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, September 28, 2010

Matthew 12:9-14 "The Choice: Law or Life"

Then Jesus went over to their synagogue, where he noticed a man with a deformed hand. The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Does the law permit a person to work by healing on the Sabbath?” (They were hoping he would say yes, so they could bring charges against him.) And he answered, “If you had a sheep that fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you work to pull it out? Of course you would. And how much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Yes, the law permits a person to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored, just like the other one! Then the Pharisees called a meeting to plot how to kill Jesus.

Because legalism is not conducive to intimacy, those who insist on the letter of the law instead of the life in the Spirit, are prone to pettiness, arrogance, bitterness, anger, and even hatred.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!  What a contrast.

Is it any wonder that now that the Law has been fulfilled in Jesus, He insists that we turn from the Law and toward relationship with Him; toward intimacy with God through the Holy Spirit;  toward obedience to the promptings and leading of the Spirit?  We must leave legalism in favor of relationship because pettiness, arrogance, bitterness and anger are not becoming His Church.  The Law did not and could not accomplish what mercy and grace did on the cross.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Matthew 12:1-8 "Keeping Laws"

     At about that time Jesus was walking through some grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, so they began breaking off some heads of grain and eating them. But some Pharisees saw them do it and protested, “Look, your disciples are breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath.”
     Jesus said to them, “Haven’t you read in the Scriptures what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He went into the house of God, and he and his companions broke the law by eating the sacred loaves of bread that only the priests are allowed to eat. And haven’t you read in the law of Moses that the priests on duty in the Temple may work on the Sabbath? I tell you, there is one here who is even greater than the Temple! But you would not have condemned my innocent disciples if you knew the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!”


On the one hand, the Law (Old Testament commandments and rules) expresses God's desires.  It is not as if God changed His mind about sin.  God still hates sin because of how sin brutalizes and destroys us whom He loves.  Yet, here is a true story from the life of Jesus that shows the right relationship Kingdom minded, Spirit-filled people are to have with the Law. 

The Law, according to Scripture, was fulfilled in Jesus.  that means that the Law had run it's full course and was brought to completion.  Since the specific laws in question in this passage concerned the Sabbath, Jesus said, "The Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!”  Implied is, of course, that Jesus is Lord over the entire Law.  Now, instead of obeying written laws and rules (even laws that reflect God's desires) we obey the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

Some argue that this can't actually be true because there is too much room for error and abuse.  People will claim to hear from God in order to accomplish there own agendas; fakers will manipulate; liars and cheaters will position themselves wrongly as Kingdom leaders.  Without a checklist, there is too much room for ungodliness.  Yet, it appears that this is a risk that Father is willing to take.  For the sake of Love, He risks.   

Those who hear and obey the still small voice of the Holy Spirit -those who seek to love God and obey Him are rewarded with right relationship and intimacy with God Himself.  For the sake intimacy and true relationship, He will allow fakers and manipulators and liars to do what they do, because although there is room for wrong in this new relationship, there was no room for intimacy with a checklist of laws and rules.  In God's eyes, mercy trumps sacrifice, grace trumps law, and relationship trumps religion.

Perhaps this new arrangement of listening to the inner prompting of God is risky, but the reality is that those who are learning to love God do not desire to manipulate and do evil; those who are learning to love God just want to learn to love Him more.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Matthew 11:28-30 "An Easy Yoke"

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

When we hear the word yoke, we tend to think of the harness that hooks two farm animals together -like the yoke of oxen or mules.  We get this imagery from our own Western agricultural experience and the fact that we actually call that kind of harness a yoke.

If understood this way, Jesus seems to be saying that the bond we have with Him is easy to bear.  The idea of being joined to Jesus and allowing Him to share our burdens -that we are not alone in this struggle is an appealing one.  It is also truth.  We are not alone, and Jesus does join us in our struggles and shares our burdens.  But this is not exactly what Jesus was saying; at least, this is not how His listeners at the time would have understood Him.

The word yoke as understood by Jewish people of Jesus' day referred to the unique or specific body of teaching by a Rabbi.  Each Rabbi had a worldview and an interpretation of Scripture that they taught their students.  Most of the Rabbis of Jesus day were teaching a very strict and legalistic and burdensome view of God and of Scripture.  They were teaching that God was a hard taskmaster and in order to please Him, one had to keep thousands of laws and maintain all sorts of traditions.  Then Jesus came teaching a whole different relationship with God.  And He gave the invitation, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

So, what exactly was this teaching of Jesus that stood in such stark contrast to yoke of other Rabbis?  I believe it is this:  "Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Matthew 11:25-26 "The Seeking Heart"

At that time Jesus prayed this prayer: “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike.  Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way!

 Jesus' prayer here points out the fatal flaw of systematic theology and logically trying to decipher the deep meanings of Scripture and Truths of God.  It is one thing to think through Scripture logically and come to conclusions based on our own best thinking, but we will always come up short of what God intends us to grasp because spiritual understanding is based on revelation from God, not systematic study and logical reasoning.  God actually hides truth from those who attempt to apprehend Him with their minds.  On the other hand, God gives insight and revelation to those simply seek Him and love Him.  The first approach is all about religion; God is not impressed with our efforts at being religious.  The second approach is all about relationship; this is God's plan.

I don't mean, of course, that Scripture is illogical or truth unreasonable.  But it is clear that the we do not fall in love with God or learn to walk in grace and mercy by studying theology.  We cannot live out the fruit of the Spirit by logic.  We should study.  We should think.  But at the end of the day, we just need to relax in the certain knowledge that Father loves us.  When all is said and done, we cannot get past the simplicity of the Great Commandment: Love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strength, and love others as we love ourselves.  In doing this, we discover God's heart.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Matthew 11:20-24 "Woe Upon Woe"

Then Jesus began to denounce the towns where he had done so many of his miracles, because they hadn’t repented of their sins and turned to God. “What sorrow awaits you, Korazin and Bethsaida! For if the miracles I did in you had been done in wicked Tyre and Sidon, their people would have repented of their sins long ago, clothing themselves in burlap and throwing ashes on their heads to show their remorse. I tell you, Tyre and Sidon will be better off on judgment day than you.  And you people of Capernaum, will you be honored in heaven? No, you will go down to the place of the dead. For if the miracles I did for you had been done in wicked Sodom, it would still be here today. I tell you, even Sodom will be better off on judgment day than you.”

 I am not typically a doom and gloom kind of guy, but I have to say that this passage does not bode well for America. 

I believe it is safe to assume that Jesus reflects the heart and thinking of God.  We see here a glimpse of God's thoughts toward the cities in which Jesus was ministering.  These cities have no excuse for refusing to turn their hearts fully and completely to God.  Jesus is teaching.  Jesus is healing people.  Jesus is casting out demons.  It would be hard to argue against Jesus' claim that the Kingdom of God had arrived -that Father was pouring out His love and mercy; yet people hardened their hearts and continued to expect miracles and goodness from God almost like it was simple entertainment and they were entitled to it.  God said it will go easier on the Day of Judgment for the inhabitants of Sodom -a city He had destroyed with fire from Heaven because of their perverseness.

Here in America, we have experienced the favor and goodness of God for generation after generation.  We have had the best of everything this world has to offer -including spiritual blessings.  Despite the obvious fact that God has favored us and blessed us and poured His love out upon us, we have turned our backs and hardened our hearts and developed an attitude of entitlement.  Many Americans actually believe that the greatness of America is simply because we are great people.  If Judgment is coming for Korazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum, can we really think God will turn a blind eye to our arrogance and sin?  If He did, he would have to apologize to Sodom.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Matthew 11:16-19 "You Didn't Dance / You Didn't Mourn"

"To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
 'We played the flute for you,
      and you did not dance;
   we sang a dirge
      and you did not mourn.' 
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon.'  The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners." ' But wisdom is proved right by her actions."

 I love how Jesus just gets right to the heart of things.  The pharisees (of both then and now) keep a checklist of rules -things we do and things we don't do.  Emotions don't play a big part in rule keeping.  Relationship doesn't play a big part in rule keeping.  And anyone who steps a little to the right or to the left of the rules is judged harshly. 

The rule-keepers judged John, whom Jesus said was the greatest person ever born of woman -they said he was too extreme.  At the same time they judged Jesus Himself -they said He was too extreme in the other direction.  I believe that the average Evangelical church-goer would still judge John and Jesus in exactly the same ways.  We pretend we wouldn't, but we would.  They would make us nervous and uncomfortable.

To this Jesus responds, "Wisdom is proved right by her actions."  In another place Jesus says a similar thought: "By their fruit you will know them."   Rule keeping apart from relationship produces dead fruit.  On the other hand, true relationship with Father produces good spiritual fruit: love. joy, peace, kindness, self-control, etc. without our actually trying.

That's not to say that God's laws were or are wrong; it's just that we can't keep His commands by focusing on the law and trying to keep it.   Instead, we end up fulfilling God's desires for us by whole-heartedly pursuing intimacy with Father through the death and resurrection of Jesus as we respond to the inner-promptings of the Holy Spirit.  Relationship.  God's idea.