Set Our Minds on Jerusalem

17 Now Jesus, going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples aside on the road and said to them, 18 “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, 19 and deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock and to scourge and to crucify. And the third day He will rise again.” (Matt 20:17-19; NKJV)

This week, I would like to make some observations from Matthew 20 verses 17-28.  We will focus on what Jesus teaches regarding greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven and the implications to our own leadership and service.

Before we get into the conversation Jesus has with His disciples, I wanted to set the stage.  I think the context for the ask that is coming after verse 20 is important.

We read here that Jesus has set His mind to go to Jerusalem and more specifically He has set His mind to offer Himself as a sacrifice for our sins and to fulfill what His Father had sent Him to do.  That is what is on Jesus’ mind…the full weight of the eternal, physical, and spiritual situation.  He even takes a minute to explain it to His followers.  He says very clearly that He will be betrayed, condemned to death, delivered to the enemy, mocked, scourged, and crucified!  Ultimately, He will rise victorious but think about how heavy Jesus’ heart must have been working through in His mind all that He would endure.  That is what is on Jesus’ mind and heart.

So what do the disciples get from that?  Now I am not being overly critical here because they did not yet fully appreciate the fact Jesus was not going to establish an earthly kingdom.  They did not fully understand all that He has taught them and probably couldn’t truly comprehend that their Messiah would “fail” like that…lose…fall to the enemy.  So let’s not be too hard on them but lets look at ourselves and ask “do we ever do that?”

What do I mean?  I am asking us to consider for ourselves if there is ever a time that God has put us in a significant situation for the furtherance of His gospel and the delivering of His people and instead of seeing what God sees, we get focused on what we see.  From this perspective, do we start asking “what’s in it for me?” or “how do I benefit in this?”  Maybe not.  Maybe this isn’t something you struggle with.  If you are like me though, you have and you do.

We are selfish and our spirit wars against our flesh.  It did for Paul…it does for us.  The work we are involved in for Jesus in our homes, within the Body, at work, with strangers…it is important work and the consequences of our not getting out of our own way and seeing as God sees is sobering.  It is sobering in terms eternity.  These are souls we are talking about.

Thankfully, we have Jesus.  We have His word.  We have each other.  We are not alone in this and though we might get overly focused on ourselves, we can find correction and encouragement in the Bible and from our brethren.  We aren’t supposed to get it perfect.  We are supposed to be perfected through God’s power in our lives.  It takes time and study to know, understand, and apply God’ word to our lives so that when moments like this come into our path, we can see it as God see’s it.  We can stoop down, humble ourselves, deny ourselves, take up our cross, follower our Savior and rise in the greatness of His work and His awesome power.

Let’s start here for the week.  Take some time and read Matthew 20 and look for the lessons that apply to your life.  We are going to look at how we can get out of focus, how Jesus teaches us to see things differently, to be the least results in greatness, and to do so because He is our King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  I am so thankful for Him and for you!

It’s All About Perspective

What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
(Ecclesiastes 1:3)

I’m preparing right now to teach a class on Ecclesiastes at our congregation, so I’ve been reading it quite a bit and trying to get the flow of the writer’s thinking. I’m assuming the writer is Solomon, but I know there’s debate about that. Solomon begins with a question, “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?”

In the first two chapters, Solomon goes through all the things he has tested, seen, experienced and observed. He tries everything including, wisdom, work, wine and women. It all leaves him wanting. By the middle of chapter 2, he gives an answer to his question…there is NOTHING to be gained.

Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
(Ecclesiastes 2:11)

Where does this leave this great and wise king?

So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a striving after wind. I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil.
(Ecclesiastes 2:17-21)

He hates life! He hated all his toil! He gives his heart up to despair! “What’s the point?”, he asks in anguish.

But then at the end of chapter 2, Solomon seems to completely contradict himself and say that you should enjoy your toil.

There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?
(Ecclesiastes 2:24-25)

What? Are you barking mad, Solomon? You just said you hated it and life, now you told me to enjoy it?

Go back and read through chapter 1:1 through chapter 2:23 and look for what you don’t find there. What you don’t find there is God. There is one reference to God in 1:13 but it is not a positive outlook on God. God is basically missing from the first two chapters. Why was Solomon’s conclusion about his work so despairing and negative? Because he was doing all this without a mindset of connecting it all to his relationship with God.

If life only consists of going to work, getting money, building stuff, going places, being entertained and getting in and out of relationships, then yes life is quite the unhappy business! Is it any wonder why the suicide rate is so high? Solomon’s question answers that with Spirit-filled wisdom and accuracy:

For apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?”

When Solomon turned his perspective to God and looked for God’s involvement, then things turned around in his mind. When the great-old-wise king began seeing God’s purpose and God’s working in things, the enjoyment came back. Brightness comes back to his eyes, and a spring comes back in his step. There is meaning to all of this, and yes, we can enjoy this fleeting life, because God is here with us.

It’s all about perspective. You can go to the same job and do the same work, but have two very different attitudes about it. We can live with the same wife and kids, and have two very different perspectives. As you look around the house and property and see all that you have and all you have to do, you can look at it as a curse and drudgery, or you can see it as a blessing.

So which will you be? Will you be the Ecclesiastes 2:18 Solomon that hates work or the 2:24 Solomon that loves work and finds enjoyment in it? It all comes down to where your focus is.

Solomon’s Perspective on “Toil”

I’m studying Ecclesiastes right now in preparation for our next class, and yesterday I was in chapter 2. Solomon sure seems all over the board about whether he likes work (toil) or not.

At first he found pleasure in the toil, and the pleasure was his reward for doing the work (2:10-11).  Then he started to get tired, older and reflective, and he realized that he will work his whole life and hand his life’s toil over to someone who didn’t work for it and probably wouldn’t appreciate it. What if that person doesn’t have the sense to tie his own shoes? Seems like a waste doesn’t it?

But then at the end of chapter 2, Solomon is back to saying that we should enjoy our work. What happened? Is Solomon mental or something? No, he realized that his mindset and purpose for work was all out of whack and that God wasn’t in the center of his purpose for work. When pleasing God is your purpose, then work becomes fun again. If you’re out to please yourself and acquire stuff, then it all eventually becomes “vanity” (a complete waste of time).

Is God at the center of your purpose? How would you know? What does that look like when your focus for working is pleasing God versus pleasing yourself and getting stuff? Take time to talk this over with a wise godly brother and do some praying and reflection about it.

Below are the passages I referenced from Ecclesiastes.

And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.
(Ecclesiastes 2:10-11)

I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity. There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy, but to the sinner he has given the business of gathering and collecting, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.
(Ecclesiastes 2:18-26)

A Story on Perspective

Take a minute and read and consider this story.

People were sitting quietly. Some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene. Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed. The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing.

  “It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally, with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, ‘Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?’”

  “The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, ‘Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.’

  Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm (heart) shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, and because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. ‘You’re wife just died? Oh, I’m so sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?’ Everything changed in an instant.”   (Stephen Covey)

Now consider the Holy Spirit’s words in (Galatians 6:1-5).

1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load.

 What did you think of in this exercise? What comes to my mind is the importance of knowing and participating in the lives of those I love…especially the brethren. If I know them and participate in their lives, I will understand better their circumstances. If I better understand their circumstances, I will have more patience with what I might be observing in their lives and seek out opportunities to help rather than chastise or be annoyed. If I seek out opportunities to help, those I love will be lifted up and God will be gloried and the law of Christ is fulfilled…and His law is love.

We all have spiritual and physical burdens to carry but God has given us one another to be a helper to each other and sometimes that “one thing” we carry for another is just enough. Meditate on this today. Pray God would turn your eyes and heart to other’s lives. Have the courage to love them.

Like Yesterday

For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by, or as a watch in the night. You have swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep; in the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew. In the morning it flourishes and sprouts anew; toward evening it fades and withers away (Psalms 90:4-6).

For all our days have declined in Your fury; we have finished our years like a sigh. As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away. Who understands the power of Your anger and Your fury, according to the fear that is due You? So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom (Psalms 90:9-12).

Like yesterday

Time, space and matter are all things God created. He created them all at the same time. “In the beginning (time), God created the heavens (space) and the earth (matter)” (Genesis 1:1). In order for God to create them He must be outside and independent of space, time and matter. That whole concept simply blows my mind, I just cannot fathom a Being like that. I believe it, but I just don’t comprehend it.

Since God is outside of time and independent of time, He has a completely different perspective of time. Moses said that 1,000 years are “like yesterday” to God. It is just a blip on the radar, it is the same as one day to God. Peter also repeated this concept in his second letter (2 Peter 3:9). A millennium to God is like grass that springs up and is cut down and withers.

In contrast to God, we humans are all about time. Have you stopped recently to ponder how obsessed we are with time? Sometimes we are just so impatient and in a hurry because of our mixed up earthly perception of time. It affects our decision making at work and school, we get in a hurry and make mistakes. Our lack of perspective on time gets in the way when it comes to how we deal with others. Instead of giving them time to grow and develop, we want instant change…this minute! We also at times lose sight of how brief our time is on this earth.

This Psalm of Moses is there to help sober us up a little bit. Moses’ prayer to God in this Psalm was for God to help him and all of us to have a wiser perspective on the brevity of life and to see time how God sees it. Hopefully we will become more patient because of this renewed perspective. With God’s help we can see how precious each moment is and to “number our days.” Make the most of the very brief time God has given us.

According to this Psalm, we generally live 70-80 years. Think about that for a moment. If 1,000 years is like a day to God, then 70-80 years is like the blink of an eye.

“Making the most of your time…” (Ephesians 5:16).

 

Gaining Proper Perspective

Gaining Proper Perspective: Grab a bible and read Psalm 73.

The writer has been observing the lives of the arrogant and wicked.  He sees their prosperity, their lack of pain and suffering.  He sees their pride, their mocking, and total disregard for God and he is envious.  In verse 3 he says, “For I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”  In verse 21 he says, “my heart was embittered.”  As he looked at this reality he drew the preliminary conclusion that we see in verses 13 and 14.  “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence; for I have been stricken all day long and chastened every morning.”  Why work to stay pure and innocent when the result has been pain and suffering?  Why not give up and give in to the world and partake in the prosperity of the wicked?

But that was just his preliminary conclusion.  As we continue reading we see how the writer’s thought process continues.  First, he is careful not to voice his doubts and frustrations, especially to those less mature in their walk with God.  Verse 15, “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ behold, I would have betrayed the generation of Your children.”  Second, verse 16 says, “When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight.”  The writer doesn’t just act on his initial observations and feelings, his envy, but he stops to ponder the situation.  Finally, he gains clarity when he enters the sanctuary of God.  Verse 17, “Until I came into the sanctuary of God; I perceived their end.”  In safety and the presence of God he looks past his immediate circumstances and the circumstances of the wicked, and he realizes the true reality.

Verses 18 through 20, the reality is that the result of a life of wickedness and arrogance and total disregard for God will be destruction and terror.  I love the imagery in verse 20, “Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, You will despise their form.”  The life of the prosperous wicked is no more than a dream that will end as a nightmare.  In His time, when God is aroused, He will deal with those who have rebelled against Him.

“When my heart was embittered and I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant; I was a beast before You” (verse 21-22).  To be envious of the prosperity of the wicked is shortsighted and ignorant so our writer takes hold of God’s hand and allows God’s counsel to guide him.  The conclusion, with all things considered, is one of the most beautiful passages in all of scripture.  “Whom have I in heaven but You?  And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.  For, behold, those who are far from You will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.  But as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all Your works.”  All the things of this life, the money, the power, the pleasures, the entertainment, the hobbies, the stuff…it is all passing away.  What is my “good”?  Where is my strength?  Where do I take refuge?  If the Lord God, the King and Creator, is my portion then I have everything!

Now here is the most important perspective from this entire Psalm.  The writer doesn’t just decide he SHOULDN’T be envious of the wicked, he decides that there is NOTHING of which to be envious!  In Philippians 3:7-8, Paul puts it like this “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.”  Paul doesn’t just say, “I gave up a lot of stuff for Christ.”  Paul says, “I gave up a lot of stuff for Christ and it was all rubbish…junk…garbage.”  Too often I have pursued my walk with Christ giving up the things of this world with a feeling of resignation.  “Well I’m a Christian, I can’t do that anymore.”  “Well I’m a Christian, those things shouldn’t be important anymore.”  In reality, those “things” have no value, those “things” are all garbage and the value of knowing Christ outweighs everything this world could possibly offer.  My walk is not one of suppressed longing for the world but one of victory in Christ, overcoming the world, and being at home with my Father.  We should let go of the false dreams and promises of the world and take hold of that which is LIFE indeed!

The nearness of God is my good.