Spiritual challenges of the financially wealthy

Spiritual challenges of the financially wealthy

Jesus deals with a “rich young ruler” in Mark 10. That sounds like a hand I wouldn’t mind being dealt in life, amiright?! He’s rich. He’s young. He’s powerful… Gees, was he good looking, too? I mean, what was this guy missing??? Yet this man comes to Jesus seeking the key to the gift of eternal life – something he seemed to understand only Jesus could offer. Here are six observations I make from that encounter that I believe apply to those wealthy in the things of this world today as well:

  1. Never satisfied with your success. Many suggest that the young man in this story was coming to Jesus to get an “atta boy” for what a moral person he was. Regardless, he was searching for something he knew he lacked. America’s first billionaire, John Rockefeller was famous for answering the question, “How much more does a man need?” to which he responded, “Just a little bit more.” It’s always just a little more.
  2. Constant need to stay busy. The story begins by telling us that this man “ran up to Him…” Always running. Always in a hurry. Everything is always urgent. The man’s life wasn’t at risk. Neither was his riches. Something far greater was – his soul. Even though he couldn’t identify the thing he lacked, he knew it couldn’t wait. Often times, those financially wealthy can’t stand the idea of idleness, even for rest sake. Because idleness tends to lead toward reflection, and reflection leads toward…
  3. Feeling empty and unhappy when introspective. I often refer to laying awake at night, staring at the ceiling, letting the TV wash over you as you wonder “what’s wrong with me?” This is not isolated to wealthy people to be sure, but I believe they sense this more frequently and painfully than others. The rich young ruler may have been looking for an “atta boy” from Jesus, but I really think he came in such a rush because of this emptiness. He knew something was missing from his otherwise overflowing life. Not that he hadn’t tried to fill that gap…
  4. Attempts at filling a perceived gap. Jesus confronts him with the commandments in the Old Testament, and the rich young ruler replies with an emphatic “DONE IT!” response. I read that as, “I’ve TRIED! What else do I need to make this hole in my life go away?” Every year another celebrity takes their life – usually for reasons we don’t ever truly understand. They’ve got everything: money, fame, people paid to serve them constantly, beautiful women/men to sleep with them, luxurious and exotic vacation spots. They’re often top of their fields, be it acting, singing, business… or all of the above. And if that isn’t enough, they can turn to substances, alcohol, adrenaline rushes, a new sexual partner, another vacation, etc. But eventually a realization sets in…
  5. A consistent nagging that all you have isn’t what you really want or need. As the rich young ruler presses Jesus for the answers he craves, Jesus makes the same offer of life to him that He offers everyone: Drop what you’ve got, and follow Me. This is the invitation we all get. We’re all invited in Jesus name, to let go of every other source of identity and self reliance, and follow Jesus. The rich young ruler has his answer! He’s now staring face to face with what he wants – what he NEEDS! He can feel it in his very soul, drawing him to the life Jesus offers to all who come to Him in faith. But it’s not always so simple to separate our white-knuckle grip on our stuff. Especially when we have a lot of stuff…
  6. An unhealthy sense of self reliance. Ultimately, the young man leaves Jesus instead of following Him. He goes away “grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” Jesus didn’t want the man’s wealth. He can walk on water, multiply a single meal to feed a multitude, He even defeated death – what would He need money for?! But he did call the young man to give up the source of security he was clinging to – sell it off, give it to the poor. But as is true with every wealthy man or woman, the temptation to trust in yourself is very strong. After all, you made it this far. You were never “suppose” to be able to get where you are, but you did it. Maybe I just need another vacation…

Look, it’s ok to have a lot of wealth. We read in the Bible that there were many people who had great resources who followed Christ. But generally it was the destitute, the broken, the hurting. Wealthy people can receive the gift Jesus offers just fine… but they must come to Him the same way as the poor. Humble. Broken. Desperate. Ready to leave everything else behind. If only there wasn’t so much to leave…

There’s nothing wrong with possessing riches. But there is everything wrong with riches possessing you. May you seek and receive the only true riches that outlives money, property, and earthly wealth. May you and I come to the cross , not in our self-made attempts at power or prestige, but rather in our poverty; and may you find what the rich young ruler sought.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:9 NASB

Pastor John

Praise through the Pain

Praise through the Pain

You ever feel like you do the right thing, and yet bad things happen anyway?! It’s like “Karma” got drunk and punished the wrong person. No good deed goes unpunished – that was a phrase I heard growing up from other adults expressing this exact frustration.

The Apostle Paul had to know that feeling too. In Acts 16 we see this remarkable event where he and Silas were preaching the message of hope in Jesus, even performing an exorcism on a slave girl – in a city called Thyatira in modern day Turkey. For this, they were arrested, physically beaten, and thrown in jail. Well this sucks, would probably be my impulsive response to such circumstances. But what happened next was even more incredible:

25 But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; 26 and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. 27 When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” 29 And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, 30 and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They worshipped God – after being beat up, and thrown in jail… hardly feels like the occasion to celebrate. And while it doesn’t give us a ton of detail, it tells us that they sang hymns – those are songs of worship addressing God directly. There wasn’t anything sarcastic or halfhearted about it.

It was after this, that God literally shook the prison open, freeing them from their cell – but they didn’t leave! I mean why bother? If God could open their prison and decide they could go, there’s hardly any need to rush. The prison guard (who woke up from the earthquake) saw all the doors open and assumed the prisoners fled, was about to take his life – knowing that a far greater punishment awaited him once his centurion supervisor discovered his failure. But upon finding Paul and Silas still there, he hits his knees and asks about their hope in Jesus. Now that is a miracle…

We don’t tend to celebrate or worship God in the middle of difficulty. It’s easier and far more convenient to wallow in self-pity, anger, guilt, and resentment. But when we find within ourselves the capacity to praise God through the pain, God literally opens doors and sets us free. And often times, the outcome is not only our own deliverance, but also that of someone who’s been silently watching us, just like the prison guard. Or your children. Or coworkers.

Praise God through the pain. Find the good to acknowledge. Trust in His sovereignty, that this will somehow work together for your good and His ultimate glory. You didn’t want a comfortable, boring life anyway. You wanted a life that mattered. And nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

Pastor John

Quit saying you’re praying

Quit saying you’re praying

quit-prayingI’ll pray for you. It’s the “proper” response in American church culture whenever someone shares something with you about their struggle. It really sounds nice. And I believe it’s almost always offered with the purest intentions. But it tends to have as little sincerity as “bless you!” does whenever someone sneezes.

Because of this, when I was raising support before we moved to launch LifeCity, I literally asked no one to pray for me. I felt like it was ridiculous to ask people who claimed the name of Jesus to pray for one of their own who was trying to start a church. Sure, it sounds spiritual to “ask” for prayer. But even if you don’t like me, you’re not going to pray for me unless I ask you to?! Pardon me, but your prayer life needs help if that’s the case.

Now it’s our obligatory, knee-jerk response on social media whenever a terrorist attack, natural disaster, social injustice, or some other form of tragedy affects some other part of the world to flood social media with hashtags, quotes of solidarity, and temporary profile pics expressing our love  – and again, prayers – for those suffering such terrible losses…

Then, of course, one week later, we’re back to our completely unaffected lives. The hashtags fall from the lists of “what’s trending” and the temporary pics revert to our normal selves, and like our often completely meaningless expressions of prayer – nothing has actually changed.

No one without food was fed. No one homeless found shelter. No one grieving a loss was comforted. Nothing. NOTHING! was changed by our shout-outs saying that we’re praying for any city, country, or people group affected by such things.

Look – I don’t mean to be such a kill-joy, and I certainly dislike coming across as a jerk – especially regarding praying! But we need to really, really quit blaming prayer for our inaction. Hear me out…

In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us, “23 Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”

Offerings were presented in the Temple as part of the prayer rituals of ancient Israel. Jesus literally tells His followers to stop their prayer offering to go make things right with someone they’ve offended. In other words – it is more important to God that we actually do good instead of simply praying for good. 

Please note – in the very same passage, Jesus tells His followers to then go and present their offering after they’ve reconciled with the offended brother; but the priority is not on merely doing “religious” exercises, but improving people’s lives.

It is far more difficult to look someone in the eye and apologize, or offer forgiveness to them than it is to “pray” for them and hope that God just glosses over a situation you would rather avoid altogether. Prayer does not work that way.

Prayer moves the hand of God only to the extent that I’m willing to obey Him. Where obedience is lacking, so is the power of prayer. I’m not saying that prayer doesn’t work. I’m saying that prayer without faith doesn’t work. And faith in God is always accompanied by a corresponding action. James talks about that in James 2:14-17. Paul even talks about this in Ephesians 2:10.

So don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying “Don’t Pray!” I’m saying that we need to quit hiding behind prayer as an act of disobedience for doing actual good. Feed a hungry family. Donate some time to volunteering in your city. Restock a coat closet at a school for students in need. Spend some time with someone who’s hurting. Go and actually do something! Go and be the answer to someone else’s prayer. Have a strong bias toward action. And then pray for them, and that others would join you in trying to meet real needs in this broken, hurting world.

Otherwise, don’t ask God to do something He’s already commanded and enabled you to do. Seriously.

Sincerest blessings,
Pastor John

P.S. – The next time someone tells you they’re struggling with something you genuinely can’t do anything about, try this. Instead of saying “I’ll pray for you,” just do it. Just pray for them right then and there. Say, “Can I pray for you right now?” Put your hand on their shoulder (if appropriate) and pray for God to intervene right then and there. And afterward, make sure they’ve got your number in case there is something you can do to help.

You’re not a Bad Person

You’re not a Bad Person

BadPersonThis past Sunday, I preached a message as part of a new series called, Made New. You can check out the message below. One of the main thoughts I shared was this:

You’re not a bad person.

We tend to judge ourselves as “bad” or “good” based on our perception of ourselves in comparison to our perception of others. This gets tricky on several levels. Because I know my faults far better than anyone else, I can be far more critical of myself. We all do this… we compared our “behind the scenes” to everyone else’s “highlight reel”. You’re not a bad person. That’s not your greatest problem. Your greatest problem is – outside of Christ – you’re a dead person.

Ouch. That was direct! Maybe even abrasive, huh? Well please don’t be offended at me. I’m not even the one pointing it out. In Ephesians 2:5 the Apostle Paul writes, “even though we were dead in transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you are saved!”

The bad news is – you’re not bad – you’re dead apart from Christ. If you were just bad, you could do something about your condition. You could work harder, get your life cleaned up, cut some bad habits, start some better ones, get all “religious”, and help yourself get right with God. A bad person could get better…

But a dead person is pretty helpless. You’ve never seen a dead person perform CPR on themselves, or warm up a defibrillator to shock their heart back to life. No, because dead people need outside help – they need a Savior. Someone who is not dead themselves, who can breathe life back into the lifeless, change their heart, and restore them to new life.

And that’s exactly what Jesus does for us. He squared off with death and dragged it kicking and screaming into it’s own grave… but He walked out victorious over death on the third day. Now, the One who came back from death offers to breathe His new life into our tired, broken, dead souls.

Have you experienced a new life in Christ? Have you placed your faith and trust into the only one who can bring a dead soul back to life? I invite you to do so today.

Pastor John


Bread and Wine

Bread and Wine

breadwine“Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not proceed in the way of evil men… For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.” Proverbs 4:14, 17

Bread and wine… interesting choice of words for Solomon, the writer of Proverbs 4. In preparing for a message on this passage recently, this detail did not pass by me unnoticed. Interestingly, we see bread and wine pop up in Scripture often.

Bread is brought up often as a reference to food in general in the Bible, and is symbolic of receiving satisfaction. Likewise, wine appears frequently in Scripture and is typically symbolic of joy.

Some examples of bread symbolizing satisfaction include…

  • Gen. 3:19, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.”
  • Gen. 18:5, “and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves…”
  • Lev. 26:5, “And you shall eat your bread til you are full…”
  • Psalm 104:15, “…And bread which sustains man’s heart.”
  • Matt. 6:11, “Give us this day, our daily bread…”

Of course, Jesus also refers to Himself as the Bread of Life in John 6:35 – the ultimate source of our satisfaction.

Some examples of wine symbolizing joy include…

  • Job 1:13, “One day when Job’s sons and daughters were feasting and drinking wine…”
  • Psalm 4:7, “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.”
  • Psalm 104;15, “…Wine, which makes the heart of man glad…”
  • Pro. 3:10, “then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.”
  • Ecc. 2:3, “I tried cheering myself with wine,…”
  • Isa. 24:7, “The new wine dries up and the vine withers; all the merrymakers groan.”

The fascinating thing about bread and wine, is that we see them together frequently in Scripture, but never more clearly than at “The Last Supper” an event that we reenact in part today in commemoration of Jesus words during that meal. We typically refer to this memorial as “communion,” or “the Lord’s supper.” It was at this event that Jesus told the apostles, “Take eat [this bread], this is my body which is broken for you… This cup [of wine] is the new covenant in my blood which is shed for you…” When we take communion, not only are we “remembering the Lord’s death until He comes,” we’re also declaring “Jesus you are the Bread of Life, and the only thing that can ultimately satisfy my longing soul. You are the only One who can fill my life with joy unspeakable – full of glory!”

But in Proverbs 4, it says that those who find themselves on the path of the wicked “Eat the bread of wickedness,” and “drink the wine of violence.”

When we get our lives on the path of the wicked, we get everything backwards. Those in this passage get their satisfaction from rebellion and wickedness; they get their joy from harming others.

Whenever we get off the way of wisdom and down the path of the wicked, we’ll call wrong what God says is right – and call right what God says is wrong.

The net result? We rebel. And harm others. And get our satisfaction and joy from doing such. May God help us to not twist His Word, to love others and show mercy, to be humble and gracious – even as Jesus has been towards us. Remember this the next time you take of the bread and wine at communion.

Blessings, Pastor John

What we missed in our sex lives

What we missed in our sex lives

sex livesI recently began a teaching series on sex at LifeCity Church by quoting an otherwise very unlikely verse – Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one!”

What in the world does that have to do with sex?! Glad you asked.

In Genesis 2:24-25, “…a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”

One word. A Hebrew word – echad. It means “to be united in every way possible.” It’s the word the Bible uses in the Old Testament to describe the “oneness” of God. A word that supports Jesus’ teaching of the Trinity in the New Testament: that God is a united, “one” God. There is a Hebrew word for absolute one – yachid. Interestingly, yachid is never used to describe God, only echad. This makes perfect sense when Jesus came along and said things like, “I and my Father are one.” (John 10:30) and, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” (John 14:9).

Again, what does any of that have to do with sex…

The same word describing the perfect, absolute union of the persons of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is the same word that God uses to describe the nature of sexual union between a husband and wife… echad – to be united in every way possible.

In other words, sex isn’t “just sex.” It’s far more than mere physical pleasure between two consenting adults. It’s oneness in every way possible. It’s physical, emotional, relational, and even spiritual.

I have this interesting decorative piece in my office (pictured above) from mine and Tiffany’s wedding day. It’s a mixture of sands and shells in a glass jar. We made this in place of the more traditional “unity candle”. On our wedding day, my wife poured one color of sand into this jar over the seashells, while I simultaneously added sand of a different color. Though I didn’t understand hardly any Greek or Hebrew at the time, I realize now that this was a perfect illustration of echad.

The sand is completely united. You could never separate the two again, and attempting to do so would be extremely messy, time-consuming, and more than likely useless. Though you can still see ribbons of both sands lacing their way through the glass, they might as well be shaken together – it wouldn’t be any more or less difficult to separate the sand either way.

I wondered this past week what would have happened if we attempted this demonstration of our lives coming together “in every way possible”, but without the benefit of the glass jar…

For one, we would have a huge mess. Secondly, it would be almost impossible to keep the mixed sands long-term. We would lose much of the sand in the process. We could vacuum it all up, and then try to put it in a jar. Of course that would doubtlessly leave bits of other stuff added to the sand – lint, dirt, and who-knows-what-else.

I’m glad we didn’t do it that way! And though the sand has been kept in the same delicate glass jar, we’ve seen to it’s safety our entire marriage. That sand has withstood 4 children, 9 moves, and nearly 11 years of marriage and ministry.

The worst thing imaginable for echad is that it would be separated. Because it is so definitively intimate, tearing echad apart, like the sand, is messy, and even painful. It was never meant to be undone.

God hates divorce… He hates what it does to families and to the two lives that were joined together, only to be torn apart. As we read the Bible it’s equally clear that God despises the frivolous means by which our culture treats sexuality – how we so simply create and tear echad apart. Hopping from one partner to the next the moment that person aggravates us, or a more attractive offer comes along.

According to Genesis 1:28, God blessed the marriage relationship. Like the glass jar, marriage is a safe place where echad can be freely expressed, enjoyed, and appreciated in all of it’s intimate implications. Outside of that jar, you lose it’s beauty and end up with a mess.

God doesn’t tell us to wait until marriage to express our sexuality because He’s trying to limit our pleasure, but because He’s trying to prevent our pain. It’s better to be a whole individual (yachid) than be echad and have it severed. You always lose part of yourself when echad is torn. Like the sand, it’s unavoidable.

A few realizations to consider based on this…

  • Sexual purity is not something to be mocked, but admired.
  • Sex is a gift from God. His view on it isn’t less than the world’s, but much greater.
  • If you’re single and sleeping around, you’re hurting people other than just yourself.
  • If you’re single but living with your “other half”, make echad safe in marriage.
  • If you’re married, you’ve got to protect echad. Like the jar, it’s delicate and precious.
  • If you have regrets, humbly bring them to the cross of Jesus and find healing.

Jesus did the most brutal thing imaginable when He died on that cross. He didn’t just get tortured and killed – He sacrificed echad with the Father (Matthew 27:46) to offer salvation to humanity. When you understand the true significance of that, you’ll never see Jesus’ death – or your sexuality – as something to be treated trivially again.

Pastor John