Category Archives: Meaning of Life

No Can Do

This guy had it all.  He was extremely wealthy.  He had a position of great influence.  Like Donald Trump, except he still had his youth.  But it wasn’t enough; he was missing something.

And as he [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”   (Mark 10:17)

He knew he couldn’t buy his way into heaven and, like so many of us, he sensed that he needed to do something.  Some good deed, some act of penance or sacrifice.  Jesus began by telling him a sobering truth.

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.  (Mark 10:18)

Translation?  Nobody could do enough to get to heaven except God.  If you want to get to heaven by doing, you’ll have to be perfect.  In order to help the guy understand, Jesus said:

You know the commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”  And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.”  (Mark 10:19-20)

Really?  He somehow had accumulated great wealth and had never taken something that didn’t rightfully belong to him or told a lie?  Not likely.  Even the last thing he’d said to Jesus wasn’t true!

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

Now, take this one step at a time.  First pay careful attention to Jesus’ attitude toward the man.  Because He has the same attitude toward you.  Then, notice that Jesus took him all the way down the road to understanding he could never do enough.  He said, “Ok, you want to do something, go sell everything and give it all to the poor.”  Jesus knew, even if the man had done all that, he still would be in the same, empty, desperate condition.  Because, even doing such an extreme act of personal sacrifice would not earn you a spot in heaven.  What he really needed was to “come and follow” Jesus.

The man was already on his knees before Jesus and yet Jesus still told him to “come.”  “Come” meant stop relying on what he could do and instead, fully trust or surrender to Jesus.  And follow Him.  But even doing that would not be enough.  What is enough to qualify a person for eternal life is what Jesus  has already done and what He does for those who fully trust Him.  He gives them His eternal, Holy Spirit.  Jesus has done everything needed.  Our part is to come and follow.  And receive.

I don’t have words to explain why this is so.  But, I have discovered, to my own amazement and joy that it is.

Ruins are Ruined

These are the ruins of the synagogue that was built in Capernaum sometime three or four hundred years after the time of Jesus. It was the most magnificent building in town.  Rightly so, because it was the place where people came to try to draw close to God.  The idea was that the greater and more magnificent the building, the closer one could get to God.  That concept is still practiced today.  That synagogue  was probably built on the original foundation of an earlier synagogue that had fallen down, likely the one in which Jesus spoke the following words:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  (John 6:51)

This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”.  Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.  ​(John 6:58 — 59)

The bread he was referring to was Himself.  When you visit the synagogue you stand among dilapidated ruins.  You also can visit enormous, ornate, modern houses of worship and sometimes be standing among ruins.  Ruins, because in some of those places it is very tough to draw close to God in a lasting and meaningful way.  But when you come to Jesus by faith, you are filled with God’s presence in a continuing way, with His Fresh Bread of Life.

The Invitation

“Come in!” you hear and, pushing on the door, quietly, expectantly, you tiptoe into the hospital room.  The new mother is propped up, holding her first baby.  As she looks up and smiles, suddenly you find yourself swept up in her joy.  You can’t help it.  It’s as though you have fallen into a deep pool of unrestrained celebration. 

If that’s how great joy feels for us, and how it pulls us in, imagine what it would be like to be caught up into and fully share the joy of Almighty God!  Try to understand how vast and powerfully explosive would be the deep, rumbling, cymbal-splashing joy of God.  What would it do to you to enter His room and participate in His greatest happiness?

You have heard the parable of the master who gives to each of his servants portions of gold (called talents) to use.  Perhaps that parable, told by Jesus, sounded severe to you, as though He was saying, “You better get busy, or else…”  If so, reflect on how He described the outcome for the ones who faithfully and productively used the gifts with which they had been entrusted.

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’  (Matthew 25:21)  
Now, there is an invitation you don’t want to miss…

When You Least Expect It

You know how worthless you feel when you are really sick?  A prominent leader lay on his sickbed in that condition.  He was so afflicted, word got out he might die.  Various people came to visit, even though they weren’t real friends.  They said nice sounding things but when they left they bad mouthed him in public.  Even one of his best friends, someone who he regularly had over for lunch turned on him.  Can you imagine how low he must have felt, how worthless?  In his despair, he wrote down his complaints in a kind of poem.  The man was King David and the poem is now known as Psalm 41.

My enemies say of me in malice,
“When will he die and his name perish?”
When one of them comes to see me,
he speaks falsely, while his heart gathers slander;
then he goes out and spreads it around.
All my enemies whisper together against me;
they imagine the worst for me, saying,
“A vile disease has afflicted him;
he will never get up from the place where he lies.”
Even my close friend,
someone I trusted,
one who shared my bread,
has turned against me.  (Psalms 41:5-9)

Fast forward 1000 years or so.  Jesus is about to be crucified.  He spends a private farewell with his closest friends, washing their feet and sharing a final meal.  And, as He passes out the bread, He tells them one of them will betray Him.  He quotes a line from that sick man’s poem:

“I am not referring to all of you; I know those I have chosen. But this is to fulfill this passage of Scripture: ‘He who shared my bread has turned against me.’  (John 13:18-19)

Words, scrawled by a man too sick to get out of bed, became Scripture and were fulfilled in the life of God’s Son!  Whodathunkit?  Next time you are feeling too sick, too discouraged, too insignificant, too misunderstood, too abandoned, too unskilled or too weak to be used by God, remember that man’s sickbed poem.  Don’t write yourself off.  God uses people for His purposes even (and perhaps especially) in their weakest moments.   He can use you, too.

When you least expect it.

Full Advantage

If you live in my town, you have been given the right to use the library.  Far more than simply being allowed to check out books, you can take full advantage of a whole bunch of pretty cool extra services.  For example, recently, on a long trip through Texas, I connected to the library with my cell phone and was soon listening to an audio book as the hours and miles flew by.  Everyone who lives here has been given all those wonderful opportunities.  Not everyone uses them.

Peter wrote about a similar situation for those who follow Jesus:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.  (2 Peter 1:3-4)

If you sign up for a library card, you are given free access to a long list of amazing opportunities.  But they are worthless unless you use them.  When you enter into a relationship of trust with Jesus, which Peter refers to as “the knowledge of Him,” you are given free access to everything necessary for the fullest and most satisfying good life.  Amazingly, you are promised the ability to partake of the very nature of God!  Those gifts and promises are yours.  But they lie dormant and of little value unless you put them to use.  So then, how do we do that?

Peter explains:

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.  (2 Peter 1:5-7)

You don’t earn the gifts and promises by doing these things; you already have been given them. But, by doing these things, you gradually learn to use what you have been given more fully.  Peter’s words might sound a bit stuffy.  Here’s my paraphrase:

Because you have these great promises, as you come to Jesus by faith, make a practice of getting in step with His good way of living (virtue).  Intentionally get to know Him better (knowledge).  Let the influence of His Spirit control you from the inside out, particularly when you are tempted to mess up (self-control).  Keep at it – practice makes a real difference (steadfastness).  Adjust your thinking and attitude in life to really appreciate and enjoy your interaction with God (“godliness” is a word whose component parts means enjoyable worship!)  Let the joy of enjoying fellowship with God spill over into genuine love for others (brotherly affection).

Living like that, Peter says, helps us take full advantage of all we have been given in Jesus.

For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (2 Peter 1:8)

Now What?

On the day after Resurrection Day, it might be good to reflect on how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus actually changes the way we live.  Do they make a difference or do we simply put the plastic eggs back in the closet and go back to the humdrum of life?  If you are still reading, no doubt you vote for them making a difference.  But what sort of a difference?  Read through what Peter wrote – slowly and thoughtfully – and you’ll have a pretty good answer:

Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.  (1 Peter 1:17-21)

Real Freedom

He refused to participate in a corrupt act, was sued by his partner, and lost everything – his business, his home, his wife and millions of dollars.  He was forced into bankruptcy.  He eventually found another job, at a fraction of his former salary, but then proceeded to make payments to his creditors, despite no longer being legally required to do so.  Why?  He was free.  Free to do what was right without fear or coercion.  His freedom came from Jesus.

Jesus was free.  He was not hemmed in by social expectations.  He didn’t follow the rules imposed by the religious authorities.  He was not afraid of their punishments and not afraid to be considered eccentric.  He socialized with outcasts, ate and drank as he chose.  Jesus was free.  He was free of the world’s coercion, free to listen to God and get in step with His instructions.  He said,

“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19b)

 The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. (John 14:10b)

Jesus was free to dance in perfect time with His Father.  Free to break the restrictive rules of social expectations and ignore the threats of the powerful.  He was free to go to the Cross without fear.

For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again.  No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.”  (John 10:17-18)