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, February 24, 2011

Matthew 21:28-32 "What Father Wants"

 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.  For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

 The thought that crossed my mind is how many Christians sit in church every week listening to powerful and theologically sound sermons learning who God is and what He wants and how to please Him and how we ought to think and how we ought to live.  All across America (and probably the world) churches are becoming like seminaries.  Never before in history has the Word of God been more accessible and better taught.  And yet, we are spiritually dead and dying.  

Churches are full of people who know doctrine and theology (and will argue it incessantly), and at the same time live with no transformation, no joy, no power, no fruit of any sort.  Something is radically wrong.  Jesus says what.

Knowing the will of Father and doing the will of Father are completely different things.   In another place, Jesus said, "You are my friends if you do what I command."  It is not just about knowing what God says or even hearing what God says -it is about living and doing what God says. This is the Kingdom!

Here is the biggest rub:  we cannot do what He says until we surrender.  We cannot accomplish His agenda and our own at the same time.  It can't be done.  Here is what Father wants:  children who are willing to hear what He says and willing to live it out in real life. 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Matthew 21:23-27 "When to Confront"

Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”
Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things.  John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?” 
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’  But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”
So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

 One thing we know for certain that Jesus was not adverse to confrontation.  Just a couple of days before this, he had cleared the temple with a whip.  Other times he had called out the priests and pharisees calling them, "A brood of vipers," and "Whitewashed tombs, clean on the outside but full of death on the inside."

Here, the pharisees and priests confront Jesus and demand to know by whose authority He is teaching.  Jesus just kind of side-stepped the issue.  He could have told them.  He could have told them and backed it up with a miracle.  In fact, He could have told them and backed it up by calling down a few thunderbolts from heaven -it might have been very convincing.  Instead, He side-stepped the issue, ultimately saying, "I'm not going to tell you." 

Since we know that Jesus was not afraid to confront, but often chose not to confront, it seems to me that we can become just a little more like Jesus if we can figure out what criteria He used to decide when and when not.

It seems to me that Jesus confronted when their was evil or injustice.  It also seems that He was not very interested in defending Himself when others made accusations -implied or directly.  In other words, Jesus confronted others when a moral and/or spiritual principle was at stake, especially when it involved the helpless and the powerless.  But it was never a matter of personal pride or saving face.

Many years ago when someone accused me of something, my father gave me what I believe turns out to be truly godly wisdom.  He said, "If what they are saying is true, repent and get it right.  If what they are saying is false, let God and the fruit of your life be your defense.  Either way, you don't need to defend yourself."

Monday, February 21, 2011

Matthew 21:18-22 "Fruitless"

Early in the morning, as he was on his way back to the city, he was hungry.  Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.
When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done.  If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

In many ways, this is an odd passage.  Jesus commands a fig tree to wither and die just because it has no fruit.  The disciples were amazed, and Jesus uses the opportunity to teach about faith.  I kind of get what He is saying about faith.  I mean, I do not have that kind of faith, but I understand the principle He is teaching.  There is something else here as well, though.  There is a Kingdom principle that Jesus often teaches and here illustrates:  Use it or lose it.  

God has an expectation that whatever He has given us, we should use for His Kingdom's sake.  To him who has much even more is given.  To the one who buries his giftings and hides his treasure,  what little he has is taken from him.

In this process, I believe God is patient and gentle.  He teaches us.  When Jesus asked one man if he believed, the man replied, "I do believe; help my unbelief."  That was both honest and enough.  God works within the boundaries of what He has given. There is no doubt, however, that God expects us to use what He has given.  If I have just a little faith, God doesn't expect me to move a mountain -but He might expect me to pray for my neighbor or my children or a co-worker.  And as I exercise my faith, He gives more.


Monday, February 14, 2011

Matthew 21:14-16 "Sponanteous Worship"

The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them.  But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.
“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
   “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
   “‘From the lips of children and infants
   you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?”

I don't think it is coincidental that as soon as Jesus drove out the money changers and cleared the temple of inappropriate activities, appropriate activities broke out.  Namely, people began to worship -starting with the children bursting forth in spontaneous praise.

I often pray for God to break out in our churches, and long for a movement of God marked by spontaneous, authentic, unashamed worship and praise.  As I read this simple story, I find myself wondering if a few things need to be cleared out before God will reveal Himself in this way.

And what about the personal, intimate experience with Father?  I wonder what needs to be cleared out of my life in order to experience Him anew...

I find that I easily get distracted and just drift day to day -getting by.  Not that there is anything overwhelmingly wrong going on; just that there is nothing overwhelming supernatural going on.  

Father, please overwhelm me.  Call forth your praise in me.  Renew me.  Make me clean and whole. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Matthew 21:12-13 "Keeping the Sacred, Sacred"

Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves.  He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!”

 You might remember that the Gospel of John has Jesus clearing the temple at the beginning of His ministry.  Here Matthew records Jesus doing it at the end of His ministry.  Some people see this as a contradiction.  It's not.

There are a couple of possible reasons this event was recorded at two different times.  First, John was not very much concerned with chronological correctness -he was more focused on the meaning of Jesus actions than he was when Jesus did them.  Second, Jesus very well may have cleared the temple twice.  In fact, I believe He did.  In a sense, Jesus earthly ministry was bookended by clearing the temple.  We should probably think about why.

Before we dig into this, let me say that I don't believe that what Jesus did in the temple has a direct implication for local churches -although there are certainly principles we can glean.  The temple was the center of Judaism; it was established by God and intended by God to be His dwelling place until after the New Covenant was fully established -at which time we (Believers) became His temple and dwelling place.

The abuse that was going on was more than just people making a profit in God's house.  You probably recall that Jews were required under the Old Covenant to make animal sacrifices at the temple.  There were, of course, requirements for the animals -God didn't want old or lame or diseased animals to be sacrificed; He wanted the sacrifices to be the best people had to offer.  These were to be animals without blemish.  Accordingly, when people brought a lamb or a dove to sacrifice, a priest would inspect it to make certain it was unblemished.  Part of what was going on at the temple was that people would bring their sacrifice and the priest would find it objectionable and insist that a lamb (or dove) must be purchased from the temple.  But, the sacrifice at the temple could not be purchased with with standard currency because that was Roman and, therefore, unclean.  People had to exchange their Roman currency for official Temple currency -at a very high exchange rate.  Often, the temple officials would then turn around and sell the animal they had just declared to be unfit to someone else as unblemished and worthy to be sacrificed.  And although the people knew that what was going on was unfair, they had to participate because under the terms of the Old Covenant, sins could only be forgiven by the sacrifice of these animals at the temple.

It's easy to see why Jesus was angry.  What He intended to be holy and sacred was being exploited for profit.  You can see why this doesn't translate directly to modern churches.  Under the New Covenant, we are not required to make sacrifices in this way at our local church building and the church building is not actually God's dwelling place anyway, we are.  So, although some churches have small businesses going on -bookstores, coffeeshops, etc., it is not the same kind of thievery that was occurring at the temple.  Nevertheless, I think there is a major principle here we should consider carefully.

We should consider that God does not like us to take spiritual things that He intended to be holy and sacred and exploit them. This isn't about money - it is about a disrespect and disregard for the sacred.  We are violating this principle whenever we take something God has declared sacred and treat it as common.