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.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"New & Old" Matthew 9:16-17

"No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved."

 One of the wonderful things about God is that He is patient and thoughtful.  He understands our weaknesses and limitations, and He is willing to work with us within the context of our inadequate paradigms.  We cannot comprehend the greatness, the goodness, the majesty, the glory of God -it is beyond our understanding.  So, God patiently and lovingly fills to overflowing whatever box we try to put Him in.  That's just the way it is.

This is why, I believe, Scripture often speaks of God doing a new thing, a new song, new wine.  It is not because God has changed or changed His mind -it is more because He is greater than we comprehend, with God there is always more.

Sometimes we look at our past experiences with God and desire that God just continue doing what we have become comfortable with.  So, if God met our needs at a mega-church we tend to think that every church ought to aspire to be a mega-church.  If we encountered God a home-church, we tend to think that all churches should be home-churches.  If our hearts are moved by the ancient hymns and creeds, we tend to think that modern worship is shallow and flippant.  If we feel His presence in modern praise and worship, we tend to think historic hymns are boring and irrelevant. If we hear His voice in Scripture we tend to think that we don't need His Spirit speaking and giving direct revelation to our hearts and souls.  If we have experienced prophetic revelation and words of knowledge we tend to lessen the importance of Scripture.

God is patient and slow to anger, but He does have a perspective.  He desires that both the old wine and the new wine are preserved.  The new is good, but the old is also good.  Take care not to ruin either -the old and the new are both reflections of God.

Monday, June 28, 2010

"Mercy Not Sacrifice" Matthew 9:10-13

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"
On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

 It was a tradition among the Jewish people to honor a friend by hosting a feast in his honor.  Jesus had shown Matthew, the traitor, the tax-collector, the man who had exploited his own people for profit, compassion.  Jesus had restored Matthew's dignity, and Matthew desired to honor Jesus.  The problem was that because of Matthew's standing in the community (he had been thrown out of the temple and disallowed at any Jewish function) he had no proper friends to invite to the feast.  Matthew's friends consisted of other tax-collectors, thieves, prostitutes, and other pariah.

I'm sure that Matthew must have explained this dilemma to Jesus because his intent was to honor Jesus and he knew that in the greater community, it would not be honoring for Jesus to socialize with such a group.  But Jesus came to Matthew's feast anyway.

Sure enough, the religious elite -the guardians of public morality -noticed and immediately began to criticize.  When they asked, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" it was a rhetorical question as they has already reached their own conclusions.  In their thinking, Jesus had chosen the rabble because he himself was of the same ilk.

This causes me to think about all of the times Christians have brought out the verses about "shunning the very appearance of evil," and "not being a stumbling block to weaker brothers."  Once again Jesus goes to the motives of the heart.  It is not our place to look at other Believers and judge their motives. Only God is in a position to judge hearts.  Because Jesus knew this to be true, He was not concerned about His reputation.  He simply did what was right and let people think whatever they wanted to think.

When Jesus says, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' He forbids judgmental condemnation among His followers.  Sacrifice represents the law.  The Old Covenant was a sacrificial system.  Jesus represents God's heart.  The key here is the motivations of the heart.  When our motives are selfish and self-serving, we need to consider that others are watching and be careful not to be a stumbling block to weaker brothers.  When our motives are to obey Father and do His will, forget what others think -Mercy is better than sacrifice, and grace trumps law.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Follow Me" Matthew 9:9

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

Although this little verse seems straightforward, there is more going on than at first meets the eye.  There is a back-story, a cultural backdrop, and probably more actual dialog than recorded.  Since the full conversation wasn't recorded, we don't know exactly what was said, but if we fill in some of the cultural details, we can imagine what was going on.

Matthew was Jewish.  He was Jewish, working for the Roman Empire -he collected taxes.  His position wasn't assigned, it was bought; he had purchased the right to collect taxes.  When we say "collect taxes," don't think along the lines of IRS policies and tax laws, because, frankly, Rome didn't care exactly how a tax collector got his money as long as he turned in the amount he had agreed to when he purchased the right to be the regional tax collector.  Anything the tax collector collected over and above what Rome demanded was his to keep.  An ambitious tax collector could become very wealthy.

Of course, there was a trade-off.  Tax collectors became wealthy, but they were despised and they were ex-communicated from the temple.  Rome was the oppressor.  Collecting from fellow citizens for Rome was treachery.

Because they had the backing of Rome and very few regulations as to how to do their jobs, tax collectors tended to collect as much as they could get away with without the local citizens actually murdering them.  Typically they set up a booth on a major road near a town and taxed everyone coming and going.  They could tax for anything they wanted.  They taxed people for anything going to market.  They taxed people for anything they had purchased at market.  They taxed people for conducting business.  They taxed for anything that they could think of to tax someone for.  It was legalized extortion.

Jesus and His disciples came across Matthew's tax booth.  Since we know that Jesus actually talked to Matthew, it is safe to assume that Matthew had stopped them and was trying to figure how much to tax them.  Matthew was sizing them up trying to discern how much money they had.  he probably asked them some questions.  And I imagine that as Jesus answered the questions patiently and kindly, He gave Matthew a sense of dignity that Matthew hadn't felt from anyone in a long, long time.  Jesus wasn't hateful.  Jesus wasn't angry. 

Whatever other questions got asked, eventually Jesus looked deeply into Matthew's eyes and asked, "Matthew, why don't you leave all of this behind and follow me?"

And, amazingly, Matthew did.  Whatever the conversation actually was, Matthew felt from Jesus a compassion and a kindness and a sense of self-worth, a hope for a brand new start that caused him to leave his tax-booth, to leave his profession, to walk away from everything he was and everything he had and evrything he knew and begin a new life following Jesus.

I believe the invitation Jesus gave Matthew is the same invitation He gives us.  "Leave your old life -leave your old habits and dreams and ways of thinking -just walk away, and follow Me."

Monday, June 21, 2010

"Spiritual Problems & Physical Problems" Matthew 9:1-8

Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven."
At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, "This fellow is blaspheming!"
Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, "Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home." And the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.

 Jesus saw this young man who was paralyzed.  The people had already seen Jesus heal others with similar afflictions, so there was an expectancy that Jesus would heal.  They were surprised, however, when instead of simply speaking words of healing, Jesus said, "Your sins are forgiven."  I can imagine the gasp as the entire crowd thought what the Pharisees said, "Only God can forgive sins."

I have three immediate thoughts about this.  First, Jesus is implying a connection between this man's condition and sin.  While we are not supposed to look at others with judgment and condemnation in our hearts, I think that we would be wise when we are sick and suffering to look inside and allow God to search our hearts before we head to the doctors and try to medicate spiritual issues with pills and drugs.  Not always, but at least sometimes, our medical issues have roots in spiritual issues.

My second thought about this is that this man had two problems, related, yet distinct.  He had a spiritual problem and needed God's forgiveness, and he had a medical problem that needed healing.  Jesus seems to be indicating that although the medical problem is the most apparent, the spiritual problem is the more important.  Ultimately, Jesus resolved both problems: He restored spiritually and physically.

My third thought is how Jesus is setting up a claim that is the basis of our faith, and demonstrating in a tangible way the reality.  "I and the Father are One;  If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father;  I only do what I see the Father doing and I only say what I hear the Father saying."

Friday, June 18, 2010

"Dealing With Demons" Matthew 8:28-33

When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. "What do you want with us, Son of God?" they shouted. "Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?"
 Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding.  The demons begged Jesus, "If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs."
He said to them, "Go!" So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water.  Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men.

A couple of thoughts come to mind here.  First, sometimes people question why Jesus allowed the demons to go into the herd of pigs.  I think it is because Jesus cares more about people than he does pigs (or any animals).  It is not yet the end of the age, and until then demons occupy this world.  It was not time for eternal judgment; it wasn't their time to be abolished to the pit that is created for Satan and his followers.  So, Jesus, desiring to see these severely demonized men set free, allowed the demons to leave the men and enter the pigs.

The second thought that comes to me is how easily this transference took place.  There was no shouting match; no spiritual wrestling match; no snapping fingers or clapping hands; no cursing, puking, or violence;  and no danger that Jesus or His disciples would somehow get a demon on them.  Jesus, because He had authority over demons simply gave the word, and the demons obeyed -they had no choice.  Scriptures clearly indicate that we who are in Christ have the same authority over the demonic.  Why, then, do people (even Christians) get so freaked out at the thought of encountering demons?  Why do deliverance ministries make such a big deal of it?  Because we have authority (the authority of Christ) when we encounter the demonic, deliverance is as simple as hearing from Father what He wants to do and speaking the word.

Here in this story we get a very clear picture of the simplicity of destroying the works of the devil as we operate in the authority of Jesus.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

"Calming Storms" Matthew 8:23-27

Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Lord, save us! We're going to drown!"
He replied, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
The men were amazed and asked, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!"

The disciples experienced a real storm -wind, rain, and waves sweeping over the boat.  Often, the storms in our lives are more emotional and spiritual than literal, but they generally come upon us the same way -without warning, and they have the same affect on us -we panic.

The disciples were consumed with fear, and in a sense, Jesus rebuked them for it.  On the other hand, there was at least one thing here they did right -they went to Jesus.  And when they went to Jesus, He, for their sake, rebuked the storm and restored peace.  Jesus did not rebuke the storm for His own sake, as He was not fearful or panicked; yet, because He felt compassion for His fearful, weak-faithed companions, He rebuked the storm.

I sometimes allow my fears and worries to get the better of me.  The problems of life sometimes overwhelm me and I can't see a solution. 

Lord, help me in these times to come to You, knowing that You are good and kind and compassionate (compassionate, not in spite of my fear and weak faith, but because of it), knowing that even the winds and the waves obey You, knowing that in You alone is the peace I desperately need.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Cost (2) Matthew 8:21-22

"Another disciple said to him, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father.'  But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."

Just so we're all on the same page as to what is going on here -quite a few people were following Jesus around listening to Him teach and watching Him do miracles.  The disciple being talked about here likely wasn't one of the 12 hand-picked by Jesus, rather was one of these that were following Jesus around.

Nevertheless, the call of Christ to everyone who will follow Him is the same: "Leave everything, and follow Me."   There is no part-time with Jesus.  The exchanged life is all or nothing.  We do not have the option of adding a little bit of Jesus into the daily routine and thinking everything is all right.

This disciple was considering the seriousness of the call and was telling Jesus, "I have other priorities and commitments right now, but maybe later.  Perhaps after my father has passed away and I have all of my family issues in order -maybe then I can leave everything and follow.  I really can't afford to risk losing my inheritance, Jesus -surely You can understand that.  After my father has died and been buried, I won't be risking so much."

Jesus' response is the same to this man is it would be to you or I today: "Let the (spiritually) dead be concerned with temporal and material things.  If you want to follow me, you've got to set aside everything that was -hopes, dreams, plans, because I have new plans for those who will follow."

There are two kingdoms:  the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the god of this world.  The god of this world is constantly warning, "Don't be a fanatic; don't go crazy  with this; you don't have to go overboard; a little of Jesus goes a long way."  Jesus simply says, "Yes, it's going to cost you: but follow Me."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"The Cost" Matthew 8:18-20

 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go."
 Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." 

 Here is the dilemma of following Jesus...truly following Jesus.  It is uncomfortable.  Many of us say with our mouths, "Jesus, I will follow you wherever you go."  But when the reality of where Jesus is leading sets in, we tend to settle back into routine, back to normal life, back to comfortable.

And let's be honest, the exchange that Jesus offered to those who would follow Him -and the exchange He offers us today is "Leave everything.  Put away your plans and dreams.  Set aside your goals and agendas.  Forget what you think you know and need.  Leave everything and follow me."  This not easy.  But it is the only offer on the table.  And where Jesus is leading is directly into the rubble of destroyed lives and abused people (and abusive people) and corruption and violence and pain.

The book of 1 John tells us that Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil.  Yes, that involved (for Him) dying on the cross and rising again from the dead so that we could be forgiven and restored to a right relationship with Father.  But it also involved confronting evil and injustice.  It involved comforting the afflicted -and often afflicting the comfortable.  It involved touching the lepers and eating with the  outcasts.  The bottom line is that Jesus, in one way or another, stood against every way in which the devil has harmed and destroyed and corrupted.  And Jesus called to those who would follow, "Leave everything and join me in this."  The works of the devil cannot be destroyed from our easy chairs.  The works of the devil cannot be destroyed comfortably.  Jesus said to those who would follow Him: "Be aware of this -foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but I have no place even to lay my head.  If you want to be comfortable, follow someone else."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

"Faith, Authority, Deliverance & Healing" Matthew 8:14-17

"When Jesus went to Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law in bed with a fever.  Jesus touched her hand, and the fever went away. So she got up and prepared a meal for him.
In the evening the people brought him many who were possessed by demons.  He forced the evil spirits out of people with a command and healed everyone who was sick.  So what the prophet Isaiah
(Isaiah 53:4) had said came true: “He took away our weaknesses and removed our diseases.” 

 It is not coincidental that this true story follows on the heels of the story of the Centurion.  Here again we see the vital connection between authority and faith.  Remember, our faith is not so much in giftings and anointings and abilitites, although Jesus obviously had these; rather, our faith is in the nature and character of Jesus, our healer.  People brought the sick to Jesus because they had not only observed His ability, but also because they had observed His compassion and His goodness and His willingness to heal them.  People trusted Jesus' character, not just His ability.

In the context of people having faith, Jesus simply spoke the commands, exercising true authority, and demons were gone and people were healed.  There was no big battle.  There was no carnival side-show atmosphere.  There was no hysteria.  Why not?  Because all of that was unnecessary.  All that was necessary was people exercising simple faith in Jesus, and Jesus exercising authority over sin and disease and demons.  It seems clear to me that what was true then is still true now.

What we need most for effective Kingdom ministry to occur in our lives is a faith that is rooted firmly in the nature and character of Christ, and to properly minister in His authority.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Authority & Faith Matthew 8:5-13

"...Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.”
 8 But the officer said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come into my home. Just say the word from where you are, and my servant will be healed. 9 I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.”
 10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. Turning to those who were following him, he said, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!..." 

In this story we find two of the most needed tools of ministry if we desire to effectively minister to others: proper understanding of authority and faith.  We need a right understanding of authority because when we do ministry we are, by definition, entering into spiritual warfare against a powerful enemy who can easily overwhelm us and overpower us if we think we can do any ministry in our own strength and by our own authority.  How often we hear people say, "I went here, and I said that, and I cast out a demon, and I healed someone who was sick, and I made these plans, and I had this idea, and I, I, I, I..."  What a foolish and dangerous game.  Jesus himself said that apart from the Father, He did nothing.

When we engage the rulers, the authorities, the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, it is not a matter of overpowering them or outsmarting them or somehow working up enough faith in our ability to use our spiritual giftings and anointings effectively.  They have us beat in all those departments.  After the resurrection, however, Jesus announced, "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me." 

This means for us today that although our enemy is powerful, he has no authority.  When we are "in Christ" ministering to others by the power of His Spirit, operating in His authority, relying on His guidance and wisdom, our ministry will be powerful and effective and the Kingdom of God will grow.  The enemy does not have permission to overpower us if we are truly operating under the covering of Jesus' authority.  On our own, though, we are literally on our own.

The second part of this is faith.  True faith is not an act of blindly and desperately working up an emotional belief that God will do whatever I command or desire -that would be more like witchcraft.  Witchcraft (even witchcraft using "Christian" terms and vocabulary) has no efffect on God and does not compel Him to do our bidding.  The Word of Faith movement. the Name It, Claim It crowd, the Declaration people are misguided.  While our words may have consequences and we should be aware of how we speak, faith is not something we work up to make things happen -faith is a firm trust in the goodness and trustworthiness of God.  We have faith in God because we trust His character and nature to be good.  And if we are walking in communion with Him, walking in the Spirit instead of the flesh, we can trust His guidance and inner promptings.  Our faith is in Him. 

This story of the Roman Centurion demonstrates this principle.  He had observed the goodness and compassion of Jesus, and recognized Christ's authority, so he made a reasonable request, trusting that goodness and authority.  And Kingdom ministry happened.