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.

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.