Not Far Off?

28 One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29 Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

32 The teacher of religious law replied, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth by saying that there is only one God and no other.33 And I know it is important to love him with all my heart and all my understanding and all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. This is more important than to offer all of the burnt offerings and sacrifices required in the law.”

34 Realizing how much the man understood, Jesus said to him, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions.

Mark 12:28-34 (NLT)

 

And

 

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees with his reply, they met together to question him again. 35 One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40 (NLT)

 

And

 

25 One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: “Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 Jesus replied, “What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?”

27 The man answered, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “Right!” Jesus told him. “Do this and you will live!”

29 The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Luke 10:25-29 (NLT)

 

The next thing you read in Luke’s account is the parable of the Good Samaritan. It is interesting to remember that the two “commandments” Jesus references are given in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 6:5 tells Israel to love God with all our heart, mind, and soul. Leviticus 19:18 is where the Israelites are told to love their neighbors. Jesus is reminding them of what they should already know. It is implied in the Matthew and Luke accounts that the religious leaders were trying to trick him or trap him with Scripture. When he answered wisely they tried to take it further. They were willing to accept love for God and love for neighbors (God had commanded it after all) but they wanted to define exactly who their neighbors were. They had their own prejudices and God surely wasn’t telling them to love THOSE people. It was one thing to have to love others like them but to love THOSE people. Surely God didn’t mean that…did He?

I don’t think I have to tell you do I? If you know the parable of the Good Samaritan then you already realize that Jesus dropped the ultimate unwanted “truth bomb” on them. They hated the Samaritans. The Samaritans were lower than dogs. Some scholars have suggested that the whole “shaking the dust from your feet” thing you see in the New Testament may have been started by pious Jews after traveling through Samaria. Regardless of the origin, in Jesus’ time it symbolized the complete rejection of those whose dust you shook away. Jesus even told his own disciples to do the same thing to those who rejected his message. In that context it symbolized God’s judgment on those who rejected His Son.

I wish we didn’t still have to deal with racial, economic, political, and national differences. I wish we somehow understood Jesus’ commands to love God first and then love others. It seems so simple yet we know just how difficult it can be. In the Mark passage Jesus tells the man that he is not far off from the Kingdom of God. I often wonder if that guy found it? Did he continue to listen to Jesus and draw closer or did he eventually shrug off everything and go back to normal?

How many times have I gotten close to the Kingdom only to give up or give in? How many times have I seen just how simple it is but have not had the strength to continue. We all struggle with it. It’s true that some struggle more than others but don’t be fooled…we all have to fight it. As the communion meditation put it this morning…we’re all broken. We all have to remind ourselves those same two commandments. It is my prayer that we listen and we obey. It is my prayer that set our eyes on the Kingdom and keep marching forward. Perhaps we can be a light in the darkness around us.

May God our Father give you grace and peace.

 

 

 

 

Take A Deep Breath

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9 (NLT)

 

Sometimes you just need to stop and take a deep breath. Yesterday was busy. It was over before I even realized it. Today is already breezing by and I will be back at Walmart in just a few hours. I sometimes get frazzled and let things rob me of my joy and peace. I am stopping and taking a deep breath. We should all do that more often.

May God our Father give you grace and peace.

Old Music

I like old music. I guess your definition of “old” depends upon how old you are. I am forty-seven years old. When I talk about “old” music I am referring to the stuff that was being played on “Oldies” radio stations when I was a teenager in the Eighties. That would include early rock and roll, rockabilly, and rock-pop stuff from bands like The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and The Rolling Stones. I am especially enamored with Buddy Holly, Frankie Valli, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. I can’t explain why…I just am.

I don’t have satellite radio but I know that there are stations for just about every genre of music out there. However, there are very few “real” radio stations that I can find here where I live. There is a Christian station, two modern country stations, a modern pop station, and one “classic” rock station which isn’t very strong on most days. On the days when it is available it plays stuff from when I was a teenager and young adult. To my kids that is “old” music so my assertion that “old” is in the ear of the beholder is true.

As I get older I find that I am more interested in music earlier than what I consider old. Thanks to YouTube I can find stuff from the Twenties, Thirties, and Forties. Most of this music is fascinating. Once again, I don’t know that I can explain why it appeals to me. A lot of it sounds foreign even though I can often hear how it has influenced more modern artist. I especially like to seek out the musicians that are name dropped by the bands and artists I like.

As I type this I am listening to a mix of songs by The Beach Boys. Good Vibrations is currently playing. Even though it came out 1966 (four years before I was born) it sounds modern. I can hear how it influenced Jeff Lynne and other musicians who I really admire. Because it has existed my entire life it is somewhat difficult for me to imagine how amazing it would have sounded at the time. The same can be said for their album Pet Sounds or any of the later albums by The Beatles. Electric Light Orchestra, which is my favorite group of all time, would not have existed without either of those.

I listened to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons earlier this morning and even though the recordings sound old, the music is still fresh. What gets me about their songs is the vocal harmonies. I also love that piercing falsetto voice. If I had to pick a favorite from them it would probably be Walk Like A Man but that may be due to the fact that it figures prominently in the film Heart And Souls featuring Robert Downey Jr. Another group with unbelievable harmonies is The Everly Brothers, who were another major influence on Jeff Lynne.

Out of all the “old” music that I listen to my two absolute favorites are Buddy Holly and Hank Williams. Between the two of them they pretty much influenced every band or artist I listen to. They influenced the artists who influences the artists I listen to. I have honestly sat down with my guitar and attempted to wrong songs like the both of them. In my head I think that they are simple little songs but I have yet to replicate either.

So yeah…this was a bit on the unorganized side but that’s just how my brain works sometimes. I write down whatever comes to mind. If you can get something out of it…that’s great. If not…thanks for humoring me. I’ll leave you with an “old” song I came across on YouTube that I’m really digging right now. This one is from 1927. Is that old enough for you?

May God our Father give you grace and peace.

 

Happy Birthday Marcus

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It is hard to believe that he is already two years old. How in the world does time go by so quickly? I will have more to say tomorrow but I’m not feeling well and I’m a bit woozy from the Benadryl.

May God our Father give you grace and peace.

Lord, I Need Your Wisdom

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.

James 1:5-8 (NLT)

 

Before anyone jumps to conclusions, the title of this is just a general statement of fact. It is not in reference to any specific situation. In my roles as husband, father, grandfather, preacher, and door greeter I need all the wisdom I can get. Like I said, it’s not always because there is huge decision to make. There are times when I face that sort of thing and I do my best to prayerfully consider the best option. What I’m talking about today is more about the wisdom I need to  make it through an ordinary day.

How many times do we find ourselves in situations where we feel the need to respond even if it might not be the wisest thing? I am often quick to speak and slow to listen when the Bible says it should be the other way. I sometimes have a bad habit (and it is BAD) to take every little thing someone says or does personally. I automatically put up my defenses and start thinking about how I should respond. That can lead to unnecessary conflict.

One of my favorite sayings is:

It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than open your mouth and remove all doubt.

I have seen it worded differently and attributed to various people but the gist of it remains the same. There is a verse in the Bible that says something similar.

Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.

Proverbs 17:28 (NLT)

 

To go along with that and the point I’m trying to make here is the verse right before that one.

A truly wise person uses few words; a person with understanding is even-tempered.

Proverbs 17:27 (NLT)

 

I am learning more and more that true wisdom is found not in the things I say but in the things I choose not to say. That’s a lesson I wish I had learned years ago.

May God our Father give you grace and peace.

A Quick One

I am writing this while on break at Walmart. I have several things I want to discuss but I really need to flesh them out. I should have one of them ready by tomorrow. Today was a bit chaotic so I didn’t really get the chance to sit down and write.

This is a short week at Walmart. I have a church board meeting tomorrow and a camp board meeting Thursday so I am only working three days. I make up for it next week though.

Marcus turns two this week.  Where in the world has the time gone?

May God our Father give you grace and peace.IMG_2720

Still At A Loss For Words

I wrote THIS back in September of last year. In the eleven months since I wrote it we have had the most contentious Presidential election of my life. This nation, which has felt divided my entire existence, seems to be even more divided now. When you look at the “news” it doesn’t seem as if anyone is really trying to find a solution. There are actually folks out there deliberately making it worse. Once again…I’m at a loss for words. I want to say something. I feel like I NEED to say something. I just don’t know what it is that I should or can say. If I say what’s on my heart it will come across as naive or perhaps worse…it might seem shallow. It almost feels like too little, too late. At the risk of being accused of any (or all) of those things I will say the only thing I know to say.

Be nice. Love one another. We are all the same.

I know. I know. That sounds like something you see on a poster in a kindergarten class room. That’s what we tell little children but we all know that’s not the way the real world works. Right? Life isn’t that simple. That’s just a dream. We don’t really expect people to actually live like that do we? I sure wish we did. I think Jesus did. Out of all the things I read in the Bible that’s the one thing I ALWAYS seem to come back to. Jesus said that we need to love others. He didn’t say to just love our families. He didn’t say to just love our friends. He didn’t say to just love those we agree with.

Our enemies? Yep. Those who do us wrong? Yep. Those who hate us? Yep.

I know. It’s hard. I have trouble doing it to. I don’t think we can do it without Him. That’s His kind of love and He wants us to not only experience it but share it with others.

That’s it. I don’t know what else to say.

May God our Father give you grace and peace.

rybw

Another Colossians 3:17 Day

Today is going to be another one of those “whatever I do” kinda days. I got up earlier than I wanted and was here in the office by 8:00. Jamie, Robin, and I have a meeting at the school office to discuss the logistics of Jamie’s cyber-school. That is at 1:00 and I have to be at work in Mansfield at 3:00. I work until 11:00. I am still tired from yesterday and feel groggy due to taking Benadryl before bed last night. I have been fighting against sinus nastiness all week and I’m hoping that it is finally over. Sneezing, runny eyes, and runny nose are no fun when you have to be on your feet for seven hours and cannot take the good stuff because it knocks you out.

Last night was one of those nights where I really had to remind myself of the things that I have shared up here. I wasn’t feeling well so I was a bit grumpy. For some reason that seemed to amplify the silly things people say and do. Fortunately I was able to keep my mouth shut and just do my job. That is much harder than some people realize. When I say that people say (and do) silly thing…I mean it. I think a lot of you would be surprised by the things I see and hear. Then again…you all have probably been in a Walmart before. I really am amazed at times. It is truly hard to believe some people act the way they do. Of course…I am guilty of that from time to time too. We all are.

I have started tracking my weight. I am currently at the lowest I have been in well over a decade. I’ve lost about ten pounds since I started tracking it. I have quite a few more to go. The only thing I have done is cut out soft drinks and coffee with sugar in them. I give part of the credit to the fact that I walk a lot. It’s not “exercise” walking but I do a lot of it between walking back and forth from the house to the church, walking the dog, and walking around at work. I have also cut back on the amount of food I eat. Some people may look at me and assume that I really put it away but I don’t. I used to but I made a conscious effort to eat less. I’m still not eating “healthy” but I eat more reasonable amounts of food. We’ll see where it goes.

Hopefully I will feel like jumping back into 1 Peter tomorrow. I’m just not focused enough this morning. I did read the section I had planned to discuss and I will read several more times during the course of the day. I look forward to diving back into it tomorrow. Until then.

May God our Father give you grace and peace.

1 Peter 1:3-4

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

1 Peter 1:3-4 (NLT)

 

I am going to go through 1 Peter bit by bit while trying to keep everything in context. Keep in mind that I do not know biblical Greek and I do not consider myself a scholar other than the fact that I study Scripture. I depend upon the work of experts and most of the things you will read here fall into the category of my own personal reflections. Consider this more of a devotional effort than hard core exegesis.

Yesterday I addressed the fact that Peter is writing as an apostle and is exercising the authority that comes along with that role. He has encouraged his readers to remember that even though they are foreigners (strangers) in this world they belong to God. They have been chosen, washed, and set apart by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The result is that they are to be obedient to Christ.

In these two verses Peter points out that they have something great waiting for them. Because of God’s mercy, Jesus died so that they will inherit in heaven. He describes that inheritance as priceless, pure, and undefiled. It is out of the reach of earthly powers which can destroy or snatch it away. He urges them to keep the faith so that God will continue to protect them in the face of uncertain times. Salvation is just around the corner. The end is coming and Peter seems to welcome it.

I take comfort in this. I know I am not part of the original audience but I do believe the application still reaches out to us today. The same God calls us, washes us, and sets us apart. The same God protects us and I believe we have that same inheritance waiting for us. We’re much closer to the last day that Peter’s readers were. Christians still face persecution and difficult times in other parts of the world. I can only imagine the encouragement they must get when reading these words.

May God our Father give you grace and peace.

1 Peter 1:1-2

This letter is from Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.

I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.

May God give you more and more grace and peace.

1 Peter 1:1-2 (NLT)

 

I don’t know about you but I am sometimes tempted to skip over the greetings in some of the New Testament letters. I want to jump right to the “good stuff” so I don’t bother reading the opening words and I think that is unwise. I do my best to keep things in context and that is difficult when jumping over the salutation. That is where the author typically identifies himself and his audience. There is often information there explaining why the letter is being written. To ignore that is to run the risk of missing the author’s message. I think there is a lot to be seen here. This is more than just a list of places where believers are gathered.

Notice that Peter begins by addressing himself as an apostle of Jesus. In case there is any doubt, he’s letting them know that he is writing with authority. Next he reminds his readers that they are God’s chosen people (NIV uses elect) in spite of the fact that they are living as foreigners in the different places he mentions. It is possible that Peter is writing from Rome where he will eventually by executed during the persecution of Nero. He understands what it means to be living as a stranger or an outsider. Peter wants them to remember who they belong to especially in light of the hard times ahead of them.

He encourages them, reminding them that God knows them intimately. He chose them and is making them holy through the work of His Holy Spirit. Their obedience is possible because Jesus died for them and his blood has cleansed them. He wants them to remain strong in the knowledge of this. It is interesting that Peter mentions all three members of what we commonly refer to as the Trinity. This passage is one of the ones often used to support that idea. Notice how each member works together to bring salvation. The Father chose us, the Son died for us, and the Spirit sets us apart (sanctifies).

There is a quite a bit to digest in those two short verses. As I said, we (myself included) are sometimes tempted to skip the opening section and dig into what we think is the important stuff. By doing so we often miss some REALLY important stuff. Peter’s entire letter is built upon the foundation he lays right here in the greeting. I hope you take the time to absorb all of what the biblical writers say. I definitely benefit when I do.

May God our Father give you grace and peace.