The Widow’s Offering

man and woman eating at a park

Before Mark wrote the story of the widow who gave all she had, he prefaced it with a very important contrasting story–namely one of greedy hypocrites “who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers” (Mark 12:40 ESV). These scribes show boated their faith by walking around in long robes, they liked greetings in the marketplaces, and they had the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at feasts.

Mark introduces a dramatic contrasting scene where Jesus is observing people putting money into the treasury. Mark says that many rich people were putting large sums into the box. “And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny” (vs. 42). Jesus told his disciples that the woman put more money into the box than everyone else. His reasoning–“For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (vs. 44).

As we equip the saints for works of ministry, we should teach one another the value of freely giving to others. Some of the religious leaders who are held up by many as heroes of the faith are robbing people blind and padding their own pockets. The real heroes are the ones who faithfully and selflessly give of their own means to bless other people who are in need.

Patience In Suffering

Stones

There’s no question that there is a lot of suffering in the world. Many are suffering from poverty, starvation, disease, and thirst. Many are feeling the pain from the recent global pandemic. We’ve been doing a series on navigating the church during COVID. We’re seeing many handle the pandemic well, and many who are not. The Bible has plenty to say about suffering, so we should turn to it for guidance when we experience it.

James says that we should be patient in suffering. In fact, he says, “Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord” (James 5:7 ESV). James calls his readers to be patient and to establish their hearts. Interestingly, he pleads with them to not grumble against each other: “Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door” (vs. 9). This is important because the stress of suffering makes it easy to lash out at those we love. James warns them that they will be judged for doing so. It’s not difficult to imagine the violence and destructive speech that can be seen during times of crisis. James is right.

He continues, “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast” (vs. 10, 11). Yes, much patience is needed in the midst of suffering. When patience and endurance keep people steadfast. The church will survive suffering. It always has, and always will. But we must remain steadfast and remember to treat people with kindness and compassion.

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Jesus Attempted Isolation Before the Feeding of the 5,000

Sitting on mountain alone

Do you ever think about the circumstances that led Jesus and his disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee when they were met by a crowd of 5,000 people? Let’s back up a little bit in the text: “He (King Herod) sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. And the disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus. Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns” (Matthew 14:10-13 ESV).

John the Baptist had just been beheaded and Jesus’ disciples buried his body. Jesus was attempting to find a desolate place to be by himself to grief and pray. According to Mark, Jesus also told his disciples to find a desolate place because the crowds had been so demanding that they “had no leisure even to eat” (Mark 6:31). John’s account says that the crowds went ahead of him to the other side of the sea because “they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick” (John 6:2).

Jesus and his disciples had just buried John. They were tired. They were grieving. Though they needed rest, the crowds were relentless. They were desperate. People needed Jesus, and Jesus needed to be alone. Jesus was attempting to be alone for the sake of privacy and prayer. But the crowds would not let them get the rest they so badly needed. Jesus, instead of becoming angry, had compassion on the crowds and ended up feeding them all.

As if things couldn’t get worse, the weary disciples were rowing across the sea while Jesus stayed behind to rest. A big storm arose and when they were 3 or 4 miles from shore and Jesus wasn’t there to save them, at least not yet. This seems like a metaphor for just about every lousy situation in life. Just when things seem like we are at rock bottom, a damaging storm comes out of nowhere and threatens to finish us off. Many people are discouraged right now, but there are a few things to remember that should give us hope. First, Jesus is suffering with those who suffer. He too lost his cousin John. Second, even Jesus gets exhausted and needs rest. And third, when the storm comes, he offers his hand, calms the storm, and climbs into the boat. We hope because of who Jesus is.

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Calming the Storms

Storm on the sea

The outbreak of COVID-19 has put a lot of families under a lot of stress. With all the social distancing and quarantines, combined with illness and uncertainty with jobs, many people are very worried. We all should take as many precautions as we possibly can by heeding the advice of the Centers for Disease Control. At the same time, we need to remember that Jesus calmed storms.

Luke records a succession of powerful stories, full of Jesus’ compassion and forgiveness. Jesus forgave the sinful woman who washed his feet with her tears and hair in chapter 7. Then Luke highlights the women who accompanied Jesus, including “some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities” (Luke 8:2 ESV). Jesus had compassion on these women by healing them, and they gladly followed and provided for Jesus. Then Jesus talks about the importance of sowing seed to others, so that they hear and obey the word of God. He continues by telling a parable about putting a lamp on the stand instead of hiding it under a bed.

Immediately following, Luke tells the story of Jesus’ mother and brothers who came looking for him. “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it,” Jesus replied. He’s driving the point home that doing the word of God is far superior to only hearing it. As God’s people, we are commanded to care for one another; to treat them with dignity and to rescue and nurture those who are suffering.

It’s no coincidence that the very next story Luke records is the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Clearly they were worn out, and Jesus himself fell asleep. Then a “windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger” (Luke 8:23). The disciples rightfully cried out to Jesus, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” (Luke 8:24). In dramatic fashion, Jesus rebuked the storm and there was a calm. Jesus only asked one question of them: “Where is your faith?”

This succession in Luke should remind us of many things. First, Jesus’ whole life is about reaching into the lives of the oppressed, the poor, the widows, and those who are outcasts. Second, he calls us to follow and do the same. Planting seeds is great, but doing the word of God is better than only hearing it. And finally, following Jesus–and even being with Jesus–doesn’t prevent major storms from cropping up. They will happen. They will likely happen often. And this is all the more reason we need to put our faith in Jesus. It’s OK to cry out when we feel like we are perishing. Jesus doesn’t create storms; he calms them!

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Faith Is a Verb

faith

If the Word is the diet part of our walk with God, faith is the exercise. Faith is not only something we “have,” it’s especially something we do. Saying we “have” faith is like saying we “have” exercise. It just doesn’t make sense. James asked, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14). Our faith is something that is lived, not something that is sought. Saying, “I just need more faith” is like saying “I just need more exercise.”

It is assumed in the Bible that our faith is something done, not something that is received. By faith all the people mentioned in Hebrews 11 obeyed. They went. The followed. They led. The helped. They ministered. There were the actions that resulted in living out their faith. If we are truly people of the faith, we are active every day. There’s not a day that passes where we are not actively living by faith. We must be calling people, visiting with the sick, sharing our time and money with the poor, and helping the orphans and widows in their distress.

The phrase “going to church” is about as helpful as “going to the gym” if all we do is sit and watch others work out. Our faith is the exercise portion of our daily regiment. James was right when he said, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26).

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Our Heavenly Dwelling

Heaven

Last week we talked about our heavenly inheritance and how we need to be working. We get back what we put in. We cannot expect a free ride through life. But what will that heavenly inheritance look like? People who are not believers may poke fun and tell us that we believe in a mythical place that doesn’t exist. Or we believe in a mythical God who we can’t see. So how do we respond to that?

The reality is that none of us know what Heaven looks like. We don’t have a clue. And we should be OK with that answer. Paul says that we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). Does this mean that we blindly believe that something better is waiting for us when we die? Not at all! Faith is not blind. We know that Heaven is real. God tells us that. We know that there are breathtaking places here on the earth–exotic landscapes that exude pristine beauty. Others who have been there can describe it, show pictures, etc., but it will not fully engage all of our senses until we have physically gone there. Those places here on earth are no less real just because we have not physically been there. They indeed exist. And they are incredible parts of God’s creation.

If we know this to be true on the earth, it is equally true for Heaven. Paul says, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. . . . He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Cor. 5:1, 5 ESV). God has been preparing our heavenly home since the beginning. We can only imagine what heaven will be like. But we have the Spirit as a guarantee. We know Heaven to be real and incredible and peaceful. “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”

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The Testing of Your Faith

wisdom

As we focus on the theme of wisdom this year, it’s appropriate to talk about struggles in the context of wisdom. Oftentimes, in the middle of our deepest struggles, wisdom is what carries us through. Wisdom allows us to see beyond the tragedy so that hope can emerge and come into deeper focus. Wisdom helps us make guided decisions so that we don’t remain in a permanent rut.

Without wisdom, we would never understand that trials can actually deepen our faith. They have the ability to refine us and make us stronger. James says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him (James 1:2-4).

Most of us don’t have the first instinct to be joyful when trials hit. It is not our fist response. Our sight gets clouded by the agony of the pain. We often are dazed, shocked, and have to focus on just breathing. But it’s wisdom that helps us see the big picture. Wisdom tells us that there is a loving God who validates our suffering. Wisdom tells us that we can put one foot in front of the other and that each step is another movement forward.

But we also need to ask in faith. James says, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” In all of our trials, we need to ask for more wisdom. Our faith will be tested. Our faith is tested. Let’s ask for wisdom as it is tested.

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