too need a perspective change. There is so much more than what we see. There is so much God wants to give us and show us; a longer, eternal view. Success is obedience to God. Success is nearness to Him in the middle of the journey. Success is shepherding others to truth. Success is going where and when God tells us to. Success is constant communion with God until the glorious day we see Him face to face.
Question: Where might you need a perspective change today?
But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Matthew 16:23
High off of correctly calling Jesus the Messiah, Peter must have been feeling pretty special. He nailed it! Until… Jesus begins to tell Peter and the others what will happen to Him…suffering, being killed, rising three days later. Peter steps in. He just can’t help himself. This is the Christ. His friend. Peter wants to take charge and do things the way he thinks they should be done, which doesn’t include suffering and dying, that’s for sure.
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me” Jesus responds. Ouch! Jesus’s response to Peter seems pretty harsh at first glance, but this was serious business to Jesus. This is what He came for, and no friend or foe is going to thwart it.
The devil is tricky, and no one knows this more than Jesus. Peter’s intentions weren’t evil. He loved Jesus. He didn’t want Jesus to suffer, or be rejected, or killed. Who can blame him? But this wasn’t God’s plan, and Jesus knew it. He recognizes the devil’s tricks, encouraging us to seek comfort, control, security. Avoid pain at all costs. Jesus couldn’t let this one slide. He had to call Satan out.
Our instinct is to try to fix things, and all too often we lean on our own solutions instead of God. In our fix-it mode, we could be preventing a mighty work of God on the other side. We think we are making things easier, but God isn’t about easy. God is about holy.
Have you ever been fired up for God about something and felt attacked out of nowhere…family, health, relationships, work? When we are earnestly seeking and doing the things of God, the devil works overtime to try to trip us up. We too can utter the words, “Get behind me, Satan!”
Challenge: Follow Jesus’s lead and cry out, “Get behind me, Satan!” when you feel attacked. Just saying these words can change your mindset, allowing you to see these kinds of attacks for what they are and to get back to the things God is calling you to do.
He [Jesus] said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:15-16
Jesus asks His friends – his disciples – who people say He is. They chime in with things like John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, one of the prophets. Not a bad list! All respectable and beloved men, but far short of the fullness of the One who is asking the question.
Jesus follows up with a more direct question, ”But who do YOU say that I am?”
This is the most important question they will answer. It is the most important question WE will answer. Our answer to this question shapes our response to everything. It shapes how we live and how we love. It shapes where we will spend eternity. Jesus wants to know who those seemingly closest to Him say that He is.
Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responds, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
The true fullness of who Jesus is was revealed to Peter by God the Father. Peter’s eyes and heart were opened to who Jesus is.
Nearly everyone today will agree that a historical man named Jesus lived. A good man. A good teacher. A good rabbi. Not a bad list…but far short of the fullness who Jesus is. And anything less than the fullness of who He is misses the mark completely.
Who do you say Jesus is? Prepare your heart for the full revelation of who Jesus is. Abide in Him. Read His Word. Fix your eyes on Him.
Question: So, what about you….who do you say Jesus is?
And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” Mark 8:15
“Watch out; beware of the leaven of the PHARISEES…” Jesus says. Hypocrisy, pride, love of honor and social status. Ruling with heavy legalistic burdens no one can adhere to. Missing the Messiah among religious activity.
“…and the leaven of HEROD,” Jesus continues. Herod, the political leader, representing an utter lack of belief; no religious conviction; ruling with a heavy hand and violence. Rejecting the One true King of kings.
Jesus uses leaven as a picture of what sin can look like and the damage it can inflict. Leaven is a yeast-like substance added to the dough to make it ferment and rise. Only a small amount is needed for a big impact.
Beware of the metaphorical leaven, Jesus warns. It can come from many roots. The Pharisees, though religious on the outside, were at as much risk as Herod and the non-religious people who had disdain for any religion. Like leaven, a little sin goes an exponentially long way. Just a small amount let in unhindered can change the entire composition. Slowly, but wholly.
We all have it. Those things that we let in. They seem insignificant and harmless, but they have the ability to grow and spread and change us, without us knowing or even seeing it happen.
A small mustard seed size faith in God can move mountains. Likewise, a small leaven of sin can corrupt our entire being.
Questions: What seemingly small, but unhealthy, things do you let impact your life? What seemingly small sin areas might easily grow out of hand if not addressed?
So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:67-69
Speaking for the group, Peter responds to Jesus asking if they too want to walk away from Him. “Lord, to whom shall we go?”
“You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God,” Peter continues.
Life is hard. Some things in the Bible are hard to understand. Some of the words feel uncomfortable, demanding, convicting, confusing. Many want what Jesus offers, but not on His terms. The idea of taking up our cross and following Him is not what they had in mind. The idea of surrendering to Him rubs their ego the wrong way. The idea of Him as the only way to eternal life goes against their reason.
But to whom else would we go? We might think we want to have some control over saving ourselves…but do we really? It is impossible!
We might think we want a God who never punishes or expects hard things from us…but do we really? We crave a just God who can make all wrongs right.
We might think we want a God who looks the other way on sin – after all, the world tells us it is a personal decision; no one else’s business….but do we really? That only leads to suffering and bondage, not freedom.
We might wonder if God really exists; if it is all just a big cosmic accident…but do we really? Our souls desire purpose and order.
On this side of heaven, we will never have all the answers or understand the fullness of a big God, but to whom else would we go? Truth is truth, and truth is life. Where else would we go?
Question: How do you generally react when things don’t make sense to you and God doesn’t seem to do things the way you think He should?
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst... John 6:35
Tens of thousands are following Jesus after being the recipients of an incredible miracle. All fed in abundance – with leftovers even – from only five loaves of bread and several fish. THIS is who they want to follow. The man with the miracles and baskets of bread.
But Jesus has something to say about that. The bread – even miraculous bread; even the manna their ancestors received daily from God – will not ultimately satisfy. The bread will digest. The day will pass. They will be hungry yet again.
He wants them to be crystal clear about who and what they are following. Jesus – His body; His being – is the bread of life.
Confused still, they ask what they must do to work the works of God. In essence saying, “show us the formula so that we may follow it and never be hungry.”
Jesus again seeks to clarify... It is not in the doing; it is in the believing. In His flesh, sent from heaven, is the bread of life. Upon this, they must eat.
“This is a hard saying,” the chorus, once passionately chasing after Him, cry out. “Who can listen to it,” they shout as one by one they walk away.
Thousands reduced to handfuls. But Jesus isn’t about numbers; He is about truth and followers who know what they are getting into.
“Do you want to go away as well?” Jesus asks the Twelve remaining.
Questions: Why do you think most people follow Jesus? Why do think some people are so quick to walk away from Jesus?
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Matthew 14:28-30
As the night sky gets darker, Jesus tells the disciples to get in the boat and sail to the other side. I wonder if the disciples found spots in the boat to quietly reflect or if they were talking non-stop about the thousands they just fed from a boy’s meager lunch. However the reflection went down, it was temporary. Looking up they all see something frightening. What they perceive to be a ghost is approaching…walking on water.
Among the wind and waves, a familiar voice cries out, “Take courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid.” It’s Jesus. Of course it is Jesus.
Full of faith and expectation, Peter replies, “Lord, if it is you tell me to come to you on the water.” He knows Jesus can do what He says!
“Come,” Jesus says. And come Peter does. We don’t know how many steps he took, but we know he walked on the water toward Jesus.
But then he looked around. Instead of Jesus, Peter now sees the wind. Reason replaces faith and he begins to sink. “Lord, save me!” he cries.
Do you ever feel like Peter? A little faith here, a little doubt there? A desire to step on the water with Jesus, but panic when circumstances flash before your eyes?
So, what does Jesus do? He saves Peter. Immediately. He reaches his hand out and pulls his friend back up. Jesus says, “You of little faith…why did you doubt?” It isn’t condemnation and it isn’t an excuse to let Peter sink further, but sorrow over what we miss when we take our eyes off of Him. Our actions don’t save us…we will always sink on our own. But oh my, the walking on water we could do with great faith. Why do you doubt?
Question: What habits can you instill to help you keep your eyes on Jesus instead of the waves of life?
Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Matthew 14:19a
Jesus orders the people to sit on the grass. This isn’t going to be a quick charity buffet line. They are going to sit, eat, enjoy each other’s company.
Jesus takes the five loaves and the two fish, looks up to heaven, and says a blessing. He gives thanks… before the miracle. We tend to think of gratitude as something that comes after the provision, but Jesus shows us that gratitude comes before the miracle too. Gratitude releases the miracle.
Jesus invites His friends to be part of this holy provision. The disciples GET TO distribute the bread and fish. Not only does everyone eat until they are satisfied, but there are also leftovers.
The little surrendered to Jesus has produced abundance. Jesus shows us that no amount is too small if we bring it to Him. He will take what we have, invite us to be part of the miracle, and turn it into abundance.
We can focus our attention and energy on our limited resources and seemingly impossible circumstances, or we can GIVE THANKS and bring our little to Jesus. He can’t wait to take us along on the miraculous ride, accomplishing things that would be impossible on our own. And in His provision from our little, we know it is ONLY JESUS. Our faith becomes stronger. Our fear becomes weaker.
Chuck Swindoll says, “The size of a challenge should never be measured by what we have to offer. It will never be enough. Furthermore, provision is God's responsibility, not ours. We are merely called to commit what we have - even if it's no more than a sack lunch.”
Challenge: Write down three even little things/gifts you have that you can give to God to multiply into something for His kingdom.
Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. Matthew 14:13
Jesus learns the devastating news that John the Baptist was murdered; his head presented on a platter. The life and sacrifice of an unwavering disciple is no joke.
Jesus – fully God and fully man – grieves and withdraws to a desolate place to be alone with His Father.
The crowds don’t care about Jesus’ grieving or privacy; they want this healing they have heard so much about. Despite His pain, Jesus has compassion on the masses coming to Him. He heals them.
The problem is that the crowds have followed Him to this out-of-the-way place where there is no food and no place to get it. Despite watching Jesus perform countless miracles (even healing in this place), the disciples have no clue how to feed the people and want Jesus to send them all away.
Jesus says to His disciples, “YOU give them something to eat.”
They look around at the meager supply of food available – five loaves and two fish. Enough for a family maybe, but not the thousands that have gathered. How in the world can such a small portion solve this enormous problem, they murmur among themselves.
Jesus says, “Bring them to me.”
You only have a tiny fraction of what you need? Remember past provisions and bring it to Jesus!
Question: What in your life feels impossible right now? What small portions can you bring to Jesus?
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
[insert your name],
Beloved, [insert your name], I give you power and authority. I am calling you; sending you out to proclaim the kingdom of God. But, [insert name], take nothing with you. Don’t rely on your own power. Don’t count on your experience, personality, strengths. They will always fall short and let you down. They will trick you into thinking you can do this on your own. Instead, I will provide all that you need.
And if you are not well received – which will happen -- shake the dust off your feet. I too was often misunderstood and rejected. I know it stings at the time, but it is nothing compared to the beauty that lies ahead. I give you permission to move on.
Preach the Gospel. Speak my healing and redeeming words. This is your charge.
Be fully aware, [insert your name], if you choose to follow me, it won’t be easy. You will have to deny yourself and take up your cross. Are you ready for this? Have you counted the cost? Can your ego take it?
It will be tempting to listen to the lies around you about what you need, and what success looks like. I’m not about shiny and smooth; I’m about surrender and saving souls. I’m not going to sugar coat it. There is nothing more important than the truth. But know this: in losing your life, you will save it. It will be hard, but it will be worth it. It will be glorious. After all, what are accolades, power, followers, honor in this temporary world if your soul is lost?
Along the way, I will show you amazing things, [insert your name]. You will see my glory and experience my power. But never forget, the least is the greatest in my kingdom. Be aware of what you are striving for. Service, humility, trust, faith, self-sacrifice is the skill set I’m looking for.
Don’t waste your time and energy fighting with others around you. Consider anyone not against you for you. Don’t be distracted by nuisances. Stay on task. Don’t look to the side or behind you. No one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.
Count the cost…but consider the reward.
[insert your name], are you in? Will you come and follow me? Will you consider holiness better than earthy honor?
[insert your name], I so desire to have you on the team. I see what you are capable of accomplishing in my name. Oh, I wish you could see it too. I see the souls saved by the seeds, watering, and sowing you have the ability to do in my name if you say, ‘yes.’ I love you no matter what you decide, but I don’t want you to miss out on all that I see in you. I won’t force, and I won’t beg. I will only extend the invitation and promise to be with you through it ALL.
What do you say, [insert your name]?
With eternal & unconditional love,
Challenge: Read this letter from Jesus based on Luke 9 several times inserting your name. Write a letter back to Jesus with your response.
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you…Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Mark 10:35,37
We can get a picture stuck in our head, often contrary to facts all around us and even messages from God, about what something will look like. We have expectations for how things should be; what we should be.
James and John are looking around at the others in their small circle, and they want to make sure they have places of honor. The other ten disciples get wind of it, and they are indignant. Competition and comparison kick in, everyone clawing and climbing over each other to try to reach the top. These are people they have walked with, eaten with, worked with, learned with, even healed with… and still, ambition, self-promotion, and competition replace love, humility, the elevation of others.
Jesus, in essence, says, “You want greatness? Serve. Give of yourself. Uplift others.” Self-denial over self-promotion. Sacrifice over self-glory.
Why, when we know what produces pure joy, peace, and contentment, do we continue to look around, compare and compete? It does nothing to draw people to God or glorify Him. Instead, it makes us anxious, unproductive, ineffective, and miserable. It’s the devil’s most potent weapon… “If I could just get their eyes off of Jesus and on themselves and how they stack up against those around them, I could make some headway,” he contrives. We can’t let the devil have this space. We can’t let him dictate where our eyes are focused. We can’t believe his lie that it is all about us and we need to preserve and protect that at all costs.
The anecdote? Seeking God’s glory always over our own. Serving others. Lifting others up. Denying ourselves for the benefit of others. Giving generously. Focusing our eyes above. Embracing our unique calling and running toward it with passion.
Challenge: How can you be great in the kingdom today by serving?
And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” Mark 6:4
Why does familiarity breed contempt? Why are those closest to Jesus the ones who had the hardest time accepting who He was? Ever been there?
For nearly 30 years Jesus was with them in the small town of Nazareth. They probably played tag with Him as children, ate with His family, worshiped with Him at the Synagogue, possibly even purchased furniture He built. They knew Him. They knew His character, His kindness, His work ethic, His compassion. Surely they saw these things over the years.
And now Jesus returns after a year or so. They have heard rumblings about His popularity and many miracles. Jesus begins to teach in the same synagogue they likely witnessed thousands of teachers share the Word together. They are astonished by what they hear. The wisdom with which He teaches…like no one before Him; the mighty works done by His hands.
But...they know His mother, His brothers and sisters, His aunts and uncles. A family of little social standing or importance. They know His educational background. No formal training. A mere carpenter.
And because of their preconceived notions about Him; because of their insistence that they know Him so well, they miss the most beautiful part of who He is. Instead of believing, they show contempt. Their wonder based on things they just witnessed turns to offense. How dare Jesus come back here and say things like He is the Messiah? Does He think He is better than us? We know who He really is! It doesn’t make sense.
Jesus, the carpenter, they know. Jesus, the Anointed One, they can’t wrap their head around. It just can’t be this guy we grew up with. Yes, He is kind. Yes, He is a good man. But, He is no Messiah. Familiarity left them blind.
Questions: Why do you think those who grew up with Jesus had the hardest time believing He was the Messiah? What beautiful parts about someone close to you might you be missing? What are those nearest to you missing about you?
Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” Mark 5:41
Two wildly different people, their stories interwoven.
By cultural standards, they never would have spoken.
One has it all: wealth, resources, power.
The other has nothing, barely hanging on hour to hour.
One approaches boldly, in confidence he comes.
The other comes discreetly, hoping to attract the attention of none.
But more in common than any on the outside know;
they are desperate for Jesus and not ashamed to let it show.
No other options, a last-ditch resort,
this Jesus, the healer, to Him they report.
A child, 12, dying; a father’s nightmare,
A woman bleeding, for that many years.
If only a word or even a touch,
We need you, Jesus. WE NEED YOU SO MUCH!
The crowds are so thick, so noisy and pressing.
We have to get through, we have faith in a blessing.
The woman lunges forward before the crowds close in.
She makes contact, though only the hem.
She feels it instantly, fully healed and whole.
By His sudden reaction, she knows that He knows.
“Who touched me,” He asks. The air becomes thick.
To her knees, she collapses. Please, let this stick.
“You’ve been made well on account of your belief.”
She has never known such indescribable relief.
But the joy interrupted with troubling news:
Jairus’ daughter is dead. it’s just no use.
Do not fear, you need only believe.
Come with me, a miracle you will see.
“Talitha cumi.” “Little girl, Arise.” Today is for living, no one will die.
I wonder who else needs to hear these words?
Arise, dear believer. Your faith is a cure.
It makes no difference your family name.
In the eyes of Jesus, we are all the same.
Challenge: Read the stories the poem was based on in Mark 5:21-43.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32
More clues from Jesus about the Kingdom of Heaven…
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a grain of a mustard seed. The tiniest, least significant seed that slowly grows into the largest of garden plants. It is like leaven. A minuscule ingredient placed in a large amount of flour that changes the entire composition of the bread.
Our kingdom growth—our relationship and transformation -- isn’t instantaneous. It takes time. It takes abiding. It takes faithful obedience. It takes a humble and open heart. It takes valuing it over all earthly things.
As kingdom people, we may seem small and insignificant according to the world’s standards, but we have great power and potential. We diligently do our thing, then before we know it, we are changed; people around us are changed. That tiny mustard seed is a towering tree, providing resting places and shade. That leaven has altered the bread. Those steps in abiding, faith, and obedience have transformed us; saved us; inspired us to invite others to join us.
Small but mighty; full of potential and power…a tiny seed, a simple ingredient, a baby in Bethlehem, uneducated disciples, you and me. Waiting to bust out of that small, simple beginning is something incredibly significant. Will we be a part of it or will we let it pass us by?
Questions: Have you ever experienced little things making a huge impact? It is encouraging that our Christian walk is intended to be slow and steady? What speaks most powerfully to you about these kingdom of Heaven examples from Jesus?
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field… Matthew 13:24
John the Baptist and Jesus both began their ministry preaching, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
In fact, Jesus talked A LOT about the Kingdom of Heaven. It is in the Gospels more than 80 times; a main theme of Jesus’ teaching.
Have you ever stopped to think about it? What is the Kingdom of Heaven? Where is the Kingdom of Heaven?
Matthew shares several parables (stories used to illustrate a lesson) told by Jesus about the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a seed that was sown. And though the sower and the seed are the same, the soil it falls on is different, producing different results. Jesus, the Word, came in the flesh to sow the seed (Himself) here on earth. The soil preparation and garden tending are in our domain.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a great treasure hidden in a field or a pearl of incredible value. Whether stumbled upon or searched for makes no difference. The difference is in the value placed on it once found; recognizing it is a treasure worth giving up everything to find and keep.
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who sowed good seeds, but weeds infiltrated the field by the enemy; it is like a net thrown into the sea to catch fish of all kinds. The evil and the righteous exist side by side in the present. The devil and sin still have a place in this kingdom era we are living in, but it won’t last forever. A separation will take place; a time will come when our decisions here will determine our forever future.
Questions: What do you think of when you hear “the kingdom of Heaven”? What do some of these parables tell you about it?
And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. Mark 4:26
There are many ways to receive the Word, but only one bears fruit. The messy, dirty, broken up soil that gladly receives the seed of truth.
A seed, securely packed beneath the ground, begins to find comfort. It takes root, the tough shell breaking open as new life slowly emerges. All the hard work underground, in the dirt. Branching out, digging in, absorbing life-giving water. Long, tedious, unseen, messy work.
Then one day, it breaks through the surface. Nothing much to look at some might say, but it’s the start of something beautiful. It craves the light from above, reaching always toward it.
Day and night. Day and night. The Creator is doing His thing on the willing creation. Slow and steady. Work underground, branching out, soaking in the living water. Slow and steady. Work above the surface, taking in the light, becoming sturdier, even blooming.
The growing never ends. The feeding on the water and sunlight never ends. But something changes. The once small seed becomes a source of comfort for others. Birds build nests and rest on its branches. Children pick from the overflowing fruit it is bearing. Couples sit under its shady limbs.
The seed doesn’t desire to go back underground. Once out, the transformed seed never wants to leave the sun. This, Jesus says, is the Kingdom of Heaven.
We grow and we glow, all fueled by the living water and source of all light. It is slow and it is messy and underground root-building at times. But it is also hands reaching high out in the open; new life shining to illuminate the path of truth, always radiating light from the Source, while simultaneously pointing others there.
Question: How does our growth in Jesus compare to a seed/plant/tree?