Dependent on God

Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”

But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, “Who then can be saved?” Mark 10:21-26

Whenever you read this passage about Jesus and the rich young man, you always stop and say, “Wait a minute, are you telling me to go give away everything I have?” Am I right? It’s a very challenging passage.

I don’t think that’s necessarily what Jesus is saying. He’s just pointing out that it’s hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom. It’s not impossible. I have to remind people of this all the time. You’ve got to understand the context. The eye of the needle was obviously not an actual needle, right? It was a gate. Jesus was standing near it, so He pointed over to it. The gate was not that big. It was just the right size for a small cart, and Jesus was saying that a camel could get through it, but it would be very difficult. It would not be normal.

It wasn’t normal for a rich man to get into the Kingdom of Heaven, because rich men didn’t realize that they were dependent on God. They thought they didn’t need God. “What do I need?” they would ask. “I’ve got a house, I’ve got fine clothes, I’ve got security, I’ve got servants, I’ve got people that make my food. Why are you saying that I need God?” Because in that day, that’s truly what people thought! Rich men were called lords, they were called kings, and they said, “I don’t need God.” Or in the case of Caesar, they even said, “I am God!”

Jesus looked at the rich young man’s heart and saw this. This young man had kept all the commandments, and now he wanted to know what he had to do to have eternal life. Perhaps he thought entry to the Kingdom was something he could pay for. I guarantee you he would have paid for it! Suppose God said, “Okay, give me a thousand dollars.” The young man would have said, “Here you go.”

But that’s not what God said. He didn’t say, “Here’s what you have to give me.” He said, “I want you to give everything up.” Whoa.

Maybe that young man only thought he kept all the commandments. Maybe Jesus was telling Him that he broke the first commandment, and that’s “you shall have no other god before me.” Maybe, because that young man was so wealthy, he couldn’t see that he depended on God.

“That’s right,” Jesus said. “I want you to give up your fake god! You are not dependent on me as your God, and if you want to be in the Kingdom of Heaven, you have to be dependent on me for everything. You have to understand that all your money, everything, even every breath you take, is only there because I allow it to happen. If I want to take it away, I’ll take it away.”

That’s what happened between Jesus and the rich young man.

I truly believe that God gives, and He takes away. I have a reverential fear of that. I understand that He could take away everything in an instant. God could ruin me financially, and I’d have nothing. He can do that at any time. And so I truly want Him to know that when I tithe, when I donate, when I give money in service of His Kingdom, it’s because I’m saying look, first and foremost, I know this isn’t my money.

Do I believe I’ve been blessed with money? Absolutely! I have financial prosperity, there’s no doubt. I don’t deny it. But I also know it’s not mine. It all belongs to God.

See you Friday.

A Rich and Childlike Faith

Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may 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,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’”

And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.”

Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”

But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Mark 10:17-22

Coors Field in Colorado has a really awesome bullpen. For me it was a cool place to sit and think. One day while I was sitting there in study and prayer I read this passage, and then I literally just asked Jesus about it. I honestly didn’t know if that rich young man is me.

Right before this passage, the Bible tells us that people were trying to bring their children in to be blessed by Jesus and the disciples were telling them to get away. Jesus saw that and said, “Hey! What are you doing? You don’t block these kids from coming to me!”

Jesus told the disciples, “These kids are the center of the Kingdom of God. They are It. Their kind of faith is what this Kingdom is built on. You want to know how to be saved? You want to have eternal life? Then be like them. You need to have childlike faith.”

After blessing the children, Jesus left. It was then that the rich young man chased Him down in the street saying, “Wait! What must I do to be saved?”

I think this young man heard Jesus say that we must have childlike faith to enter the Kingdom, so he ran after Jesus to ask Him about it. “I’m not a child,” he said. “So what do I need to do?” When He heard that, Jesus told him, “You know what to do. Keep the commandments. Don’t steal, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, and so on.”

When the young man said, “I’ve done all that,” then Jesus said, “Right. So go, and sell everything you have.”

Do you see what was happening here? Jesus was helping the young man understand how to have childlike faith. What is that? What is the faith of a child?

Children don’t have anything. They’re totally dependent on their parents. My sons say, “Dad, I’m hungry,” and they expect me to give them food. “Dad,” they say, “I’d like to have this toy. Go buy it!” They think money is made on trees. They tell me to take that card thing of mine and swipe it, because they think that’s all I need to do. They haven’t learned yet about the adult world.

My sons are totally dependent on me for every single thing, and that’s how we are to God. We are His children, and we are totally dependent on Him for everything. That’s what Jesus was trying to teach the young man.

I don’t necessarily think God tells every rich man to go and give away all of his money and possessions. In fact, the ministry of God depends on people with money. You need money to push the Gospel. Without financial support, Bibles wouldn’t be printed, and missionaries wouldn’t survive. Ministries wouldn’t get built and people wouldn’t be served. Spreading the Gospel depends on donors with money.

But I do think Jesus challenges us by asking, “Hey, look, would you be able to be totally dependent on me?” That day in the Colorado bullpen, I think He told me, “You need to think about that, because you’re paid a lot of money.”

I truly believe it is God’s will to prosper you. But this story asks us an important question, and it’s one we have to think about. Are you that rich young man?

More on this next time. See you Tuesday.

Humble Abundance

The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. John 10:10

Abundant life? What does that mean? For most of the people in the world, it means something different than it means for you and me.

For most of the people in the world, abundant life simply means a life that is not in need. It doesn’t mean that you have millions of dollars. It means that you don’t need to find food, or water, or a place to live. You don’t need to find a job. You’re not homeless, sick, or starving. Your basic needs are met.

For most of the people in the world, abundance is a pretty humble proposition. If you have enough, plus a little extra, then you live in abundance.

Suppose you could go around the world and ask people, “What does abundance mean to you?” A lot of them will tell you, “It’s having a home. I don’t care if it’s a 600 square-foot home. It’s a home. Even in a tiny home, my family is safe. We don’t have to live on the streets. Abundance is a water filter. Or a well filled with clean water. When our water is safe to drink, my kids aren’t dying of dysentery. Abundance is a job! With a little income, we have food on the table. With a little extra, my kids can go to school. That’s abundance. I know what it’s like not to have those things. When I have them? And my family’s safe? That’s abundance.”

Sometimes Americans have trouble grasping just how much we have. We’re so accustomed to abundance that we don’t recognize it! Instead we define abundance by how much we can buy.

Focusing too much on what we can buy can actually kill people. When we get caught up in buying more stuff, we don’t think about the people that need our help. And we need to think about them, because without our help, they die.

I’m not saying that you should never buy anything for yourself. I’m not saying that at all. Like I said last time, it all comes down to what you have in your heart. God searches your heart. He knows your heart. Do you have a heart for helping those in need?

If our drive, our heart, our focus, is simply to make sure we have what we need, then we have the wrong heart. If we’re always saying, “I want this and I want that, and I know I could live without it but I’m going to get it and I’m going to get that too,” and we don’t have a thought for anybody else, then we have the wrong mindset.

An abundant life is so much more than having a lot of consumer goods. We think “abundance” and we see dollar signs. I think that’s America. But abundance can mean something really different in other parts of the world. Let’s learn to think about abundance in a new way. What if abundance is humble? What if it is having enough, plus extra for somebody else?

Jesus said He came so that we may have life and have it more abundantly. He gave us the message, He gave us the example, and He gave us that quality of life when He was on earth. When He ascended, these things didn’t leave with Him! He gave them to us. He teaches us to live by them. And when we do, people see Him! It’s our awesome calling to represent Him and reflect Him into the world!

Now, I know what you’re asking. How do you know when you have enough? At what point do you begin steering some extra to the people who need you?

This is where reverential fear can help you. More on this next time. See you Friday.

A Lottery Prayer That Works

I began this blog in 2011. Can you guess the top search term that lands readers here? It is “lottery prayer that works.” That phrase has shown up within the top search terms literally every week of this blog’s existence.

If that’s why you are here, then let me help you. Look at this awesome promise that Jesus made before He was arrested and crucified:

Believe me: I am in my Father and my Father is in me. If you can’t believe that, believe what you see—these works. The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it. From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do. John 14: 11-14

What do you think about that? Jesus said that we will do greater things than He did, and that He will give us whatever we ask in His name! I think that’s awesome!

But even in the world of believers, there’s a lot of skepticism about this promise. We will receive anything we pray for? Really? You hear people say, “Oh really. You’re telling me that if I pray, ‘God, I want a Mercedes Benz,’ then all I have to do is believe, and I’ll get it?” Or, “I can pray to win the lottery, and if I really believe I’m going to win, then I will?”

Those are good questions! But my question is a little different. My question is, “Why do you ask for those things?”

Why? That question stands in advance of every prayer.

I believe it is God’s will to prosper you, but prosperity doesn’t always mean money or property. God can prosper you with a healthy family, or peace at your job. There are so many ways that God can prosper you! In the end, though, they all have one thing in common. It’s an issue of the heart.

God looks at the heart of all people. Men and women alike, He looks at your heart. If you sit there and say, “God, I pray for a million dollars,” I’m going to guess that the first thing God’s going to ask is why you want a million dollars. If you want a million dollars so that you can be rich, then I don’t know if He’s going to prosper you in that way.

Jesus promises to answer your prayer and give you what you ask for because “that’s how the Father will be seen for who He is in the Son.” That’s the context of His promise. God will give you what you ask for because you are doing His will.

I pray for finances. I really do. I pray for them, and I believe I’m going to get them. I can’t necessarily tell you why God grants my prayers, but I can tell you the reasons in my heart for wanting finances. I can see all the good that I can do with them.

I think God looks at your heart when it comes to everything. If your prayer is birthed in sin, it will never happen. Why would God answer prayers birthed in sin? I believe God answers prayers that are birthed in the hope of bringing grace and faith and power. I believe God answers prayers that are birthed in the desire to empower people to believe in Him and love Him. If that’s your reason for asking, then yes, I fully believe that you’re going to receive what you pray for.

In other words, if you’re going to do God’s will with those lottery winnings, then pray for them with all your heart!

I’ll say more on this next time. See you Tuesday.

Bring Grace Home

There are so many wonderful things to say about grace. I frequently write about the freedom that comes with grace because it’s awesome. Grace frees us from sin! Grace frees us from slavish obedience to rules! We are free, because Jesus helps us with our sin. We are free, because the Spirit guides us and advises us. Do you see what this means? We don’t have to be afraid. We have help!

Think about that. Grace frees us from fear!

When your family is founded in grace, there is no fear in your home. Instead there’s freedom. Your kids are happy, your husband or wife is happy, everyone is growing and thriving, and you are living righteous and loving lives. People will look at your family and say, “Man! What are you doing? We want that too!”

I mean, who wouldn’t?

But then they ask, “What rule did you make? What law did you give them, that they live so well?”

That’s not the right question! That’s legalism. When people don’t understand grace, they think about dropping a Bible verse and making a rule with it. But that’s not me. I’m not a legalistic father who wants to drop a Bible verse on my sons when they’re not doing right. I want them to know grace.

I can hear you saying, “But Jeremy, does that mean you never discipline your children?” Not at all. It means I don’t use anger to control them.

We parents want so much to let our kids express their emotions. But have you noticed that we only really encourage it when those emotions feel good to us? We don’t get mad at them for being happy. We don’t get mad at them for laughing. We don’t get mad at them for being joyful. We don’t even get mad at them when they’re sad and crying.

But when they get angry, we get mad at them!

This is backwards. It makes no sense to tell them, “I’m going to get angry at you for being angry.”

Obviously we don’t want our kids to be angry. But it happens. What do they learn from us if we respond with anger? Nothing! It’s a vicious cycle.

I think our anger comes from trying to control our children. We want to control them so that we can control how we react to them. This is typical of legalism in the home. An angry child is not a reason to get angry. In fact, I think responding with anger is the worst thing you could possibly do.

Why not just accept them and be with them? You can acknowledge that there’s something going on. Maybe it’s something that you don’t know about. Maybe there’s something troubling them. Whatever it is, getting angry with them won’t help either of you. But grace can transform the situation. Grace says, “How can I help you? How can I love on you? How can I make you feel better? I can see that you’re having a bad time. How can I be here for you?”

When you do that for your child, then all of a sudden a bad day can become a good day. Now in their bad day, you’re not just someone else pounding on them. You are with them as a loving help to them.

I’m far from perfect, but I try not to get angry at my sons for getting angry. I let them be angry. And then we talk about it.

This is the difference between grace and legalism. My family loves and laughs and thrives because I didn’t give them a rule. I didn’t give them a law to live by. I gave my family freedom. My wife and I brought grace into our home and we are happy. With God’s grace, we are really truly free!

See you Friday.

We Can’t Do This Without Him

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10

In a Spirit-led life, our deeds are righteous. But they don’t belong to us. If I am a righteous man, it’s only because I have the blood of Jesus on me. If I live a righteous life and make the right decisions, it will be because Jesus is in me and works through me. I can’t boast about that.

I can’t do this without Him.

We feel like we need to control things. Maybe we even want to control other people, even though we know that things will go wrong when we try.

I’ve given that up. In fact, I’ve given up my life — to Jesus Christ. You have to do that in order to live in grace. Now I don’t try to control my family. I prefer to live with them in grace. This is the basis for a true relationship with Jesus.

The Bible says that we love Jesus because He first loved us. So I don’t go to my wife and children and tell them to love and respect me. They will love and respect me when I first love and respect them.

If you try to control your family, they will fight you. If you only love them when they perform, then you’ll have a battle on your hands. I think that’s why it was so hard for us before Jesus came. You see the battle in the Old Testament. We had to live a certain way and act a certain way. We had to follow the Ten Commandments. It was too hard, and we could never do it, so we always had to make sacrifices to make up for our transgressions.

I think there was a plan all along. God saw that we wanted rules. We sent Moses up to Mt. Sinai because we wanted rules. Rules cause problems, but we wanted them, so God gave them to us. Then we had the law, and we couldn’t follow it. We broke it all the time! Then we had to offer sacrifices — burnt offerings — all the time, in order to make things right with Him. There were a lot of burnt offerings!

God wanted to free us from this, so He sent His Son to make the ultimate sacrifice. After that one perfect sacrifice, there was only one commandment. Love your neighbor as yourself, and love God.

The only way that we can possibly fulfill that commandment is through the blood of Jesus Christ. You can’t do it without Him. That’s why you can’t boast about the good things you do. You can’t say, “Look at me! Look at what I did!” Instead, say, “Look at Jesus! Look at what He did!” Jesus is the only reason that we can love as God has commanded us to do.

When you can give up legalism, and give your life up to Jesus, then His Spirit will live in you and through you. Then you will walk in grace. You won’t walk in condemnation. You won’t walk in judgment. You won’t walk in expectation. You’ll live your life in freedom, not bound by all those laws. You’ll be free to do the work God has prepared for you.

And what is that work? God’s work is love. With Him, you can truly love.

See you Tuesday.

Head of the Family

The Bible says men should love their wives just as Christ loved the church. It also says that the husband is the head of the family, just as Christ is the head of the church.

So as men, our families look to us for leadership.

It’s a funny thing, though. When I look at Jesus, I don’t see someone standing on a pedestal and dictating. I don’t see that at all! When I look at Jesus, I see Him leading by becoming a servant. He served us, and He serves us still. We respond by following Him. We made Jesus our leader because we wanted to.

I didn’t always understand this. I used to come home and insist that my family follow my rules. My attitude was, “Hey, I’m the Dad here, so I should lead. It’s important that I lead.” So I would go to my family and say, “Listen up! I’m the head of the family, so you will do what I say.” In other words, I put my family under me. That was my legalism. And it stressed me out! It stressed me out for years, always trying to make my family be a certain way and act a certain way.

You know what? Do that to your family, and you will get resistance. They will shut you down, they will quit listening to you, and they will rebel against you. That’s what happens when you force them under you.

Then where will you be? You’ll be out in the emotional cold.

Your family doesn’t want a dictatorship. They can’t thrive in a dictatorship. Trying to control them is like pushing them down. They cannot grow if you’re pushing them down. My job as a husband and a father is to nurture each member of my family into becoming the fullness of who they are, and I can only do this by living with them in grace. I have to let them be free, and to deal with situations as they arise.

So I no longer tell my family, “I’m the head of the family, so do what I say.” In fact, I don’t want to be in control of everything! It’s so much better to co-lead my family with my wife. My wife and I are co-leaders, as Eve and Adam were intended to be.

How do we do this? We co-lead in grace. If my wife needs me, my first question is, “How can I help?” I ask, “How can I be available? What can I do?” I don’t judge her. I don’t tell her how I would do things, or tell her how to act. I just ask, “How can I help?” And since my wife doesn’t feel judged, she can tell me. She can express herself to me, and I get to just love on her. Man, it is amazing how free and happy my wife is now.

It’s the same thing with my kids. They’re just happy! They don’t have to worry that I’ll judge them. They don’t have to fear that I’ll get angry. You should see how they are growing! Free from judgment and fear, they are thriving. There is so much freedom in grace! It is absolutely amazing to me.

Our families need us to lead as Jesus led. They need us to be servant leaders. When we lead with an attitude of servant leadership, our families will look to us. They will trust us. We won’t have to put them under us. When we serve them, they will respond by following us.

I love my family, and I am learning more every day to serve them as Jesus served us. I am learning to love them in grace, and to love them with understanding. If, as men, we can learn to lead our families with an attitude of servant leadership, then we’ll experience something wonderful. Our families will trust us, and draw near.