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Devotional

I am amazed at how often a Bible teacher will come along, trying to convince God’s people that he knows the day or the hour when Jesus will return. I am also amazed how often these Bible teachers will “fleece the flock”, convincing them that he needs money to get the word out. As they give, he pockets much of the money.

Our Lord could not say more plainly that even He doesn’t know when His Father will say, “Son, it’s time. Today is the Day.” The Father is not sharing His timetable with anyone. And yes, that’s a good thing!

Sure, it would be nice to know that I have two years before the End. It would give me time to grow in my faith, tell people about Jesus, teach believers how to grow in their faith, read my Bible more, and pray more.

But Jesus’ point in today’s Bible reading from Mark 13 (specifically Mark 13:32-37) is that I should be doing those things anyway. I don’t know when the Master of the house will return, so I need to always be ready.

Application

How about you? Seriously, are you more interested in knowing when Jesus will return than being ready for His return? Do you spend more time reading Last Days novels and listening to Last Days teachers than you spend reading your Bible and listening to teachers talking about God, and how you can know Him better and love Him (and others) more? Is your Bible reading broad-based, drawing from different parts of the Bible, not just your favorite books, chapters, and verses? (Note: That’s one reason we need to use a Bible reading plan goes through the New Testament or the entire Bible in a year.)

He says to be alert. He gives us signs to let us know that the End is near. Yes, we are in the Last Days. But know that we have been in the Last Days since He arrived on our planet two thousand years ago!

The Kingdom of God has come (Luke 11:20). Its consummation has not come yet, but His Kingdom has already come! For now, we live in a state of “already, but not yet”.

Are you ready?


At the end of today’s reading from Mark 12, we find the story of the widow dropping money into the treasury (Mark 12:41-44).

We aren’t told if Jesus was the only person who was watching, but I think it’s safe to assume that he wasn’t alone in observing people as they dropped in their offering. Jesus makes the point elsewhere (Matthew 6:3) that our giving should be done in secret.

Jesus is the only person who should know how much we give. Unfortunately, because of the way tax deduction documentation is set up in the US, it’s difficult to truly give in secret. When you drop a check in the offering plate, put cash into an envelope, or make an online donation, more eyes than you think will see your offering.

It’s important to give. Not because the church needs the money. Not because the preacher needs the money. And not because God needs the money. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). Trust me, He doesn’t need your money!

But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t give. Actually, I would add that we need to give. Giving is good for us. Giving reminds us that everything that we have belongs to God and that we are merely stewards of what He has given us. Everything we receive we should hold with open hands.

Some people give to be seen by others. Some people give in order to receive a tax deduction. But what if you didn’t receive a tax deduction? Would you still give?

When you give, do you give something, just to have something to drop in the offering plate so other people won’t think that you don’t give at all? Or do you give out of the abundance of your heart (and wallet)?

Application

The widow gave what she had… all that she had. How about you?

Today’s Bible reading from Mark 11 includes Jesus cleansing the Temple (Mark 11:15-17).

To understand what’s going on, it helps to get an idea of the general layout of the Temple in the First Century, which was divided into several parts. The High Priest was the only man allowed into the Most Holy Place (Holy of Holies), and then only once a year. Other priests could go into the Court of the Priests and the Holy Place. Men were able to go into the Court of Israel, but not into the Court of the Priests. Women were able to go into the Court of the Women, but not into the Court of Israel. Surrounding the Court of the Women and the Court of Israel was the Court of the Gentiles.

During the First Century, Jews would go to the Temple to offer their sacrifices. For convenience’s sake, instead of bringing the animals from home, they would often purchase acceptable sacrificial animals when they got there. The marketplace for buying their unblemished animals was in the Court of the Gentiles. And this is where Jesus created a scene. Well, actually, the scene had already been created by corrupt and crooked vendors, and Jesus just showed up to clean it up.

So why was Jesus so upset? Think about it: The Court of the Gentiles was the only part of the Jewish holy place that Gentiles could access. So all they could see of Jewish worship was corrupt, crooked activity. Instead of it being a sacred place, it was a profaned place. Instead of it being a place of prayer, it had been turned into a “den of thieves”. (Mark 11:17)

Application

Although He does not live in a building (Acts 7:48), God takes worship very seriously. Where we worship isn’t nearly as important what and that we worship. (John 4:21-24) And what was being done in the Court of the Gentiles distracted Jews from a God they could worship and kept Gentiles from knowing a God they should worship.

God is worthy of Worship. Christians do missions and evangelism because we want to help people to find the God Who created them to worship Him.

Jesus makes a couple of remarks about possessions in today’s Bible reading in Mark 10. The chapter includes the story of the Rich Young Ruler, a man who had a lot of stuff.

After telling Jesus that he had kept the commandments since birth, Jesus went directly for the young man’s heart: He told him to go sell everything he had. Mark tells us that the young man went away grieving because he had a lot of stuff (Mark 10:22). I would add that a lot of stuff had the young man; he was preoccupied with his stuff.

The other thing that Jesus said about possessions is that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom.

I have heard preachers say that there is a place in the Holy Land called The Needle where camel owners will take their camels, but the opening — called The Eye — is so small that their camel has to get down on its knees to go through. Well, that’s a great “preacher story”, but I seriously doubt that there’s any truth in it; I’ve never seen a reference to it in a Bible Atlas or heard any scholars make mention of it.

But the application of that preacher story is very true: humility is required in order to be a Kingdom Citizen. We have to have a mindset that life isn’t about us. Life is about the King and His Kingdom. (Matthew 6:33) Believers are merely subjects — adopted children, but still subjects.

Application

Nowhere in Scripture are we told that being rich is evil. However, throughout Scripture, we’re told that when we are blessed, we need to use the blessing to bless other people.

So how much should you give? Should we give 10% and live on 90%? Maybe. Or perhaps God wants you to give 90% and live on 10%.

I don’t know your heart. But a gracious heart is a generous heart.

One point from today’s Bible reading in Mark 9 has been misapplied by many modern-day disciples, in search of a closer walk with God.

Mark 9:43-48 records Jesus telling His disciples that if their hand causes them to fall away, they should cut it off because it’s better to go to heaven without a hand than to be cast into hell. He says the same about plucking out their eye if it causes them to fall away.

I believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible. Yes, I know that’s a radical idea these days, especially when you come to passages like this.

Now, by “literal interpretation”, I mean that I try to determine and apply the original message of the original Bible speaker/writer to his original hearer/reader in their original context. I do not mean that I believe that God intends us to take the “inspired finger” approach to Bible reading and Bible study.

I remember a professor in seminary who pushed the “inspired finger” approach to its absurd application of someone asking God for a Bible character he should emulate. He closed his eyes, opened his Bible, and dropped his finger randomly onto the page. When he opened his eyes, he found his “inspired finger” on Matthew 27:5b, “[Judas] went and hanged himself.”

Confused, the sincere young man asked God for confirmation, closed his eyes, opened his Bible, and his finger dropped on Luke 10:37b, “And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise.’”

Really confused, he asked God for more confirmation since he had been told by his pastor, “Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” (2 Corinthians 13:1b).

Again, he repeated his steps for finding God’s will and his finger landed on John 13:27b, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.'”

Like I said, my professor noted that this was an absurd example of attempting to hear God’s voice. God speaks in normal ways just like we do. Occasionally, we’ll find Jesus using figures of speech like hyperbole, which I believe He is making in Mark 9:43-48.

Notice that in all of my Bible references above, all of them were at the end of a sentence or paragraph. Just like we speak today, what we say can best be understood in the context in which it was said. We can’t just pull out random parts of sentences and think we’re getting the intended message of a love letter from our spouse. The same is true in God’s “love letter” to His people.

Can God speak in partial sentences discovered by an “inspired finger” dropped on a random page of the Bible? Absolutely! However, that’s not how He normally speaks. Just because God spoke through the mouth of a donkey doesn’t mean He normally does. (Numbers 22:28-30) Actually, because this is the only place in the entire Bible that He did, I think it’s safe to say that God very rarely speaks through a donkey. If you think God is speaking to you through your donkey, it’s a safe bet that you are not hearing the voice of God! And yet, that is precisely what Mormon missionaries encourage their hopeful proselytes to do when they tell them to read the Book of Mormon, asking God for a “burning of the bosom” (Luke 24:32) to confirm that the Book of Mormon is a divine book.

Application

When Jesus tells you to cut off your hand or to pluck out your eye, He is using a figure of speech to tell you how seriously you need to deal with sin. Sin is deadly and it must be dealt with accordingly. But you don’t need to look for a knife to whack off your hand.

As you read your Bible, read it as you would read anything else: read it as regular words in regular sentences in regular paragraphs in regular books. (Note: The chapter and verse divisions are not inspired and began to be used only about 500 years ago.)

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