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, April 22, 2011

Matthew 23:15 "Hypocrites: A Double Portion"

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!"

I've seen this principle enacted in real life.  On one of our trips to Africa, we arrived shortly after a big name evangelist from the U.S. had been there.  Reportedly, he stayed in a five-star hotel, demanded a chauffeured Mercedes limousine to get around and was paid $50,000 for a two night stadium event.  I have no idea whether or not anyone found a real relationship with Jesus through that event, but I know for sure the impact he had on local pastors.  Many began to dress like him, adopt his preaching style and mannerism, and preach a lot on tithing and prosperity.  They all want to be rich like the American -and many became  spiritually abusive in the process, attempting to build their own kingdoms instead of God's Kingdom.

But this warning is not just for manipulative prosperity preachers; this is a serious warning for any preacher or teacher who loses sight of the greatest commandment that Jesus gave us just a few verses earlier: Love the Lord you God with all of your heart, soul and mind -and love your neighbor as yourself.

When we teach people to follow theology (of any stripe or color) instead of teaching them to love Father, we have missed the mark completely and are leading people astray.  Theology is simply man's attempt to explain the things of God.  Theology has a place in helping us understand God and things of God, but theology is not God.  We must not get too attached to theology at the expense of actually learning to love God and others.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Matthew 23:13 "Shutting Out The Kingdom"

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let others enter either."

 We tend to think of the Pharisees as the bad guys because they often opposed Jesus and because they ended up having Jesus killed.  In the culture of the time, however, the Pharisees were considered the best of the best.  They were experts in God's Law.  They even added new laws to interpret the old laws.  And they kept the very letter of the law.  Unfortunately, in the process of keeping the letter of the law, they sometimes violated the principle of the law.  And ultimately, even though they diligently kept God's laws and believed that they were honoring God by being so strict in their interpretations, they became enemies of God.  

Understand that the Pharisees did not consider themselves to be enemies of God -they assumed that they were favored by God because of their keeping of the laws and rules.  But God considered them enemies because their opinions ended up being more important to them than God's opinions.

The spirit of pharisee-ism is still alive and well today.  Bible teachers often teach their own theological bent instead of teaching people to love Jesus.  This causes people to embrace religion without having any real relationship with God.  In essence, they shut the door of the Kingdom in people's faces, refusing to go in themselves and not allowing others to enter either.  We don't really need systematic theology to live in the Kingdom.  What we need is to love God more, forgive others more, and do good as the Spirit prompts and leads us.  More relationship.  Less religion.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Matthew 23:1-12 "Trying To Get Noticed"

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples.  The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees are the authorized interpreters of Moses' Law.  So you must obey and follow everything they tell you to do; do not, however, imitate their actions, because they don't practice what they preach.  They tie onto people's backs loads that are heavy and hard to carry, yet they aren't willing even to lift a finger to help them carry those loads.  They do everything so that people will see them. Look at the straps with scripture verses on them which they wear on their foreheads and arms, and notice how large they are! Notice also how long are the tassels on their cloaks!  They love the best places at feasts and the reserved seats in the synagogues;  they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to have people call them Teacher.  You must not be called Teacher, because you are all equal and have only one Teacher.   And you must not call anyone here on earth Father, because you have only the one Father in heaven.  Nor should you be called Leader, because your one and only leader is the Messiah.  The greatest one among you must be your servant.  Whoever makes himself great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be made great.

Although Jesus speaks here about how Pharisees dress and what they want people to call them, He is not actually talking about garments and titles; rather, He is addressing motives and attitudes.  Hypocrites love to call attention to themselves.  Jesus tells us that this is not how the Kingdom operates.  Kingdom-minded people call attention to their King, not to themselves.  Accordingly, those who honor God are honored by God.  Those who exalt God are exalted by God.  This is not something we can fake or manipulate because God knows the motives of our hearts.

Be wary of "leaders" who call attention to themselves -something is amiss.  As with the Pharisees, these kind of people might sometimes be able to expound on Scripture and teach correct doctrine, but that does not make them worthy of honor.  People can be skilled teachers, or have spiritual anointings or operate in high-profile spiritual giftings and at the same time be arrogant and ambitious and self-absorbed.

Don't follow/honor/imitate anyone because of giftings and anointings -follow because of character and the Fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control) evidenced in his life.  Godly character can't really be faked -it only comes from walking with Jesus.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Matthew 22:41-46 "Jesus Questions The Pharisees"

While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them,  “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?”
“The son of David,” they replied.
He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
 “Sit at my right hand

until I put your enemies

under your feet.”’

If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?”  No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions. 

The Saducees and the Pharisees had been asking Jesus questions -not legitimate questions, wanting to know truth; rather, tricky questions trying to embarrass Jesus publicly.  Now, Jesus asks them a tricky question.  Jesus knows (as He had already told the Saducees) that they didn't really know or understand either Scripture or the power of God.

The question Jesus asks is fairly simple -If the Messiah is a son (descendant) of King David, why did David prophetically call Him Lord?  The Pharisees chose to walk away rather than answer.  You see, people were increasingly believing that Jesus was the Messiah, and Jesus instead of denying it was increasingly proving it to be true.  So, when Jesus asks this, many of the people listening believed He was speaking of Himself.  The dilemma for the Pharisees is that the only possible answer to this question is that David was prophesying that his descendant Messiah would be more than just a human sent by God and used by God -that the Messiah would be Divine.  This is not something they wanted to state publicly in front of people who were believing Jesus was the Messiah.  In fact, their plan was to execute Jesus for blasphemy for implying that He was, indeed, the Messiah and that He was, indeed, Divine.  The last thing they wanted was Scriptural proof.

It is not hard to see why the Pharisees came to the conclusions they had come to.  They had a very long history of religious traditions and paradigms and already knew (or at least thought they knew) how Scripture ought to be interpreted.  Their main problem was simply that their interpretations did not match God's interpretations, and their spiritual reality was not God's spiritual reality.  I believe that we are always in danger of falling into the same trap.  Just as with the Pharisees, it is easier for us to rely on our denominational and theological traditions and teachings than it is to enter into authentic and intimate relationship with God.  We are sometimes more concerned with what men say than what God says.  God has a habit of rocking the boat.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Matthew 22:34-40 "The Greatest Commandment"

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.   One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

It is not surprising that the Pharisees sent an expert in the Law to question Jesus. What is surprising is the legitimacy of the question. I wonder if, considering Jesus' growing popularity with the common folks, the Pharisees were trying to nail down Jesus' theological (and political) bent. Maybe they wondered if they could recruit Jesus to their cause or at least tag into His popularity. At any rate, the legalists sent a legal expert to ask a legal question: "Which commandment is greatest?" Or "Which law is most important?"

Before I go further, let me clarify what I believe about Jesus Christ because this will help you understand the lens through which I am looking at life and interpreting Scripture. I believe that Jesus is part of the Triune God –the Three-In-One God comprised of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I believe that He was with the Father in eternity, and willingly chose to lay His deity aside as He took on flesh and blood and came to His creation. He left eternity and stepped into time and space and lived among us. I believe He lived a perfect human life and died for our sins, clearing the way for us to have a right relationship with God. I believe Jesus rose again from the dead and returned to God the Father. I’m hoping that we are on the same page with this –this is basic Christianity.

Now, if Jesus came from the Father and returned to the Father and is, in fact, part of the Godhead -if He is, as Scriptures clearly teach, God –then I think it is safe to assume that what Jesus taught, and what He focused on, and what He modeled for us is incredibly important. If anybody in the history of the earth had His priorities straight and understood how things really are, it has to be Jesus. I know that the Old Testament is Scripture. And I know that the writings of Paul and Peter and John and the rest of the New Testament are Scripture. But if God became man and made His dwelling among us and explained to us how things really are, that has to become the lens through which we interpret the rest of Scripture. The actual teachings of Jesus, who was and is God, must be the key to unlocking the rest of Scripture. We can’t do it the other way around. We can’t take the writings of Paul and interpret Jesus. We can’t take the prophets and interpret Jesus. We must use Jesus to interpret everything else –because Jesus is God.

With that in mind,  we can see the importance of Jesus' response.  God is telling us exactly what His priorities are.  Jesus replied, "Love God with all you've got -body, mind and soul;  and love others like you love yourself."  In other words, Jesus said that the most important thing is love. First, to love God –and then to love one another. This is so important, according to Jesus, that it supersedes the entire law. If we actually learn to love, everything else takes care of itself.

This is clearly the heart of God. This is the bulls-eye of the target. This is what makes Christianity different than any man-made religion. This is it. Jesus taught and modeled love. Authentic Christianity is not religion, it is relationship. The mark of Spiritual maturity is not how much of the Bible we have memorized, it is not how many people we have led in the “sinner’s prayer,” it is not how much spiritual power or anointing we operate in. The only authentic mark of Christian maturity is how much we love God and how much we love others.