Bible Reading Blog

Bible Reading Blog

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Total Devotion

Monday, August 05, 2019


“…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12.30-31)

Commitment is a buzzword in the religious world but according to Jesus it is the most important element in our relationship with God. As the scribe aptly said, to love with complete devotion is “more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12.33). It is not enough to simply fulfil the requirements in a law book… God desires our devotion.

God’s desire is not unreasonable. After all, God demonstrated his devotion to humanity by sending his own son (John 3.16; Romans 5.8). Why should he expect any less from the people for whom he did this?

The intensity and intentionality of God’s grace should provoke a response. Unfortunately, we live in a world that tends to presume upon God’s grace (Romans 6). We focus on license and liberty because of God’s overwhelming grace while neglecting the fact that God demoted himself to live among and to save us (Philippians 2.6). If we bear the name Christian, should we not also follow his example of devotion (1 John 2.6)? Jesus did not choose his moments of commitment but rather he submitted his mind, his heart, his body, and all of his energy to doing the will of God in every moment (Matthew 4.8-10; John 5.19; Luke 22.42). 

Far too often we excuse our sins rather than submitting to the will of God and putting to death our selfish desires. It’s much easier to defend my imperfection than it is to deny myself, take up my cross and follow after Christ. But honest devotion is what God truly desires. 

Any one of us could make concessions for why we are not wholly committed to a relationship with God, but at the end of the day these are just excuses from a mind weakened by selfish desires. If we believe in the power and authority of Jesus, we are not those who shrink back and succumb to our war against the flesh (Hebrews 10.35-39).

Christ saved us and empowered us through his word (Philippians 4.13) so that we could once again be reconciled to God and live the lives we were designed to live. But we must choose to be deliberate about our commitment to God in every moment (Ephesians 5.16).

What exactly does this mean for us? It means we minimize the time we spend watching TV and playing games and maximize our time getting to know God. It means that in every conversation we are mindful of not just what God would say but how God would say it. It means that there is no relationship or interaction too insignificant that we do not consider the impact it will have on our relationship with God.

God desires total devotion. When you consider Jesus’ comments… does that describe your life? My guess is that most of us could think of areas where we could improve our commitment to God. The righteous person may fall but will always rise by the grace of God (Proverbs 24.16). That is the challenge of grace and that is the desire of God.

Moving Mountains

Monday, July 29, 2019


As we travelled the mountains of Oregon last week, I couldn’t help but think how difficult this part of the trek must have been for early settlers. I suspect many lost heart as they muddled through the dense forest and uneven terrain. They had hopes for better things, but without a clear path, the mountains were a daunting obstacle. Imagine how empowering (and relieving) it would have been if they could have just told the mountain to move out of the way.

The challenges we face in life often feel like mountains. Our path through life may be unclear or the trials and temptations seem to be endless and difficult. How will I ever get through this? Is there really something better at the end of this life?

“Jesus answered them, ‘Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, what you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours”” (Mark 11.22-24)

I don’t believe Jesus is giving a formula for moving mountains, but rather he is reminding us that God can. If you have faith in God, you can have confidence that “mountains” in your life can be removed with a word.

These verses teach an important correlation between faith and prayer. We have faith because we know and trust God (Hebrews 11.6), and we pray because we believe He could alter our situation (Romans 8.28). Jesus is not saying, “You will get whatever you ask for.” James reminds us that we can ask wrongly and therefore we will not receive what we ask for in prayer (James 4.3). Instead, Jesus is trying to empower disciples in their faith with prayer.

Prayer is a relationship building tool that ought to align us with God through intentional communication. To see prayer as a means of gain is to miss the point. Consider how Jesus practiced prayer. He would get up early or sneak away to carve out time alone with God (Mark 1.35; Luke 5.16). In his most difficult moments, he poured out his heart to the Father (Matthew 26.39, 53). Jesus always walked away from prayer emboldened to face the next challenge.

As the Almighty Creator, God does not answer to us (Job 40.1-14), but He is not thoughtless of our needs and desires (Psalm 37.4-5). If we believe who God is, what will we lack (Matthew 6.25-34)? What should we fear (Romans 8.31)?

We ought to have great confidence when we pray. God is able to do things beyond human comprehension and ability (Ephesians 3.20-21) and nothing is too insignificant or obstructive that God does not care about. And so, as we look at the mountains in our life, let us also look to God in faith (James 1.5-8).

Become Like Children

Monday, July 22, 2019


I saw a video of a little boy whose parents gave him a banana for his birthday. It was meant to be a joke, but the little boy was thrilled. As he unwrapped the gift he exclaimed, “It’s a banana!” and he proceeded to hug it and eat it with the biggest smile on his face. As I watched this video, it occurred to me how simple children are. Most kids won’t reject a gift from someone but instead receive it with enthusiasm, expectation, and wonder.

We often see children for their immaturity, but there are positive aspects of their nature which Jesus commends to everyone. Children are innately dependent on others, and under normal circumstances they develop an expectation that whatever they are given is for their benefit. They may not fully appreciate the disparity between parent and child, but they trust what the parent does it for their good.

In Mark 10, Jesus offers a contrast between the attitude of the Pharisees and that of a child. Following an antagonistic exchange regarding matters of the law (Mark 10.2), Jesus admonishes his followers, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10.15). Consider the difference between how children receive gifts and how the Pharisees received the law from God. They had taken something given to them for their good and twisted it into something negative and limiting.

Why is that? I believe humans tend to gravitate towards pretense as we grow in understanding. We like to feel competent and naturally this develops a self-sufficient mentality which can create barriers to truth and reality. The Pharisees had put up walls in their minds which made it difficult to see the truth regarding Jesus and his kingdom.

While Jesus never condemns the Pharisees for their devotion to the law, he does condemn their negative attitude. As we grow in our faith, we must be mindful of our attitude when receiving the word of God. The things given by God are for our good but can be perceived as onerous and restrictive if received with a hard heart. And so, we must remember that all things given by God have a purpose (Romans 8.28) and therefore have a silver lining. When Jesus tells us to put things out of our lives (Ephesians 4), it is for our good. It will be difficult at times as we are refined in our thinking, but it will produce in us a better version of ourselves.

Ultimately God desires that we trust him and not ourselves. This does not mean that we do not mature in our thinking (1 Corinthians 14.20; Hebrews 6.1-3), but rather that we cultivate a child-like gratitude and dependence on our Father. When we see him for who he truly is (Hebrews 11.6), we will more gratefully receive his discipline and his teaching as a gift for our good.

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12.5-6)


Taking It To The Extreme

Monday, July 15, 2019


If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off (Mark 9.43-47) – Yikes! Jesus seems to be taking things to the extreme. He was notorious for making bold statements that were confusing or made people uncomfortable (Mark 9.32) … but this just seems to take it too far.

Jesus concludes this section by saying “…everyone will be salted with fire” (Mark 9.49). Throughout his ministry, Jesus used these two figures to represent preservation (salt) and purification (fire). And so, Jesus is saying that his followers will be preserved by the removal of things that are sinful.

Everyone who tries to follow Jesus will encounter this process as they become more like him. It is the process of discipline and it hurts (Hebrews 12.4-11). We will struggle against sinful desires and come to the realization that if we will overcome them, something has to go. We often glaze over this teaching or attempt to put it into our social context to make sense of them… but what if Jesus was serious? What if he is actually calling you to cut off part of your body if it kept you from sinning?

I'm not saying he is, but we must recognize that this is once again a statement of priority from Jesus. Maybe you don’t need to cut off your hand, but we all have things that hinder our total devotion to God. And so, we must ask ourselves: Are there are things in my life that I need to cut out? Sometimes we think sin only manifests in overtly bad thing... but Satan often uses every day things to separate us from God.

Would you be willing to cut off your cable or your cell phone to preserve your purity? Would you be willing to cut off a relationship that demands too much of your time?

Is there anything you wouldn’t be willing to give up in your life? More importantly, is there anything in this life worth the distraction or the time investment if it keeps us from knowing God and growing closer to him?

The things we value most in this life are the things that have the most potential to keep us separated from God. Jesus plainly exposes the consequences of divided devotion to provoke us to action (Mark 9.43, 47-48). If we excuse or allow things in our life that make holy living more difficult, we are willingly leaving the door open for temptation.

Jesus' point is that there is no action too extreme when it comes to sin. We must identify and remove the things that hinder us from total devotion to God. It is a purifying process that is necessary to preserve and protect our soul (1 Peter 1.6-7, 22). If we would follow Jesus, we must be people motivated by conviction to protect our relationship with God at all costs.

“…It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.” (Mark 9.44b)

What Does It Profit?

Monday, July 08, 2019


In the ruins of the ancient city of Pompeii, there is a very interesting skeleton of a man. When the volcano started to erupt, this man was collecting his things and his gold spilled on the floor. As he reached out for it, the fumes and ash overcame him. Now, he is embalmed for all time, grasping that gold.

Even though the folly of his decision is evident, he saw those things as so valuable that he couldn’t leave them behind. But what is his gold worth to him now?

In our culture of comfort, we surround ourselves with things that would be superfluous in other societies. We make concessions for why these possessions exist in our lives, not realizing the value we are placing on these things. However, Jesus’ teaching demands we evaluate the priorities of our possessions.

Human choices are determined by what we value. In the business world this is called a cost/benefit analysis: Is the reward worth what I must give up? This is the proposition Jesus offers in Mark 8. “If you would save your life you will lose it, but if you lose your life for my sake and the gospel’s you will save it.” (Mark 8.35).   

Jesus often made polarizing statements that we tend to glaze over or excuse away. “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” He is literally telling people, to follow him is to be willing to give up everything. If Jesus showed up today and said, “Follow me… and bring an electric chair with you” would we be so eager to do so?

We need to appreciate the intensity of Jesus’ call. To follow him, you cannot be halfhearted or lukewarm because there is no such thing. That type of mentality is near-sighted and blind to the reality of life. Everyone will die and there is no human power to control life beyond death. The need for hope beyond this life exists… but do we see that clearly?

Jesus teaches this sobering reality of life to get us to think long-term. The riches of this world will harden us into self-sufficiency when we need to abandon those things and follow Jesus. I’m not suggesting that Jesus calls us to poverty but rather to priority. When put in the context of life and death, our things are insignificant. The greatest challenge in life is to see through the temporary and realize that ultimate fulfillment comes when I deny myself for the sake of the gospel.

This means every decision I make is important. Do I realize that the decisions I make today will affect me, not just tomorrow, but for eternity? This is why Paul encourages us to “make the best use of our time” (Ephesians 5.16) … we don’t know which moment will be our last and so we must invest in things that will be of value in eternity.

“What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8.36)

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