In the first two parts of this miniseries on how to practically apply Biblical wisdom to our lives, we looked at the two Great Commandments:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30)
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)
Today, let’s look at Mark 12:13-17, in which the Jewish religious leaders sought to trap Jesus by the question of taxes, something that was as pleasant to their society as it is to ours:
“Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”
Jesus answered, “‘Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.’
“They brought the coin, and he asked them, ‘Whose portrait is this? and whose inscription?’
“‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.'”
Without getting into whether death or taxes is preferable, let’s look at some ways to practically apply this teaching of Jesus:
1) Recognize that God’s standards and man’s are different. Money is very important to many people, so important to some that they start wars and foment dissent so that they can make more of it. While money is necessary to all so that we can eat, clothe ourselves, and live in a decent shelter, don’t make it the focal point of your life. Recognize that your value to God has nothing to do with the amount of material matter you do, or don’t possess.
2) You don’t have to be rich to give back to God. God knows how much is in our bank account. There are plenty of millionaires and billionaires who fund “philanthropic” projects that do little more than glorify their name, and if “all” you can do is buy a package of socks for your neighbor’s little girl who gets made fun of because hers have holes in them, you’ve done much, much more than many who preen at their own generosity.
3) Money isn’t everything. God’s gifts to people include far more than material wealth: intelligence, creativity, a spirit of kindness, the ability to lift 50-pound sacks of dog food into another person’s car, the willingness to listen and not pass judgment: these are all gifts that we can give back to God. Caesar doesn’t want them, nor would he know how to use them.
4) Give where you want. In these days of corporate multi-national globalized everything, charities are bigger and better than ever as well. Feel free to say no to sales pressure, and be alert to needs that God shows you, specifically: it could be a very small organization of one or two people trying to make a difference; it could be that neighbor and her child needing socks; it could be a tank of gas for your neighbor’s best friend’s sister who needs it to drive to a distant job interview. (Do you see how frequently our neighbor comes into this?)
5) What does God want? Psalm 51:17 tells us, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” This isn’t something we actively pray for, and indeed, it’s actually easier to write a check — no matter how little is in our account — but if you are going through rough circumstances and you approach God with humility and a willingness to admit your weakness, you’re rendering unto God what is God’s.
Living as a Christian doesn’t so much involve thinking outside the box as it does giving the box to God, and letting Him throw it as far as east is to west.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I am constantly amazed at the gifts God gives us. They never look like man’s treasures.
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In Part 1 of this miniseries, we looked at the Great Commandment,
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30).
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Part 2 of our miniseries of tangible things we can do to live our faith involves the second Great Commandment:
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)
So, how do we do this practically?
1) Jesus Himself gives us the best example of how to fulfill this commandment in the tale of the good Samaritan, which you can find in Luke 10:30-37. Read this account, reread it, and think and meditate upon it through the day. Let it absorb into your spiritual muscle fiber.
2) Think about how you forgive yourself, and translate that into the love you feel for others. Most of us, when we recognize that we’ve done something wrong, are relatively forgiving of our foibles: “I was tired,” or “I shouldn’t have said that, but she provoked me!” If we love others as we love ourselves, we can grant them that same sense of leniency. It’s a given that we don’t spend days, hours, weeks, and years brooding darkly about our sins and feeding a sense of bitterness against ourselves.
3) Little, thoughtful acts make us happy — they do the same for others as well. Making an impact on lives doesn’t have to involve filling football stadiums with acolytes who are there to hear us speak, watch our face on the oversized video screen, and buy our products. Remember how it made you feel when the person in the grocery line looked at your one can of diced tomatoes and said, “Go ahead of me — I’m in no hurry”? You can give that same good feeling to another person, treating them as you enjoyed being treated.
4) Your neighbor’s everywhere, and some of them only you can reach. There are seven billion people on this planet, and we can’t encounter them all, but we can interact with, and bless, the unique and special individuals in our lives — our family members, co-workers, customers, literal neighbors, people we meet online via social media or forums, the person who delivers your newspaper. Think about the people in your life, and ask God how you can be a positive light in theirs.
5) Speaking of thinking, do so — and pray for the various people who come into your life. You don’t have to rush through hundreds and hundreds of names each night, but as you pray and meditate, ask God to bring someone to mind who needs your prayers (He does this, and it never ceases to be an awesome experience). You may or may not know a lot about their situation, but that doesn’t matter, because God knows it all. As you pray, if an idea comes regarding a way to bless any of these people, see about bringing it to fruition.
One small act builds upon another, and as we get into practice performing acts and thoughts of kindness, we ourselves change — into kinder, more thoughtful people. All while blessing others!
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I write about, and meditate upon, living a real, practical Christianity that makes a difference in our lives, and that of others.
Several times, I have had people write, or say to me,
“I want to live my life for Christ, but I don’t know how. It seems too difficult.”
It is, and it isn’t, and at base, living for Christ involves living, minute by minute, doing the things that are put before us.
The next three installments of Commonsense Christianity will address three practical, tangible things we can do to live our faith — and they’re not all inclusive. The Bible is filled with practical application to living, but let’s just start with three, and today, we’ll focus on number one — literally, number one — the most important commandment of all:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)
In the Bible, when something is repeated on a regular basis, it’s generally because it’s important, and this statement is made by Jesus, who adds “with all your mind,” in Luke 10:27, Matthew 22:37, and Mark 12:30.
Let’s apply this practically:
1) “With all your mind,” implies thinking, and the more we think about God, the more He is in our mind. Control and discipline your thoughts — when you’re tempted to worry, envy your neighbor, gossip in your head, or conduct mental conversations with your boss in which you systematically slash his ego to ribbons — think about God instead.
2) It’s easier to think about God the more you know about Him. Pick up the Bible and start reading — somewhere, anywhere — and recognize that every word in this book gives you information about God. The more you read, the more knowledge you glean. The more knowledge you have, the more you have to draw upon for thought.
3) As you think more on God, be open to what you can do for Him involving your strength, resources, money, talents, and skills. These don’t have to be big, impressive tasks. Simply smiling at someone you pass in the grocery aisles, or opening the door for another person, works. Start small, and be open to more as it happens.
4) Don’t worry about if you “love God enough.” He loves us first, and as we accept that love, ponder it, wonder at it, He gently teaches us how to love Him back. We are children, and in the same way wise adults are patient with little ones, our gracious Father is the wisest adult of all.
5) Ask God to help you. Great men, and women, throughout the Bible have relied upon God for the big, and little things, in their lives. Fulfilling this commandment is no small thing, and we can’t do it on our own. But when we ask Him, “Show me what this means — literally, and spiritually — guide me,” He is faithful to answer.
If this seems too simple, it is, and it isn’t — in the same way that young children don’t start out running, neither do we. We start out small, our hands in the hand of a big God, and learn incrementally.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I encourage Christians to seek the God of love, mercy, grace, peace, and joy.
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Many Christians — myself included — have looked to various events and stories of the Bible as paralleling our own lives. We derive wisdom, teaching, instruction and comfort from the Exodus adventure and subsequent wanderings of the Israelites in the desert, or we see ourselves in the man who called out to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9: 24)
This is one of the purposes of God’s Word — in detailing actual, historical events describing the involvement of God with His people, it leads us to discover and absorb truth that apply to our situations today — there is great comfort in knowing that when the writer proclaimed, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” (Hebrews 13: 8) he was addressing not only his 1st century readers, but providing words of comfort to the generations of believers to follow.
That being said, most of us are intelligent enough to recognize that the historical events of the Bible, and the Psalms written around them, and the prophecies of what was and is to come, do not dovetail seamlessly into our individual lives, and we won’t necessarily find word for word and sentence for sentence application.
One of my favorite gymnastic interpretations of Scripture is Gloria Copeland’s quote regarding Mark 10:29-30, the Scripture saying,
“No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much –“
There’s more, but prosperity preachers like to cut it off there.
Copeland says in her book, God’s Will Is Prosperity:
“Give $10 and receive $1000; Give $1000 and receive $100,000 . . . give one house and receive one hundred houses or a house worth one hundred times as much. Give one airplane and receive one hundred times the value of the airplane . . . In short, Mark 10:30 is a very good deal.”
And Being Really Inflexible
Those of us not attending a mega-mammon-church that puts a big focus on giving to the ministry so that members, somehow, can get back, laugh off Copeland’s rendition of truth, and rightly so. Because of this over-the-top way of looking at things, however, other Christians — I think they’re well meaning — make it their ministry to seek out, identify, find, and shoot into little holes beloved verses that have brought great comfort to people in distress.
One of these verses is Jeremiah 29: 11:
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.'”
Recently, I ran into the words of a Christian who took great pains to — actually, seemed to delight in doing so — dismantle this verse, loftily informing the addlepated puddingheads among us that the words have nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with us today, as they were clearly written to the Jews exiled to Babylon, promising them that someday they (or actually their descendants) would return to their land and be blessed (and this is, indeed, the context in which the verse was written). His resulting analysis scolded readers for even thinking that they could apply this verse to their lives, much less derive any hope from it. The tone used was condescending, disdainful, supercilious, and patronizing, which is too bad, because the writer’s intentions were good (I think he’s as tired of prosperity preachers as I am), and the rest of the article was more balanced.
Out of Context
While it is true that we Christians have a lamentable habit of pulling verses out of context and using them to further our way of thinking, intelligent readers who encounter this passage in light of its context do not have to reject its potential for meaning in their lives any more than we discount Jesus’ long speech to his disciples in John chapters 14 – 18 because He was speaking to the apostles, not us. Scripture, we understand, has multi-layers of application, and as we continue to read it, meditate upon it, pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit, and study, we will gain wisdom and discernment in how to apply it.
I know a woman who is alive today because she took seriously that promise about “a future and a hope.” She wasn’t looking for money or a car; she was looking for a reason to live. Is that such a bad message to derive from that Scripture?
It’s important to accept that, along the way in our reading of the Bible, we will make mistakes. We may put more into a verse than it can bear, or we may pull out of it much less, but the fear of doing so should not hold us back from plunging ahead in our reading, trusting to the Spirit of truth Jesus mentions in John 16: 13, to guide us. There is a subtle, or not so subtle, message out there that the average Christian isn’t educated enough, or steeped enough in Scripture, to read the Word for Himself and rely upon God to direct him in learning.
If this were true, then there would be universal agreement among the experts as to the meaning of everything in the Bible, because there are certainly enough people out there with the world’s credentials behind them to back up what they say.
Keep reading, my friend.
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity, where I have a special spot in my heart for the hapless, ordinary Christian, because that’s what I am. I don’t know about you, but I sure get tired of people telling me how much I need their expertise.
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The Misfit Christian (my book for the believer who, in his or her quest for truth, is out of step with the Christian establishment church crowd.)