Thursday, February 28, 2019

Matthew 23 Discernment

This is a harsh chapter. Jesus spares no punches when it comes to criticizing the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees. And yet he says:

Matthew 23:3 NIV 

So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 

Do what they say, not what they do. It seems to me there are two lessons we need to take to heart from this chapter. First, we need to make sure we are not Pharisees. That is huge in itself, but the second lesson may be more difficult to accept. That is, truth is truth no matter who speaks it.

Our tendency is to write off anything that comes from a "heretic." If we find fault with an author, we won't read him anymore. If we're really serious then we won't even read someone who reads him. We call it purity by two degrees of separation. It is curious that Jesus didn't say, "The Pharisees are twisting and manipulating the law. Don't listen to them." Rather he said that the truth they speak is truth. People just need to be discerning enough to separate the truth taught from the error practiced.

Now, one could argue that they were not teaching falsehood, just practicing it. But that is not exactly the case. Jesus quotes some of the things they are practicing and teaching and says they are wrong. For example:

Matthew 23:16-17, 37 NIV 

"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? Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing." 

They are not only practicing a wrong understanding of the law, they are teaching it. Jesus followers are to be discerning, not ignoring and rejecting. Father, keep me from developing a critical spirit, but give me a discerning heart and mind. May I teach and live your truth.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Matthew 22 Becoming a Pharisee

Matthew 22:15 NIV 

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 

This chapter began with Jesus telling a parable about wedding guests. In the parable three things are clear. Those that should have interest in the wedding were more interested in their own things. The wedding guests ended up being the less socially acceptable. Not everyone who came to the wedding was allowed to stay. This, Jesus said, is what the Kingdom is like.

There are several truths and applications here that each deserve attention. The Kingdom will not be built on the socially acceptable systems of man. The invitation is out there for everyone. Just because you build a radical ministry reaching the fringe of society does not mean you can abandon truth. And the list goes on. But the primary focus of the chapter is on the response of the socially acceptable religious elite.

First the Pharisees try to trap Jesus by asking about the relationship between church and state. "Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar?" they ask. On the coattails of the Pharisees' failure, the Sadducees try to trap Jesus with a question of marriage and the resurrection. Finally the Pharisees return with a question about the law. Jesus refutes each question avoiding their traps and exposing their faulty thinking.

Matthew 22:46 NIV 

No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions

I suppose there is a lesson in there like, don't challenge the author to the meaning of his own work, but there is another principle at work here too. Don't become so locked into your systems that you miss what God is saying. This is really the point of the parable, and the reason for the Pharisees' and Sadducees’ opposition to Jesus. Don't become so locked into your systems that you miss what God is saying.

It is entirely possible that God wants to use you to reach the tattooed biker at the corner bar, or the dealer at the drug house down the street. It is entirely possible that the nice couple who would make great church workers won't come to Christ at all. It is likely that God may call us to a certain level of discomfort in order to break our molds and use us for the Kingdom.

The Pharisees and Sadducees would have none of it, but they were silenced. Father give me eyes to see what you are really up to, a heart willing to follow you wherever that takes me, and a spirit sensitive enough to recognize when I'm becoming a Pharisee.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Matthew 21 Responding

Matthew 21:31, 45 NIV 

"Which of the two did what his father wanted?" 
"The first," they answered. Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus' parables, they knew he was talking about them.

They knew he was talking about them so they plotted against him. In this chapter, Jesus presented himself to Jerusalem as her King, cleared the temple, cursed an unproductive fig tree, and challenged the Chief Priests and Pharisees through his parables. When they understood what he was saying, they decided to get rid of him. That is always the solution when we don't like what we're hearing. Shoot the messenger, or at least seek to discredit the messenger.

I fear that is what we Christians often do as well. Too often we fail to think, reason and evaluate critically and biblically. By critically, I don't mean having a critical spirit. I mean discerning between truth and error. We hear of, or read a new book. The author raises some important issues. Because we reject his answers, or his personal theology, we dismiss the entire work and fail to recognize or deal with the valid issues he raised. A church movement starts but, because of faulty theology, we dismiss the movement out of hand without asking what it is about the current condition of the church that caused this movement to start. We discredit the messenger without hearing the real issue.

On the other hand, we pride ourselves in having our theological i's dotted and t's crossed, but are we actually doing what Jesus has called us to do? I have a feeling that most of us would feel more comfortable with the Pharisees than with the tax collectors and prostitutes. But which ones did Jesus say were getting into the Kingdom? It wasn't the Pharisees.

Father, don't let me get away with ignoring the troubling things Jesus says. May I hear clearly, follow closely, and yield quickly no matter where that takes me.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Matthew 20 Mercy

Matthew 20:27-28 NIV 

"And whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." 

What an interesting chapter. It starts out with a story about a landowner who hires day laborers. Some are hired at the beginning of the day. Others are hired only an hour before quitting time, yet he pays them all the same. The story is told to invoke an emotional response to this inequity so that Jesus can make a point.

Matthew 20:15-16 NIV 

Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' "So the last will be first, and the first will be last." 

I find it interesting that some Bible teachers are so offended by the inequity that rather than realizing what Jesus was saying, they try to explain that the landowner was really being fair because those workers hired last had faithfully stood in the sun waiting to be hired. That's hardly the point Jesus was making.

Is the principle that the first shall be last and the last first a "fair" principle? No! It is, however the principle that characterized the life and ministry of Jesus. "The Son of Man did not come to be served..." This is the principle that James, John and their mother don't seem to understand. It is the principle the other disciples don't seem to understand. But it is the principle that took Jesus to the cross. And, it is the principle that should be the driving characteristic of a follower of Jesus. In this chapter, the only people that seem to get what Jesus is saying are the two blind men who cry out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us." Greatness in the Kingdom is never about what we deserve. It is always about the mercy of God.

Father, thank you for your mercy. All I am, all I have, all that I have done is only because of your mercy. Like everyone else, I prefer acknowledgment to serving. By your mercy and grace may my life reflect Jesus today.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Matthew 19 Greatness

Divorce, children, wealth, and reward, these are the issues addressed in Matthew 19.

Matthew 19:3, 7 NIV 

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?" . . . "Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?" 

What are they really asking? Well, they are trying to trap Jesus, but at the heart of the trap is one issue. What do we have to do in order to keep God happy?

The scene changes, and children, not Pharisees, are held up by Jesus as model members of the Kingdom. A rich man wants to know what he must do to get eternal life. Jesus responds with how to build up eternal treasure. Finally the disciples try to impress Jesus with their own greatness. Here is his reply:

Matthew 19:30 NIV 

But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first. 

Now we've come to the heart of the matter. The Pharisees were arrogant in their "testing" of Jesus. The rich man viewed himself as quite righteous. The disciples prided themselves on their sacrifice and commitment to Jesus. Only the children were unimpressed with themselves. We all strive for significance. What we fail to understand is that greatness is found in service to others, not in being served. Treasure is accumulated through giving, not through hoarding. Significance is found in significant service, not in significant attention.

Father, I confess that sometimes I am a Pharisee. Sometimes I'm the rich man. Too often I'm the disciples saying, "Look what I've given up for you." Seldom am I truly the child or the servant. Thank you for your patience with me. Today, by your grace, may I serve.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Matthew 18 People

How are we to treat other people? There is a principle in this chapter that runs through every paragraph. God cares about people.

Matthew 18:7 NIV 

Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! 

Matthew 18:12 NIV 

"What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?" 

Go to your brother. Pray for your brother. Forgive your brother. These are the directives of this chapter. The underlying principle is that God cares about people. As Americans, I can't speak for other cultures, we tend to care more about our rights, our freedoms, and our comfort than about other people. This chapter calls us to the radical lifestyle of going out of our way to care about people.

Father, I have to confess that I have too often cared more about my own comfort. May I be willing to be part of the search party rather than staying home to guard the flock.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Matthew 17 Rights & Offenses

As I read this chapter two thoughts occurred to me. The first came early in the chapter.

Matthew 17:5 NIV 

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" 

Three simple words, "Listen to him." We don't do that very well. Like Peter, we are ready for action. We are ready to serve. We may take a few moments to read some quick verses from our favorite Bible, but do we take the time to listen. We may depend on the Holy Spirit as our power source for mission, but how well do we hear him as our counselor and guide. The Father said, "This is my Son ... Listen to him."

The second thought came near the end of the chapter.

Matthew 17:26-27 NIV 

"From others," Peter answered. "Then the children are exempt," Jesus said to him. "But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours." 

Jesus tells Peter that even though they are "exempt" from the tax they will pay it "so that we may not cause offense." Right and wrong are important to me. Justice is important. My rights are important. Here is the Lord submitting to a temple tax. Everything in that temple rightly belongs to him. They should be paying him taxes. Yet the Master pays tax to his servants, "so that we may not cause offense."

Certainly there were times when Jesus said or did things that were offensive. We sometimes act as though the highest moral obligation we have is to be non-offensive. That's not what is going on here. On the other hand, as believers we sometimes act as though rightness and righteousness means being offensive. If people are offended by the cross, that's one thing. If people are offended because we are offensive, that's a whole different issue.

Father, help me to listen well to your Son, especially when it comes to how my behavior affects the unbelieving world around me. Let them see Jesus in me even if I have to give up some of my rights for that to happen.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Matthew 16 Resurrection

read this chapter on Resurrection Sunday and thought, "Wow, this isn't the chapter I would have gone to for the resurrection but that's really what this chapter is about." 

Matthew 16:4 NIV 

A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah." Jesus then left them and went away. 

The sign of Jonah is a reference to Jonah spending three days in the belly of the whale before coming back to "life" (see Matthew 12: 40). This is about the resurrection.

Matthew 16:16 NIV 

Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." 

The yeast of the Pharisees is related to their rejection of Jesus. In contrast, Peter's confession, "You are the Messiah," brings enthusiastic praise from Jesus followed by an explanation of his coming death and resurrection.

The final challenge of the chapter is a challenge to follow him wholeheartedly because we will one day see him coming in his kingdom. Dead kings don't return. This chapter is about the resurrection. You cannot separate what Jesus did and what he taught from who he is, his death, and his resurrection. It doesn't matter if the day is sunny, bright and full of hope, or dark and gloomy. Life has meaning because we serve a risen savior. Thank you Lord!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Matthew 15 Humble Faith

There are three passages that stood out to me as I read through this chapter.

Matthew 15:12-14 NIV 

Then the disciples came to him and asked, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?" He replied, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit." 

The Pharisees had just come to Jesus about his disciples. Now the disciples come to Jesus about the Pharisees. In some ways they are doing the very thing the Pharisees were doing. "Jesus, there is a problem here with these people and it needs to be fixed." Hadn't anyone heard the earlier parables about the seed, the sower and the soil, or the weeds among the wheat? Jesus answer is directly tied back to those parables. "Leave it alone. I'll take care of it in the end." There are people we can't fix and people we shouldn't try to fix. Sometimes it really is our problem, but sometimes they just aren't ready to hear.

Matthew 15:26-27 NIV 

He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs." "Yes it is, Lord," she said. "Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table." 

Is it ever okay to contradict Jesus? We have often made much of the disciples contradictory expression, "No Lord." But here is a Canaanite woman that replies to Jesus' "no" with a "yes." Jesus says, "It is not right..." The woman responds, "Yes it is." Her response is a contradiction of humility and faith, not fear or arrogance. That's what makes the difference. Jesus may have chided his disciples when they contradicted him out of fear, or the Pharisees when they contradicted him out of arrogance. God, however, honored Moses when he said, "If you won't go with us then we're not going," and he honored this woman when she said, "Jesus, you are wrong." The difference was faith and humility, in contrast to fear and arrogance.

Matthew 15:33 NIV 

His disciples answered, "Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?" 

The disciples had just watched Jesus heal people all day long but they can't figure out where he'll come up with enough food to feed them. I'm beginning to think this chapter is about faith. It has often been said that seeing is believing, but I'm not so sure that's true. The Pharisees saw, but they were more concerned about their traditions. The disciples saw, but they were more concerned about what the Pharisees thought, and where they were going to come up with their next meal. The woman who contradicted Jesus doesn't appear to have seen anything. She just knows Jesus is her only hope, and believes he can help.

Father, I've been a believer for a long time, but I have to admit that my faith is often more like the disciples than like the Canaanite woman. Forgive me for my fear and my arrogance. Today may I walk in humble faith.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Matthew 14 Motives

God is interested not only in what we do, but why we do what we do. Motives are important. In Matthew 14 Herod, despite his fears, beheaded John the Baptist. Why? Because his fear of what his party guests might think was stronger motivation than his fear of what the crowds might think. Herod's ego motivated him to do the unthinkable. Peter, when he walked on water, sank because he is motivated more by his fear of the wind and waves than by his faith in Jesus. Jesus, on the other hand, could easily have become a "rock star" of his day had he been motivated by ego. Rather, even in weariness he was motivated more by love and concern for people than by selfish concern or ambition.

Actions are important, but motives are behind actions. As believers we often make two mistakes. One, we somehow think that we can discern men's motives by their actions. We forget that only God can see the heart. As a result, we judge and divide people, but never love them. Two, we legalistically focus on actions without considering motives. When we do this we frustrate, manipulate and dominate, but we never transform.

Motives are important. Father, thank you that Jesus was motivated more by his love for us than by a desire for personal comfort. May my heart reflect that of Jesus.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Matthew 13 Jesus Perspective

Matthew 13:29 NIV 

"'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them." 

Jesus had just explained to his disciples that he taught in parables because many had hardened hearts and were not willing to listen anyway. Then he told a parable about weeds growing among the wheat. The rest of the chapter expresses both the greatness of the kingdom and the hardness of people's hearts.

In that context we find verse 29. I have been in many churches where people felt it was their responsibility to determine who were the wheat and who were the weeds. I wonder how many of us would have figured out that Judas was a weed, or that the Samaritan woman would evangelize her whole village. I believe that there are a few false beliefs at the roots of the idea that we need to be able to distinguish between wheat and weeds. We may believe that we need to know if they are saved so that they can be properly evangelized. We may believe that it is our responsibility to open their eyes to the truth of the gospel. We may believe that if there are unbelievers in our midst, it will undermine our spiritual power as a church. We may believe that we can actually tell the difference between the weeds and the wheat and that we can remove the weeds without damaging the wheat. Interesting! Jesus didn't seem to hold to any of these beliefs.

He told stories so that hard-hearted people walked away just as blind as ever. Surely he knew Judas would betray him, yet Jesus sent him out preaching, and even ate the first communion supper with him. Finally, while he taught, "you must be born again," his teaching was never about making sure someone had "prayed a prayer" or "made a decision." Did he call his disciples to a decision to follow him? Yes. At what point were they "saved?" There has been lots of debate over that. Maybe the reason it's not all that clear is because Jesus was more focused on the process of being a disciple, whereas we just want to make sure they are going to Heaven. How we live out our faith in this life has become a secondary issue to us. I'm not sure Jesus saw it that way. Jesus never separated evangelism from discipleship.

Father, I fear that I have been too interested in making sure the heavenly tally book is correct, and too little interested in being the presence of Jesus to my world. Father, reproduce in me the eyes and heart of Jesus, and forgive me for the judgmental spirit I have too often expressed. May I be a more active presence for Christ and truth because I have rejected these faulty beliefs and embraced the perspective of my Lord.

Sunday, February 17, 2019


Matthew 12:1-2 NIV 

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath." 

The disciples were not stealing grain. What they were doing was both legally and culturally acceptable. What they were doing that was "unlawful" was picking grain on the Sabbath. Somehow in the minds of the religious elite slipping a little grain off the head of a barley plant to chew on had become the equivalent of harvesting on the Sabbath. After the "harvest" scandal, Jesus is questioned further. He is asked, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" Here is his response:

Matthew 12:7 NIV 

If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. 

The Pharisees, in the name of holiness and purity, love their religion more than they love people. Of course they would say they love God, but that wasn't Jesus' assessment.

Matthew 12:34 NIV 

You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 

It is easy for us to castigate the Pharisees. It is easy to see faults in others who seem to revel in being more "holy" than anyone else. Even in the name of love and mercy we cannot throw out every aspect of morality, but it makes me wonder. Are there times when I have been more interested in maintaining my religiosity than in truly loving people? Where is the line between mercy and compromise? Would I rather endure the disdain of the religious elite or the accusations of holding to a heartless religion?

These are not easy questions but I fear there is more Pharisee in me than I'd like to believe. Father let the world see Jesus in me no matter what the church thinks.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Matthew 11 Responding to Jesus

Matthew 11:27 NIV 

"All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." 

How do I respond to Jesus? John the Baptist is wondering if he got it right. The crowds like the miracles but fail to repent. They seem to just be hanging around for the show. In the face of all this Jesus gives an invitation. "Come ... and I will give you rest." How I respond to Jesus determines whether I find confusion, fascination, or rest.

It is through Jesus that we encounter God. If fascination with Jesus never leads to an encounter with the Father then it results in judgment. If fascination with God never includes Jesus then we aren't truly encountering the Father.

The crowds had gone out to see the John the Baptist Show in the wilderness. They had enjoyed Jesus coming to their cities with his Miracles Show, but they weren't particularly interested in knowing the Father. They were satisfied to watch the show and go home unchanged. That raises a question for me. Am I satisfied to be occasionally wowed by Jesus, or am I willing to walk in his yoke? The answer is counter-intuitive because it is not in going home unchanged that I find rest, but in taking up his yoke. That is where true rest is found.

Father, may I keep in step with Jesus today.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Matthew 10 What Did I Sign up For

Matthew 10:42 NIV 

And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward." 

What a pep talk Jesus gives his newly chosen apostles in this chapter. You're going to be rejected. Shake it off. You're going to be attacked and imprisoned, betrayed and hated. Trust me and stand firm. You're going to be viewed as an enemy and accused of being demonic. Keep serving. You will be rewarded. I can envision the apostles saying, "Is that what I signed on for? I think I forgot to read the fine print." Yet, with the exception of Judas, this is exactly the life and ministry these men lived out. What has God called us to?

I fear that our theology has been developed more by our 20th & 21st century American lifestyle than by the missionally focused Kingdom mindset of Jesus. Father forgive me for being more interested in comfort than in ministry, more interested in affluence than in obedience, more interested in making a name for myself than in presenting the name of Jesus to a broken world. May I, with the apostles, embrace your call wherever that takes me, but I am deeply aware that I can't do that on my own. Thank you for your Spirit and your Word.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Matthew 9 Harvest

Matthew 9:6 NIV 

"But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins." So he said to the paralyzed man, "Get up, take your mat and go home." 

Jesus authority goes beyond healing the sick and calming storms. Jesus, by claiming to forgive sins, is claiming to be more than just a man. He is God for only God can forgive sin. Yet nobody seems to really get it.
Matthew 9:8, 11 NIV 

When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man. ... When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" 

The crowds rejoice that God has given such authority to man. Meanwhile, the Pharisees continue to challenge Jesus' authority. In contrast, the two blind men that Jesus healed spread the word. They may not have fully understood, and they were clearly told to keep it quiet, yet they told everyone.

Matthew 9:31 NIV 

But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region. 

The crowds in this chapter seem to miss the significance of Jesus words and actions. The religious elite oppose Jesus no matter what he does. The outcasts of society fail to obey Jesus even though they have been restored to wholeness by him. I see a bunch of spiritually deaf, hardhearted people that are more interested in themselves and their religious systems than in who Jesus really is and what he wants done. I'm guessing that's what the disciples saw too. What does Jesus see?

Matthew 9:36, 37 NIV 

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few." 

Jesus saw need and ministry opportunity. Father, I fear that I too often miss seeing the crowds through Jesus eyes. Today give me eyes to see the harvest, and raise up workers for the harvest as Jesus challenged his disciples to pray.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Matthew 8 Authority?

Mathew 7 ends with these words: 'When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law' (Matthew 7:28-29 NIV ).

Jesus taught as one who had authority, but did he have authority? I tell my preaching students, "If you don't know how to pronounce a name, say it like you know it and no one will know the difference because they don't know how to pronounce it either." The truth is that people can sound convincing even if they don't know what they're talking about. They just need to speak confidently. So the question we must put to Jesus is, "Do you have any real authority, or are you just teaching like you have authority?"

That's what Mathew 8 is about. Jesus demonstrates his authority by healing a leper through touching him, by healing a paralyzed servant from a distance through simply saying it was done, by casting out demons and healing many including Peter's Mother-in-Law, by calming a storm, and by restoring two demon possessed men and sending the demons into a herd of pigs. His demonstrated authority over disease, nature, and demons gives his teaching validated authority. His words challenging the status quo and calling people to sold-out commitment can no longer be dismissed as the rants of a religious zealot. He speaks as one having authority because he has authority.

Father, when circumstances and life's conditions grip and fill my vision, I sometimes forget who Jesus really is. Today, "Be thou my vision."

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Matthew 7 Judging

Mathew 7 begins with the words, "Do not judge." 16 verses later Jesus warns them about false teachers saying, "by their fruit you shall know them." In other words, make a judgment about them. We can get hung up on this dichotomy and neglect to pay attention to the rest of the chapter. It also says that we are to "take the plank out of your own eye, ... don't throw your pearls to pigs, ask ... seek ... knock, ... enter through the narrow gate," and build our lives on a rock by hearing and putting Jesus words into practice.

Maybe if we paid more attention to ourselves and our walk with God we'd be less judgmental of others, and better prepared to recognize actual false teachers. Too many lives have been broken, relationships severed, and ministries destroyed because we spent more time and energy trying to correct others than we ever did focusing on the right things for ourselves. For two commands related to judging in Mathew 7 there are at least five commands that have nothing to do with others and everything to do with us.

Father forgive me for my inclination to judge. May I look twice at myself every time I find myself judging others.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Matthew 6 It’s Not about Me

Matthew 6 can be summarized in this way: don't give to be seen; don't pray to be seen; don't think repeating meaningless words impresses God; don't worship money, and don't worry. What is the unifying theme? Life is not about me.

Matthew 6:32 NIV 

For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 

We serve a God who knows us and knows our needs. We can't get his attention any more than we already have it. We can't lengthen our lives by playing God. We can't enhance our lives by impressing people. We just need to rest in Him.

Father, forgive me for often worrying about those things that only you can control, and for trying to impress people for my own sense of significance. May I simply rest in your sovereign care and honor you.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Matthew 5 Theology & Life

Matthew 5 begins Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount." There is so much in this "sermon" I really should blog it one verse at a time. Reading through it though, I see a progression of thought. Jesus begins, "Blessed are those..." He then moves to, "You are salt and light," then, "understand this..." Finally, beginning in verse 21 he essentially says, "Therefore live like this..." We cannot separate God's values, who we are in Christ, and what God is doing in the world, from how we live.

Some of us revel in the theology of the scriptures, but we never get around to actually doing anything with it. Theology that does not change how we live is poor theology. On the other hand, there are those who say, “Don't bother me with all this thinking and evaluating, just tell me what to do.” But theology changes perspective. How and why we do something is just as important to God as what we do. Obedience that does not flow out of a right heart and mind is not obedience.

Do you doubt that statement? Here are three illustrations. Does a wife want her husband to bring her flowers because he must or because he loves her? Flowers aren't just flowers. The reason he is bringing them makes all the difference. Do we want our children to obey because they fear the consequences or because they respect us as parents? Obedience is not just obedience. "Change your attitude young man" is frequently heard. When we say, "Come to dinner" we don't mean, throw your toys and stomp to the dinner table because you don't want to obey. How and why they obey is just as important as that they obey. Finally, look at Jesus own teaching.

Matthew 5:27-28 NIV 

You have heard that it was said, '"You shall not commit adultery." But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

Jesus is saying that what goes on in the heart and mind is just as important as what we actually do. Does God call us to obedience? Absolutely! But he calls us to obedience that flows out of right belief. We cannot separate truth from lifestyle.

Father, this seems to be a delicate balance. I must confess that I do not always keep my theology and my actions in synch. Continue to mold me into the image of Jesus. Don't let me get away with anything less.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Matthew 4 Testing or Tasting

At one point during Jesus temptation in the wilderness he quotes Deuteronomy 6:16.

Matthew 4:7 NIV 

Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" 

From everything I can find in the scriptures, testing God is almost always viewed negatively. God tests people. We are to test ourselves. We are, for the most part, not to test God, we are to trust him.

Psalm 34:8 says, "Taste and see that the Lord is good," but tasting is different than testing. Tasting has different motives than testing. Tasting begins from a point of faith. Testing begins from a point of doubt. Tasting experiences the goodness of God. Testing examines the goodness of God to see of it is real. Tasting appropriates what God has promised. Testing presumes upon God to act according to our expectations.

This makes me wonder how much of my prayer life has been about testing instead of tasting. Father, forgive me for the times I have presumed upon you to act according to my expectations, and been upset with your response. I really am no different than the grumbling Israelites following Moses in the wilderness. May I simply taste and see that you are good.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Matthew 3 Heart –vs– Ceremony

There are five individuals or groups specifically identified in this chapter. First there is John the baptizer. He arrives on the scene as the last of the Old Testament prophets preaching repentance and intimidated by no one.

Matthew 3:4 NASB 

Now John himself had a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 

Then comes the Pharisees and Sadducees. My first thought is, why are they coming? It appears that may be John's thought as well.

Matthew 3:7 NASB 

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 

For these groups, ritual cleansing was extremely important. They would later challenge Jesus on this very issue: "Why don't your disciples wash before they eat?" This isn't a health concern. They viewed it as a major spiritual faux pas to neglect ceremonial washing before eating. They would have viewed John's baptism as just another ceremonial washing. John saw it as a symbol of repentance.

Then comes Jesus. There is no indication that he's dressed like a prophet, i.e. like John. John clearly understands that Jesus has nothing to repent of. Yet Jesus responds, "Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness" (Mt 3:15)

There are two more characters in the story. The Holy Spirit descends and lands on Jesus in the form of a dove. The Father speaks from heaven, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." (Mt 3:17)

The stage is set for the story to come. These characters will play out a drama of eternal proportions over the next three years. The contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees is striking. They don't look any different. They don't talk differently. But, their hearts are miles apart. Jesus, though he has nothing of which to repent, identifies with sinners in his baptism. The Pharisees, though they don't have a clue about repentance, come for a ceremony.

Father, forgive me for the times I have been satisfied with external ceremony and missed what you were really about. May I serve you from the heart even if that means being misunderstood and rejected.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Matthew 2 Freedom & Sovereignty

The second chapter of Matthew begins with these words, "Now after Jesus was born..." The rest of the chapter could easily be summed up this way, biblical prophecy was fulfilled and God protected his Son. Micah 5:2 was fulfilled by Jesus when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Hosea 11:1 was fulfilled when an angel warned Joseph to take his family to Egypt. Jeremiah 31:15 was fulfilled when Herod killed the baby boys. Finally, verse 23 makes reference to a prophecy regarding Messiah being called a Nazarene. We're not sure which passage or prophecy this is referring to, but it is fulfilled when Joseph takes his family to the out of the way place of Nazareth.

Not only was scripture fulfilled, but God protected his Son. He protected him by warning the Magi not to return to Herod. He protected him by warning Joseph to take his family to Egypt.

There is a mystery between man's freedom to make choices and God's sovereignty in accomplishing his purposes. Trying to understand that mystery has led to all sorts of theology that tends to emphasize one side of the equation and explain away the other. It has also led to some hard feelings and division within the Body. That is unfortunate because, both are true. Did God protect his Son, fulfill prophecy, and accomplish his purposes in this chapter? Yes. Did God cause Herod to kill those children, or force Joseph to obediently flee to Egypt? No. That is the mystery and we need to leave it at that.

Father, I am amazed that you give me the freedom to make my own choices even in the most critical parts of my life. I am comforted and assured by the truth that you are sovereign and will accomplish your purposes in this world. Give me wisdom and discernment, and thank you for the freedom. I rest in your sovereign grace.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Matthew 1 Black Sheep in the Family

     Matthew 1:18 NASB 

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 

In reading the genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew, I am always fascinated by the women recorded in the story. Tamar deceived her father-in-law to have a child by him because of his dishonesty with her. Ruth was a Moabite, a foreigner whose first Jewish husband died in Moab. Bathsheba became pregnant by David while she was married to Uriah. David then made sure Uriah died in battle. Then of course, there is Mary, a young woman found to be pregnant out of wedlock.

Our tendency is to either brag about the "black sheep" in our family, or more often, to hide them and not talk about them. Jesus genealogy is rife with "black sheep." God could have picked or designed a better heritage for his Son. The fact that he used this family and this lineage is what fascinates me. But then, Jesus did say that he came for sinners, not the righteous. He did identify with our sinfulness in his baptism. He was known as a friend of sinners. And, he did become sin for us so that we might become his righteousness. Maybe this was an appropriate lineage after all.

Father, thank you that Jesus was willing to come and identify with sinners in order to save us. Forgive me for the times I have been more concerned about what people thought of me than of what you thought. May I emulate Jesus love for sinners even if that messes with my reputation.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Acts 28 Curious Events

The book of Acts ends with these words, "Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ." Paul is in Rome under house arrest. Faithfully he continues to preach the Kingdom. I find two things curious in this final chapter.

First, I find it curious that there is no mention of Paul preaching while on the Island of Malta. They are cordially welcomed to the island after their shipwreck. Paul is miraculously protected from a snake bite. He heals the sick on the island. But there is no mention of preaching or of converts. There is mention of healings, and of the people of Malta honoring Paul, but no mention of preaching or converts. Perhaps, this suggests that we don't preach to everyone, but only to those whom the Spirit has prepared. Or perhaps Paul's approach in Malta was just different from that in Rome. In contrast, Paul unashamedly preaches to the Jews in Rome whether they are ready to accept it or not. Perhaps, the difference is found in the cultural expectations of the Jewish synagogue, which would expect a traveling Jewish preacher to address them. At any rate, I find this curious, and wonder about its implications for my life.

The second thing I find curious is that Paul is said to preach the Kingdom. I would have expected the text to say that he preached the gospel. These are evidently both Jews and Gentiles coming to visit Paul and he preaches the Kingdom. It's not that the simple gospel is broader than what we have come to understand, but perhaps the implications of the gospel are broader than we have traditionally understood. What does it mean to preach the Kingdom, and why do we not use that language anymore?

These things I find curious. I think perhaps we would have done things differently or recorded these events differently. Yet, God inspired the text and seems to be working in unique ways in this passage. Father, may I be sensitive to what you are doing and what your Holy Spirit is up to in people's lives even if it is different from what I would expect.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Living among Unbelievers

In Acts 27, we have the record of Paul's journey toward Rome as a prisoner, and their shipwreck. A few thoughts occur to me as I read this account. As a prisoner, Paul is given considerable freedom, even being allowed to go ashore to meet friends and get supplies. There is no record of Paul preaching on-board ship, although he is not ashamed to talk about his faith. Paul's actions indicate his concern for the physical safety of everyone, not just his friends and/or fellow believers. Paul's life is such that when he speaks people listen.

It makes me wonder how my life affects those around me. How does our presence, as believers, affect those around us? Are we obnoxious about our faith? Do we live in such a way that when we speak we have people's respect and they listen? Do we try to impose our lifestyle on others, or simply live out our faith unashamedly before them?

Father, may my life be the presence of Christ wherever I am. May I live in such a way that when I speak it's worth listening to. I cannot do this, but by your Spirit and your grace.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Acts 26 Words & Actions

"And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our fathers that I am on trial today." (Acts 26:6)

The Jews were trying to kill Paul because he was preaching the very thing they claim to have been looking for and hoping for all their lives. It makes me wonder how much we really believe the things we say we believe. There is a Country-Western song that says, "Everybody wants to go to Heaven. Nobody wants to go now." If that's true, then do we really believe what we claim to believe about Heaven? Paul said he wanted to go but was willing to stay for the sake of the church. I fear most believers want to stay but are willing to go if they have to.

It's often the joke, when dealing with difficult churches and/or church people that not even Jesus could pastor that church. We give lip service to the great commission and the great commandment, but my guess is that we would be with the disciples saying, "Why are you talking to that Samaritan woman?" We'd be with the Pharisees asking, "Why are you eating with sinners?" We'd be with the Jews opposing Paul, who is preaching and living the very thing we say we believe.

Father, your word says that the heart is deceitful. Search my heart and know me. I confess that I often talk a better game than I live. By your grace, may my words, my attitudes, and my life reflect you and your truth. My I live what I say I believe. And Father, I know I have friends whose hearts would echo this prayer. May you grant this in their lives as well.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Acts 25 Arrows of the Enemy

"They urgently requested Festus, as a favor to them, to have Paul transferred to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way." (Acts 25:3)

Paul, the apostle, has been in prison for 2 years in Caesarea. He had been taken there because the Jews had planned to ambush and kill him in Jerusalem. Here we are two years later and they still have the same plan. It makes me wonder what happened to the group of men who took a vow to neither eat nor drink until Paul was dead. Hmmm...

This reminds me that truthfully the Enemy has few tricks. He has just become quite proficient at using those few. He will distort truth. "When Paul appeared, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many serious charges against him, which they could not prove." (Acts 25:7) Governor Felix’s take on it however, was, "When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion..."  (Acts 25:18-19)

The enemy will distract us from our mission. Paul was not to be distracted. God had told him that he would go to Rome, so when the opportunity arose, Paul appealed to Caesar.

The enemy will divide. The early church was threatened with division early on. The issue of widows not being fed had the potential to divide. Paul's conversion had the potential to divide as many did not trust him. The issue of Gentile believers had the potential to divide. The good news is that in each of these instances, the Body of Christ came away in unity and agreement.

The enemy will dissuade and discourage. I can imagine that sitting in prison for 2 years was rather discouraging. Yet God was in control and He had a plan. Paul just needed to wait patiently and faithfully. In the mean time, God gave him some unique opportunities to share the gospel.

It seems that each of us has our own areas of susceptibility, but the arrows in Satan’s quiver are not many. By God's grace, we need to learn to recognize them and fix our eyes on Jesus. As a good friend, who is now in Heaven, used to remind me often, we need to keep looking up; keep kneeling down; keep reaching out.

Reflections on Psalms 77-78

Psalms 77:7 (ESV) [7] “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?   The first nine verses of this psalm express abso...