THE RICH YOUNG RULER (Part 1)

Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” [Matthew 19:16 (NLT)]

Most of the Jews in Jesus’ day believed that God would never bestow wealth on a sinner so the rich young ruler presumed he’d inherit eternal life. Nevertheless, he asked Jesus what good deed was needed to guarantee it. While we might expect Jesus to give an answer about faith in Him, He tells the man to obey the commandments. When the man wants to know which ones, Jesus lists several of the commandments dealing with man’s relationship with man. The man, unable to recognize his own sinfulness, proudly claims to have obeyed every one since childhood. Assuming Jesus will tell him he’s done all that is necessary, he asks if there is anything else he needs to do. Thinking his prosperity is evidence of God’s favor, he’s stunned when Jesus tells him to sell all he owns, give the money to the poor, and then come follow Him. Unwilling to part with his possessions, the rich young man sadly departs.

Jesus, however, isn’t establishing a universal principle that, to be saved, we must all be penniless. After all, God never told Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, or Solomon to give away their wealth. Martha, Mary and Lazarus appeared to be people of means and Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy, but Jesus never told them to sell their possession and give everything away.

Although the rich man’s wealth obstructed his discipleship, the issue wasn’t his wealth: it was his heart! He loved and trusted in money more than God. Without even realizing it, this man who claimed to obey the commandments had violated the first and greatest one of all: “You shall have no other gods before me.” The man couldn’t put his faith in God and follow Jesus until he stopped having faith in and following his money! We can have only one God and He must take precedence over everything else in our lives!

While it was wealth that deterred the young man from following Jesus, their exchange was about more than wealth and applies to every one of us. Indeed, wealth can be a hindrance to our salvation, but so can a number of other things—things like reputation, appearance, status, security, family, education, profession, comfort, drink or drugs, science, sex, or self. Like the rich young ruler, do we love something more than God? What would He ask you to give away?

You must not have any other god but me. [Exodus 20:3 (NLT)]

No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money. [Matthew 6:24 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

RENDER UNTO GOD (PART 2)

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. [2 Corinthians 9:6-8 (ESV)]

Yesterday was tax day: the day we rendered unto Washington what is theirs. In case we weren’t sure how much that was, we had 1099s, W-2s, 1040s, TurboTax, various receipts, H & R Block, and accountants to help us figure it out. Since Jesus told us to give God what is His, how much is that? God doesn’t send out W-2s listing our year’s many blessings, supply us with 1040s to fill out, or give us deductions for medical expenses, charitable donations, mortgage interest, property taxes, or gambling losses. Rather than a CPA or the IRS, we need to consult our Bibles for the answer to that question.

“Tithe” is an Old Testament term for the 10% gifts the Israelites were required to pay to support the Levites, provide for the Temple, and relieve the poor. A series of complicated rules regarding which tithes were made in what year and the amount tithed ended up making the tithe more like 23.3%. Although the New Testament never commands (or even recommends) a tithing system, Christians often refer to a tithe (or 10% of one’s earnings) as being the right donation to the church. In reality, for some, 10% would be unwise and for others, 10% is hardly enough!

Rather than a fixed percentage, the New Testament calls us to give regularly, according to our means, generously and joyously (even sacrificially at times), and out of love for God and others. While this requirement is vague about the actual amount, it actually is stricter than a fixed 10% because it is a matter of obedience and trust. What we give is a matter of prayer. It is an issue between God and us and we must be willing to give whatever it is He asks—be it time, talents, or finances—in the amount he desires.

Because Caesar’s image was on the coin, it belonged to him. Let’s not forget that we are made in God’s image and it is His face that is stamped upon us. We belong to Him and whatever we give to God already is His. We simply are returning it to the rightful owner. Moreover, the list of what we should render unto God goes far beyond money. We should give Him our worship, service, obedience, praise, love, respect, gratitude, and fidelity. In short, we owe Him everything and not just on Sundays—we owe Him everything all of the time.

As John Wesley said, the question isn’t “how much of my money will I give to God, but, how much of God’s money will I keep for myself?” Although there is no need to worry about a letter from God questioning our deductions or demanding an audit, we must remember that one day we will be called in for an accounting of how we used His gifts.

Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. [Matthew 25:34-36 (ESV)]

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. [Romans 12: 2 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

RENDERING UNTO CAESAR (Part 1)

And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. [Matthew 22:20-22 (ESV)]

The Pharisees and Herodians set out to trap Jesus into saying something that would offend either the people or Rome. By prefacing their question with flattery about His impartiality and integrity, they pressured Him into giving an answer to their politically charged question—was it right to pay taxes to Caesar. The tax about which they were asking was the tributum capitis, a sort of head tax that had to be paid by every male over fourteen and every female over twelve. Already heavily taxed by Rome, this tax was especially hated by the Judeans because they saw it as a symbol of their servitude and submission to their foreign rulers. 

Jesus’ questioners were sure they’d backed Him into a corner where He’d offend people regardless of His answer. If He said to pay taxes to Caesar, He would be denying God’s sovereign reign over Israel, supporting the hated Roman rulers, and alienating his fellow Jews. On the other hand, if He said not to pay taxes, Jesus would offend Rome and lay himself open to a charge of treason. Requesting to see a denarius, Jesus exposed his questioners’ hypocrisy when they had one. No truly devout Jew would carry a Roman coin with its idolatrous portrait of Tiberius Caesar and inscription that called him the “son of the divine Augustus.” Instead of falling into their trap, Jesus then employed a typical rabbinical technique by answering their question with one of his own. He asked whose picture was on the coin. They had to admit it was the emperor’s. Since, in the ancient world, an image on an object indicated ownership, it clearly belonged to Caesar. “Therefore,” said Jesus, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Caught in their own trap, they didn’t yet understand that we can’t outsmart God!

On the surface, Jesus’ answer points out the obligations of dual citizenship—that obligations to both government and God must be fulfilled. Like Jesus’ questioners, we have a dual citizenship and, as citizens of both the Kingdom of God and our nation, we must fulfill our obligations to both. We are to render to whatever Caesar is in power that which is his without turning from our obligations to God. Hidden in Jesus’ answer, however, is the idea that Caesar is only entitled to what is his; he cannot claim what belongs to God! In both Jewish and Christian theology, however, God has dominion and authority over everything. In short, all things belong to God!

Nevertheless, when loyalty to government is not incompatible with loyalty to God, it appears that support of the state is part of being obedient to the Lord. Like it or not, today is tax day and, unless you filed for an extension, today is the last day to do your rendering unto Washington!

For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. [Romans 13:6-7 (ESV)]

Copyright ©2021 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else. Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. [James 1:13-15 (NLT)]

Super Ghost Orchid (by R.J. Wiley)

Once they start collecting orchids, many seemingly normal people become obsessed with them—something the Victorians called orchidelirium. In spite of the threat of federal and state prosecution, some collectors cannot resist the temptation to possess one of the rare orchids found at Corkscrew Swamp and other Florida parks. Because it’s located 50 feet up on a cypress tree, Corkscrew’s super ghost orchid seems safe from poachers but many of Florida’s exotic orchids are stolen from parks, preserves, and homes every year! This summer, a woman was arrested for stealing $4,000 worth of orchids from homes in a town not far from us. As much as I enjoy flowers, it would take far more than an exotic orchid to make me steal from a neighbor’s yard or trudge through the snake and alligator infested waters of a swamp. But, if not an orchid, what would entice me to do such a thing—to do what I clearly know is wrong?

I thought of the old joke in which a man in a bar asks an attractive woman if she’d have sex with him for a million dollars. After she accepts his offer, He then asks if she’d consider it for ten dollars. “What do you take me for?” she asks indignantly. “My dear,” the man replies, “We’ve already established what you are with your first answer. Now we’re just trying to negotiate the price!” What does it take to tempt any of us to step into sin?

At Corkscrew, the Audubon Society has built a boardwalk to keep visitors where they belong. While it helps protect the park’s flora and fauna, its true purpose is to protect the people from the dangers of the swamp. It is, however, a matter of choice as the whether or not a visitor stays on the trail (and not all of them do). In our daily lives, the Bible tells us how to behave and shows us the way we should go. God’s word isn’t there to keep us from enjoying ourselves—it’s there to keep us on the path of righteousness and protect us from sinking in the swamp of sin. But, just like the orchid hunters, we can choose to succumb to temptation, climb over the railings, and walk where we shouldn’t.

“What would you do for a Klondike bar?” was the question asked in the old commercials for the ice cream treat. Their ad campaign was re-launched last year when actress Anna Faris went undercover as a marketing director. She asked a group of expecting couples if any would sign over the naming rights to their baby for a lifetime supply of Klondike bars. For most of us, it would take more than the promise of a rare orchid or an endless supply of ice cream to succumb to Satan and step off God’s path. Satan, however, is no fool; he knows exactly what would tempt us each and every one of us. The question isn’t what we’d do for a rare flower or a frozen treat, but we better know our answer if we were asked what we’d be willing to do for things like wealth, happiness, beauty, fame, youth, health, security, love, or position.

Satan, like a fisher, baits his hook according to the appetite of the fish. [Thomas Adams]

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. [Romans 8:5-6,9 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

RICH AND HEALED

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. [Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)]

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. [Matthew 19:29 (NIV)]

white peacock butterflySo, since God wants us to be prosperous, we’ll get 100 acres of land for every acre we give up or a return of $10,000 for every $100? Sounds too good to be true and it is. Logic tells us Matthew 19:29 can’t be taken literally—we can’t have one hundred fathers and none of us want one hundred children or wives! To make sure the disciples understood, Jesus made it clear that God is not our heavenly banker who dispenses gifts (especially monetary ones) to the most deserving with His parable of the Gracious Landowner. “Do I not have the right to do what I want to do with my own money? Does your eye make you want more because I am good?” asked the landowner. Jesus explained: “So those who are last will be first and the first will be last.” [Matthew 20:15-16] His message was clear: God’s grace can’t be earned or controlled. Moreover, the word often translated as “prosper” in Jeremiah 29:11 is shalom, meaning completeness, soundness, welfare, and peace rather than wealth. Biblical prosperity and prosperity theology are not the same!

Nevertheless, the health and wealth/name it and claim it/prosperity gospel movement would have us believe otherwise. Their distorted version of the gospel asserts that our words and actions can influence God with some sort of faith force so that we’ll get the health and wealth supposedly promised in today’s verses and others like it. Things like illness and financial troubles result from a lack of faith. If we just picture what we want, have enough faith, and ask for it in Jesus’ name, it’s ours! Thinking that we can somehow manipulate God to do our bidding, however, denies His sovereignty and God becomes more a heavenly vending machine than the ruler of the universe. Our hope is not in the power of our words or size of our faith; our hope is in the power of God alone!

 While we’d like the think that all we need for health and wealth is faith, Scripture tells us otherwise. Not everyone who deserved healing got it while some who didn’t deserve it did! Out of all the sick, blind, and lame people by the pool at Bethesda, Jesus asked just one man if he wanted to get well. Instead of answering the question, the man complained. Nevertheless, when Jesus told him to get up, pick up his pallet, and walk, the man was healed instantly. Censured by the Jewish leaders for carrying his mat on the Sabbath, he explained that he’d been told to do so by the man who healed him—a man whose identity he didn’t know! This sinner, who didn’t know Jesus, have faith in Him, and never asked for healing, was restored to health while the “thorn” in Paul’s flesh remained in spite of his faith, service, and devout prayers!

The gospels and epistles give us more guarantees of suffering and persecution than promises of health or wealth. Rather than a get rich plan, our sovereign God offers a plan for salvation. Our relationship with God is not a business transaction and giving us stuff or taking away our illness is not what makes Him good. God is good because He alone is God. He’s good whether we’re sick or healthy, in debt or flush with money, out of work or gainfully employed, infertile or pregnant, struggling in school or on the honor roll, have a child in rehab or one in seminary. God is good because, in Jesus, we are both rich and healed!

If you have everything but you don’t have Jesus. You have nothing. If you have nothing but you have Jesus, you have everything. He’s worth it. [Costi Hinn]

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. [2 Corinthians 8:9 (NIV)]

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:19 (NIV)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.

FEED THEM

When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. [John 15:8 (NLT)]

He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep. [John 21:17 (NLT)]

squirrelJohn 21 records Jesus telling Peter to feed His flock three times. The word translated as “feed” in verse 16 is poimaino which refers to the entire process of tending the sheep: feeding, leading, guarding, doctoring, and bringing them into the sheep fold. Although the food of which Jesus is speaking appears to be the word of God, in verses 15 and 17 the word translated as “feed” is bosko, which exclusively meant to feed. Jesus gave Peter these instructions immediately after He’d fed the disciples a breakfast of grilled fish and bread. Could He also have been speaking of providing actual food?

The people of Palestine were spiritually hungry for the message of the gospel but, on at least two occasions, they listened to Jesus so long that they were physically hungry, as well. In those instances, when Jesus told His disciples to feed the people, He meant to give them something to eat! Sometimes, feeding His flock is as simple as that.

Stately oaks line the streets in our community. Since autumn is acorn season, I’ve been thinking of Jesus’s command to bear fruit. Acorns are the fruit of the oak and come from the tiny flowers the trees produce in the spring. Within each acorn is a seed with the potential of becoming another oak tree. It’s been a good year for acorns and, if those oaks were followers of Jesus, our Lord would be pleased at the abundance of fruit they produced.

Next spring, any acorns cached away by an absent-minded squirrel or chipmunk could send up shoots, become seedlings, and eventually grow into trees capable of producing more fruit. Oak seedlings in our community, however, don’t stand a chance since the landscapers will pull them up or mow them down. Even though our acorns won’t grow into trees, they’re much appreciated by the squirrels, rabbits, ducks, crows, jays and woodpeckers who feast on them. The animals often congregate in the middle of the streets to take advantage of the nut-cracking capabilities of car, truck, and bike tires. If those oaks were believers, even without producing more of their kind, I still think our Lord would be pleased by them because they are feeding the hungry!

I apologize for mixing metaphors in my examples. If we bear fruit, as do the oaks, sometimes the seeds in our fruit will take root and grow and, if we tend the flock as a good shepherd, sometimes, the flock will increase. But, other times, like the oaks in our community or the disciples as they passed out loaves and fish, we simply provide physical nourishment for His flock.

This pandemic has exacerbated the inequalities and vulnerabilities suffered by many throughout the world. As the economy spirals downward, the number of hungry rises. The United Nations has warned of “multiple famines of biblical proportions” resulting from COVID-19. They anticipate the number of people in crisis level hunger rising to 270 million by the end of the year (an 82% increase since 2019) and warn that more people may die of coronavirus-driven hunger than those who will die from the virus itself!

Like the oaks, let us be generous with our fruit and, as the shepherds of His sheep, let us feed His flock.

But Jesus said, “You feed them.” [Mark 6:37 (NLT)]

Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. [Matthew 7:20 (NLT)]

Copyright ©2020 jsjdevotions. All rights reserved.