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, May 26, 2011

Matthew 23:27-28 "Whitewashed Tombs"

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."

 Just to remind us of the context of these woes that Jesus is pronouncing on the Pharisees:  the teachers of the law and Pharisees were asking Jesus illegitimate questions trying to trick Him into saying something they could twist and use against Him.  Among the questions that were asked was one concerning which law, which commandment, was the most important.  Jesus answered that the most important commandment was to love God with all of our hearts and souls and minds and strength, and the next, to love our neighbors like we love ourselves.  And then Jesus made an astonishing statement.  He said that all of the law and all of the teachings of the prophets were fulfilled by keeping these two commands.  If we could truly learn to love God and others, the law would be fulfilled.

Immediately after this, Jesus began speaking these woes upon those who were asking trick questions -the religious leaders who did not understand and did not truly care about the heart of God.

The theme of this woe, much like the others preceding, is the importance of internal spiritual realities and not just external appearances.  God is not nearly as concerned about our looking religious as He is about learning to love Him.  Intimacy with Father produces transformation, but external appearances do not produce intimacy.  When we are worshiping and opening our hearts to God and loving Him, we are changed simply by being in His presence.  But this internal transformation only happens when we forget about being religious and just abandon ourselves to the relationship.  When we being motivated by looking good and acting religious, by definition we are not being motivated by loving God and others.  In other words, when we are focused on the externals, it prevents us from focusing on the internals.  Jesus likens this to whitewashed tombs: beautiful on the outside, but filled with death on the inside.

Father, today help me to care more about how You see me than how others see me.  Teach me to love You more; and as I love You, let Your love flow into the lives of those around me.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Matthew 23:25-26 "Dirty Dishes"

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean."

 We have a tendency to focus on how things look.  There is a saying, "Perception is reality."  And, in some ways that is true; it is not true in a Kingdom sense, however.

When the prophet Samuel, directed by God, went to Jesse's home to anoint a new King for Israel, he was sure that several of Jesse's older sons were King material.  They were big and strong and good-looking.  But God passed them by and chose instead the youngest son, David, who was watching the sheep out in the field.  David was not yet as big, strong, or good-looking as his brothers, but God saw something in him that his brothers didn't have.  Here is a truth that God revealed to Samuel:  man looks at outward appearances, but God looks at the heart.

Outward appearances can be deceiving.  Sometimes people who look like everything is great on the outside are falling apart on the inside.  And, sometime people who seem to be struggling are being stretched and growing.  Only God sees the whole truth about a person.

So, Jesus says that we need to quit being outward focused (as in outward appearances) and start taking care of the internal stuff.  As with other spiritual truths, when we get our focus right -taking care of our own internal junk, it just happens that we also begin to look right on the outside too.

When we begin to see the reality of this, we understand why we need to be concerned about our interior motives and issues.  Hiding our problems leads to hypocrisy: clean on the outside, filthy on the inside.  We need to be transformed as we allow Jesus to renew our minds.  We need to quit hiding our issues, let God expose them, and allow Jesus to heal them.

Lord Jesus, help me to be the man that people think I am.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Matthew 23:23-24 "Swallowing Camels"

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give to God one tenth even of the seasoning herbs, such as mint, dill, and cumin,  but you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.  You blind guides! You strain a gnat out of your drink, but swallow a camel."

 What does God really care about?  What does He want us to care about?  Jesus gives us a clue.  Although preachers world-wide seem to think it has to do with tithing and not robbing God -as important as that may be -money is not what God is passionate about.  And many believe that God's foremost priority for us is obedience -as important as that may be -but even obedience is not what Jesus indicates here.  

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees were completely obedient to the letter of the law.  This is what Jesus is talking about when he mentions the mint and dill and cumin.  Since the law commands that a tithe be given, they tithed.  They tithed willingly, and they didn't just tithe on household income; if they had an herb garden, they even brought a tenth of the produce to the temple as a tithe.  They were fanatical about obedience to the law.  But something was amiss.

Although they were fanatical about obeying the law, Jesus identifies three things as being more important than tithing and even more important than strict obedience to the letter of the law.  Jesus specifically mentions justice, mercy and faithfulness.  These are not laws exactly, these are character qualities.    To be more specific yet, these are character qualities of God.  Jesus is saying that developing these character qualities is more important than legalistically keeping the law.  Next, Jesus says something that we might want to note:  obedience to the law without having these qualities (justice, mercy and faithfulness) is like straining a gnat from our drink and then swallowing a camel.  This is a picture of absurdity.  We might think even with a lack of godly character and wrong motives, someone obeying God's law is still way ahead of those who don't keep the law.  But Jesus says differently; keeping the law without developing godly character is worthless and ridiculous.  Why?  Because more than anything else, God loves us and wants us to love Him.  And if we learn to love God, two things start to happen.  One, we begin keeping the law, not out of compulsion and sometimes not even aware that we are keeping the law, yet we end up keeping the law because -Two, we begin to be transformed into the likeness and character of God.

Legalistically keeping the law is putting the cart before the horse.  The first and more important things are to accept God's love, learn to love Him, and begin to love others.   Jesus said that all of the laws and teachings of the prophets can be kept by learning to love.

Let's not strain out the gnats only to swallow camels.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Matthew 23:16-22 "Yes and No"

“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’  You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?  You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’  You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?  Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it.  And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it.  And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.

 Let's make sure we understand what Jesus is teaching here.  He is not saying that swearing by one thing (either altar or gold) is more binding than swearing by another thing.  To think that would be missing His point.  Jesus is identifying in the Pharisees a lack of understanding of a fundamental character quality that God's people ought to possess: integrity.  In fact, in another place Jesus says very clearly not to swear by anything because people should be able to take us at our word.  When we say yes, it should mean yes.  When we say no, it should mean no.

Playing games with honesty is not God's way.  I heard a preacher teaching a while back that we need to be very careful about the wording when when pray and be very specific because God is likely to give us exactly and only what we ask for.  For example, if you need a new car, ask for a Mercedes just to make sure God doesn't stick you with a Kia.  THIS IS WRONG!  God isn't mean spirited, and He can't be manipulated.  Playing games with wording is Satan's domain.  Jesus said that Satan is a liar and the father of lies.  This means that all deception and trickery originates with Satan.

And this is the heart of what Jesus was teaching.  Playing games with the wording to get out of keeping an oath or a promise is 100% Satan's domain, and God's people should not participate.  When we, as God's people, blur the lines between lying and truth, we are fudging on one of God's primary character qualities and siding with the enemy.

When we say yes, let it mean yes.  When we say no, let it mean no.  Let's be the kind of people that others trust because our Father is trustworthy.