Choosing Worship Over Worry

… Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41

Two weeks ago I was one kid away from being an empty nester, but Covid-19 changed everything. My daughters fled their big cities and hunkered down at home. Suddenly there’s more cooking, laundry, dishes . . . more everything.

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They help out, but I’d gotten used to (and enjoyed!) the slower pace of life. I’m happy they’re safe but frequently find myself going into “Martha mode.”

Martha was one of Jesus’ close friends. She owned a house in the village of Bethany, which was about two miles from Jerusalem.  One day Jesus and his disciples stopped by.

The Bible doesn’t tell us if she anticipated the visit, but we can tell by the story that she flew into a tizzy. Though the passage is only eight sentences long, the story is legendary.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10:38-42

I can relate. Has stress ever made you cranky and bossy?

I love Jesus’ response because it highlights his approachability and gentleness. He assessed the situation and cut to the heart of the matter — Martha’s priorities were out of whack .

The Greek word for distracted is perispao and means: to be so overburdened by various distractions as to be worried and anxious.

By contrast, Mary’s posture was one of worship. In those days, women weren’t always able to learn. Rather, they’d be excluded from discipleship and expected to learn from male relatives or husbands. But Jesus welcomed Mary’s devotion.

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I often wonder if Martha listened. Jesus told her that Mary had chosen the “good portion.” In other words, she had two options: she could continue in frustration or take a seat in his presence.

Either way, his words tell us what’s truly necessary. When life or change makes us feel overburdened and worried, we can choose to stop and sit with him.

What are the things that throw your priorities out of whack?

Priority Planning with Jesus

And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” Luke 6:5

Where does Jesus fit in the priorities of your life? Is he in first place or is he more of an afterthought?

hurry-2119711_1920Honestly, depending on the circumstances, I sometimes squeeze him in wherever. It’s the wrong thing to do because I find that when he’s in first place, I experience peace.

Today I read the story about Jesus and his disciples, who were caught picking grain on the Sabbath by religious leaders (Luke 6:1-5). The last line of the passage took on new meaning for me. Knowing that Jesus is lord of the Sabbath is a game changer.

What does it mean exactly? To know, we have to dig deeply into the words lord and Sabbath.

The original Greek meanings are as follows:*

Lord is kyrios (pronounced koo-re-ohs) and Sabbath is sabbaton (pronounced sahb-baht-own).

Lord means one who exercises supernatural authority over mankind — Lord, Ruler, One who commands.

Sabbath is a period of seven days, a week.

Many Christians observe a “Sabbath day,” a day of worship and rest from work. We gather with other believers to sing, pray, serve, and learn about God.  We rest from work after the pattern of God’s creation of the world.

pair-3798371_1920Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. Genesis 2:1-3

The Sabbath was a holy day for Jews and the Pharisees strictly observed it. Many activities were forbidden and when Jesus and his followers picked the grain, the Pharisees considered it a form of work. Basically, Jesus was snacking.

I love how he fired back at his harassers with scripture. Read Luke 6:1-5 for the full picture. Jesus put these legalists in their place.

1 Colossians 1:15 -17 tells us: Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see — such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.

The leaders really didn’t understand to whom they were speaking. I get it. Sometimes I forget too.

Jesus is Lord. He’s the One who commands. He’s Lord of the Sabbath. This means he is Lord over the whole week.

What’s the significance for us? When we plan our days according to the commands of our commander, we put them in proper order. Jesus hammered a fundamental principle into the minds of his followers. He challenged them to align their thinking and behavior with God’s ultimate standard.

love-3388626_1920He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”  John 13:34

If we filter all we do and say through this principle, we will literally change the world.

How can you align your weekly plans with Jesus’ command?

*Louw, Johannes P, and Eugene A Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains. United Bible Societies, 1988.

 

Peacemaking in a hostile world

For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility (Eph. 2:14-16).

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Divisiveness is at an all time high in our country, especially in our politics and from leaders who would denounce those holding opposing views as “other” or worse, “enemy.”

But don’t be fooled. They’re not only colleagues, in many cases they’re good friends. My parents both worked for Congress and would tell stories about our elected officials. They’d attack one another in the press but in the elevators and hallways they could be overheard making weekend plans together.

Our leaders often aren’t the best example of how to get along. However, I recently learned of one group working hard to keep the peace.

The U.S. Supreme Court is a group of nine men and women deciding on some of the most important legal cases in our nation. Though each Justice is an individual, they work in unison as one body.

Despite political  leanings and personal dispositions, they have a tradition that can serve as an example to us. One is called “The Judicial Handshake” and it dates back to the nineteenth century. Each day before they go on the bench and before any discussion in private conferences, they gather and shake hands with each of their counterparts.

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According to the Supreme Court website, there’s a reason for this: “Chief Justice Fuller instituted this practice as a reminder that differences of opinion on the Court did not preclude overall harmony of purpose.”

As believers, we’re also called to unity — to be one as the body of Christ. The “broken down” reference in the verse above is mild compared to what it actually means in Greek, which is total destruction. The hostility that formerly divided people and made them enemies suffered total devastation when Jesus chose to die on the cross for all mankind.

His purpose of making peace through reconciliation offers us a clear pattern to follow. By his example, we as his disciples are called to do the same in the here and now. We have a ministry of reconciliation.

As Ephesians 2:22 tells us: In him you are also being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. 

Think about that. While much of the world is divided and dominated by hostility and enmity, a bright light still shines — us. Citizens and family members have rights and responsibilities to their leaders and relatives. Putting hostility and individuality aside for the sake of others is critical for a healthy country and household.

 

 

Jesus accomplished this for us on the cross and he calls us to pick up our cross (our responsibility) and follow his example. Just think about the difference that would make in our world!

How can you make peace with others?

A life changing Bible verse

A number of people close to me struggle with anxiety. At times, it’s severe. Furrowed brows, hammering hearts, and full-on panic attacks are common. It’s hard to watch, hard to feel helpless, especially since I’ve experienced these emotions myself.

A long time ago, especially when I was a young mother, I worried a lot too. Having small children can heighten the emotions that twist like tornados through our minds. Suddenly, everything is dangerous and anything is possible. What if we can’t feed them? What if I lose my job and our company goes under? The “what ifs” drove me nuts and drove my actions. But then God led me to a Bible verse that changed everything and put a stop to all the spinning:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matt 6:33

Jesus knows a thing or two about worry. He often spoke to his followers about the things that tend to make humans anxious.

Matthew 4:18 tells the story of Jesus calling his first followers, the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew. He had lots to teach them and as they traveled through Galilee, great crowds followed. Matthew 4:18-7:29 is rich with instruction about the way Christians should live.

But the key for me was found in Matthew 6:33, and specifically in the word, first. Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. First, as defined in the Greek, means first in a series involving time, space, or set. We’re familiar with the concept of being in first place, or first in line or first in our class — it’s an order of priority.

Jesus tells us that before we worry about everything else, whether that be nourishment, clothing, or where we’ll live, we need to make God first. Easy to say, but harder to do right? It’s hard to think straight when you’re worried about being hungry or thirsty.

But Jesus doesn’t leave us without answers. After he explained the way to live, he explained the why. The answer is simple — God cares for us.

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He said, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Matt 6:26-32

The Gentiles he spoke about were those who didn’t believe in God. We are not to be like those who have no faith. We have a heavenly Father who knows exactly what we need, when we need it.

Put him to the test. Trust him and see what happens when he gets put into his rightful position.

Once I rearranged my priorities everything changed. He’s poured out unbelievable blessings on me and my family. But it only works if you work it!

What actions can you take to put God in first place, in every area of your life?

Feeling worried about the year ahead?

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8

I’m watching the dawn break as I write this morning. My view, which faces the Atlantic Ocean (and is blocked by homes in front of me), is not the one I’m used to. It’s usually beautiful to watch the great ball of sun rising above oceanfront rooftops.

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But today, the sky is dim with low-hanging gray clouds and the light doesn’t bounce off the water in the canal.

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What a difference a day makes.

As I look forward to the year ahead, it’s almost impossible not to look back. 2018 was incredibly busy and filled with unexpected obstacles and life-changing milestones. The biggest challenge was moving my two daughters to different cities, and the planning and logistics required to make it happen.

I didn’t expect that my two biggest champions would leave home this year. Now, it’s just me and the boys, and it’s been a difficult adjustment to say the least.

Like many, we’ve also struggled with all sorts of grief and joy. I suspect 2019 will be filled with much of the same, but I’m not worried and you shouldn’t be either.

The world we live in is filled with chaos. Political divisiveness, global warfare and countless pundits and prognosticators suggest impending disaster. They encourage us to be quivering cowards. They want us to fret, fear and feel hopeless because they think they know best and after all . . . misery loves company.

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I implore you not to join in their reindeer games! There is only One who truly knows the future.

When we try to remove God from all forms of society, society begins to spiral. We forget that God is on His throne and elevate “leaders” and philosophers to a position of omniscience. This is nothing but a form of idolatry. It has no place in the lives of believers.

And besides, fear tactics have been around for thousands of years.

Take a look at the words of Jeremiah in the Old Testament: Do not panic; don’t be afraid when you hear the first rumor of opposing forces. For rumors will keep coming year by year. Violence will erupt in the land as the leaders fight against each other. Jeremiah 51:46

Instead, let us remember that the Lord goes before us. Jesus invites us to rest in Him: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

Peter reminds us to give our concerns to Him: Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

So let’s look forward to 2019 with anticipation and rejoicing. We serve a God who loves us, invites us into His family and goes before us in all things.

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

How does your (spiritual) garden grow?

By Erika Rizkallah

Got a brown thumb? Happily, spiritual planting is all about growth! We can learn so much about growing our faith by applying lessons from the garden.

I inherited my gardening passion from my dad. I also come from a long line of farmers and joyfully remember the summer weeks spent with my grandparents. My brother and I explored fields planted with corn and soybeans and hunted for wild asparagus growing near a ditch in front of the farmhouse.

When I moved into my forever home I inherited the previous homeowner’s garden. I was thrilled with the yard until I learned she practiced Ikebana (Japanese flower design). On closer inspection, I discovered it contained all sorts of heinous invasive plants. I spent hours weeding, only to find them sprout again, trying to strangle plants I wanted to keep.

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But I was patient, and after pulling them by the roots, I planted my favorites in their place. Now I have a gorgeous yard that fills me with satisfaction and peace — though it’s still a work in progress.

Tending to my little corner of the world connects me to God in a more meaningful way. Adam and Eve’s first home was a garden and many of Jesus’ teachings took place outdoors and reflect his love of nature. Themes of harvest, sowing and reaping feature prominently in the Bible.

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Growth and spiritual fruit production are imperatives for anyone seeking maturity in Christ. Here are five ways our earthy and spiritual lives are similar:

Great soil: All gardeners know the key to a productive garden is great soil. It’s the primary ingredient for flourishing plants and must be healthy. Conditioning is often necessary because let’s face it, almost no soil is perfectly healthy in its natural state. If it’s too sandy, wet or filled with sticky clay, plants wither and die.

The soil of our spiritual life is the heart. Biblically speaking, the heart – kardia in Greek – represents our whole inner being. It’s not just a blood pumping organ, but the source of life, made up of mind, soul and spirit.

Nourishment: We can’t simply plop flowers and plants into a garden and expect it to grow. We must nourish it. Sunlight, the meticulous watering and protection from the elements are critical. We often need to amend soil with fertilizer and emulsifiers, which come from surprising sources. We apply dead fish and poop to feed our plants — this used to gross me out.

In spiritual matters, our fertilizer is prayer and scripture reading. And just as manure provides nutrients, trouble (the poopy parts of life), also benefits us. Adversity strengthens and causes us to seek God, to rely on him and his word for our inner health.

 

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Maintenance: Here is where many gardeners begin to falter. The first part, getting the soil and feeding right, is relatively easy. The hard part is keeping up with it. Regular maintenance includes weeding, pruning, pest control and deadheading — a fancy term for removing spent flower heads.

Spiritual life requires maintenance too. We get this by spending intentional daily quiet time with God. Enjoying friendship with fellow believers can help us weed out sin and discern the parts of life God’s wants to prune. While painful, pruning — cutting off dead and unproductive stuff — helps us grow and flourish. Regular maintenance gets rid of pests, slugs and worms threatening to devour us.

Patience: Waiting is the truly difficult part. After all the time and energy spent on the early part of the process, it’s not unusual to see little result. We live in an “instant” society and gardening is anything but immediate. It can take months and even years for some plants to thrive and grow. So it goes with faith . . .

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But hidden under the dark surface and seemingly dormant areas, God is always working.  Patience is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit and our Father is generous to provide for our needs. Though often boring, waiting is necessary and active.

Being still, standing firm in our faith and trusting are active habits. Even though we sometimes can’t see it, God is ever-present and cares deeply for us.

Produce: This is the good stuff — our hard work has paid off! Beautiful, bountiful flowers bloom and we pluck fruit from the trees. We bite into the luscious apple, craft a bouquet and feel satisfaction and accomplishment.

God wants this for us. He wants fruit production and for us to enjoy that fresh fruit of our labor.

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Take a bite out of the juicy peach and thank him for his daily tending!

Your Turn: Our earthly and spiritual lives are a work in progress. There’s always work to sow and benefits to reap. Where are the areas your spiritual garden needs tending most?

God’s plans have purpose

By Erika Rizkallah

All I wanted for my 50th birthday was a trip to Hawaii so I could visit Volcanoes National Park and walk the rim of a volcano. When I expressed the desire to my family, everyone was excited — except for my son.

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“Nope. I’m not going.” he said.

“What? Why? It’s my birthday trip.”

“I’ll stay home then, you go have fun.”

I pressed him for a reason and he said, “Lava. I’m never going anyplace that has volcanoes.”

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I begged, I badgered and I even taunted him. “You’re being ridiculous. You’re more likely to get injured in a car accident.” I said.

He wouldn’t budge.

“What are the odds of a volcanic eruption happening WHILE WE’RE THERE?” I shouted.

He stood firm and after a few days I let it go. I don’t usually let our kids dictate vacation plans but I could see he was seriously anxious and I didn’t want to argue. Then oddly, I lost all desire for my Hawaii trip.

Imagine my wonder and surprise when Mount Kilauea erupted during the week we’d planned to go!

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I sent him a video text of the eruption with the words . . . “Uh, I guess I owe you an apology.”

The wisdom in Proverbs often speaks of man’s plans in light of God’s. Here’s one I find particularly apropos:  In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. Proverbs 16:9

Feel like you don’t have much to offer?

When I was growing up, one of the most popular tunes on the radio was a song called Stand By Your Man, co-written and recorded by Tammy Wynette. Though it contains only 128 words and was written in 15 minutes, it’s sparked debate and controversy for years.

No one predicted the surprising results this scant and quickly written song produced; Tammy catapulted to fame and it remains one of country music’s Top hits 50 years later.

I’ve been married to the same guy for 24 years and consider myself fortunate. He’s a business owner and we have a great life despite many ups and downs. Long ago, God told me he’d provide for me through my husband and I’ve accepted his promise gratefully.

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But it’s difficult at times, especially in this day and age when we voraciously compare ourselves to others. Though I’ve worked off and on through the years and have my own online business, I’m not “self-supporting.” When I fill out paperwork, I put “Not Applicable” under the employment section. One time at a doctor’s office, the receptionist shouted across the room, “Are you still unemployed?”

These questions make me cringe — I hate labels. I’m independent and was the main breadwinner in our family for several years before I quit work to take care of my children. In my hometown near Washington D.C., women would ask, “What do you do for a living?” When I explained I was a stay-at-home mom, they often discreetly drifted off looking for someone more interesting to talk to.

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True story.

The bulk of my work goes unseen and uncompensated. I’m not what the world considers “successful,” but I know I am. So does my family and most importantly, so does my God.

Still, sometimes I want the sacrifices I’ve made to be seen and dare I say, celebrated.

It reminds me of the Bible story known as the widow’s offering. One day, Jesus was teaching in the temple and he sat down across from where people were putting in their required offerings.

Mark 12:41-44 says: Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything — all she had to live on.” 

Sometimes women at any stage of life can feel like our offerings are meager. On low  strength and energy days, the only fuel I have is knowing that Jesus sees me. He accepts my small offerings and he loves it.

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He sees and loves you as well. No offering is too small to make a huge difference in the world and for his kingdom.

Sometimes I wonder what happened to the widow. I know God provided for her because it’s one of his promises. He’s close to the poor, the oppressed, those who feel small.

The lesson was so important that he called his disciples over to witness it. The story is told in the books of Mark and Luke; the nameless woman is still held up as an example over 2,000 years later.

That’s incredible . . . and so are you!

 

 

 

Easter is more than bunnies and baskets

By Erika Rizkallah

In a few days, millions of Christians will celebrate Easter — an observance of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Savior of the world.

As a child, I didn’t know about Jesus. For me, Easter was all about the basket. For some reason my father hid the baskets from us.  My brother and I would jump out of bed and spend the morning searching for it.

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I suppose it was easier for a single dad to hide two baskets instead of a bunch of eggs, but it’s one of my fondest memories. I grew up in a non-religious home so we didn’t go to church and I didn’t realize the holiday had anything to do with Jesus.

It meant little more than the beginning of spring break, all fun and games!

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Now, Easter is ripe with meaning. Truthfully, I hate reading about most of the details surrounding the Easter story.

The way Jesus was treated before his death fills me with sadness. I can’t help but feel the agony of what he went through — the betrayal of Judas, the illegality of the trials and brutality of the crucifixion.

In my quiet time yesterday I learned something new and I thought I’d share it with you. But first I have to set the scene . . .

Jesus has already been accosted and arrested in the garden at Gethsemane. The chief priests handed him over to Pilate to be condemned to death and Peter has disowned him. He’s flogged within an inch of his life. Leather whips embedded with bits of bone and lead rip through skin and muscle.

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Then he’s taken into the Governor’s hall and surrounded by the whole company of soldiers. The Bible tells us that they stripped him, dressed him in a scarlet robe and pushed a crown of thorns onto his head. And then they mocked him and knelt in front of him, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” After that, they spit on him and beat him in the head repeatedly with a staff.

This part of the story saddens and repulses me. But what I didn’t know is that for the Roman soldiers, this was a popular game they played with condemned prisoners. There was an actual game board etched into the floor. They would roll the dice and move the “king” around the board while the troops mocked and abused him.

Talk about adding insult to injury.

And though at any time Jesus could have commanded more than twelve legions of angels to rescue him, he didn’t.

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He sacrificed himself and saved us. This is why we celebrate and commemorate his victory over death.

After the crucifixion the sky went dark and a tremendous earthquake shook the land. The only people standing near him were a centurion and a group of guards.

Matthew 27:54 says, When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!

It makes me wonder how they spent the rest of the day.

What grace our God has given us — let us never forget what Easter is truly about!

 

 

What’s missing in your walk with Jesus?

By Erika Rizkallah

One of the most well known stories in the New Testament begins in Mark 10:17. It’s the story of the rich young ruler.

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a young man ran up to him, threw himself at his feet and said, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

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The first thing Jesus points out is his error. He asks, “Why do you call me good? No one is good — except God alone.”

I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the response he expected. After all, he was rich, young and a ruler. He would have been used to people kowtowing to him.

His had the correct approach. First of all, he ran up to Jesus — something a dignified and respected man would never do in that culture. Then he threw himself at Jesus’ feet, another unusual action for a man in his position.

It was a declaration of worship and I believe he really wanted to know the answer to his question.

But Jesus often does and says the unexpected.

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Jesus responded, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’

The ruler declared, “Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

I love the next sentence. The Bible says Jesus looked at him and loved him. This story is often told and preached in pulpits all over the world . . . with the love part left out.

“One thing you lack,” said Jesus. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

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At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

I always feel for the guy when I hear this story. Here was a person who seemingly had it all: youth, wealth and power and yet, he walks away from the conversation in a state of sadness and uncertainty.

Jesus used the episode as a teaching moment for his disciples. He says, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

This flips the disciples out — they’re shocked and amazed — because during that time, it was thought that wealth and power were signs of blessing from God. A guarantee of gaining entrance to Heaven.

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Sometimes we come to Jesus asking deep questions and don’t get the expected answers. But maybe that’s the point.

Only he knows what we truly lack. Only he knows what hinders our faith walk.

But like the rich young ruler, we first have to be brave enough to ask the question.

How about you? What questions have you asked Jesus lately?