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, 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.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Believing Jesus Matthew 9:18, 23-25

While Jesus was saying these things, a leader of the synagogue came to him. He bowed down before Jesus and said, "My daughter has just died. But if you come and lay your hand on her, she will live again...."   Jesus continued along with the leader and went into his house. There he saw the funeral musicians and many people crying. Jesus said, "Go away. The girl is not dead, only asleep." But the people laughed at him. After the crowd had been thrown out of the house, Jesus went into the girl's room and took hold of her hand, and she stood up.

By this time in Jesus' ministry, He was already being questioned and shunned by the pharisees and temple officials.  This synagogue leader would, no doubt, ordinarily have been reluctant  to be associated with Jesus in public -not a good career move.  But this was different.  He wasn't trying to associate himself.  And he wasn't concerned about his reputation or career.  He was desperate.  His heart was breaking.  His daughter had died.

Funny how we so often wait until we have no other options before we turn to Jesus.  Amazingly, Jesus responds to brokenhearted, desperate people.  We don't have to wait to turn to Jesus.  We don't have to be broken and crushed and despairing -but it seems to be our way that as long as we can figure things out on our own and as long as we can muddle through somehow, we are going to try.

This father was out of options.  His daughter was dead, and in desperation he came to Jesus asking for the impossible.  And Jesus responded with mercy and compassion.

Jesus came to the house where friends and neighbors were already gathered in mourning, and immediately said something so absurd that in the middle of their mourning they laughed -not in joy, in ridicule -mocking.  Jesus said the girl wasn't dead, only asleep.  These people knew better.  They knew death.  They could see it.  They could smell it.  They could feel it in the air.  She was dead.  

What Jesus said did not make sense, yet He went to the girl's room and took her by the hand and "woke" her up.  No matter that the entire world believed and all evidence showed that she was dead, Jesus said she was sleeping and He woke her.

I am reminded of how we often refuse to believe what the Lord tells us simply because it doesn't make sense to us: our sins are forgiven and He remembers them no more;  there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus; we are being transformed into the likeness and character of Christ; He loves us with an everlasting love; He will never leave us nor forsake us; He has plans to give us a future and a hope; He calls us friends.   Amazing. 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

"A Worthwhile Risk" Matthew 9:20-22

And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, "If I only touch his garment, I will be made well." Jesus turned, and seeing her he said,  "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well." And instantly the woman was made well. 

Because this woman had suffered a discharge of blood for 12 years, there are a few things we already know about her.  According to Jewish law, she was ceremonially unclean; that means she could not take part in any social or religious activities.  Because this was ongoing, she had not been able to take part for many years.  She was an outcast.

The Gospel of Luke's telling of this story (Luke chapter 8) gives a few more details.  It tells us that she had spent all of her money on doctors who had not helped at all -so she was sick, she was an outcast, and she was financially destitute.  She knew that it was not acceptable for her to confront Jesus openly and ask for healing.  If Jesus touched her, He would be unclean as well.  And of course, this wasn't the kind of topic a person wants to call attention to in a crowd.  There were many reasons why she couldn't just approach Jesus like other people did, yet she believed in her heart that Jesus could and would heal her.

So, she made a plan.  She decided to approach Jesus from behind as He was walking through a crowd, and reach out and touch the tassels of His outer garment.  Her hope was that in touching Jesus, she would be made well.  It was a risky move.  If anyone in the crowd recognized her, it could be dangerous.  Being unclean, she was not allowed to be in public, touching and bumping and jostling with those who were clean.  According to their custom, she could make the entire crowd unclean.  But she went into the crowd anyway, and she came up behind Jesus, her only hope, and she reached out and touched His garment, and she was made well.

I am reminded of how often we are embarrassed about the struggles and issues in our own lives and afraid to  approach Jesus in the congregation -in public.  Yet the book of James, chapter 5, tells us that we ought to confess our sins to one another so that we can be healed.  Someone said that we are as sick as our secrets -I think that's true.  Author and speaker, Jack Frost, noted that we often don't seek healing (spiritually and emotionally) until the level of our pain exceeds the level of our denial -I think that is true as well.  But, when we are desperate enough to risk it all in order to be right with God, God shows up.

I am also reminded here that after the fact -after Jesus heals and restores us, all of the hurt and pain and suffering we have endured (physically, spiritually and emotionally) is nothing but a testimony to God's goodness and grace.  After she was healed, it didn't much matter that people knew she had been sick.  The same is true for us.  Seeking Jesus is worth the risk.