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.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Matthew 19:16-22 "Poor Rich Man"

 Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 
“Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. But to answer your question—if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.”
“Which ones?” the man asked.
 And Jesus replied: “‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely.  Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?”
Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

 I'm afraid that this young man is not the only one to walk away from Jesus thinking He asks too much.  We have mentioned before that Kingdom life is a life of exchange.  We give up everything -hopes, dreams, agendas, plans -everything, in order to attain something better: The Kingdom of God.

Let's look for a moment at the questions This guy asked -they tell us from the start that something is amiss.  Unfortunately, they are the same questions we sometimes ask.  "What must I do?"  Ok, I've already done that.  "What else must I do?"  If Jesus had given him another easy task (read a chapter of Scripture a day; pray for at least 20 minutes every day; go to church or Bible study at least twice a week, etc.) he likely would have said, "Ok, I already do that too.  What else must I do?"  His entire focus was on doing something to earn salvation -doing something to impress God -or perhaps, doing something to appease God.  He missed the point entirely.

 God is not looking for us to do something.  He is not so much interested in what we do as in who we are.  Specifically, He is interested in who we are in Him.  He wants us to be His -heart, soul, mind and strength.  When we begin to grasp that, everything else falls into place.  As Jesus said in another place:  "Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your soul, all of your mind, and all of your strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all of the Law and the Prophets."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Matthew 19:13-15 "Like Children"

One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.
 But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”  And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left.

We are sometime guilty of thinking that children can't understand deep spiritual concepts.  We think serious teaching is only for adults.  I've heard people say that the children are the future of the church.  I think maybe Jesus would disagree.  Children are the church!

When Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like little children, we need to ask in what way do we need to be child-like in order to take our place in the Kingdom?

Children have several characteristics that Jesus may have been talking about.  Children are trusting.  Children are loving.  Children believe.  Children are learners.  Jesus may have been talking about any or all of these qualities.

There is one characteristic, though, that children have that I think defines them more than any other: Children are helpless.  If you were to abandon a small child in a big city, unless someone helped him, he would die.  If you were to place a small child in the jungle or a forest or even a farm, if nobody helped her, she would die.  Children cannot provide for themselves.  Children cannot defend themselves.  Children cannot care for themselves.  They don't even know it, but they are utterly helpless and would die if not for the care and provision of adults.

We don't always understand this about ourselves either, but spiritually we are helpless; we are bankrupt; we have nothing to offer God.   We want so desperately to earn our way.  We want to be able to say, "God did His part, and I did mine, and between our combined efforts, I was saved."  We wish the old adage, "God helps those who help themselves," was true -but it isn't.  The reality is that God helps those who recognize that they cannot possibly help themselves.  God helps those who know they are spiritually bankrupt.  God helps the helpless and the hopeless.  The kingdom of God belongs to those who are like children.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Matthew 19:1-12 "Concerning Divorce"

 When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan.  Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. 

 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” 

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” 

 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.  I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” 

 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.  For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

We live in a time when the majority of marriages end in divorce;  and the statistics in the church among Believers are almost exactly the same as among those who are not Believers.  In Jesus' day, the custom was that if a man was displeased with his wife, he could simply write her a certificate of divorce and send her packing.  Simple and easy -unless, of course, you were the woman.  In a male dominated society where women were considered property, life was difficult for a single woman, and doubly difficult for a divorced woman.

The Pharisees asked Jesus  this question, not because they wanted to know or understand the heart of God; rather, they were attempting to get Jesus to disagree with the Law of Moses.  Jesus obliged them.  He told them exactly what God thinks of divorce.  And here is the reality for us as well: God did not change His mind. What He thought of divorce then is what He thinks of divorce now.

God does not like divorce.  Among Believers who honestly want to please God, divorce is not an option.   I understand that this is a hard word; marriage is hard work and relationships are complicated.  Jesus also knew that this is a hard word.  He even says that He knows not everyone can accept it.  And He uses an illustration about eunuchs to acknowledge that relationships are complicated and there are all sorts of circumstances.  Some eunuchs were born that way, some did it to themselves and some had it forced upon them.  When marriages are impossibly broken, there are also all sorts of reasons and circumstances -some we bring on ourselves, and some are forced upon us.

I think Jesus is trying to show us that this is not meant to be a legalistic burden that we lay on divorced people -this is not supposed to produce judgment and condemnation.  Yet the fact remains:  God hates divorce.  Among Believers who want to please God, divorce is not an option.  This is God's heart.  Those who can accept this word should accept it.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Matthew 18:45-46 "The Kingdom Is Like...(part four)

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

 As with the man who found treasure in the field, this man sold everything he had in order to own and possess something of even greater value.  The difference here is that this man did not just happen upon a fine pearl; he was actively looking and seeking.

I believe this works in the same two ways the last parable did.  First I am the merchant seeking -I am seeking truth -I am seeking God, and I discover the Kingdom of God.  I discover grace and mercy and God's incredible, overwhelming, unconditional love.  I lay down every hope, dream, plan and agenda for my own life that I ever had or imagined because to be loved by God and to be considered His child and to take part in His Kingdom is worth more than life itself.

Second, God was actively seeking me (and you).  He desires us.  He wants us to be His.  And Jesus gave up everything -He left heaven, laid His deity aside, was born as a helpless baby in a countryside lamb-birthing shed to a teenaged peasant girl.  He suffered injustice and torture and was falsely accused and died a criminal's death; He gave up everything because He loves me and wants me.  His death and resurrection bought me.  I am His.  I am often doubtful, but He thinks I'm worth it.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Matthew 13:44 "The Kingdom Of Heaven Is Like...(part three)

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field."

Jesus spoke often about the Kingdom of God.  Matthew's Gospel, written for the Jews who were reluctant to ever say "God" for fear of breaking the commandment about taking His name in vain, calls it the Kingdom of Heaven.  The Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven is not about Heaven after we die or sometime in the distant future at the end of time.  Jesus claimed that the Kingdom had arrived.  The Kingdom is wherever He (Jesus) is and wherever His people are, whenever they are doing His work.

Although it is difficult to describe exactly what the Kingdom is, Jesus told several parables to illustrate what the Kingdom is like.  Today we see that it is like when a man finds a treasure in a field, and goes and sells everything he owns in order to buy the field which contains the treasure.

The question we ask is "How is the Kingdom like this man finding the treasure in the field?"

I can look at this parable in two ways.  First, we are the man who finds the treasure -we find the Kingdom; we find Jesus.  It is worth our while to sell everything -to leave everything behind -to give up every plan, thought and hope we had before knowing Jesus, in order to pursue Jesus and His Kingdom.  To know Christ more is worth everything.

The second way I look at it is that God is the man, and I am the treasure.  He gave everything, including His Son, to purchase me, to own me, to possess me.  I am now His field.  He thinks I'm worth it.

Both of these views are correct.  Christ is worth leaving everything to pursue; and He left everything to pursue me.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Matthew 13:33 "The Kingdom Is Like...(part two)"

He told them still another parable: The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.

 Jesus spoke this little parable back to back with the parable of the mustard seed.  Again, we should not over analyze; rather, simply ask, "In what way is the kingdom like....?"

In this verse we need to ask in what way is the kingdom like a small amount of yeast that leavens the whole batch of dough?  And also, how is this parable related to the previous one about the mustard seed?

As with the mustard seed, the yeast is small compared to what it will become.  It is seemingly insignificant, yet, it ends up making a significant impact.  Both of these parables illustrate how God uses the small things to accomplish big things.  It is God's way.

It is worth noting that if the mustard seed had never been planted, it would not have grown to house birds and provide shade; and if the yeast had never been mixed into the dough, it would not have caused the bread to rise.  Similarly, no matter what our potential and natural giftings, if not submitted to God for His purposes, we will never make a Kingdom difference.

When all is said and done, it is not what we start with that makes a difference -it is how we end up.  And it doesn't take a whole lot for God to make something significant and meaningful and wonderful out of what little we have to offer.  It all comes down to allowing God to use us according to His plans instead of clinging to our own best thinking.