Saturday, August 27, 2011

5 out of 6 Ain't Bad, Right?

Now a certain ruler asked Him, saying, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" So Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,' 'Honor your father and your mother.'" And he said, "All these things I have kept from my youth." So when Jesus heard these things, He said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.
(Luke 18:18-23, NKJV)


I didn't always turn to reading for enrichment or enjoyment (unless it was a "forced issue" based on an assignment - and even than I often skirted the real reading). However, over the last few years I've found that I want at least a couple books on hand so I can pick them up when the opportunity arises. Plane rides, time before bed, lazy afternoons, or waiting for a child during soccer practice all provide me that chance. Leisure reading provides me with a "mental vacation" and doesn't place many demands on me. When I pick up a book for other reasons, I want a highlighter in my hand far more often than not. And when I actively choose to buy a book and dive into it, that highlighter and I become inseparable.

I'm currently reading the book Love Wins by Rob Bell, but that isn't the driver for this entry. It's a small statement he makes - a perspective on an old, familiar story that sparks my thought. The story (found above) is about the rich young man who wanted "in" on what Jesus was teaching and talking about. It's another one of those that many of us have heard since the earliest days of Sunday School. Somehow, Bell brought up a perspective I hadn't ever considered before ... and I got to thinking.

The man approaches Jesus with a business proposition. It is likely (as Bell notes) that Jesus knows something about his reputation, and not because He is the Divine Son. There just aren't that many wealthy people around, and they guy would look wealthy, probably draw some whispers from the crowds, and may have even enjoyed some local "celebrity" status. All this is conjecture, of course, but I think you get the point. The way his exchange with the Rabbi unfolds is what really intrigues me.

We get the description of the introductions, and the man lays out his request. Jesus, in effect, baits him just a bit and then proceeds to recite five of the six "social" commandments. Though these are among the more famous of the Jewish laws, they only represent less than 1% of the written total we know about (well over 600). And it is important to notice that the Teacher leaves out one of those six statements ... the one about coveting.

The young man quickly offers his testimony as having kept all that Jesus stated since he could remember. Whether or not he realizes the sixth one has been omitted, we won't try to analyze. But that skipped item, left silent and yet so completely implied because it was always counted among that side of the Ten, comes back to haunt him. Jesus challenge to the man is to open his wallet and actually invest in the advancement of God's Kingdom right here, right now, and in the most practical of ways. And the man stands there with his mouth wide open, because keeping five of six commands won't cut it and he knows it. He walks away, muttering to himself, and our view into that story fades away.

In the same manner as God uses our particular giftedness to work on His behalf here on Earth, He challenges us to seek out the strongholds we keep hidden that will hinder our effectiveness and would seek to compromise our relationship with Him and with others. He asks us to come to Him and lay our very hearts at His feet so He can do the "hard work" and bring us closer. Keeping any part of ourselves back is the same thing as what we saw the rich young man do ... we seek to retain control over what God has asked us to give up.

The Crooked Path will not be set straight by my own doing and effort. God will straighten it in His time and in His way as He alone sees fit. I can't just give some lip service to doing part of what He asks. Jesus wants complete surrender of my will to His - and it really is easier than I imagine it to be. The part of me that resists shouts in my ear that I can't do it. My Savior says to me, "I already did it for you. Just drop it all and follow Me."


  1. Doesn't five out of six sound pretty good to you? It seems like more than just a passing grade, doesn't it?
  2. So what holds you back from giving it all up? Is there something you feel you can't trust to God in some way?
  3. What's your choice going to be? Will you ask Him to take it from you, do help you drop it? Or will you shake your head and walk away, perhaps thinking about it more?

Saturday, August 20, 2011


The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
(John 8:3-11; Romans 8:1-4, NIV)


I may surprise some of my friends with the content of this entry. I may also offend the sensibilities of some. But overall, I hope I encourage you to change the way you have thought and maybe continue to think about a few things. The substance of what I am writing came out of a brief exchange with an old friend. The topic is our attitude toward those around us who have committed some specific sin, the nature of which has become public knowledge within the context of a local church. Bear with me while I set the stage.

The young woman had been involved with a boy and the relationship had produced a child. They were both of legal age and decided to share living arrangements with a commitment toward getting married shortly. A person of stature within their church called them out (her specifically) and said that if she continued on to marry the young man, that God would not bless their marriage. He called her out for what she had done and wanted her to make a public apology in front of the congregation. Failing to do that and moving out, she would be turned out of the church body.

When the story was related to me, multiple thoughts went through my mind. I'm certainly not going to advocate anything that went on here between the young woman and her young man. What I will do is go back to the passages cited above in this entry and try to understand the whole picture as God sees it. You see, I'm of the opinion that Jesus didn't die to forgive our sins ... He came to remove SIN from the equation. That's a big difference as I see it. Sins (with the plural on it) are the individual actions that grow out of SIN (all caps) which is the inherent tool of the Enemy used against us. And God clearly states both through what Paul wrote and what Jesus said that SIN has been removed from the equation and with it the condemnation that seems to so freely flow from people, especially those I've seen in some sort of "spiritual" leadership role.

Sins aren't graded in God's eyes. Each event, each action, each rebellion my heart can conceive has been laid at the foot of the Cross and buried. SIN was erased completely and I now stand completely uncondemned. To force me or someone else through some sort of public display is to cheapen what Grace and Mercy are all about. Sure there are consequences, some of which may linger for a lifetime. And there may be times when a public admission is something that promotes healing and reconciliation. And I am by no means excusing some of the heinous acts we've all seen go on. But I am stating that all those fall under the same redemptive power God offers and we can all stand uncondemned.

The Crooked Path begins at the foot of the Cross. That Cross leaves me uncondemned. It doesn't leave me perfect or take away some of the temporal consequences of my actions. It does leave me redeemed because God has enabled me to accept His Gift. So before I go casting stones or demanding apologies, I would do well to remember my own condition ... and that I stand uncondemned not because of what I do or say, but because of Jesus.


  1. Do you have a judgmental tendency in you? What makes it flare up and try to take over your life?
  2. Do you feel condemned by people around you because of something you did or said? Does that make you feel condemned in God's eyes as well?
  3. Can you embrace the conversation between Jesus and the woman from the passage above? Are you willing to accept His complete forgiveness that leaves you without condemnation?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Skipping the Gold Watch

(Caleb speaking) "Now, as you can see, the Lord has kept me alive and well as he promised for all these forty-five years since Moses made this promise—even while Israel wandered in the wilderness. Today I am eighty-five years old. I am as strong now as I was when Moses sent me on that journey, and I can still travel and fight as well as I could then. So give me the hill country that the Lord promised me. You will remember that as scouts we found the descendants of Anak living there in great, walled towns. But if the Lord is with me, I will drive them out of the land, just as the Lord said."

He said to himself, "What should I do? I don't have room for all my crops." Then he said, "I know! I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I'll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. And I'll sit back and say to myself, 'My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!'" (Joshua 14:10-12; Luke 12:17-19, NLT)


Once upon a time in America, men would work for a single company for thirty, forty, or even fifty years. When they had accomplished this feat of loyalty and were ready to retire, their employers would give them a token of appreciation for their years of service. Often, as portrayed in movies or books, the man would receive a gold watch. It was a symbol of a job well done, a life well lived in service to a company.

Today, we are encouraged to move around often (I've had more employers than can easily fit on a two-page resume anymore) and gain experience. We are also told to put aside for our future, to "build wealth" that we can use for our "golden years" (a throwback phrase to that gold watch). And, while there is nothing wrong with that goal ... we certainly should take care of our families and ourselves rather than rely on the government or some other social service ... I have to believe the idea of actually retiring is a little more modern in nature. And, if you take it to mean ceasing to work, then it certainly doesn't have a foundation in any Biblical principles I've run across.

Take a look again at the passages I've cited above. Caleb is a unique example of a man who approached his life with a zeal most of us can only dream about. As my own pastor reached this story last week, I glanced across at the other versions I had available and my eyes settled on the New Living Translation's rendering of Caleb's words. I laughed as I read it because it makes it sound like that particular day was Caleb's eighty-fifth birthday ... and what a present he asked for. My thoughts immediately ran to the idea of not asking for a gold watch (i.e. retirement), but asking instead for a challenge.

Caleb wasn't looking for a rest, though he was by far the most senior member of the Israelite coalition. Instead, he showed a determination to follow God with his whole heart - a principle that had guided his life since we first met him some forty-five years earlier. Everything else he does is a sub-point to his desire to follow God.

Then my thoughts circled back around to someone else I had been thinking about for some time. The arrogant farmer from the story in Luke. He is obviously prosperous and there is nothing wrong with that at all. He has taken an assessment of his business operations and determined that he needs to expand in order to accommodate all he has coming in. Again, there isn't anything wrong with doing this. In fact, I'd argue it is prudent to make such provision so things don't go to waste. But just when you might find yourself agreeing with this man, he goes a step beyond ...

"Wow, self! You've done extremely well. You deserve to sit back and do nothing but party for the rest of your days. You now reside on 'Easy Street'." His abundance has bred arrogance, which has lead to complacency, which matures into full-blown contempt. He now regards himself as the be-all-and-end-all for himself and feels he has no need and, probably, no further obligation. And, in the rest of that story, God calls him out as the fool he truly is and requires from him the one thing he cannot safeguard with his wealth. His eternal soul is lost and his fortune left behind.

Bringing this back around to myself, I began to think about my own tendency to be complacent. Even though I've been through an extended period of uncertainty, I've not been in dire straits by anyone's definition. But still, the challenge to be more like Caleb than the farmer rings true for me. As I travel the Crooked Path, with its ups and downs, twists and turns, I need to remember Who I am following and that He has a purpose for me. And, while I do need to prudently plan for today and tomorrow, I should never think about asking God for a "gold watch". It's a much better position to ask Him for the next challenge He has in store for me.


  1. What's your vision for your future? Are you looking for a time when you can sit back and relax a bit?
  2. How does the response of Caleb strike you? In contrast, do you see anything of yourself in the farmer?
  3. So, what do you believe God thinks about the whole matter? Does He expect you to ask for a "gold watch" or for the next challenge? And what would be your response?