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, October 29, 2010

Matthew 13:1-9 & 18-23 "Sowing Seeds"

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear." 

 This story about the farmer sowing seed seems obvious to us, probably because we read it knowing that Jesus was speaking parables and metaphors and that what He was teaching had spiritual significance.  We wonder why His disciples after hearing this had to ask Him what it meant.  Of course Jesus explained it to them -more on that in a moment.

First, let's understand why His disciples may have had a difficult time discerning the spiritual meaning.  This actually was a fairly common sight in rural Palestine and Jesus described what literally happened.  A farmer plows a patch of ground -hard stony ground with a thin layer of topsoil.  Often the farmer left unplowed paths in the field -plowing by hand was very hard work and it was expedient to leave unplowed paths to walk through the fields; why do the difficult labor of plowing walkways?  So, as the farmer manually cast seed, some fell into the plowed soil and some fell on the hard path.  Some of the seed fell into areas of shallow topsoil and some fell into the unplowed edges where weeds and thorns grew and some fell into areas where the top soil was so thin that it was mostly rocks and some fell onto good, plowed topsoil.  This was farming in Jesus' time.  This was not a crazy, unlikely scenario; Jesus may have simply repeated what they witnessed as they were walking.  So, when Jesus tells this story, His disciples are somewhat confused.  What's Your point, Jesus?

Jesus gives the point; He tells His disciples what He wants them to learn from the story.

“Now listen to the explanation of the parable about the farmer planting seeds: The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts.  The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy.  But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word. The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted!”

What was true then is certainly still true now.  How many people hear the message of the Kingdom and God's redeeming love, but just can't grasp it?  They hear it, but they never get it.  And many hear the message and enter in a nominal way -but their roots never go deep, they remain perpetual baby Christians.  Others enter in and seem to be growing, but  eventually get seduced back into worldly thinking and worldly living.  But a few hear the message and receive it and put down roots and grow strong and reproduce and become Kingdom people.  

God, please let my heart always be good, fertile soil.  Let Your Kingdom grow in me.  Let my life make a Kingdom difference.  Amen.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Matthew 12:46-50 "True Family"

As Jesus was speaking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, and they want to speak to you.”
Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother!”

Family bonds are generally pretty strong.  Even in seriously dysfunctional families there is a bond.  But there is a bond that transcends family: the spiritual bond of those who love God.  Jesus points to it clearly here.

In this passage, there is no mention of Joseph, Jesus' earthly father.  It is a fair assumption that by the time Jesus was in his 30's, Joseph had passed away.  According to Jewish tradition and custom, when the father died, the eldest son took on the responsibility of overseeing the family -Jesus was the eldest son.  It is very likely that Mary and Jesus' brothers were there to remind Him of His responsibility.

Jesus understood something that others didn't.  He understood proper priorities.  The right priority is always God then family; it is never family then God.  If we get confused on this, while trying to do what is right for the families we love, we instead cause great harm.  When we put family first, we teach our children that God is secondary.  When we put family (or any other thing -career, hobby, money) first, we are by definition following our own best thinking instead of God's direction.

Because God is good, and because He can be trusted, and because He loves us even more than we love ourselves, and because He knows us even better than we know ourselves, and because He desires what is best for us, and because He is both knowledgeable and wise, the best thing we could ever do for the people we love is make Him our top priority.  Although my own best thinking has often led me astray, God will not lead me down wrong paths or in wrong directions.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Matthew 12:38-45 "Looking For Signs"

Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, "Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you."
He answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.
"When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation."

 Earlier, Jesus had told John the Baptist to look at the evidence to show that He (Jesus) was the promised Messiah -Good News was being preached, people were being healed, and demons were being cast out.    Now come some Pharisees and teachers of the Law asking Jesus to prove Himself by performing miracles and casting out demons.  They were looking for a sign.  Here, however, Jesus tells them the only sign they are going to get is the sign of Jonah; Jonah spent 3 days inside a fish, and Jesus will spend 3 days dead and buried.  The Pharisees, of course, did not understand what Jesus was talking about.

A question we might wonder is why Jesus was angry with the Pharisees for asking for a sign when Jesus told John to consider the miracles He was doing a sign.  I think it has to do with motivations of the heart.  John needed to be reassured, but was looking for evidence because he already believed Jesus was the Messiah.  These Pharisees, all of whom had already witnessed many miracles, were trying to prove that Jesus was not the Messiah.  For them, no sign will be good enough.  As it turns out, even resurrection from the grave was not enough evidence for them to repent.

Jesus says something else that is important here -something we should consider as we minister to people.  He gives an analogy of delivering someone from demons only to have more demons return.  I think Jesus is saying that even as we minister, it is pointless to minister to people who hate God and have hardened hearts...it will do no good.  The model I find in Jesus is Him seeking Father's will moment by moment.  He is constantly asking Father who to heal, who to pray for, who to bless, who to preach to.  He does not take a shotgun approach to ministry hoping to hit something.  He takes a very specific and focused approach seeking only the targets God directs Him to.  To put it another way, Jesus constantly ministered to those whom God was already stirring.  He worked where Father was already working.  This model for ministry was powerful and effective -we should do ministry like this. 

But, of course, in order to do ministry like Jesus, we need to develop intimacy with Father like Jesus.  Intimacy with Father begins with embracing the moving and promptings of the Holy Spirit.  Apart from the Holy Spirit, there is no intimacy.  Without intimacy, there is no personal leading from God.  With no personal leading, there is very little meaningful ministry.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Matthew 12:33-37 "Look At The Fruit"

“A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad. You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.”

 Have you ever known someone that stirs up dissention and arguments and division every place he goes?  Have you heard someone speak truth in a way that is hurtful and abusive?  Have you known people that always seem to leave a trail of hurting people in their wake?  Jesus explains why that happens.

Although we can not see or judge the interior motivations of other people's hearts, we are able to see the fruit of their lives.  And Jesus says that by the fruit, we will know.  Good fruit is produced on good trees.  Bad fruit comes from bad trees. 

Let's take Jesus' metaphor a step further.  Bad trees cannot produce good fruit, and good trees do not produce bad fruit.  A tree might be good, but lack adequate nurture -the fruit it produces will still be good, but limited.  On the other hand, a bad tree can be nurtured and pruned and watered and fertilized -but the fruit will still be bad.

We used to have to orange trees in our yard.  One was an old Navel Orange (good fruit).  It was not particularly well taken care of (as far as pruning and fertilizing, etc.) -but the fruit it grew was always sweet.  The other tree was a wild orange tree that was strong and healthy and beautiful to look at, but the oranges were always as sour as lemons.

This same principle applies to the fruit of our lives.  If we are genuinely seeking intimacy and right relationship with Christ, even in our struggles and hardships -in spite of setbacks and battles and fears -we will produce good fruit.  As we allow Jesus to prune and shape and water and fertilize (agape), we will produce even more good fruit.  On the other hand, if our relationship with God is based on rules and judgment and religious tradition (eros), the fruit is always going to be sour.  It simply can't be otherwise.  It is a law of nature.  Good trees produce good fruit.  Bad trees produce bad fruit.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Matthew 12:30-32 "A Dire Warning"

"He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come."

 I have heard confusing sermons and messages and teachings about this passage most of my Christian life.  I expect that is because most of the people I have heard teach about it are at least partially guilty of the very thing Jesus is addressing. 

Let me put this back into the context in which Jesus was speaking.  Religious leaders were accusing Jesus of using the power of Satan to cast out demons and do miracles.  They didn't understand Jesus.  They didn't understand His paradigm of The Kingdom of God.  They didn't like that He was shaking things up and confronting many of their sacred traditions (not the actual Law, just their traditions).  Because they didn't like or understand what He was doing or how He was doing it or even why He was doing it, they accused Him of participating with the enemy.

Jesus' response is staggering.  We need to grasp this and take it to heart.  This is spiritually critical.  Jesus, in essence, told them:  If you are not working with me, you are working against me -there is no spiritually neutral ground.  If you malign me and misunderstand me, that can be forgiven.  In fact all sin can be forgiven.  There is only one thing that cannot and will not be forgiven.  If you malign and lie about and falsely accuse the Holy Spirit of evil, that cannot be forgiven.

We tend to assume that we would never do such a thing.  We would never accuse the Holy Spirit of evil.  Yet, I have heard many Christians do the exact same thing that Jesus is addressing.  They look at brothers and sisters in Christ who pray for healing, speak in tongues, or worship in ways that they do not understand or that they have been taught to avoid and immediately make the accusation that it must be demonic.  Christian Be Careful!  If the Holy Spirit is ministering to or through someone and we falsely accuse, we are on dangerous ground.

It might help us to understand why Jesus would say such a thing.  Here is what I think.  Since the Holy Spirit is our connection to God -He is the One that speaks to us and indwells us and ministers to us -if we slander the Holy Spirit and cut off our connection with Him, we have actually cut off our only intimate connection to the Father and to the Son -and to forgiveness. 

This passage does lead to another serious question.  How can we know if we have (through lack of understanding or bad teaching) already blasphemed the Holy Spirit?  I'm going to be pragmatic about this one, and not just theological.  Since the Holy Spirit not only provides intimacy with God and leads to truth and right relationship with God, but also convicts of sin, if we feel the conviction of sin in our lives, we have not crossed that line.  Basically, if we are honestly pursuing God and worry that we may have crossed the line, we haven't. 

That being said, we still need to be careful that we do not ever look at what God is doing and call it evil.  If we don't understand something, pray about it.  Ask God for wisdom and discernment.  We should never be more interested in defending our pre-existing spiritual and theological paradigms than we are in learning Truth from God Himself.  And, God doesn't need us to defend Him -He is capable of defending Himself.  If someone is actually doing evil in Jesus' name, he will answer to God.  We don't need to assign guilt or blame -we just need to get it right ourselves and serve God and love people as Jesus taught us to do.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Matthew 12:22-28 "Jesus, The Kingdom, & Beelzebub"

Then they brought him [Jesus] a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, "Could this be the Son of David?"

But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, "It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons."

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 

According to 1 John 3:8, Jesus came to "destroy the works of the devil."  We understand that His death and resurrection provided forgiveness of sin and defeated death, but I often wonder if we miss the point that everything Jesus did was a part of His mission to destroy the works of the devil.  When He healed people, He was destroying the works of the devil.  When He did miracles, He was destroying the works of the devil.  When He cast out demons, He was destroying the works of the devil.

Because He was destroying the works of the devil while the vast majority were participating with, or at least tolerating and ignoring the works of the devil, He made people nervous and even angry.  I'm sure that most did not understand that they were tolerating and participating with the devil, yet they were -and Jesus starkly opposed what they tolerated.

Anger led to accusations: "This man does miracles empowered by demons."  Clearly, they were wrong.  In fact, Jesus said that this is how we know the Kingdom of God is among us -demons will be cast out, the sick will be healed, miracles will occur, the works of the devil will be destroyed.  If Satan is fighting against Satan, his kingdom is divided and cannot stand.

Let's jump ahead to today.  We are the Body of Christ.  His mission has become our mission.   He said, "As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." He said that as His sent ones we are to be preaching the Gospel and making disciples -but He also said that in His name we will be driving out demons and healing the sick and doing miracles.  

Interesting that today many Christians level the same accusation at other Christians whenever demons are cast out, the sick are healed or miracles occur.  Something is wrong with this picture. 

I can't speak for others, only for myself.  I have a low tolerance for phony.  I am not interested in fakery or manipulation.  On the other hand, I am a follower of Jesus.  I want to do what He called me to do.  I want to destroy the works of the devil.  I want to do it using the tools and methods that He ordained for me to use.  I want what is real.  And I don't really care what people with little understanding and a high tolerance for the works of the devil think.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Matthew 12:18-21 "Bruised Reeds & Smoldering Wicks"

This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
"Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he leads justice to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope."

 One of the guiding principles of my life is that as a disciple/apprentice of Jesus, I am to emulate Him and learn to live and think like Him.  We who are Believers are being transformed into His likeness.  We are His continuing presence in this world.  He speaks and acts through us, His Body.

It saddens me to see so many "Christians" refusing to be led by His Spirit, quarreling with anyone who will listen,  taking it upon themselves to break off every bruised reed and snuff out every smoldering wick, not even noticing that they are putting their hope in governments and politics instead of in His name.

The heart of Jesus (and the heart He desires to put in us) is to redeem and restore.  This happens, not through manipulation and argument, rather, through unreasonable love and undeserved grace and mercy -which He lavishes on all who turn to Him.

When will we learn the reality of what Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus: "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."