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, May 27, 2010

"Be Clean" Matthew 8:2-3

"A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, 'Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.' Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. 'I am willing," he said. "Be clean!' Immediately he was cured of his leprosy."

I'm reminded of another story -the one where the lame man lay beside the pool waiting for someone to help into the healing waters.  Jesus asked that man, "Do you want to be well?"  These are two sides of the equation of spiritual healing.  One the one side we must actually desire to be made whole and clean.  On the other side, our desires must align with the Lord's desires as to how and when.

The man by the pool could not walk; the man in this story had leprosy.  Our issues may be different than either of these.  But in a sense, they are the same.  When this man asks Jesus to make him clean, it means more than just physical healing.  According to Mosaic law, leprosy made a person ceremonially unclean, meaning that they could not participate in the required rituals and ceremonies at the temple.  Because they could not participate, their sins could not be forgiven and they could not be right with either God or other people -that was the Old Covenant.  This man is not only asking to be healed (although he is asking for that), he is also, and maybe more importantly, asking to be restored and made acceptable to God.  This is the same need that each of us has.

To put this in a context for us today, I believe that God moves to bring us into right relationship Himself and others through the blood of Jesus when our motives for being made right and clean and whole align with His motives and desires.  When in the deepest regions of our hearts we are longing for what God desires, we are made clean and whole.  This is not a result of repeating a prayer after a preacher (although that sometimes is a catalyst), and God cannot be manipulated or conned.  When our hearts are in alignment with God's heart, however, we are restored.

"Clean before my Lord I stand, and in me not one blemish does He see;  
When I gave all my burdens to Him, He washed them all from me."
(Nancy Henigbaum)

Friday, May 21, 2010

"House Building" Matthew 7:24-27

“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

 Although this word picture works in almost every culture -houses need to be built on solid foundations -this was a particularly vivid word picture for the people of the region around the Sea of Galilee.  During the dry season, it was hot and arid and the sand along the seashore was baked hard.  It may have seemed like it was stable enough to provide an adequate foundation.  In the rainy season, however, that same sand was wet and spongy.  If someone were to build a house during the dry season without digging down to the bedrock, it was going to be a big problem when the rains came.  Digging down to the bedrock was hard work, but resulted in a stable house, able to withstand the rains and storms.

Jesus likens this to hearing and obeying His words and teachings.  We can build our lives around cultural perspectives and political correctness and whatever is the latest trend in thinking, or we can can build our lives around eternal Truth.  It is our choice.  But only one of these is going to get us through the storms of life. 

Jesus' teachings are considered by many to be culturally irrelevant, and by others to be simply wise teachings -wise but optional.  The reality is, however, that His words are truth.  Real truth.  Eternal truth.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"I Never Knew You" Matthew 7:21-23

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the person who does what my Father in heaven wants. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name? Didn’t we force out demons and do many miracles by the power and authority of your name?’ Then I will tell them publicly, ‘I’ve never known you. Get away from me, you evil people.’"

This teaching is a hard teaching. We naturally assume that those who wield spiritual authority and spiritual power -those who get the job done -are operating with God's favor. Jesus says that this is not always the case.

There is such a thing as spiritual anointing. And there is both power and authority in the name of Jesus. Power, authority and anointing do not impress God. He could raise up monkeys, dogs and cats to do Kingdom work in His power and anointing if He wanted to. Proof of God's favor is not in anointing and demonstrations of power -although people with God's favor generally operate in His favor and anointing and walk and live in the resurrection power of Jesus. The point is that external things may impress people, but they don't impress God. What impresses God is intimacy -a truly right relationship.

In this passage Jesus calls people who were actually preaching and teaching and performing miracles in His name and authority "evil." This is strong language considering that Jesus doesn't suggest that they are lying or misrepresenting their accomplishments -His rebuke is, "I've never known you." In effect, Jesus is saying, "You may have done miracles in the authority and power of my name, but you did not have a relationship with me; there has been no intimacy; you never opened your heart; I don't know you; we are not friends."

For practical application of this principle, we should not follow people simply because of demonstrations of power and anointing -whether this manifests as miracles or even as powerful teaching and preaching. Instead, we should follow those who have godly character as this only comes from spending time with Jesus. The natural result of godly character is good fruit. Follow those whose godly character evidences love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; the devil has no duplicate for these.

Monday, May 17, 2010

"Wolves Among Sheep" Matthew 7:15-16

"Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.  You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?"

False teachers are dangerous.  Jesus says that they are like wolves disguised as sheep -an interesting description.  They look just like the sheep, yet they are not sheep, and, in fact, they feed on sheep.

I'm convinced that we all have some doctrinal error.  Our understanding of spiritual things comes to us through denominational perspectives and cultural perspectives and our own filter of hurts and desires, fears and dreams.  On our own, we are incapable of truly grasping the depth and wealth of what God has for us.  There is much that we misunderstand and misinterpret.  None of us has perfect doctrine as God would describe perfection.  I'm convinced of this.

Since none of us gets it perfectly correct, what makes false teachers so dangerous?  If we are all in at least partial error, what makes them any different than us?  The answer is, of course, the same answer to most of our spiritual questions.  The answer has to do with heart motivations.  God is not nearly as concerned about doctrinal correctness as He is about love for Him.

This brings us to one of the great ironies of the Kingdom.  We can teach correct doctrine with the wrong heart, and God is not in it, and we would be numbered among the wolves who are dangerous to the Kingdom.  You simply can't pick grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles.  Bad roots produce bad fruit.  And the ultimate test to discern false teachers is to examine their fruit.  

Have nothing to do with any minister or teacher that leaves a trail of wounded people -any teacher that is self-absorbed attracting glory to himself -any teacher that lacks integrity and doesn't care -any teacher that causes people to question Father's love -any teacher whose ministry cannot be described as producing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 

"Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.  You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?"

Friday, May 14, 2010

"Finding The Path" Matthew 7:13-14

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."

 This seems obvious -the vast majority of people just take the cultural path of least resistance; most people live without considering how or why they live the way they do and believe the things they believe.  Over a hundred years ago, Thoreau made the observation that the vast majority of men lead lives of quiet desperation.  A sad statement, but clearly true.

The path of Life, is difficult to find, and takes commitment to walk.   As with all spiritual reality, simple -as in easy to understand, yet difficult -as in impossible to do apart from God.  What Jesus is talking about is not just for the heathen and the pagans.  Sadly, most Christians assume they have found the narrow path, while at the same time continuing to lead the same lives they have always led, walking the same path they have always walked.  Their minds are consumed with worldly politics (as if our hope is in kings and presidents and congressmen), and their agendas are centered around making money and accumulating material possessions (as if God cares about what kind of cars we drive or how big our television sets are). 

In another place, Jesus made the comment that it is harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.  His disciples asked,  "Then how can anyone enter the Kingdom -that is impossible."  Jesus said, "With God, all things are possible."  Understand that Jesus did not say or even imply that with God all things are easy -only that they are possible.

The way is narrow and difficult to find -but not impossible.  So, the question of the day has to be, how do we find it?  It is clearly not just a matter of going to church and sitting under the right preacher and reading Scripture and being religious.  That stuff is all easy to do.  Anyone can do that.  So, what does it mean to find the narrow path?  How do we get on it?  How do we stay on it?

I believe (again, as with all spiritual reality) it begins with motivations of the heart.  Way back in the book of Deuteronomy (I think chapter 4) God told the Israelites, "If you seek the LORD your God, you will find Him, if you seek Him with all of your heart and all of your soul."  In Proverbs 8:17, God says, "I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me."    Then again in Jeremiah 29:13 God says, "You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all of your heart."

So, here is the deal -and it is the same deal for everyone.  God doesn't cut different deals for different people -easier for some and harder for others.  At the foot of the cross, we all stand on equal ground.  We find God (and the narrow road of Life) when we are desperate enough to seek him with all of our hearts and all of our souls.  And when we are in that desperate place, an exchange is made.  We surrender everything we were -including plans, agendas, hopes and dreams -for who God wants us to be.  Surrender is simple, but not easy.  Yet, surrender is required.  The exchange must be made.  This is the entrance to the narrow road.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

"How To Treat Others" Matthew 7:12

"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."

 Often called the Golden Rule, this passage goes hand in hand with the Great Commandment: to love God with all of our hearts, souls, mind and strength, and love others as we love ourselves.  Jesus also said that concept summed up the Law and the Prophets.  We have to come to the conclusion that this is important.  Loving others as we love ourselves, treating other as we want to be treated.

Unfortunately, our natural tendency is to manipulate others and take advantage of others in order to get our own way.  As simple as the Golden Rule is, it is also quite difficult.  And that seems to be the way of true spiritual principles: simple (as in not complicated), yet difficult (as in can't be done apart from God).

I think that perhaps treating others as we want to be treated, and loving others as we love ourselves begins with seeing others as God sees them.  When we see others as deeply loved children of God, even when they are confused and disagreeable and acting out their pain and wrong thinking, we can have a measure of compassion -the same compassion God has for us.

Lord, help me to see (and treat) others as you see them, and love them as You love them.  Amen.

Monday, May 10, 2010

"Ask, Seek, Knock" Matthew 7:7-11

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.  Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!"

I think there are two things going on that Jesus is referring to.  One is that God rewards right motivations.  And two is that God rewards diligence.  

What this is not talking about is a "name it and claim it" kind of theology.  God does not give us every whim that crosses through our minds.  We are not entitled to BMW's and Mercedes Benz's  simply because we want to live in luxury and ask God for them..

What this is talking about is provisioning Kingdom resources for Kingdom purposes.  The phrase "seek and you will find," is the clue.  If we are truly seeking God's agenda, we will find it -and when we know God's agenda and purposes, we have a right and even an expectation that God will provide adequate resources to accomplish His plans, so we can boldly ask for whatever is needed.  And we can also ask and expect that God will open the right doors for us to accomplish His will and purpose.

God gives good and appropriate gifts to His children.  Jesus said,  "which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?"  Something Jesus did not say but is, nevertheless true, is that if we are always asking for desserts and junk food, He will likely still provide bread and fish because that is what is good and that is what is needed.

Christians, it seems, tend to fall in two different categories when it comes to asking God for good gifts.  Some ask selfishly for things that have no Kingdom value, and some have a difficult time asking for anything because they don't want to appear selfish.  God's desire is that we seek Him, His Kingdom, and His purposes and boldly ask for what is needed.  He enjoys giving us the best provisions, the best gifts to accomplish His purposes.  It is not selfish to ask our Father for such things.

Friday, May 7, 2010

"Pearls Before Swine" Matthew 7:6

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you."

 Several times Jesus said things like, "I only say what I hear my Father saying, and I only do what I see my Father doing."  I think that how Jesus ministered and what He is teaching here are related, and I believe that they give us the secret to effective personal ministry.  Jesus listened to the Father and did and said what He heard.  He prayed for those the Father said to pray for.  He healed those the Father said to heal.  He ministered where, when and to whom the Father directed Him.  And because He listened and obeyed, His ministry was 100% effective.

We can tune our hearts to hear that "still small voice." as well.  And if we hear and obey Father, we have effective ministry.  The alternative is an approach that many people take -a sort of shotgun approach -preaching at everyone, praying for everyone without even asking God what to pray or what His will is.  The hope is that some of what we throw out there finds the target.  Sometimes we do, indeed, hit the mark.  More often, however, we invest all of our time and energy ministering where God is not working, doing things that God never actually told us to do.  This is ineffective and Jesus likens it to casting pearls before swine and giving sacred things to dogs.  It sounds a little harsh, but it shows us a spiritual reality:  if God is not speaking and moving people's hearts and preparing them, they are simply not able or willing to receive ministry -there will be a total disconnect and lack of understanding, like preaching to animals. 

The secret to effective ministry is hearing and obeying Father -not just the written Word, but also the inner promptings.  When we do what He is telling us to do, He will empower us to do it and there will be fruit.  Otherwise, the swine and dogs are getting the children's food.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"Judging Others" Matthew 7:1-5

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye."

 I have heard people use this verse inappropriately to say that we should never be discerning or under any circumstance condemn that actions or attitudes of other people -and if we don't judge others, God will not judge us.  That is not what Jesus is teaching.  One day each of us will stand before God and give an account.  Sin is still sin.  Evil is still evil.  This is not talking about how God judges us, this is talking about how we judge one another.

Jesus is simply pointing out the obvious, that none of us has all of the facts and information on other people -we are not in a good position to judge other people's motivations.  We often don't even grasp what motivates our own hearts.  So, we should allow God to judge the motivations of the heart -He knows what we don't.  Our mandate is not to root out sin in the lives of others -our mandate is to invite people into right relationship with God and teach them to be followers of Jesus.

In the mean time, we should be concerned about our own internal reality.  We should be more concerned and more discerning about what is wrong inside ourselves.  

There is a principle here that is similar to the Golden Rule.  If we are demeaning and condemning of others, we can't expect others to treat us compassionately.  On the other hand, if we are compassionate and merciful and gracious, others will be inclined to treat us similarly.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Do Not Be Anxious" Matthew 6:25-34

"Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.... your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."

I read somewhere that there are close to a thousand named phobias and fears.  We have a tendency to worry, to be anxious, to be fearful.  But Jesus tells us (and really all throughout Scripture we are told) to not be anxious, to not worry, to not indulge fears.  Fear, by definition, is projecting evil into the future.  I'm ok today, but I worry about tomorrow.  Jesus says, "Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."  We have enough on our plates today, we can't afford to put tomorrow's potential problems on the plate too.  

Honestly, we don't know what tomorrow will bring.  The future is God's domain, not ours.  And projecting evil contradicts the goodness of God.

I read a quote on a friend's Facebook page.  I'm not sure who said it or the exact wording but the gist was this:  When fear comes knocking on your door, do not invite him in for dinner; but if he somehow gets in, for goodness sake, don't let him spend the night.

The bottom line is that fear is not from God.  No fear is from God.  We will occasionally be anxious and we will occasionally worry, but when we do this, our minds are not on the Kingdom.  One antidote to fear is seeking the Kingdom and His righteousness because when we are doing, walking, breathing God's will, He will provide.  Guaranteed.  The other antidote to fear: "Perfect love casts out all fear."  We need to allow Father to lavish His love on us -that is not selfish, it is necessary.