The year was 1989 and I was leading a youth mission team to Berlin, West Germany. Back in the day, Berlin was a city divided–half communist and the other half free. While there, our guide had led us to an opening where the Berlin “Wall” was nothing more than barbed wire. Because of this, the communist East Germans had built a guard tower to prevent anyone from escaping.
Suddenly, we heard a thumping sound. Then, from behind the guard tower, a helicopter emerged. It vaulted over the guard tower and then hovered probably 50 yards away. I looked at our guide for direction, but he looked as scared as the rest of my youth team. At that point, we dispersed–afraid that we would be pelted with machine gun fire.
Strangely enough, though, the helicopter hovered 5 feet above the ground for about a minute and then flew away. Later, I learned from one of our youth leaders (an ex-military man) that the helicopter was American. Apparently the American military had intercepted a phone call from the guard tower and flew nearby to prevent an international incident.
Nevertheless, I had never felt so close to death in my life.
But such is the life when living in a city divided. Unfortunately, people can live divided lives as well.
Please join me as we explore the topic today.
Beginning this week, we’re going to combine the Saturday and Sunday readings. Please let me know what you think of the change.
INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
Joshua 15:1-18:28. Most of this section is an extensive listing of the tribal allotments after Israel entered Canaan. And most of it is, admittedly, pretty boring stuff. We do read an update on what happened to Zelophehad’s five daughters who were given the right to inherit land because their father had no sons (Numbers 36:1-13).
The tribes were given their allotments by casting lots (hence the word “allotment”), so that God would determine who gets what land. From a leadership perspective, this kept the leader from being accused of playing favorites.
Chapter 18 offers an interesting insight. At the beginning of the chapter, Joshua scolds seven of the twelve tribes for not taking possession of the land God had given them. Apparently, they were living in lands governed by the other five tribes. The word for “wait” in verse 3 means “to be slack.” In other words, the people had become lazy and content with living as aliens.
In the same way, God has granted us—his people—the Promised Land, a relationship with him that surpasses our wildest imaginations. In addition to a relationship, it’s a way of living that experiences joy in suffering, peace in turmoil, and significance in a world of meaninglessness. This is the abundant life Jesus speaks of in John 10:10. Yet all too often we settle for living on someone else’s land. Perhaps we get tired, or lazy, or lethargic.
To those people, Joshua asks, “How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?”
Luke 18:18-19:27. In verses 18-30, we read about the story of the rich, young ruler, which is also mentioned in Matthew 19 and Mark 10. The man asked Jesus what he must to do inherit eternal life and Jesus gave him the typical rabbinical answer (notice that “Do not covet” isn’t mentioned?). But after hearing the man’s affirmation that he obeyed them, Jesus pressed deeper and told him to give all he had to the poor. The New Bible Commentary offers an interesting insight:
When the man claimed to have kept them, Jesus began to probe more deeply. Let the young man turn his assets into cash, give to the poor and become a disciple. The man’s refusal to do so showed that he did not truly love his neighbor as himself, and that he put himself and his wealth, rather than God, at the center of his affections.
Contrast the rich, young ruler with the blind beggar in verses 35-43. He had nothing to give. But he was desperate for Jesus.
Then in chapter 19, we meet another rich man, Zacchaeus the tax collector. His demeanor is much different that the other rich man. He seems desperate for Jesus, even climbing a tree just to see him. Zack didn’t even have his act together like the other man, yet Jesus invited himself over to the man’s house for dinner. Then notice what he says to Jesus that night at dinner: “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
It’s no mistake that Luke bunched these three stories in a row.
My takeaway from all of this isn’t that our actions save us—but they do reveal the state of our hearts.
Finally, Jesus concludes his discussion on wealth with his parable of the ten servants and the ten minas. A mina was equivalent to a talent which was equivalent to 100 days’ wages. The point of Jesus’ three parables is, “What are you doing with your master’s money?”
Psalm 86. And now for something completely different, we read a psalm written by a needy person. “Hear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy,” David begins.
The psalm then culminates with his heart’s cry: “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” An undivided heart is the opposite of ambivalence. It means a single-hearted devotion to God, without distractions or divided loyalties.
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
Today, I thought I’d share with you a selection from a book entitled Psalms Now. It’s a fresh paraphrase by Leslie Brandt, a retired pastor and writer. I highly recommend it for devotional reading (and you can purchase here on Amazon.com!). Here’s Psalm 86 from Psalms Now:
O Lord, my prayer to You always comes out of a life full of need.
I am Your servant;
I am trying to represent You.
I need your support for every step I take.
How gracious You are to hear my plea
and respond to my cry
and pour out Your thanksgiving love upon me!
People are so foolish
about the things they love and worship.
You alone are God,
and You alone possess the healing grace
that can support and sustain fickle hearts.
Continue to lead me in Your course for my life.
Enable me to walk, body and soul,
in loving obedience to You.
Then I shall glorify You forever,
and my life shall be
a continual thankoffering to You.
I find the daily journey
not only difficult but painful.
There are forces within me and around me
that overpower me.
But You are a loving and patient God.
Continue to have mercy upon me,
to stir me from the doldrums of sin,
to deliver me from selfish involvements,
to shore up the weak places in my life.
feel Your loving acceptance
and reflect to others
the joy of being Your child and servant.
- What spoke to you in today’s reading?
- How were the rich young ruler and the blind beggar the same? How were they different? Why do you think Jesus responded differently to them? What does this tell you about Jesus?
- If Jesus were to ask you, “What do you want me to do for you?” what would you say? The answer reveals your heart.
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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.