A Personal Devotional Journal

I invite you to journey with me. Sometimes we will look at short passages of Scripture and I will give my first thoughts and impressions. Other times, I will just share my thinking about spiritual issues. Always, you are welcome to comment and add your thoughts. Together, we could learn something.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Matthew 19:16-22 "Poor Rich Man"

 Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 
“Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. But to answer your question—if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.”
“Which ones?” the man asked.
 And Jesus replied: “‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely.  Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?”
Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

 I'm afraid that this young man is not the only one to walk away from Jesus thinking He asks too much.  We have mentioned before that Kingdom life is a life of exchange.  We give up everything -hopes, dreams, agendas, plans -everything, in order to attain something better: The Kingdom of God.

Let's look for a moment at the questions This guy asked -they tell us from the start that something is amiss.  Unfortunately, they are the same questions we sometimes ask.  "What must I do?"  Ok, I've already done that.  "What else must I do?"  If Jesus had given him another easy task (read a chapter of Scripture a day; pray for at least 20 minutes every day; go to church or Bible study at least twice a week, etc.) he likely would have said, "Ok, I already do that too.  What else must I do?"  His entire focus was on doing something to earn salvation -doing something to impress God -or perhaps, doing something to appease God.  He missed the point entirely.

 God is not looking for us to do something.  He is not so much interested in what we do as in who we are.  Specifically, He is interested in who we are in Him.  He wants us to be His -heart, soul, mind and strength.  When we begin to grasp that, everything else falls into place.  As Jesus said in another place:  "Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your mind, and all of your strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all of the Law and the Prophets."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Matthew 19:13-15 "Like Children"

One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.
 But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”  And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left.

We are sometime guilty of thinking that children can't understand deep spiritual concepts.  We think serious teaching is only for adults.  I've heard people say that the children are the future of the church.  I think maybe Jesus would disagree.  Children are the church!

When Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like little children, we need to ask in what way do we need to be child-like in order to take our place in the Kingdom?

Children have several characteristics that Jesus may have been talking about.  Children are trusting.  Children are loving.  Children believe.  Children are learners.  Jesus may have been talking about any or all of these qualities.

There is one characteristic, though, that children have that I think defines them more than any other: Children are helpless.  If you were to abandon a small child in a big city, unless someone helped him, he would die.  If you were to place a small child in the jungle or a forest or even a farm, if nobody helped her, she would die.  Children cannot provide for themselves.  Children cannot defend themselves.  Children cannot care for themselves.  They don't even know it, but they are utterly helpless and would die if not for the care and provision of adults.

We don't always understand this about ourselves either, but spiritually we are helpless; we are bankrupt; we have nothing to offer God.   We want so desperately to earn our way.  We want to be able to say, "God did His part, and I did mine, and between our combined efforts, I was saved."  We wish the old adage, "God helps those who help themselves," was true -but it isn't.  The reality is that God helps those who recognize that they cannot possibly help themselves.  God helps those who know they are spiritually bankrupt.  God helps the helpless and the hopeless.  The kingdom of God belongs to those who are like children.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Matthew 19:1-12 "Concerning Divorce"

 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan.  Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 

 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” 

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” 

 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.  I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” 

 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.  For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

We live in a time when the majority of marriages end in divorce;  and the statistics in the church among Believers are almost exactly the same as among those who are not Believers.  In Jesus' day, the custom was that if a man was displeased with his wife, he could simply write her a certificate of divorce and send her packing.  Simple and easy -unless, of course, you were the woman.  In a male dominated society where women were considered property, life was difficult for a single woman, and doubly difficult for a divorced woman.

The Pharisees asked Jesus  this question, not because they wanted to know or understand the heart of God; rather, they were attempting to get Jesus to disagree with the Law of Moses.  Jesus obliged them.  He told them exactly what God thinks of divorce.  And here is the reality for us as well: God did not change His mind. What He thought of divorce then is what He thinks of divorce now.

God does not like divorce.  Among Believers who honestly want to please God, divorce is not an option.   I understand that this is a hard word; marriage is hard work and relationships are complicated.  Jesus also knew that this is a hard word.  He even says that He knows not everyone can accept it.  And He uses an illustration about eunuchs to acknowledge that relationships are complicated and there are all sorts of circumstances.  Some eunuchs were born that way, some did it to themselves and some had it forced upon them.  When marriages are impossibly broken, there are also all sorts of reasons and circumstances -some we bring on ourselves, and some are forced upon us.

I think Jesus is trying to show us that this is not meant to be a legalistic burden that we lay on divorced people -this is not supposed to produce judgment and condemnation.  Yet the fact remains:  God hates divorce.  Among Believers who want to please God, divorce is not an option.  This is God's heart.  Those who can accept this word should accept it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Matthew 18:45-46 "The Kingdom Is Like...(part four)

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

 As with the man who found treasure in the field, this man sold everything he had in order to own and possess something of even greater value.  The difference here is that this man did not just happen upon a fine pearl; he was actively looking and seeking.

I believe this works in the same two ways the last parable did.  First I am the merchant seeking -I am seeking truth -I am seeking God, and I discover the Kingdom of God.  I discover grace and mercy and God's incredible, overwhelming, unconditional love.  I lay down every hope, dream, plan and agenda for my own life that I ever had or imagined because to be loved by God and to be considered His child and to take part in His Kingdom is worth more than life itself.

Second, God was actively seeking me (and you).  He desires us.  He wants us to be His.  And Jesus gave up everything -He left heaven, laid His deity aside, was born as a helpless baby in a countryside lamb-birthing shed to a teenaged peasant girl.  He suffered injustice and torture and was falsely accused and died a criminal's death; He gave up everything because He loves me and wants me.  His death and resurrection bought me.  I am His.  I am often doubtful, but He thinks I'm worth it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Matthew 13:44 "The Kingdom Of Heaven Is Like...(part three)

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field."

Jesus spoke often about the Kingdom of God.  Matthew's Gospel, written for the Jews who were reluctant to ever say "God" for fear of breaking the commandment about taking His name in vain, calls it the Kingdom of Heaven.  The Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven is not about Heaven after we die or sometime in the distant future at the end of time.  Jesus claimed that the Kingdom had arrived.  The Kingdom is wherever He (Jesus) is and wherever His people are, whenever they are doing His work.

Although it is difficult to describe exactly what the Kingdom is, Jesus told several parables to illustrate what the Kingdom is like.  Today we see that it is like when a man finds a treasure in a field, and goes and sells everything he owns in order to buy the field which contains the treasure.

The question we ask is "How is the Kingdom like this man finding the treasure in the field?"

I can look at this parable in two ways.  First, we are the man who finds the treasure -we find the Kingdom; we find Jesus.  It is worth our while to sell everything -to leave everything behind -to give up every plan, thought and hope we had before knowing Jesus, in order to pursue Jesus and His Kingdom.  To know Christ more is worth everything.

The second way I look at it is that God is the man, and I am the treasure.  He gave everything, including His Son, to purchase me, to own me, to possess me.  I am now His field.  He thinks I'm worth it.

Both of these views are correct.  Christ is worth leaving everything to pursue; and He left everything to pursue me.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Matthew 13:33 "The Kingdom Is Like...(part two)"

He told them still another parable: The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.

 Jesus spoke this little parable back to back with the parable of the mustard seed.  Again, we should not over analyze; rather, simply ask, "In what way is the kingdom like....?"

In this verse we need to ask in what way is the kingdom like a small amount of yeast that leavens the whole batch of dough?  And also, how is this parable related to the previous one about the mustard seed?

As with the mustard seed, the yeast is small compared to what it will become.  It is seemingly insignificant, yet, it ends up making a significant impact.  Both of these parables illustrate how God uses the small things to accomplish big things.  It is God's way.

It is worth noting that if the mustard seed had never been planted, it would not have grown to house birds and provide shade; and if the yeast had never been mixed into the dough, it would not have caused the bread to rise.  Similarly, no matter what our potential and natural giftings, if not submitted to God for His purposes, we will never make a Kingdom difference.

When all is said and done, it is not what we start with that makes a difference -it is how we end up.  And it doesn't take a whole lot for God to make something significant and meaningful and wonderful out of what little we have to offer.  It all comes down to allowing God to use us according to His plans instead of clinging to our own best thinking.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Matthew 13:30-32 "The Kingdom Is Like... (part one)"

Jesus said, “How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it?  It is like a mustard seed planted in the ground. It is the smallest of all seeds,  but it becomes the largest of all garden plants; it grows long branches, and birds can make nests in its shade.”

 As far is recorded in Scripture, Jesus only used the phrase "born again" one time;  He only used the term "ecclesia/church" three times.  But Jesus used the term "Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven," over 100 times.  It is interesting that modern evangelicals (which includes me) have developed a full, well-thought-out and fully articulated theology of the universal need for people to be born again and attend church -yet we still have such little understanding of the Kingdom.

Obviously, Jesus was passionate about the Kingdom.  It is the subject He spoke of most often.  Even after His resurrection, according to Acts chapter one -during the time between when He arose from the dead and whne He ascended to heaven, He was teaching them about the Kingdom of God.  There is something meaningful -even critical -that we need to grasp if we want to be on the same page as Jesus.

This is a complicated subject and trying to define exactly what Jesus is talking about is a little like trying to nail jello to the wall.  Perhaps this is why so often Jesus used parables to describe it.  Maybe it is not really important that we have an orthodox theology of the Kingdom that we can put in a little box and file away so we can pull it out when asked and say, "Yes, I know all about the Kingdom of God, Let me give you some Scripture references."  Maybe it is more important that we have an internal, intuitive, profound, visceral understanding of the Kingdom.  Not something we can easily define and debate; rather, something real and natural to God's people -something almost instinctual -something we know and live.  So, Jesus doesn't ever really define the Kingdom, but He often describes the Kingdom.

Here in Matthew 13, Jesus has a series of short parables that say, "The Kingdom of God is like...."  I think our job is to not over analyze, but to simply ask, "In what way is the Kingdom like that?"

How is the Kingdom of God like a mustard seed?  In what way is the Kingdom like a little tiny seed that gets planted and grows to be a large shrub capable of housing birds and small animals?  I'm sure it means more than this, but I think it means at least this:  In God's Kingdom, the insignificant are valued and the marginalized find dignity.  God takes our meaningless lives and gives us meaning.  We matter.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Matthew 13:24-30 & 36-43 "We Can't Do God's Job"

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his
field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where
then did the weeds come from?’
“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.   At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

 We don't have to guess what this parable means because Jesus explains it to His disciples.  He tells them that the man sowing good seed is Himself.  The good seed represents Kingdom people, and the weeds are unrighteous people sown into God's field by the devil.  The harvesters at the end of the age are angels sent out by God.

The point Jesus is making here is clear and important.  In any church -among any group of Believers, there are going to be some who truly love God and who are Kingdom minded people; there are also going to be some wrong minded people who are not truly serving or seeking God.  Many Believers assume and even defend the idea that it is our job and our duty to search out (and weed out) sinners in the church -it is our job to hunt down heresy -it is our job to protect God's honor -it is our job confront and eliminate any wrong doctrine.  God said, "No!'  Seeking out heresy and confronting sin is His job.

We can't do God's job.  The sad reality that we see played out in churches every day is that when we try to do God's job, people get hurt.  I don't mean just a little hurt -I mean when we take the role of heresy hunter/sin confronter, people are spiritually wounded, sometimes eternally.

God is perfectly capable of defending His own honor.  God is able to deal with sin and heresy.  God protects His own.  In fact, God is the only One who can effectively deal with sin because in Jesus He has, literally, dealt with sin.  Sin is forgiven.  Jesus died and rose again.  That is Good News!  Sin is no longer the problem -the problem now is that people (in spite of sin being forgiven) do not choose to love God.  And often the reason people do not choose to love God is because they do not see God's love lived out among His people.  Our "job" is not to confront sin; our job is to love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strength -and love others as we love ourselves.  As we live out this life of love, God is honored, Jesus is lifted up, the works of the devil are destroyed, walls come tumbling down, and the Kingdom grows.

In the end, God will sort out the wheat from the chaff and the good grain from the weeds.  That's His job, not ours.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Matthew 13:10-17 "Closed Eyes And Hard Hearts"

His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?”
He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.  That is why I use these parables,
   For they look, but they don’t really see.
     They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand.

       This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says,
   ‘When you hear what I say,
      you will not understand.
   When you see what I do,
      you will not comprehend.
   For the hearts of these people are hardened,
      and their ears cannot hear,
   and they have closed their eyes—
      so their eyes cannot see,
   and their ears cannot hear,
      and their hearts cannot understand,
   and they cannot turn to me
      and let me heal them.’

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear.  I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it."

 At first reading, this seems to be Jesus saying that He intentionally speaks in riddles so that people can't comprehend what He is saying.  This, however, is not at all the case.  Jesus points out that by speaking in parables the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah were being fulfilled, but then He also plainly tells us why He speaks in stories and metaphors to begin with.  "To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.  That is why I use these parables."

Those who love Jesus and want to learn from Him will not have difficulty understanding what He is teaching.  On the other hand, those who mock Jesus or are simply trying to manipulate His teachings for their own ends, will never be able to grasp the depth and importance.

In 2 Corinthians chapter 2, Paul says a similar thing:  "For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life."

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is exactly this: life and wisdom to those who love God and are sincerely seeking Truth -and at the same time, foolishness and death to those who refuse to hear.  The choice is in the heart of the hearer: life or death / foolishness or wisdom -we actually get what we seek.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Matthew 13:1-9 & 18-23 "Sowing Seeds"

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear." 

 This story about the farmer sowing seed seems obvious to us, probably because we read it knowing that Jesus was speaking parables and metaphors and that what He was teaching had spiritual significance.  We wonder why His disciples after hearing this had to ask Him what it meant.  Of course Jesus explained it to them -more on that in a moment.

First, let's understand why His disciples may have had a difficult time discerning the spiritual meaning.  This actually was a fairly common sight in rural Palestine and Jesus described what literally happened.  A farmer plows a patch of ground -hard stony ground with a thin layer of topsoil.  Often the farmer left unplowed paths in the field -plowing by hand was very hard work and it was expedient to leave unplowed paths to walk through the fields; why do the difficult labor of plowing walkways?  So, as the farmer manually cast seed, some fell into the plowed soil and some fell on the hard path.  Some of the seed fell into areas of shallow topsoil and some fell into the unplowed edges where weeds and thorns grew and some fell into areas where the top soil was so thin that it was mostly rocks and some fell onto good, plowed topsoil.  This was farming in Jesus' time.  This was not a crazy, unlikely scenario; Jesus may have simply repeated what they witnessed as they were walking.  So, when Jesus tells this story, His disciples are somewhat confused.  What's Your point, Jesus?

Jesus gives the point; He tells His disciples what He wants them to learn from the story.

“Now listen to the explanation of the parable about the farmer planting seeds: The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts.  The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy.  But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”

What was true then is certainly still true now.  How many people hear the message of the Kingdom and God's redeeming love, but just can't grasp it?  They hear it, but they never get it.  And many hear the message and enter in a nominal way -but their roots never go deep, they remain perpetual baby Christians.  Others enter in and seem to be growing, but  eventually get seduced back into worldly thinking and worldly living.  But a few hear the message and receive it and put down roots and grow strong and reproduce and become Kingdom people.  

God, please let my heart always be good, fertile soil.  Let Your Kingdom grow in me.  Let my life make a Kingdom difference.  Amen.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Matthew 12:46-50 "True Family"

As Jesus was speaking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, and they want to speak to you.”
Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!”

Family bonds are generally pretty strong.  Even in seriously dysfunctional families there is a bond.  But there is a bond that transcends family: the spiritual bond of those who love God.  Jesus points to it clearly here.

In this passage, there is no mention of Joseph, Jesus' earthly father.  It is a fair assumption that by the time Jesus was in his 30's, Joseph had passed away.  According to Jewish tradition and custom, when the father died, the eldest son took on the responsibility of overseeing the family -Jesus was the eldest son.  It is very likely that Mary and Jesus' brothers were there to remind Him of His responsibility.

Jesus understood something that others didn't.  He understood proper priorities.  The right priority is always God then family; it is never family then God.  If we get confused on this, while trying to do what is right for the families we love, we instead cause great harm.  When we put family first, we teach our children that God is secondary.  When we put family (or any other thing -career, hobby, money) first, we are by definition following our own best thinking instead of God's direction.

Because God is good, and because He can be trusted, and because He loves us even more than we love ourselves, and because He knows us even better than we know ourselves, and because He desires what is best for us, and because He is both knowledgeable and wise, the best thing we could ever do for the people we love is make Him our top priority.  Although my own best thinking has often led me astray, God will not lead me down wrong paths or in wrong directions.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Matthew 12:38-45 "Looking For Signs"

Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, "Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you."
He answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.
"When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation."

 Earlier, Jesus had told John the Baptist to look at the evidence to show that He (Jesus) was the promised Messiah -Good News was being preached, people were being healed, and demons were being cast out.    Now come some Pharisees and teachers of the Law asking Jesus to prove Himself by performing miracles and casting out demons.  They were looking for a sign.  Here, however, Jesus tells them the only sign they are going to get is the sign of Jonah; Jonah spent 3 days inside a fish, and Jesus will spend 3 days dead and buried.  The Pharisees, of course, did not understand what Jesus was talking about.

A question we might wonder is why Jesus was angry with the Pharisees for asking for a sign when Jesus told John to consider the miracles He was doing a sign.  I think it has to do with motivations of the heart.  John needed to be reassured, but was looking for evidence because he already believed Jesus was the Messiah.  These Pharisees, all of whom had already witnessed many miracles, were trying to prove that Jesus was not the Messiah.  For them, no sign will be good enough.  As it turns out, even resurrection from the grave was not enough evidence for them to repent.

Jesus says something else that is important here -something we should consider as we minister to people.  He gives an analogy of delivering someone from demons only to have more demons return.  I think Jesus is saying that even as we minister, it is pointless to minister to people who hate God and have hardened hearts...it will do no good.  The model I find in Jesus is Him seeking Father's will moment by moment.  He is constantly asking Father who to heal, who to pray for, who to bless, who to preach to.  He does not take a shotgun approach to ministry hoping to hit something.  He takes a very specific and focused approach seeking only the targets God directs Him to.  To put it another way, Jesus constantly ministered to those whom God was already stirring.  He worked where Father was already working.  This model for ministry was powerful and effective -we should do ministry like this. 

But, of course, in order to do ministry like Jesus, we need to develop intimacy with Father like Jesus.  Intimacy with Father begins with embracing the moving and promptings of the Holy Spirit.  Apart from the Holy Spirit, there is no intimacy.  Without intimacy, there is no personal leading from God.  With no personal leading, there is very little meaningful ministry.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Matthew 12:33-37 "Look At The Fruit"

“A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad. You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.”

 Have you ever known someone that stirs up dissention and arguments and division every place he goes?  Have you heard someone speak truth in a way that is hurtful and abusive?  Have you known people that always seem to leave a trail of hurting people in their wake?  Jesus explains why that happens.

Although we can not see or judge the interior motivations of other people's hearts, we are able to see the fruit of their lives.  And Jesus says that by the fruit, we will know.  Good fruit is produced on good trees.  Bad fruit comes from bad trees. 

Let's take Jesus' metaphor a step further.  Bad trees cannot produce good fruit, and good trees do not produce bad fruit.  A tree might be good, but lack adequate nurture -the fruit it produces will still be good, but limited.  On the other hand, a bad tree can be nurtured and pruned and watered and fertilized -but the fruit will still be bad.

We used to have to orange trees in our yard.  One was an old Navel Orange (good fruit).  It was not particularly well taken care of (as far as pruning and fertilizing, etc.) -but the fruit it grew was always sweet.  The other tree was a wild orange tree that was strong and healthy and beautiful to look at, but the oranges were always as sour as lemons.

This same principle applies to the fruit of our lives.  If we are genuinely seeking intimacy and right relationship with Christ, even in our struggles and hardships -in spite of setbacks and battles and fears -we will produce good fruit.  As we allow Jesus to prune and shape and water and fertilize (agape), we will produce even more good fruit.  On the other hand, if our relationship with God is based on rules and judgment and religious tradition (eros), the fruit is always going to be sour.  It simply can't be otherwise.  It is a law of nature.  Good trees produce good fruit.  Bad trees produce bad fruit.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Matthew 12:30-32 "A Dire Warning"

"He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come."

 I have heard confusing sermons and messages and teachings about this passage most of my Christian life.  I expect that is because most of the people I have heard teach about it are at least partially guilty of the very thing Jesus is addressing. 

Let me put this back into the context in which Jesus was speaking.  Religious leaders were accusing Jesus of using the power of Satan to cast out demons and do miracles.  They didn't understand Jesus.  They didn't understand His paradigm of The Kingdom of God.  They didn't like that He was shaking things up and confronting many of their sacred traditions (not the actual Law, just their traditions).  Because they didn't like or understand what He was doing or how He was doing it or even why He was doing it, they accused Him of participating with the enemy.

Jesus' response is staggering.  We need to grasp this and take it to heart.  This is spiritually critical.  Jesus, in essence, told them:  If you are not working with me, you are working against me -there is no spiritually neutral ground.  If you malign me and misunderstand me, that can be forgiven.  In fact all sin can be forgiven.  There is only one thing that cannot and will not be forgiven.  If you malign and lie about and falsely accuse the Holy Spirit of evil, that cannot be forgiven.

We tend to assume that we would never do such a thing.  We would never accuse the Holy Spirit of evil.  Yet, I have heard many Christians do the exact same thing that Jesus is addressing.  They look at brothers and sisters in Christ who pray for healing, speak in tongues, or worship in ways that they do not understand or that they have been taught to avoid and immediately make the accusation that it must be demonic.  Christian Be Careful!  If the Holy Spirit is ministering to or through someone and we falsely accuse, we are on dangerous ground.

It might help us to understand why Jesus would say such a thing.  Here is what I think.  Since the Holy Spirit is our connection to God -He is the One that speaks to us and indwells us and ministers to us -if we slander the Holy Spirit and cut off our connection with Him, we have actually cut off our only intimate connection to the Father and to the Son -and to forgiveness. 

This passage does lead to another serious question.  How can we know if we have (through lack of understanding or bad teaching) already blasphemed the Holy Spirit?  I'm going to be pragmatic about this one, and not just theological.  Since the Holy Spirit not only provides intimacy with God and leads to truth and right relationship with God, but also convicts of sin, if we feel the conviction of sin in our lives, we have not crossed that line.  Basically, if we are honestly pursuing God and worry that we may have crossed the line, we haven't. 

That being said, we still need to be careful that we do not ever look at what God is doing and call it evil.  If we don't understand something, pray about it.  Ask God for wisdom and discernment.  We should never be more interested in defending our pre-existing spiritual and theological paradigms than we are in learning Truth from God Himself.  And, God doesn't need us to defend Him -He is capable of defending Himself.  If someone is actually doing evil in Jesus' name, he will answer to God.  We don't need to assign guilt or blame -we just need to get it right ourselves and serve God and love people as Jesus taught us to do.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Matthew 12:22-28 "Jesus, The Kingdom, & Beelzebub"

Then they brought him [Jesus] a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, "Could this be the Son of David?"

But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons."

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 

According to 1 John 3:8, Jesus came to "destroy the works of the devil."  We understand that His death and resurrection provided forgiveness of sin and defeated death, but I often wonder if we miss the point that everything Jesus did was a part of His mission to destroy the works of the devil.  When He healed people, He was destroying the works of the devil.  When He did miracles, He was destroying the works of the devil.  When He cast out demons, He was destroying the works of the devil.

Because He was destroying the works of the devil while the vast majority were participating with, or at least tolerating and ignoring the works of the devil, He made people nervous and even angry.  I'm sure that most did not understand that they were tolerating and participating with the devil, yet they were -and Jesus starkly opposed what they tolerated.

Anger led to accusations: "This man does miracles empowered by demons."  Clearly, they were wrong.  In fact, Jesus said that this is how we know the Kingdom of God is among us -demons will be cast out, the sick will be healed, miracles will occur, the works of the devil will be destroyed.  If Satan is fighting against Satan, his kingdom is divided and cannot stand.

Let's jump ahead to today.  We are the Body of Christ.  His mission has become our mission.   He said, "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." He said that as His sent ones we are to be preaching the Gospel and making disciples -but He also said that in His name we will be driving out demons and healing the sick and doing miracles.  

Interesting that today many Christians level the same accusation at other Christians whenever demons are cast out, the sick are healed or miracles occur.  Something is wrong with this picture. 

I can't speak for others, only for myself.  I have a low tolerance for phony.  I am not interested in fakery or manipulation.  On the other hand, I am a follower of Jesus.  I want to do what He called me to do.  I want to destroy the works of the devil.  I want to do it using the tools and methods that He ordained for me to use.  I want what is real.  And I don't really care what people with little understanding and a high tolerance for the works of the devil think.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Matthew 12:18-21 "Bruised Reeds & Smoldering Wicks"

This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
"Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he leads justice to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope."

 One of the guiding principles of my life is that as a disciple/apprentice of Jesus, I am to emulate Him and learn to live and think like Him.  We who are Believers are being transformed into His likeness.  We are His continuing presence in this world.  He speaks and acts through us, His Body.

It saddens me to see so many "Christians" refusing to be led by His Spirit, quarreling with anyone who will listen,  taking it upon themselves to break off every bruised reed and snuff out every smoldering wick, not even noticing that they are putting their hope in governments and politics instead of in His name.

The heart of Jesus (and the heart He desires to put in us) is to redeem and restore.  This happens, not through manipulation and argument, rather, through unreasonable love and undeserved grace and mercy -which He lavishes on all who turn to Him.

When will we learn the reality of what Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus: "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Matthew 12:9-14 "The Choice: Law or Life"

Then Jesus went over to their synagogue, where he noticed a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?” (They were hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.) And he answered, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored, just like the other one! Then the Pharisees called a meeting to plot how to kill Jesus.

Because legalism is not conducive to intimacy, those who insist on the letter of the law instead of the life in the Spirit, are prone to pettiness, arrogance, bitterness, anger, and even hatred.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!  What a contrast.

Is it any wonder that now that the Law has been fulfilled in Jesus, He insists that we turn from the Law and toward relationship with Him; toward intimacy with God through the Holy Spirit;  toward obedience to the promptings and leading of the Spirit?  We must leave legalism in favor of relationship because pettiness, arrogance, bitterness and anger are not becoming His Church.  The Law did not and could not accomplish what mercy and grace did on the cross.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Matthew 12:1-8 "Keeping Laws"

     At about that time Jesus was walking through some grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, so they began breaking off some heads of grain and eating them. But some Pharisees saw them do it and protested, “Look, your disciples are breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath.”
     Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He went into the house of God, and he and his companions broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. And haven’t you read in the law of Moses that the priests on duty in the Temple may work on the Sabbath? I tell you, there is one here who is even greater than the Temple! But you would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!”


On the one hand, the Law (Old Testament commandments and rules) expresses God's desires.  It is not as if God changed His mind about sin.  God still hates sin because of how sin brutalizes and destroys us whom He loves.  Yet, here is a true story from the life of Jesus that shows the right relationship Kingdom minded, Spirit-filled people are to have with the Law. 

The Law, according to Scripture, was fulfilled in Jesus.  that means that the Law had run it's full course and was brought to completion.  Since the specific laws in question in this passage concerned the Sabbath, Jesus said, "The Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!”  Implied is, of course, that Jesus is Lord over the entire Law.  Now, instead of obeying written laws and rules (even laws that reflect God's desires) we obey the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

Some argue that this can't actually be true because there is too much room for error and abuse.  People will claim to hear from God in order to accomplish there own agendas; fakers will manipulate; liars and cheaters will position themselves wrongly as Kingdom leaders.  Without a checklist, there is too much room for ungodliness.  Yet, it appears that this is a risk that Father is willing to take.  For the sake of Love, He risks.   

Those who hear and obey the still small voice of the Holy Spirit -those who seek to love God and obey Him are rewarded with right relationship and intimacy with God Himself.  For the sake intimacy and true relationship, He will allow fakers and manipulators and liars to do what they do, because although there is room for wrong in this new relationship, there was no room for intimacy with a checklist of laws and rules.  In God's eyes, mercy trumps sacrifice, grace trumps law, and relationship trumps religion.

Perhaps this new arrangement of listening to the inner prompting of God is risky, but the reality is that those who are learning to love God do not desire to manipulate and do evil; those who are learning to love God just want to learn to love Him more.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Matthew 11:28-30 "An Easy Yoke"

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

When we hear the word yoke, we tend to think of the harness that hooks two farm animals together -like the yoke of oxen or mules.  We get this imagery from our own Western agricultural experience and the fact that we actually call that kind of harness a yoke.

If understood this way, Jesus seems to be saying that the bond we have with Him is easy to bear.  The idea of being joined to Jesus and allowing Him to share our burdens -that we are not alone in this struggle is an appealing one.  It is also truth.  We are not alone, and Jesus does join us in our struggles and shares our burdens.  But this is not exactly what Jesus was saying; at least, this is not how His listeners at the time would have understood Him.

The word yoke as understood by Jewish people of Jesus' day referred to the unique or specific body of teaching by a Rabbi.  Each Rabbi had a worldview and an interpretation of Scripture that they taught their students.  Most of the Rabbis of Jesus day were teaching a very strict and legalistic and burdensome view of God and of Scripture.  They were teaching that God was a hard taskmaster and in order to please Him, one had to keep thousands of laws and maintain all sorts of traditions.  Then Jesus came teaching a whole different relationship with God.  And He gave the invitation, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

So, what exactly was this teaching of Jesus that stood in such stark contrast to yoke of other Rabbis?  I believe it is this:  "Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Matthew 11:25-26 "The Seeking Heart"

At that time Jesus prayed this prayer: “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike.  Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way!

 Jesus' prayer here points out the fatal flaw of systematic theology and logically trying to decipher the deep meanings of Scripture and Truths of God.  It is one thing to think through Scripture logically and come to conclusions based on our own best thinking, but we will always come up short of what God intends us to grasp because spiritual understanding is based on revelation from God, not systematic study and logical reasoning.  God actually hides truth from those who attempt to apprehend Him with their minds.  On the other hand, God gives insight and revelation to those simply seek Him and love Him.  The first approach is all about religion; God is not impressed with our efforts at being religious.  The second approach is all about relationship; this is God's plan.

I don't mean, of course, that Scripture is illogical or truth unreasonable.  But it is clear that the we do not fall in love with God or learn to walk in grace and mercy by studying theology.  We cannot live out the fruit of the Spirit by logic.  We should study.  We should think.  But at the end of the day, we just need to relax in the certain knowledge that Father loves us.  When all is said and done, we cannot get past the simplicity of the Great Commandment: Love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strength, and love others as we love ourselves.  In doing this, we discover God's heart.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Matthew 11:20-24 "Woe Upon Woe"

Then Jesus began to denounce the towns where he had done so many of his miracles, because they hadn’t repented of their sins and turned to God. “What sorrow awaits you, Korazin and Bethsaida! For if the miracles I did in you had been done in wicked Tyre and Sidon, their people would have repented of their sins long ago, clothing themselves in burlap and throwing ashes on their heads to show their remorse. I tell you, Tyre and Sidon will be better off on judgment day than you.  And you people of Capernaum, will you be honored in heaven? No, you will go down to the place of the dead. For if the miracles I did for you had been done in wicked Sodom, it would still be here today. I tell you, even Sodom will be better off on judgment day than you.”

 I am not typically a doom and gloom kind of guy, but I have to say that this passage does not bode well for America. 

I believe it is safe to assume that Jesus reflects the heart and thinking of God.  We see here a glimpse of God's thoughts toward the cities in which Jesus was ministering.  These cities have no excuse for refusing to turn their hearts fully and completely to God.  Jesus is teaching.  Jesus is healing people.  Jesus is casting out demons.  It would be hard to argue against Jesus' claim that the Kingdom of God had arrived -that Father was pouring out His love and mercy; yet people hardened their hearts and continued to expect miracles and goodness from God almost like it was simple entertainment and they were entitled to it.  God said it will go easier on the Day of Judgment for the inhabitants of Sodom -a city He had destroyed with fire from Heaven because of their perverseness.

Here in America, we have experienced the favor and goodness of God for generation after generation.  We have had the best of everything this world has to offer -including spiritual blessings.  Despite the obvious fact that God has favored us and blessed us and poured His love out upon us, we have turned our backs and hardened our hearts and developed an attitude of entitlement.  Many Americans actually believe that the greatness of America is simply because we are great people.  If Judgment is coming for Korazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum, can we really think God will turn a blind eye to our arrogance and sin?  If He did, he would have to apologize to Sodom.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Matthew 11:16-19 "You Didn't Dance / You Didn't Mourn"

"To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
 'We played the flute for you,
      and you did not dance;
   we sang a dirge
      and you did not mourn.' 
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.'  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners." ' But wisdom is proved right by her actions."

 I love how Jesus just gets right to the heart of things.  The pharisees (of both then and now) keep a checklist of rules -things we do and things we don't do.  Emotions don't play a big part in rule keeping.  Relationship doesn't play a big part in rule keeping.  And anyone who steps a little to the right or to the left of the rules is judged harshly. 

The rule-keepers judged John, whom Jesus said was the greatest person ever born of woman -they said he was too extreme.  At the same time they judged Jesus Himself -they said He was too extreme in the other direction.  I believe that the average Evangelical church-goer would still judge John and Jesus in exactly the same ways.  We pretend we wouldn't, but we would.  They would make us nervous and uncomfortable.

To this Jesus responds, "Wisdom is proved right by her actions."  In another place Jesus says a similar thought: "By their fruit you will know them."   Rule keeping apart from relationship produces dead fruit.  On the other hand, true relationship with Father produces good spiritual fruit: love. joy, peace, kindness, self-control, etc. without our actually trying.

That's not to say that God's laws were or are wrong; it's just that we can't keep His commands by focusing on the law and trying to keep it.   Instead, we end up fulfilling God's desires for us by whole-heartedly pursuing intimacy with Father through the death and resurrection of Jesus as we respond to the inner-promptings of the Holy Spirit.  Relationship.  God's idea.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Matthew 11:7, 10-15 "A Clashing Of Kingdoms"

Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, ..."This is the one about whom it is written,

"Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.  For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John.  And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

 There are a couple of confusing things here.  First, Jesus is saying that there has never been a man born who was greater than John the Baptist -but then he says that even the least of those in the Kingdom of Heaven are greater than John the Baptist.  Next, Jesus makes this bizarre statement about violent/forceful people seizing the Kingdom.  I think that in both statements, Jesus is commenting on the coming of the Kingdom, and how it differs from the Old Testament paradigms.

In the Old Testament, God communicated to His people through prophets.  Prophets were individuals called and commissioned by God.  The Holy Spirit, on occasion, came to these people and communicated with them.  They, in turn, spoke to the people what God had said.  The words of true prophets were Scripture and usually were written down and recorded as such -Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Amos, etc.  Jesus is saying that John the Baptist is a true prophet in the tradition of the Old testament prophets, and, in fact, that he is the greatest of all prophets.  At the same time, Jesus is acknowledging a new reality: Jesus is the prototype of the Spirit filled Believer.  When Jesus was baptized by John, it marked a new era in the history of God and man.  The Holy Spirit indwelled Jesus permanently -and Jesus is saying that in the Kingdom of God (as it is established here on earth by Jesus Himself) this permanent indwelling of the Spirit is going to be the new normal for Believers.  There will no longer be the need for the office of "Prophet," because as the Holy Spirit takes up residence in God's people, as we become living temples of God, the Holy Spirit speaks and communes and leads and guides every Believer and this is a better and more intimate relationship than even the greatest of the Old Testament prophets had because they only experienced God occasionally.

Jesus then makes this statement about violence and the Kingdom being seized by force.  I have heard a few Prosperity Preachers explain this as proof that we need to forcefully demand, using Kingdom Authority, whatever we desire.  These preachers are way off base.  I remember hearing a Messianic Jewish theologian speak about this passage in a way that makes sense in the context of what Jesus was saying about John the Baptist and the new vs. the old.

Although Jesus spoke this in the Aramaic language, his Jewish listeners would have interpreted the words "violence/violent," as "breaking out/breaching."  What Jesus was saying was something to the effect that the Kingdom of God was breaching the walls of this world -the Kingdom was breaking out -and that His followers were fellow breachers, following Him into the gap.  When Jesus made real the Kingdom of God here on earth ("Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven") there was a clash of kingdoms -the temporal, earthly Kingdom infected with evil and manipulated by demons and God's Kingdom.

As disciples (apprentices) of Jesus, we are privileged to walk and live and participate fully in the Kingdom because we are temples of God with the Holy Spirit residing in us.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Matthew 11:2-6 "Honest Doubts"

When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"
Jesus replied, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." 

John the Baptist had declared of Jesus, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."  John understood that his prophetic role was to prepare the way for the Messiah.  And he knew that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah.  But now he seems to be doubting.

John, at this time is in King Herod's prison.  He is out of touch with the outside world.  He doesn't know what has been happening.  He is lonely.  He is feeling abandoned.  He begins to understand that he will likely die in prison, and he begins to think that if He was mistaken about Jesus being the Messiah, he had not accomplished his God-given purpose.  Because of his dark circumstances, he was filled with doubts and fears.  So his sends some of his followers to ask Jesus.

Jesus could have been offended.  Jesus could have rebuked John for his lack of faith.  But he didn't.  Gently, he told the messengers to simply report to John what they have seen and heard:  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.  In doing this, Jesus was affirming that He was, indeed, the Messiah and that John's purpose had been fulfilled.  Jesus was saying, in effect, "Well done."  And I believe that John was satisfied.

Sometimes we, like John, get discouraged by our circumstances.  We have a difficult time understanding the bigger picture.  Life seems hurtful.  We wonder if we are even on the same page with God...maybe we even wonder if there is a God.

In such times God invites us to look beyond our personal circumstances to see what He is doing.  Think of other times and places when God provided and protected and healed and forgave.  See where He is still healing the sick and hurting and loving the unlovable and forgiving the unforgivable.  We don't always see the big picture and our doubts and fears are natural.  This does not upset God or offend Him in any way -but He invites us to raise our eyes and see that He is still a good and loving and compassionate Father.  He has not changed.  Take heart.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Matthew 10:40-42 "Blessing Others"

He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.  Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward.  And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.

 Although I've seen this verse exploited and misused by televangelists and prosperity preachers, there is, nevertheless, a legitimate principle that we ought to always consider.  The principle concerns blessing those who are doing God's work. 

Jesus says whoever receives (accepts, blesses, provides for) you as a minister of the Gospel and apprentice of Jesus receives Him; and whoever receives Him, receives the Father.  He then fleshes this thought out a little. Whoever receives a prophet (preacher, teacher, missionary, etc.) receives the prophet's reward.  I believe this means that those who provide and enable ministers (in any capacity) to minister will be spiritually credited with the fruit of the ministry along with the minister as it is team effort -those providing and enabling and those ministering.  But then Jesus broadens the concept further to include any righteous people, not just prophets and ministers and missionaries.  When we see people living righteous lives and we bless them, encourage them, pray for them, provide for them, etc., we receive the spiritual rewards produced by their faithful, righteous lives.

This blessing of God's people can be, of course, through large significant gifts which enable large significant ministry -but Jesus reminds us that significant Kingdom ministry also occurs in simple gestures like giving a glass of cold water to someone who thirsts.  And the best part is that we are promised that God is watching the big and the small and every time we bless someone in Jesus name, we will be blessed ourselves.

Who can you bless today?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Matthew 10:39 "Finding Life; Losing Life"

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 

This statement by Jesus reminds me a bit of the Beatitudes where Jesus makes a series of seemingly contradictory statements that end up meaning so much that it seems like Jesus went into the Department Store of Life and switched all the price tags.  The things that the world has taught us to value actually have no eternal value, and the things the world cares little about actually are worth more than we can even imagine.

In this statement Jesus speaks to the core value of life itself.  We can cling to life, scratch out our own existence, fight our way up the ladder, grab everything we can hold onto and protect what we have carved out at all costs -only to discover that we still have nothing and it was all in vain.  Or we can surrender all to Jesus and His Kingdom and discover growing in us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, which is all we ever really wanted anyway.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Matthew 10:34-38 "Worth It"

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law - a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.  Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

What does it mean when the "Prince of Peace" says, "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword...?"  Why is Jesus saying that He will turn sons against fathers and daughters against mothers? 

I believe that Jesus is describing the obvious outcome when two worlds collide.  The Kingdom of God is worth pursuing, but those pursuing the Kingdom of God will offend and be alienated by those who embrace the kingdom of darkness.

For those who know and follow Jesus there is no question about the peace and security and love and intimacy and joy that occurs inside each of us individually as we enter deeper and deeper into this relationship with God.  Yet there is another reality just as obvious.  The exclusiveness of the Kingdom is offensive to those not walking in the Kingdom.  As a result, unbelieving parents will disregard and even disown children who love Jesus (and visa-versa).   The very things that bring us comfort and peace and joy will be offensive to those who choose to not believe.  Where the Kingdom of God is real, there will be conflict because the Kingdom of God by definition stands in contrast to the kingdom of darkness.

We can see these words of Jesus as a warning -but we can also see them as a promise.  Jesus is saying that although we will often be opposed and sometimes even persecuted, it is worth it.  A right relationship with Father through the shed blood of Jesus makes the conflict, even family conflict, even conflict that results in persecution and death, worth it.  That is the promise Jesus is making.  It is worth it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Matthew 10:27-33 Our Worth

What I tell you now in the darkness, shout abroad when daybreak comes. What I whisper in your ear, shout from the housetops for all to hear!  Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell. What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.   Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.

People speak of Jesus as if He was a great moral teacher and the kind of wise and gentle man that ought to be emulated.  Of course, in a sense, He was these things, but we should also remember that when Jesus taught, people were offended, people were provokedYes, He was kind and gentle and wise, but He spoke Truth -and people who were living self-indulgent lies were (and are) exposed and made uncomfortable by Truth.  Jesus understood that this was the case when He was teaching, and He understood that this would always be the case whenever Truth was proclaimed.  Yet, He calls His disciples (apprentices) to walk in, model, and proclaim Truth.  Boldly.  Unashamedly.

Just so we understand clearly -we are not called to proclaim our own version of truth arrogantly.  We are not called to condemn the lost (they are already condemned), or to harass the hopeless.  We are not called to malign or denigrate or shame those who are already in bondage.  Instead, we are called to love them (even when they are hateful), serve them (even when they are unappreciative), and forgive them (even when they continue to harm us), and proclaim boldly whatever the Holy Spirit speaks.

It kind of goes against the grain to speak plainly and boldly when people are getting angry and insulting and rude and threatening.  It would be easy to back it down a notch and blend in with the crowd.   There is a part of each of us that just wants to be normal and fit in.  But the stark reality is that we who follow Jesus are not normal.  If we are true to our calling, we can never fit in.

On the one hand, we can avoid much embarrassment and ridicule and pain by being silent and blending in; on the other hand, there are perks to obedience and publicly living the Truth.  First, we experience here and now God's sovereign care.  We experience His divine provision and love and intimacy.  We experience an awareness of God's presence.  We experience our worth.  And, ultimately, Jesus acknowledges us before Father.  How cool is that?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

"A Good Day" Matthew 10:21-26

"Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.  All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.  When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. "A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.  It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household! So do not be afraid of them."

Jesus continues with warnings as He sends out His disciples to do ministry.  It is a reality that as we pour ourselves into the lives of others and minister in the love of Father, it will make some people uncomfortable, and it will make some people down right angry.  "Men will hate you because of Me.... When you are persecuted.... If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of His household?"  Jesus is saying that persecution is inevitable; if He was called a chief of demons, and if He was tortured and executed, it is inevitable that those who follow Him will also me maligned and mistreated.

The balance to this is found in the promise of Romans 8:28 where we are told that God is working in every circumstance for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes.  But, how are these two realities reconciled?  How is God working for our good when we remain in turmoil and hardship and even persecution? 

Sometimes our idea of good is a little different than God's idea of good.  Our idea of good generally means that everything returns to a life of ease and comfort.  If I have a day in which conflict is resolved in my favor and I am financially secure and my reputation has been salvaged and I can sit in my easy chair at the end of the day feeling happy and in control, it seems to me like I had a good day.  On the other hand, God's idea of a good day is any day I end up more like Jesus -any day I trusted Him more, any day I learned to hear Him a little better, any day I loved others in His name, any day I took another step further into the Kingdom and came out resembling Jesus just a little more -that was a good day.

And here is the bottom line truth: I rarely become more like Jesus when life is easy and I am comfortable.  Yes, God is working for our good even in the midst of hardship and persecution.  He is with us in the hardship and the pain, transforming us into the likeness of Christ.  It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.  That is a good day.

Monday, August 9, 2010

"Be On Guard" Matthew 10:17-20

"Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." 

 This is Jesus speaking to His disciples as He sends them out to do ministry, but Jesus is clearly also speaking to others who would be sent out later (us).  This is part of the same admonition to be as gentle/innocent as doves and as shrewd as snakes.  Jesus advises those doing ministry to "Be on your guard against men."  There is a difficult line here we must learn to straddle as we do ministry.  We need to cooperate with other people.  We need to love other people.  We cannot do effective ministry from a position of wounded distrust -yet, at the same time we must always be aware that people are sometimes going to let us down.  Occasionally people are going to hurt us.  Sometimes people betray us.  Sometimes we find ourselves in difficult situations because of bad choices "friends" have made.

It is in these difficult times when my natural instinct is to be angry and bitter that I most need to rely on the Holy Spirit to empower me, give me comfort and courage, and give me the words that express the heart of God.  When I begin to understand that because of my fears and my hurts I cannot trust my own thinking and I cannot trust my own words, I then realize God is willing and wanting to speak through me if I will submit my  heart, mind and mouth to Him.

On the other hand, when I am frightened and wounded, if I do not submit myself to Him, I am very likely to lash out and feel justified in doing so.  Even though in a natural sense I may be justified in defending myself with righteous indignation, when I lash out in my own thinking using my hurt feelings as my guide, I will always end up doing harm to the Kingdom instead of good for the Kingdom.

Jesus gives us this warning ahead of time because of another reality.  If we do not cultivate a relationship with God during the good and easy times -if we do not learn to hear from God and obey His still small voice when things are going well, we will never hear Him during the crisis.  We need to tune our hearts to hear from God and commit ourselves to obeying today because tomorrow our lives may depend upon it.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Shrewd & Innocent Matthew 10:16

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

There is a brand of Christianity today that is politically active and militant.  It is natural to want to fight for our territory and hang on to what we already have and guard our rights -it is natural, but not necessarily Biblical.  It would be nice if Jesus had said something like, "I'm sending you out like a giant roaring Lion among wolves."  Or, "I'm sending you out like dominant alpha-wolves among lesser wolves."   That, however, is not the word picture he gave us.  He said we were like sheep (no natural defenses) among wolves.  For we who are in Christ doing Kingdom work (the work He actually instructs us to do) we are, of course, protected; we don't need natural defenses because we are under the care of the Good Shepherd.

Notice, though, that our protection is conditional: first we must be In Christ, and second we must be doing what He has instructed.  If either one of these conditions are not accurate, we will be facing the wolves in our own power with our own resources to accomplish our own agendas.

Some good news here: we don't have to guess what Kingdom work Jesus wants us to be doing.  Forget this world's politics.  Forget fighting to hang on to our rights.  Forget guarding our territory.  That is temporary stuff.  We are instructed to destroy the works of the devil by preaching this message: "The kingdom of heaven is near."  we are to be healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing those who have leprosy, and driving out demons. (Matthew 10:7-8)

In another place Jesus claimed this as His mission statement (and therefore as ours): "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19)

And because we are doing this vital Kingdom ministry as sheep among wolves, we are instructed to be both shrewd and innocent.  We are to be innocent as in not stirring up trouble for trouble's sake, not causing harm to those to whom we ought to be ministering, not being mean spirited or small minded.  But we are to be shrewd as in seeking God's direction and wisdom at every step and using His wisdom to devise strategies and plans, not putting our faith in man-made plans and agendas, not being blind or ignorant or naive. 

Lord, today grant me wisdom to hear and trust and obey, using Your directions and Your wisdom to be as shrewd as a snake and as innocent as a lamb, so that Your Kingdom purposes will be accomplished and Your Kingdom will grow.  Amen.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Trusting & Obeying Matthew 10:9-15

Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.  "Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

These are Jesus' instructions to His disciples for their first missionary journey around the nation of Israel.  I understand that these are specific instructions for a specific group of men on a specific journey at a specific time in history -these instructions are not necessarily for all ministries and all people at all times.  Yet, there are principles here that clearly reflect the heart of God that we would do well to take note of.

First is the attitude of those being sent.  The idea of taking no money or extra clothing gives us a clue that at the heart of authentic ministry is a willingness to trust God absolutely.  I had a friend once who had a very good paying job.  He felt called to be a preacher and he planted a little church.  His thought was that he would continue working while the church was small and phase out of secular work as the church could afford to pay him.  About six months into it, though, his job started producing income hand over fist, and instead of phasing out, he ramped up.  His new plan was that if he worked an additional two years or so and saved his money, he could quit his job and continue the same lifestyle for at least another five years without worrying about how much the church could pay.  The end result was that his church closed down and then his income dried up as well.  Our plans to take care of ourselves, I think, often stand in direct conflict with God's desire that we simply trust and obey.

The second part of this is the attitude of those receiving ministry.  Those who in obedience to God's prompting support and encourage and enable ministers and missionaries to do God's work effectively, receive God's blessing.  In fact, there is a verse in the Old Testament that says that those who honor a prophet share in the prophet's reward.  The principle is this: when we pray for and give financially and encourage and befriend those who are doing God's work, we have a very real stake in their ministry and share spiritually any Kingdom fruit that is produced.

On both sides of this equation is the idea of trusting and obeying in order to see God's Kingdom growing.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Principles For Ministry Matthew 10:1, 7-8

He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.... As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. 

Here we have what I consider to be the basics of doing ministry in Jesus' name.  Although the disciples were sent out and commissioned and empowered specifically for this short time before Jesus' death and resurrection and before the Holy Spirit was given to all Believers, the commission reflects Christ's heart, methods and approach.  Since we are followers and apprentices  of Jesus, learning to be and think and live like our Master, we should pay special attention.

First, there is, of course, preaching.  In the context of ancient Israel and Jesus' appearance as their awaited Messiah, the message was that the Kingdom of Heaven is near -the Messiah has come.  I believe that we still need to understand and preach about the Kingdom of God, but the scope of the message has broadened in light of what Jesus did on the cross.  Our message is that through Jesus, forgiveness of sin, right relationship with God and intimacy with God are possible.  God is no longer holding our sins against us.  We in the modern Evangelical church have done an adequate job of this.  Unfortunately, we have largely ignored the rest of the commission.

We are also to be driving out demons and healing every disease and sickness.  Jesus said that this is the proof that the Kingdom has come.  Jesus said that this was part of what it means to destroy the works of the devil.  There are many who claim that the Holy Spirit no longer empowers Believers to operate with this kind of power in these kinds of ways.  That is foolishness.  Are people still suffering from sicknesses and diseases?  Is evil rampant?  Is the demonic still active?  Are the works of the devil still operating in this world?  If so (and obviously it is so) we need to still be walking in and operating in and using the authority of Jesus to destroy the works of the devil.  We are the hands and feet and voice of Jesus. 

It is time we take the debate out of the arena of Pentecostal vs. Non-Pentecostal.  Forget those artificially erected, man-made theological arguments.  Those are arguments that are not and never have been honoring to God nor conducive to Kingdom ministry.  Let's just take the Bible at face value and do His work His way.  No need to apologize or explain away or argue.  We need His empowerment to do His work, and we need to do the work that He commanded us to do.  Let's do it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

"Workers Are Few" Matthew 9:35-38

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."

 It seems to me that we have the same dilemma now that Jesus experienced way back then.  People are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  People are sick and hurting and dying.  The need is great.  Never has the time been more appropriate or the need greater for a world-wide outpouring of God's mercy and grace.  Never have people needed to see the reality of the God's love more than today.  The harvest is great, but workers are few.

Jesus had a solution -a solution that we seem to largely ignore.  Our solution is to take a handful of "anointed" men and give them more and more and bigger and bigger.  We seem to think that the solution is to build bigger and bigger mega-churches and put up video screens of the anointed preacher, because, apparently, although we understand the need is great, we assume God's work can only be done by a handful of Christian superstars.

Jesus, however, took a different approach.  He said,  "Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."  The Lord of the harvest wants more workers, not fewer workers with bigger ministries.  More people doing hands on, one-on-one, personal, life changing ministry with neighbors and co-workers and friends and friends of friends.  More workers.  That's God's plan.

Father help us to see and understand your desires so that we can do Your work Your way to accomplish Your desired results.  Amen.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Matthew 9:32-34

While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, "Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel."  But the Pharisees said, "It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons."

This is at once amazing, sad and disturbing.  Amazing that Jesus, the Son of God -God incarnate, was doing exactly what He said  He said He had come to do -destroy the works of the devil.  We, of course, know the bigger picture, what is coming up.  We know that Jesus is headed toward the cross where the wrath of God will be fully satisfied and our sins we will be forgiven and we will be extended mercy and grace and a full and right relationship with God will be made possible.  But isn't it amazing that even before the triumph of the cross, Jesus was healing the sick and proclaiming God's favor and driving out demons?  Jesus, before enduring the cross, was constantly confronting the kingdom of darkness and destroying the works of the devil.

But this story is also sad -sad because what Jesus was doing was plain and obvious and clearly empowered by Father: God's glory was being declared, sick were being healed, and demons were being driven out.  The Kingdom of God was actively confronting the kingdom of darkness.  Yet, the religious elite refused to see it.  All they saw was a man doing things differently than they did things, which, naturally, challenged their existing paradigms of ministry.  These religious leaders actually accused Jesus of confronting the demons and the kingdom of darkness empowered by demons Himself.  Sad.

Ultimately, this story is disturbing because we tend to do the same thing.  I have more than once heard Christians who should know better accuse other Christians of cooperating with demons simply because divine healings are taking place and demons are being driven out.  We have a tendency to criticize (and demonize) whatever we don't understand and whatever challenges our existing paradigms.

I wonder what would happen if Christians actually rejoiced at the news that God is being glorified, people are being healed, demons are being driven out, the works of the devil are being destroyed, and the Kingdom of God is growing?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Learning To Forgive: My Story

I'm breaking for a moment from my journaling through the book of Matthew to share this video.  It's just me sitting in my living room talking.  This is the story of how I learned to forgive.  I hope it helps to illustrate the forgiveness principles I teach.

"True Faith" Matthew 9:27-31

     After Jesus left the girl’s home, two blind men followed along behind him, shouting, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” 
     They went right into the house where he was staying, and Jesus asked them, “Do you believe I can make you see?” 
     “Yes, Lord,” they told him, “we do.”
     Then he touched their eyes and said, “Because of your faith, it will happen.” 
     Then their eyes were opened, and they could see! Jesus sternly warned them, “Don’t tell anyone about this.” But instead, they went out and spread his fame all over the region.

More than once I have met a person with with a disabling illness and offered to anoint with oil (James 5) and pray for healing, only to be told that there was no need because someone else somewhere had already prayed and nothing happened, meaning (to the sick person) that God had already said "no," and that they should not persist in praying for healing.  I do not believe that this is a Biblical response.

These two blind men followed Jesus calling out to Him because they had heard and witnessed Jesus' ability to heal the sick (including restoring sight to the blind).  They did not doubt His ability -the entire issue was in getting Jesus to notice them and restore their sight.  This wasn't theoretical, this was real life: they knew that Jesus had healed others, now they wanted Jesus to heal them.  And in pursuing Jesus, they followed Him and called out to Him, and when Jesus did not respond, they followed Him right into His home.  They didn't have any other plans -no plan B.  They knew that Jesus had healed others and now they were pursuing Jesus until He either healed them or told them "no" and sent them away.  And Jesus did, indeed, heal them saying, "Because of your faith..."

The problem is that we often misunderstand what faith is and what it is not.  Faith is not an emotion that we work up in an attempt to manipulate God.  It's not like if we can only work up enough of this emotion of faith, God has to do whatever we want.  That would be more like witchcraft than faith -and it wouldn't work on God anyway.

Faith, true Biblical faith, is a matter of hearing God and believing what He says.  Think about it.  Noah didn't decide to build a boat and then ask God to bless his plan and make it rain.  Noah heard from God -heard something that didn't entirely make sense -but he acted upon what he had heard, and that was what Hebrews chapter eleven calls faith.   Similarly, Abram didn't just decide to pack up his family and go for a walk.  God told him to gather his family and start walking and go to a place that would be revealed as he walked.  Abram didn't initiate, he obeyed -he heard from God and obeyed, and that was faith.

When we are talking about sickness and healing, here is how I believe it works.  James 5 tells us to come to elders of the church and be anointed and pray for healing.  We have a right to pray for healing.  And we should continue to pray until we know that we know that God has spoken.  Paul prayed three times that his "thorn in the flesh" would be removed.  He didn't stop praying simply because God hadn't yet removed it, he stopped praying that God would remove it because God actually spoke to him about it and said, "I'm not going to remove it; My grace is sufficient for you."

My point is that we can and should continue to pursue Jesus and healing (like these two blind men) until we know that we know that God has responded.  Paul did not receive the answer he wanted, but he did receive a specific and definite answer, and he could accept God's answer of "no" because there was no guess work -God had given him an answer.

If you are struggling with something in prayer, don't give up.  Pray until God responds.  Faith is hearing from God and then acting in obedience.