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.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Matthew 4:2-4

The devil is no gentleman.  He attacks when we are weak.  He takes advantage of every opportunity.

While seeking the Father's direction at the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus fasted for 40 days.  I believe that fasting is sometimes beneficial spiritually.  It can clear our minds and clarify our priorities and renew our spirits and increase our intimacy with God as we purposefully subdue the flesh and submit to the Spirit.  Yet, there is a downside.  Fasting makes us physically weak.  After 40 days, Jesus was weak and vulnerable.  This is when the devil showed up.

The temptation that the devil suggested was subtle and attractive and seemingly innocent.  He simply suggested that Jesus use His powers and abilities as God to satisfy His hunger and physical need:  turn the stones into bread and eat.  Obviously, that would have been simple enough for Jesus to do.  We might even wonder what would the harm have been?  Who cares if Jesus made stones into bread when He was hungry.  If I could, I would do that.  You would to.  Only I would have made some sticks into roast beef to go on it.  Why not?

Here is the problem.  Here is the heart of the temptation.  The devil knew that in order for God's justice and wrath against sin to satisfied, Jesus had to be fully human, sinless and undeserving of death.  He who had no sin, must become sin so that we could become righteous.

If Jesus had put aside His humanity and played the God card -if He operated in His divinity instead of operating in humanity controlled and led by the Spirit, He would no longer be eligible to be our Redeemer.  If He had used His God powers to satisfy His human needs, He could no longer be our High priest who in every respect understands our weakness.  It would no longer be true that He was human in every way and was tempted just as we are and yet remained pure.  Giving in to this particular temptation would have left us without a Savior.

Thank You, Jesus, for resisting the subtleties of the tempter, and remaining obedient to Father.  Because You resisted, we have hope and a future.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Matthew 4:1-2

I see an interesting and, I think, "normal," spiritual dynamic here -normal in the sense that Jesus is not only God in the flesh, but also the proto-type of the Spirit-filled, Spirit-led man. How Jesus did things is a standard for how things ought to be done. Jesus modeled for us what it looks like in real life to hear from Father and act on what we hear.

Immediately after being baptized by John and filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus went to a solitary place to fast and pray and seek the Father's direction. It seems that maybe Jesus had a big picture idea of what His ministry was going to be and He knew the timing was right, but He still needed the Father's specific instruction for the details -what was the next step, where should He go, to whom should He preach and minister. Although He was fully God and could have known all of this within Himself, he chose not to. Because He was fully human, He chose not to play the God card and, as a result, needed to spend time with Father, seeking knowledge and wisdom and understanding -just like us.

This certainly seems to be the way God leads us, doesn't it? God rarely, if ever, reveals the entire plan to us at once. Instead, as we moment by moment and day by day seek Him, He gradually unveils and slowly reveals His desires. We often just want to cut to the chase and know what we're supposed to be busy doing. We often take a position of, "Just give me the information so I can get busy doing stuff for You, God." But God enjoys the relationship, the seeking and finding, the time spent together. Perhaps the process of seeking Him is more important to God than the information we receive.

Jesus, from the start of His ministry spent extensive solitary time seeking the Father's heart and will. Maybe we should too.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Matthew 3:13-17

Here, Jesus' earthly ministry begins. He comes to John asking to be baptized. Interestingly, John at first objects -not at all for the same reasons that he objected to baptizing the Pharisees and Saducees. Those of the religious elite John had objected to on the basis of no inward repentance. They had been seeking baptism as a symbolic gesture to demonstrate to the crowds their "holiness." But, John, not seeing any true repentance -no change of thinking and no change of spiritual direction, had refused to baptize them. In Jesus, however, what John saw was no need for repentance. And John was, of course, correct.

Nevertheless, Jesus insisted that John baptize Him to "fulfill righteousness." I believe what Jesus was saying was simply, "John, it is what Father wants, so it is the right thing to do." And John baptized Jesus.

This baptism was a kind of passing of the mantle from the prophet to the Messiah. John had been announcing the coming Kingdom and preparing the way for Messiah. When Jesus arose from the water and the Holy Spirit manifested and settled upon Him, and declared with an audible voice from Heaven to those gathered there that Jesus was His Son and He was pleased, Jesus was no longer the carpenter from Nazareth; in a very real sense the Kingdom had arrived -Messiah had come.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Matthew 3:1-12

The ministry of John the Baptist was to prepare the way for the Messiah. He had a prophetic understanding that there are two kingdoms: the Kingdom of God, and the kingdom of darkness. In keeping with this understanding, he preached mostly a message of repentance, to move people from one kingdom to the other.

The traditional Jewish understanding of the concept of repentance was a change of direction. This meant a person was heading in a specific direction and literally turned in a different direction. On the other hand, the Greek understanding of repentance was a change of belief. Because the dominant culture of the time was Roman/Greco, the common understanding of the day was a mixture of both: repentance meant a change in thinking and belief that resulted in a new direction.

This, I think, explains John's harsh reaction when Pharisees and Saducees began showing up asking to be baptized. They were thinking of this baptism as a religious symbol -an outward sign. But John was not sensing any change of thinking -no change of belief -and, so, no real change of spiritual direction. He was basically saying that an outward sign of repentance without the inward reality is useless. Religious performance without transformation was meaningless.

The Kingdom that John was announcing and preparing for was about total separation of right from wrong and good from bad. A clear separation of the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. Being a prophet (prophets tended to see everything as black and white) John saw the separation of these two kingdoms very clearly, but he did not quite grasp that the implementation of The Kingdom was through mercy and grace. He did, however, see that when Jesus came, He would baptize (fully immerse and overwhelm) people with the Holy Spirit. This immersion in the Holy Spirit (God actually indwelling His people) creates a relationship with God so deep and intimate and personal that religious laws would be fulfilled and outdated. The Kingdom would come and the separation of wheat and chaff would be a normal, natural outcome.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Matthew 2:19-23

Here an angel once again appears to Joseph and tells him that it is time to go home. So, Joseph and his little family pack up and head back towards Judea, but God warns Joseph in a dream not to go to Judea, so Joseph and his family settle in the region of Galilee, in the town of Nazareth. This fulfilled the Old Testament prophecy that the Messiah would be called a Nazarene.

What really strikes me in this short passage is the beauty and simplicity of a life lived in sync with God. It seems to me that God communicated readily with Joseph because Joseph's heart was in sync. By that I mean 1) Joseph was willing to hear from God, and 2) Joseph was willing to obey what he heard.

There is a part of me that thinks obedience would easier if an angel showed up every once in a while to give me detailed instructions. But then, I'm reminded of the spiritual reality of our lives as Believers today. Jesus said that His sheep (us) would know His voice. This implies -actually more than implies, certifies, that Jesus is willing, and in fact, does speak to His followers. AND, we have the Holy Spirit residing in us -not out there somewhere -in us!

Putting those two thoughts together -God does speak, and the Holy Spirit is in us, it has got to be true that hearing from God is actually quite simple. Hearing from God is as simple as tuning our hearts to hear. If we, like Joseph, are 1) willing to hear God, and 2) willing to obey what He says, then we (like Joseph) can live out the beauty and simplicity of lives in sync with God.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Matthew 2:13-18

Just a simple thought about trusting and listening and obeying God. In the passage just prior, the Magi found Jesus and worshiped Him and gave to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. While we aren't told the cash value, we do know that the Magi believed that they were paying tribute to the future king of Israel. It is not a stretch to assume that these gifts had a good amount of cash value -especially to a young carpenter displaced from his home with a wife and son to support. It was a windfall of sorts. This windfall must have produced some thought about how to use this to best provide for a secure future.

But then an angel came and instructed them to flee to Egypt. Once again they were displaced -this time as foreigners and outsiders. In Egypt they had to survive for several years. But, of course, God had already provided for them financially. What had seemed like a windfall was God's excellent provision for a future that He knew was coming and they didn't know was coming.

As I'm reading this story, I find myself wondering if this has ever happened to me and I, maybe, didn't recognize it. What would have happened if Joseph treated this windfall as I sometimes treat "good luck?" What if Joseph, using his own best thinking had immediately invested his windfall in a new set of carpentry tools and a new wood shop -logical investments.

And, right now as my family experiences a season of financial difficulty, I'm wondering if God, knowing what was ahead, made provision, and I, not knowing what was ahead, spent God's provision on other things. I'm not a horrible steward of God's money. We live frugally and well within our means. Yet, as I'm reading this story and pondering, it is possible that I am sometimes unaware of God's "pre-provision," and end up relying on my own best thinking as to how to invest/spend life's little windfalls.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Matthew 2:1-12

In this passage there are two kinds of people who claim to be worshippers. The Magi saw the signs and the evidence and allowed the signs to point them to Jesus, where they fell down and worshiped.

Herod, on the other hand, became aware of the signs and evidence and claimed a desire to worship, all the while attempting to manipulate and control. He claimed to be a worshiper, yet he continued to seek his own agenda and his own best thinking.

Obviously, what Herod did was wrong -even evil. But I wonder how often we do a similar thing. We try to manipulate and control people, circumstances, and even God in order to accomplish our own agendas.

When we do this, at a deep-down heart level, are we really any different than Herod?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Matthew 1

The first half of this chapter is the geneology of Jesus. There are nuggets of truth here -what a line-up of ancestors -evil kings, prostitutes, gentiles -that has to mean something. But, honestly, I didn't think too far into that. What really struck me was the second half of this chapter.

The second half of Matthew 1 is the simple story of Joseph as he struggled with the reality of a pregnant girlfriend with whom he had never been intimate. In verse 19, it says that Joseph was a "righteous" man.

What being a righteous man meant to a Jewish man at that time was that Joseph kept the laws and commandments. And, I think implied is that Joseph had strong sense of right and wrong. His current circumstance clearly was wrong -and the law had a prescribed penalty. Legally, Joseph was required to expose Mary's obvious sin. She was to be taken before the local synagogue leaders, and she would then be stoned to death -or at least excommunicated from the Jewish community.

But Joseph had a problem -although he had this really strong sense of right and wrong, he loved Mary. So, on the one hand, because he was a righteous man, he had already decided to do the right thing -but on the other hand, he wasn't sure what he right thing was. Should he follow the law, or follow his heart.

Of course, then an angel showed up and told him exactly what the right thing was -ultimately his choice was easy. But I wonder how this all would have transpired if Joseph had not already (before the angel showed up) decided that he was going to do the right thing?

Thoughts As I Read

I have embarked, with several friends from church, on a new devotional journey this year. We have agreed to read through Scripture slowly, and journal about our thoughts. We are to do this without commentaries or outside influences -just alone with the Bible and God.

I have decided to do this in blog format as well. The thoughts I post are open for discussion and comment. The nature of this journaling is highly personal, so some conclusions I come to might apply to me and not you -that's ok.

I pray that as I work my way through Scripture, it will spark God-thoughts in you and that you will benefit.