Through the Eye of the Needle

Matthew 19:23-26 NIV  23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, 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.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”  26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

If you are like me, you read this story about the rich young man many times, picturing the tiny eye of a sewing needle you had seen around the house.  It made sense at the time, because a camel wouldn’t be able to get through that at all.  The more familiar I became with the story, however, the more the sewing needle picture didn’t work for me, since Jesus didn’t say it was an impossibility.  Then came the day when someone taught that this eye of the needle was actually an opening, not the full-sized gate, in the wall around a city.  For a camel to go through this eye, the load it carried had to be removed.  I understood, but still had to use my imagination.  Then came Israel . . .

As I toured Nazareth Village – a re-creation of what the life and times of Jesus would have been as he lived in Nazareth – I was excited to go through an actual eye of the needle.  Now it is not just something I imagined, but is tangible.  Now it is real for me and can be for anyone else who sees this picture!  Combining my camel ride (getting a hands-on experience of size) with stepping through this opening, I understand more vividly what Jesus was saying.  An empty camel would have a hard time getting through, as would a wealthy person who insisted on holding tightly to his belongings.

To avoid hitting my head when going through the eye, I had to bend over.  At the same time, to avoid tripping and falling, I had to lift my feet higher over the raised opening.  What a perfect picture Jesus painted for us.  It’s not impossible to enter the kingdom of heaven, but the only possible way is God’s – through Jesus Christ and His blood.  Now I can see more clearly what I couldn’t so many years ago, as I humbled myself to receive Him, leaving all my worldly works and goods behind.  Jesus had carried me through to our Father, where there are riches beyond compare!

Praise God!  That we might know Christ and make Him known – through the eye of the needle.

It’s About the People!

I am a giver.  I do not boast in saying this, for God, Who lives in me, is the Giver.  The more I let go of all those natural concerns about not having enough, or what about me, the more I give.  Amazingly, the more I give, the more I have to give.  This is definitely God at work!

Luke 6:38 “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full — pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”  (NLT)

The other day, though, I was faced with something else about me working against that growing nature of a giver.  God created me with a pretty strong administrative gift, which means, among other things, that I live by lists.  Lists help me stay focused more easily, making better use of time.  Besides that, a written list helps my brain stay de-cluttered by not having to remember everything.  In living this way, it follows that I also check off items once completed, which can lead to a get-the-task-done mentality.

As you can imagine, if this is out of balance, the list ends up driving me, rather than being a tool to help me stay focused.  While it is important to do what the Lord has given me to do every day, I must not let completion of the tasks be my only focus.  In God’s eyes, there’s a much more important reason for the tasks than the tasks themselves.  The people with whom I come into contact in the process of doing those tasks, and my character being developed because of interacting with those people are the real purpose.  Our Perfect example, Jesus, was never so involved in a task that He neglected the people – a lesson I needed to remember the other day!

I had gathered a few groceries to take to the local food pantry, which only receives donations during the same hours it serves the people.  Earlier in the day, I had made a mental note, nestled between other tasks on my written list, to deliver the groceries late in the afternoon.  As I parked, I saw several people standing outside, waiting their turns to be helped.  I also spotted a couple of women putting people’s names on a list.  Being focused on delivering my bag of help, I zeroed in on one of the women whom I recognized from a local business.  She ushered me inside the bustling food pantry, full of people helping and receiving help.  I quickly handed them my donation and returned home.

No sooner did I walk into my living room, than I was struck with the fact that I hadn’t acknowledged the very people to whom I had taken my groceries.   I was so focused on the task of delivering that I had missed the purpose of the delivery – to give to the people.  My heart wasn’t wrong in the giving.  I simply forgot the whole point of it – the people.  Perhaps all it would have taken was looking into their eyes with the love of God.  Maybe a smile would have conveyed that they still have worth and value to the wonderful God Who created them.  Just recognizing their presence in a very humbling time for them might have opened a door to share the good news of Jesus – the very reason I am able to give!

I share this with you not to give myself a way of cleansing my conscience, for Jesus Christ already paid the price with His blood, glory to His name.  No, I share it in hopes you will remember my story when you find yourselves so caught up in the tasks that you are forgetting the very reason for the tasks.  No matter what the task, it’s all about the people!

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  (NIV)

Love Never Fails

As I listened to a human message about agape love, that unconditional and perfect love of God, the Lord added His message to my heart.  The preacher encouraged us to love with agape love those people who are not yet saved, are not in right relationship with the Lord, or are even out of relationship with us.  If we live this love, we were promised, they will have to come around sometime, even if it’s in the distant future, because love never fails1.

I moved from there with Holy Spirit while He took me down a different path from the one on which I had just traveled.  Love never fails is the Word of God, so it is Truth2.  Not only is the Greek word for love in this reference agape, but in another reference, God is love3, the Greek word used is also agape.  God, Himself, is the agape love that never fails.  He doesn’t just have it, and He doesn’t just love with it.  He is this very love!

I then thought of many people who have never turned their lives around, as far as we know, nor have they been restored to family, despite friends and family members praying faithfully and loving them as best they could.  Did love fail?  Agape love never fails.  How, then, do we reconcile our experiences that appear contrary to the Truth of the Bible?

Since God is this agape love, He loves every person perfectly, regardless of their deeds or words.  He never messes up by saying or doing the wrong thing that moves them farther away, nor is He impatient with slow, or seemingly non-existent, progress.  Yet, even in His perfect love, people all over the world are not restored to family and friends, or end up in hell by refusing to repent and receive His love.  Has agape failed?  Has God failed?  Absolutely not!  Love will never fail!  What have failed are our man-made, man-determined, expectations.  If God loving perfectly (and patiently) doesn’t always bring about His desired change in others, our imperfect (and often impatient) efforts at living agape love for others certainly won’t.  How can we make sense of it all?

We need to understand the expectations we have had in these socalled failed cases.  We expected if we showed God’s love, we would get our will for someone else because we know it’s God’s will, too.  What we have failed to grasp is that, in His unlimited wisdom, plan, and perfect agape love, God created each of us with a free will, and He does not override those wills – ever –  even when those wills end up leading to eternal death in hell, forever separated from Him and His love.  Even in that outcome, love hasn’t failed.  Agape made the way for that person (and every other) to be reconciled to God’s love for all eternity, through Jesus Christ.  With His blood, Jesus paid the price so we could know this amazing love, even for those who would never accept it.  No, that love never fails.  It never has and it never will.

Where does this leave us, with regards to the wandering ones?  Since God so loves them, even as He so loves us, we continue allowing His love to grow in us and show through us so that all around us are exposed to His wonderful, perfect love.  The difference now is that we have removed our limiting human expectations about the outcome, for love never fails!

1 1 Corinthians 13:8

2 John 17:17

3 1 John 4:8 & 16

Just One Drop

I offer in this post a little twist to typical Thanksgiving messages, though it is written to elicit effusive thanks to our wonderful God.  I hope by now you know me well enough to expect nothing standard from me, no matter the season!

As I prayed with some friends recently, we saw something of Jesus’ actions on the cross that caused us all to respond with shouts of thanksgiving and praise.  I don’t know that it was a brand-new, never-heard-before kind of thing, but somehow it became real to us in prayer as it never had before.

Our prayer was for the body of Christ to know the love of God, to experience it the way He gives it – lavishly.  That word, lavishly, was very important.  When I think of a lavish feast, I think not only of top quality foods prepared by the best chefs, but of heaping platter upon heaping platter on table upon table, with nothing running out – ever.  If a parent lavishes gifts upon their child, there are so many presents that the child cannot possibly take advantage of them all.  Even that, however, doesn’t come close to what God has done for us in sending His Son Jesus.

How could Jesus, the Lamb of God, shed His blood for us, covering all sins for all time, when the lambs sacrificed for sins as a ritual act year after year never could?  It all had to do with what was in His blood.  Because He knew no sin, the quality of His blood was perfect.  With that being the case, only one drop of that perfect, sinless blood was required to pay for all sin for all time.  Just one drop covered them all.  But Jesus shed all His blood for us.  All!  He gave more than the basic requirement.  When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, He poured His love out for us lavishly.  It was almost as if, in giving it all, in abundance, lavishly, He shouted a shout that continues to this day to those who will hear:  “I love you!  The price for your sin is paid beyond its cost.  You are worth it all and more!  I love you!  I love you!”  It reverberates across the miles, across the centuries, across the cultures, throughout the entire world.  And this message is not for the masses, but for every individual.  It’s for you, too!  Receive the lavish outpouring of His love for you today!

Romans 5:16-17 NIV  16 Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 2:12 AMP  Now we have not received the spirit [that belongs to] the world, but the [Holy] Spirit Who is from God, [given to us] that we might realize and comprehend and appreciate the gifts [of divine favor and blessing so freely and lavishly] bestowed on us by God.

Follow Me As I Follow Christ

1 Corinthians 11:1 AMP  Pattern yourselves after me [follow my example], as I imitate and follow Christ (the Messiah).

Paul spoke this sentence to the believers in Corinth.  Paul – the one who has been portrayed by many teachers and preachers through the years as proud and arrogant.  Paul – the one who has been made out to be a chauvinist.  Paul – who went after Christians in every way he could, even going so far as having them killed, attempting to stop the spread of the gospel prior to his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus.  This same Paul has the audacity to say to believers to pattern themselves after him as he imitates and follows Christ.  How dare he say that?!  Would a humble Christian say that?!

Paul’s confidence appears to many to be self-confidence.  His boldness to declare in Acts 20:26, “I am innocent of the blood of all men,” looks like an outright lie to those who know his past.  That’s what stops most of us from telling others that we are innocent, or to follow us and imitate our example as we follow Christ.  We know the wrongs of our past, and we know others know them, too.  We would never consider ourselves good enough, pure enough, or righteous enough, so the last thing we’d want is for others to imitate us.  But is that what we are to consider?

Paul was not deceived, in denial, or suffering amnesia.  He practiced what he taught, and he taught what the Lord taught him – that we are to leave the past behind (even the positive) and press on toward the mark (Phil. 3:13-14).  He understood that when Jesus forgave His sins, they were no longer to be his focus, as they were truly washed away by His blood.  He needed but to go forward in the Lord, seeking to know Him more and to make Him known (Phil. 3:10) – not continually re-examining past sins, or receiving the judgments of others who wanted to do so.

When Paul called others to imitate him, there was no pride or self-confidence at all.  There was complete confidence in Who Jesus Christ is, knowing the power of the Holy Spirit alive in him, enabling him to follow Christ and lead others in the same way.  He knew the authority and the righteousness of Christ in him, and that God called him righteous because of Christ.  His focus was not on his sin, but on the completeness of Christ in him, Who is so much greater than all sin.  Jesus called Paul to follow Him and become His disciple, so he chose to do likewise.

As believers, we can have this same confidence in Christ – this same boldness to call others to follow our example.  It comes from focusing on our risen Savior, not on our old, fallen nature.  It also comes from believing the Word.  We have a new nature.  We are God’s righteousness, risen with Christ, seated with Him in heavenly realms.  It is not based on our feelings, but on His Word and what He has done.  He did it for Paul.  He’s done it for us.  Making disciples means giving them an example to follow.  So, like Paul, we can choose to say, “Follow me, as I follow Christ.”