Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 6:6-7; Luke 9:1-2 — A tare in the wheatfield

As I look at this passage, for some reason, Judas sticks out to me.  Jesus called his 12 disciples to go out and minister to the people of Israel.  Look at what he did.  He gave them the authority to drive out demons, he gave them the ability to cure diseases, and he sent them out preaching the kingdom of God.

And as Matthew lists all the disciples, he notes last of all, “Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.”  (Matthew 12:4)

Judas drove out demons.  Judas healed sick people.  Judas went out and preached the kingdom of God.  And yet, he would later betray Jesus.

How could that happen?  It’s hard to fathom.  But I think he is the perfect example of the tare in the wheatfield that Jesus talked about in Matthew 13.  The thing about tares is that they look very similar to wheat.  So if a farmer were to try to pull out the tares from the wheat, many times he would end up pulling out the wheat by accident.  That’s why the farmer in the story said to leave them until harvest time, and at that time, he would separate the wheat from the tares.

Judas, like the tare, looked like a believer.  He learned with the other disciples.  He cast out demons like the others.  He healed the sick like the other disciples.  And he preached the kingdom like the others.

But in his heart, he never truly gave his life to Jesus.  My guess is that he looked only for what a relationship with Jesus could give him.  And when he saw that Jesus’ vision was different from his own, and that he would not get from Jesus what he sought, he turned on him and betrayed him.

Many people are like that today.  They look like Christians.  They sound like Christians.  They may even be involved in ministry.  But they’ve never truly given their hearts to Jesus.

How about you?  Have you given your life to Jesus?  Is your life truly his?  Or are you like Judas, simply the tare in the wheatfield.  Don’t pretend.  You can fool others, your pastor and the people at church.  But you can’t fool God.  And the day will come when you will be seen for what you really are.

Don’t be that tare.  Truly give your life to him.  To merely play the Christian will only leave you empty, and result in judgment and death.

 

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Matthew 9:35-38 — Seeing the harvest

Lots of things to see in this passage.waiting-for-a-harvest

Jesus went.  He went out to preach the good news, to touch, and to heal those who were hurting.

Jesus saw.  So many times we see people, but we don’t really see them.  Maybe we’re too wrapped up in our own thoughts, our own lives, or our own agendas.  And so fail to really see the people we come into contact with.  Other times, we see them but only see the outside.  How they look.  How they act.  But we fail to see the hurt and utter need in their hearts.  But Jesus saw all these things.

Jesus had compassion.  He not only went and saw, but his heart went out to them.  He had compassion on them as he saw all the chains that Satan had bound them with.  He had compassion on them as he saw how Satan was constantly harassing them.  And as they wandered around completely lost, not knowing the path of life, his heart ached for them.

As disciples of Jesus, this is how we should be.  Going out.  Seeing.  Showing compassion.

Jesus exhorted his disciples, pled with his disciples,

The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.  (37).  

There’s an old song I love from the Imperials (anyone still remember them?) that I always think of as I read this passage.

It says,

See the fields,
Ripe and white as snow,
Up from the seeds of faith we planted long ago.

So many the hearts in season,
With every prayer they’ve grown.
He has made them ready,
But we must bring them home.

Lord of the Harvest,
Place your fire in me.
Servant you need now,
Servant I will be.

Give me the eyes of your Spirit,
Your heart of compassion to know.
Lord of the Harvest,
Show me where to go.

Time like a free wind,
So quickly slips away.
Too soon today’s tomorrow,
Too soon a yesterday.

So little time for the reaping,
And laborers are few,
Lift your heads to the fields of white,
The work that we must do.

Lord of the Harvest,
Place your fire in me.
Servant you need now,
Servant I will be.

Give me the eyes of your Spirit,
Your heart of compassion to know,
Wherever you may lead me,
Lord of the Harvest,
Lord of the Harvest I’ll go.

–Paul Smith, James Newton Howard

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Matthew 13:53-58; Mark 6:1-6 — When people we love refuse our testimony

I mentioned before that there were two times Jesus was amazed.  The first time was when he saw a Roman centurion’s great faith (Matthew 8:5-13).

The second time was here.  Jesus, by this point, had become well known throughout the nation.  This was, in fact, the second time we see him visit his hometown after he had started his ministry.

But though the people noted his miracles, and they noted his wisdom, they refused to believe.

Why?  Perhaps it was because they had the picture of a carpenter in their heads.  A person who put together their tables, and all the other wooden things in their houses.  All that time, they had never thought of him as anything special.  He was just “the carpenter.”

Or perhaps they still thought of him as that little boy who lived down the street.  The one who played with their children, and who had visited their houses and shared their food.

But because of these things, they could not imagine taking instruction from him.  They could not imagine that they could learn anything from him.  And so they took offense at him when he tried to teach them.

That’s why Jesus said,

Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.  (Mark 6:4)

What can we take from this?  I think there are two things.

First, God can speak to us through the most unexpected of people.  But we can miss it if we’re too busy looking down on them.  Sometimes we look down on them because they are younger than us and less experienced.  Maybe we look down on them because they are less educated.  Essentially, what it comes down to, whether we admit it or not, is that we look down on them because we don’t think God thinks much of them.  And because we think that way, we do not receive the things that they say.

But God can use the old and the young, the educated and uneducated, to speak to us.  He can use the pastor you respect, and he can use the brother or sister or neighbor that annoyed you when you were a kid (and maybe still does annoy you).  If anyone has given their lives to the Lord, the Holy Spirit is living in them, and he can and will speak through them.  The question is, do we have a heart that is humble enough to listen?  A heart that can see beyond the person to the Spirit that is in them.

The second thing we can learn is that there will be some people that will reject your testimony simply for the reasons I mentioned above.  If it happened to Jesus, and he was perfect, how can you be surprised if it happens to you when you are far from perfect?  You can’t control that.  You can’t make someone believe.  All you can do is share what God has given you and done for you.  And if they reject your testimony, pray for them.  Because there is only one person who can change the human heart, and that’s God.

So in short, don’t get discouraged when people reject your testimony.  Stay humble.  And always be on the watch for whenever God may be speaking to you.  And if you do, you’ll find that he speaks a lot more than you ever realized.

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Matthew 9:27-34 — What Jesus can do, and what he can’t

I had to do a double-take here as I read through these two stories because they are so similar to two others.  One was another case in which Jesus cast out a demon that caused a man to be mute (Matthew 12:22-37), and the other was the case with Bartimaeus (which we haven’t gotten to yet) and his companion who was also blind (Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52).

At any rate, as I look at these two stories, it strikes me what Jesus can do and what he can’t.

Jesus has the power to heal the blind and to give speech to the mute.

But what he can’t do, or at least, what he won’t do, is make someone believe.

One thing that he asked the two blind men was “Do you believe that I am able to do this? (28)”

When they answered yes, he told them, “According to your faith will it be done to you (29),”  the clear implication being that they wouldn’t be healed if they didn’t truly believe.  This is not to say that Jesus can’t heal apart from our faith.  There were times when the person didn’t even know who Jesus was, much less put his trust in him, and yet Jesus healed him anyway (See John 5:1-15).  But most times Jesus did require faith on the part of the people he healed.  

As it was, these two men believed and received their sight.

But as you look at the second story, while many of the people looked in wonder at what Jesus had done for the mute man, it did nothing to shake the unbelief of the Pharisees who merely said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.  (34)”

It didn’t matter what Jesus did, what miracles or signs he showed.  The Pharisees refused to believe.

And much as he wanted them to believe, he would not make them believe in him, no more than he tried to make the blind men believe.  They either did or they didn’t.

The same is true with us.  Jesus has given us his word.  He can point to all the things he’s done in your life and how he’s blessed you when you trusted and followed him.  But every day, the question you need to ask yourself is, “Do I trust him?  Do I trust him enough to follow him and do things his way?”

If you do, you’ll find healing and blessing in your life.

But if you don’t, you’ll end up like the Pharisees, apart from the healing and blessing in God in your life.

What choice will you make?

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Matthew 9:18-26; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:41-56 — The God who cleanses and raises the dead

When you look throughout the Old Testament, particularly the law of Moses, you see the concept of “clean” and “unclean” a lot.  Namely, things that the Jews were to avoid and things Jews were allowed to come into contact with.  Women having their period were considered, “unclean,” as were dead bodies.  And if you touched them, you yourself became “unclean.”

I’ve mentioned this before, but the remarkable thing about Jesus was that when he touched the “unclean,” he didn’t become unclean himself, rather he cleansed.

We see this in these two stories.

First, we see this woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for 12 years.  It’s possible that this was a menstrual problem of some sort.  But because of it, she was considered unclean all the time, not just once a month.  And though she went to many doctors and tried many remedies, none worked.

So in her desperation, she reached out to touch Jesus’ garment, thinking that if she could only do so, she would be healed.  Why didn’t she ask Jesus directly?  Perhaps she was ashamed of her condition.  Perhaps she thought Jesus would reject her because of her unclean state.

But after her healing, Jesus immediately asked, “Who touched me?”  And he would not let it go until she spoke up.  Why did he do this?  I think there were a couple of reasons.  First, he wanted her to know for sure in her heart that she was healed.  That this condition would not return.  Second, perhaps it was for the sake of the people who knew her that they could also be sure that she had been cleansed, because for 12 years, she had probably been ostracized by society because of her condition.

After this, he went to the house of a synagogue leader named Jairus, who had asked him to heal his daughter.  But after he had healed the woman, messengers came to say it was too late for Jairus’ daughter.  She was dead.

But Jesus told Jairus to not give up, but believe.  And as he went up to the dead girl’s bed, he said with great tenderness, “Little girl, get up.”

And immediately she got up.

What can we get from this?

All of us are made unclean by our sin.  Maybe we feel stained beyond cleansing.  We feel it’s too late for God’s forgiveness to come.

Or maybe because of our sin, we feel that our hope is dead.  Our marriage is falling apart.  Our finances are a mess.  Or we feel that we have no future.

But the God who cleansed the woman and raised the little girl to life is the same God who can cleanse us from our sin and give us new life.  And he can do it with one word, one touch.

All we need to do is ask in faith, putting our trust in him and Christ’s work on the cross, and he will do it.

So as Paul prayed, so I pray for you now.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  (Romans 15:13)

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Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39 — Set free

A very bizarre story to say the least.  Here, Jesus and his disciples come to the other side of the lake following the storm, and when they do, they immediately come across two demon possessed men.  (One wonders why only one is mentioned in Mark and Luke.  Perhaps only one of them came to a saving faith, but that is only speculation).

Perhaps as they first were drawing near the shore, they heard these strange howls and cries, and they wondered what in the world those howls were.  Then when they reach shore, these men come running out naked, and possibly with broken chains hanging from their hands and feet.  And when the disciples look more closely, they notice cuts up and down these men’s bodies, and they can see they’re self-inflicted.

How would you have felt?  I would have been frightened out of my mind. 

But Jesus commands the demons to leave.  At first, they resisted, shouting, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?  Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?  Swear to God that you won’t torture me.”  (Matthew 8:29; Mark 5:7).

But when Jesus continues to demand they leave, they ask permission to go into a herd of pigs, and when they do, the pigs jump off a steep bank and drown in the lake.

When the townspeople come out and see the men in their right minds, however, they are frightened out of their minds at the transformation and ask Jesus to leave. 

What can we get from this? 

I think the first thing is that demons are real, and are not to be trifled with.  Some people “play” with tarot cards and ouija boards thinking it’s just a game, but whenever you “play” with these things, you’re opening yourself up to a spiritual beings…and they are not from God.

One person put it this way.  “There is a door to the spiritual world, and the doorknob is only on our side.  But when we open that door, anything can come in.” 

Note too that these demons do not mean us any good.  Sometimes they disguise themselves as angels of light, but ultimately, they seek our destruction.  You can see that in their treatment of these men, but also in what happened to the pigs when they entered them.  Tarot cards and ouija boards may seem fun, but the powers behind them are seeking to destroy you. 

The good news is that we don’t have to be afraid of them.  Because as powerful as demons are, Jesus clearly shows here that he has the authority over them.  That said, stay as far as possible from anything occultic.  You may be forced to encounter demons, but that doesn’t mean you should go pursuing encounters with them.

Hopefully, you’ll never encounter demon possession, but there are other things I think we can get from this passage. 

First, while sin may seem fun, in the end, it controls you and will destroy you.  I don’t know how these men came to be demon possessed, but it didn’t come by seeking God.  And while they may have opened the door to these demons, once they came in, they were no longer in control, the demons were.  In the same way, we may start out by choosing sin, but in the end, it controls us.  Like the men in this story, a lot of the wounds we have are self-inflicted.  And apart from repentance and God’s grace, sin will destroy us. 

But as with Jesus and these demoniacs, Jesus has the power to set us free.  If we will turn to him and repent, he will forgive our sins, and help us to overcome sin in our lives.

Not everyone will be happy with the change, however.  The people from their hometown certainly weren’t.  They asked Jesus to leave.  As bad and frightening as these men used to be, it seems the townspeople almost wished they had never changed.  People may feel the same about you.

But Jesus calls us to minister to them.  And like Jesus told these men, so he tells you,

Return home and tell how much God has done for you.  (Luke 8:39)

Jesus has set you free.  Won’t you share what God has done for you so that he can set free those you love too?

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Matthew 8:23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25 — Our faith

I look Jesus words, “O you of little faith,” and I can’t help but think that if he were to see me now, he would say the same thing.  “O Bruce, why do you have so little faith?”

Think for a bit about the circumstances the disciples faced.  They’re taking the boat across the lake just as Jesus told them to.  At first, things are calm, but suddenly, as is often the case in that region, a sudden squall comes in.  Now, waves are crashing in the boat, and row as they might against the wind and the waves, they’re not getting anywhere.

Suddenly the thought comes, “Why doesn’t Jesus do something?”  They look down and find him fast asleep in the boat.  Here they are about to die, and Jesus is sleeping?

So they wake him up and shout, “Master!  Master!  Save us!  Don’t you care we’re about to drown?”

I wonder at that point, what exactly they expected Jesus to do?  From their reaction at the end of the story, they certainly didn’t expect him to do what he did.  So what then?

My guess, is they had no clue.  They asked not truly believing that Jesus could do anything, but at the same time thinking that if there was anyone who could save them, it was him.  A strange mixture of faith and unbelief.

How often are we the same?  We’re drowning in our circumstances.  We’ve exhausted all efforts trying to keep our boat afloat, and now, we cry out to Jesus, not because we truly believe he can help us, but because we have no other options.  We cry, not in faith, but in desperation.  In our panic, we even wonder if he’s asleep on the job.  If he really cares.

Yet Jesus in his grace, brings us through the storm as he gently chides, “Why are you so afraid?  Do you still have no faith? (Mark 4:40).

Which brings me back to my original question.  How often does Jesus ask that of me?  Why would I doubt that he cares, and why would I doubt that he is in control when he has proven himself time and time again?  And yet I do.

Would that I could completely trust him.  To not let anxiety take over me when I lose control of a situation (as if I ever were in control?).  To ask of him not in panic or fear, but in faith, fully believing that he does care for me, and will meet my needs.

Lord Jesus, forgive me for the times that I don’t trust you.  That I let fear and anxiety reign in my life.  Why should I fear when I should know by now that you love me?  That you care for me?

Lord, change me.  Help me to trust in you.  Let your perfect love cast out fear and anxiety in my life.  In Jesus name, amen.

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Matthew 13:51-52 — Sharing what we know

What do we do with what we have received?

This is the question that will be asked of us when the day of judgment comes.  And I think that’s partially, at least, what Jesus was telling his disciples here.

First, he asks, “Do you understand these things?  Do you understand all I have said about God’s kingdom?”

When his disciples said yes, he told them,

Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.  (52)

I take from this two things.

First, knowledge of the kingdom of heaven is a treasure.  It is not to be taken lightly or treated with disdain.

Second, we are to bring these treasures out to meet the needs we face, not just in our own lives, but in the lives of those around us.

We have a treasure in the knowledge of the kingdom.  We have treasure in knowing that God sees each person as a valuable pearl of great price, so much so, that he gave up everything in order to purchase them.  We have a treasure in knowing that the evil that we see will not last.  It will be purged, and all evil will be judged.  We have treasure in knowing that God is working in this world even now, and that though the seeds he has planted are small, and though we cannot totally understand how, they will inevitably grow and cannot be stopped.   And they will bring joy and peace to all who take shelter under the work he has done and is doing.  But not only is he doing his kingdom work in the world, he’s doing it in us.

Some of these things will be old news to those who hear, but to some, it will be completely new.

But as we see the people in this world, a people crying for love, a people crying for purpose and meaning, let us bring out these treasures of the kingdom.  For only in doing so will their spiritual hunger and thirst be satisfied.

Just as importantly, however, God will hold us accountable for the knowledge that he’s given us.  And he will ask you, “What have you done with what I’ve taught you?  Have you shared it with those who are dying around you?”

What are you doing with the treasures God has given you?

 

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Matthew 13:47-50 — A coming judgment

It has been said that Jesus spoke more on hell than he did about heaven.  And here we see one of his teachings on the coming judgment.

As I’ve mentioned before, it can get frustrating to see all the evil in the world and wonder why God doesn’t do more about it.

But here, we see the day is coming when he will.  All will be caught up and brought before him to be judged, both the living and the spirits of those who have died.

On that day, those who are evil will be weeded out from those who are righteous.  While the righteous will be rewarded and go on to live with God forever, it is the wicked that Jesus focuses on here.  And he says of them,

The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  (49-50)

Why does he tell us this?  I think more than anything, it’s to give us hope.  It’s to remind us that evil will not last forever, and that it will be dealt with for all eternity.  And in a world full of evil, we need that hope.

But I think he also tells us this as a warning.  That God’s patience will not last forever.  God does not desire that any should perish, but if they stubbornly reject him despite all his entreaties to them, he will let them have what they desire.  A life without him forever.  Unfortunately, what they will find out is that a life without God is a life of despair.  And that’s what they will have for all eternity.

So many people run from God because they think he’s trying to kill their joy.  But the reality is that there is no joy apart from him.

So as you look at the evil around you, remember a day of judgment is coming.  And ask yourself, “Am I ready?”

And if you are, if you have received God’s salvation by faith, ask yourself the next question:  “Are those I love ready?”  And if they aren’t, are you doing everything you can to make sure that they are.

Hell is a reality.  Jesus taught it.  Do you believe it?  Do you believe it enough that you are working for the salvation of those you love?

 

 

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Matthew 13:44-46 — The joy of salvation

I read a story recently of a couple in California that were walking through their garden and found a can sticking out from under their tree.  When they took a careful look, they found a number of gold coins in it.  They then found other cans with coins in them dating back to the 1800s.  In all, they are worth more than 10 million dollars.  Imagine finding that in your garden!Coins-2-way_2834423b

That’s very similar to the picture Jesus gives in these two stories.  In the first, a man finds some buried treasure in a field, and when he does, he quickly covers it up and sells everything he has to buy the field (unlike this couple which already owned the property). 

In the second, a pearl merchant is searching for pearls, and finds one for sale, but it was worth a great price.  Because he didn’t have the money to buy it, he sold everything he had in order to get it. 

Two things strike me.  First the joy of the finder.  Second, how much he was willing to purchase what he found.

A lot of people compare this story to the joy people have in coming to Christ.  In Christ, they find someone of great value, and so they give up everything for him.  They give up their homes, their families, and all they possess in order to follow him (Mark 10:29).  And though there may be pain in doing so, there is also a joy that overwhelms any feeling of sorrow or loss. 

But there is another way to look at this parable.  We can also see Jesus as the finder with we as the treasure or pearl. 

Jesus sought long and hard for us who were lost and dead in our sins.  And when he found us, with great joy, he gave up everything he had to purchase us.  He left heaven, giving up his prerogatives as God and his glory, and became one of us.  He hungered, he thirsted, he grew tired, he suffered pain.  And ultimately, he died a gruesome death on a cross.  Why?  Because to him, we are a pearl of great value.  We are a buried treasure, that though stained by rust and dirt, nevertheless are of immeasurable worth.  And so he gave up everything in order to purchase us. 

So how should we respond?  The apostle Paul admonishes us,

You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body.  (I Corinthians 6:19-20). 

Let us therefore live every day honoring the Savior who valued us so much that he gave up everything in order to purchase us.

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Matthew 13:34-35; Mark 4:33-34 — The qualities of a good teacher

I have been teaching English for the last 19 years, and have been teaching the Bible in some way, shape, or form for the last 27, going back to my high school days.

But  as long as I have been teaching, I doubt I’ll ever match the greatness of Jesus as a teacher.  He was the true master teacher.

What made him so great?  It was the way he taught.  How did he teach?

According to this passage, he taught through parables.  Why did he use parables?  For one thing, it was something that people could easily understand.  He took stories from everyday life and applied it to spiritual truth.

That’s one of the marks of a good teacher.  They take a spiritual truth and put it in a way that anyone can understand.  Some teachers are more interested in impressing their audience with their education or spiritual knowledge and use a number of theological words that no one understands.  Or they introduce all these Greek or Hebrew words that no one has heard of before.  At the end of the day, people are indeed impressed, but they end up saying things like, “That was a very deep message.  Very scholarly.  I wish I knew what it meant.”

But Jesus kept his language simple and basic so that anyone could understand it.

Because of this, and because of the stories he told, he did something else important that a good teacher does.  He kept his audience interested.  There are few things more painful in a classroom than a teacher that bores his students to tears.  Jesus never did that.

Jesus also understood his audience’s level.  It says in Mark that Jesus spoke the word to them as much as they could understand (Mark 4:33).  He didn’t give them more than they could handle.  In short, as the writer of Hebrews put it, you can’t give solid food to babies.  You give them milk until they can handle solid food.  Then when they are mature enough, you give them more (Hebrews 5:11-14).

Finally, he answered questions.  Again in Mark, it says that when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything in more detail (Mark 4:34).  You see in other passages that he generally did this in response to their questions.  Unlike Jesus, we may not have all the answers.  But it gives us the opportunity for us ourselves to learn more when we allow people to ask us questions.

You may or may not be a teacher in the church.  But all of us have teaching opportunities, with our children especially, but also with the people God brings into our path.

So let us all strive to be teachers like our Master.

 

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Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:20-21 — Transformed

I’m not a baker, but Jesus gives an illustration about God’s kingdom that even non-bakers can understand.

When a baker makes bread, he puts a bit of yeast in the dough.  What does the yeast do?  Two things.  First, it spreads throughout the dough.  Second it transforms the dough.  It makes what would be flat, hard, unleavened bread, into a bread that is fluffy and tasty.

The kingdom of God works the same way.

When we plant the yeast of the gospel in people’s hearts and by faith people embrace it, it starts to spread throughout their entire being, and transforms them into a whole new person.

Their way of thinking changes, their behavior starts to change, and everything becomes new.

Paul puts it this way,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  (II Corinthians 5:17)

The same happens with the kingdom of God at large.  We are not going to transform this world by political means, by fighting for changes in rules and laws.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t pursue these things.  Certainly in a democracy, we should take advantage of the rights we have to fight for change in our society.

But we are kidding ourselves if we think that changing the laws are going to change human hearts.  Even if we were to outlaw homosexual marriage, it would not stop people from engaging in homosexual behavior.  Even if we were to outlaw abortion, people would still find a way to end their pregnancies.

The kingdom of God comes one heart at a time.  As God the Holy Spirit transforms hearts one by one, starting with us, and then the people that we touch, then and only then will we see his kingdom spread, transforming our nations.

The question is, what are we doing with the gospel?  Are we letting it transform us from the inside out?  And are we sharing it with those around us that the Holy Spirit may start his work in them as well?

May our prayer always be,

Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  (Matthew 6:10)

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Matthew 13:31-32; Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18-19 — Starting small

I love the vividness of the pictures Jesus paints as he tells stories.

As he talks about God’s kingdom, he talks about how the mustard seed, though it is extremely small, grows into tree in which birds can find shade from the sun.mustard-tree-sara

What is Jesus’ point?  The kingdom of God doesn’t usually start with a bang, it usually starts with something small.

This is especially true in terms of the kinds of people that God uses for his kingdom.  Think of Mary, a simple, poor, teenage girl.  Think of Joseph, an ordinary carpenter.

And when Jesus came, he didn’t come as a great king surrounded by his armies.  He, like Joseph, was a carpenter.

When Jesus chose his disciples, he chose ordinary fisherman, a hated tax collector, and a political radical.

When the Christian movement started, it started in a relatively insignificant city, at least compared to the other great cities of the world.

And yet, through these people in this insignificant city, the gospel spread to the very ends of the earth.

What can we get from this?

You may feel insignificant.  Small.  Useless to the kingdom of God.  Yet it is because of this very fact that God is so eager to use you.  The kingdom of God is filled with such “insignificant” people that others are quick to look down on.

But it is through people like you and me that the kingdom spreads and touches the people around us.

Paul puts it this way,

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called.  Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.  But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised  things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.  (I Corinthians 1:26-29)

Never think that you are insignificant concerning God’s kingdom.  It is through the small that God’s great work is accomplished.

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Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 — Why evil?

The problem of evil is one that many people in this world struggle with.  They wonder how a good God could allow evil in this world.

In this parable, we see at least part of the reason.

I think the first thing we should note is that God is not responsible for the evil in this world.  God is holy.  He never does anything wrong.  All the seeds he sows are good seeds.

But there is an enemy.  And Satan sows his seeds in the hearts of people as well, causing them to grow as weeds in this world, causing much damage to those around them.

God could pull them out, but Jesus says here that if he were to do so, it would be impossible to do so without wrecking havoc with those God has called to salvation.

How is that possible?  I’m not sure.  But there are, for example, some people that are so indifferent to God, that it takes something painful to shake them up and turn them to God.  It might be a natural disaster.  It might be some hurt that another causes to them.  But through these things, they come to God.  And God knows that if they never went through these experiences, they would never come to him.  And so he allows the “weeds” to remain in the world.

In short, there are many things that God sees that we don’t.  There are many things that God knows that we don’t.

For the murderer or rapist.  For everyone who rebels against God.  And on that day, people will see the difference between those who serve God and those who reject him.

So as I’ve said before, when you see the evil around you, don’t lose hope.  Wait patiently, for the time is coming when all will be made right.  And on that day, God’s justice and wisdom will be known to all.

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Mark 4:26-29 — The seed of the kingdom

I think this parable is very similar in meaning to the last one.  As I said before, while we may plant the word of God in people’s hearts, only God can make it grow.  Many times, the growth is happening, and we don’t even notice.  For example, we share the gospel, and the person seems indifferent or even hostile.  But unbeknownst to us, the seed takes root.

Through no power of our own, God through his Holy Spirit starts working in that person’s heart, using circumstances, other people, and the word you planted to start pulling that person to himself.  The next thing you know, the person who was so indifferent or so hostile to the gospel comes up to you smiling and says, “Thank you.  Thank you for sharing Jesus with me.  It was because of you that I am now a Christians.”

But I think we can take this parable another way.  Sometimes we get frustrated by this world, and we wonder, “Is God’s kingdom really coming?  It sure doesn’t seem like it.  Things just keep getting worse.”

But in this parable we see several things.  The seeds of the kingdom have already been planted through Jesus and the apostles.  Even to this day, seeds are being planted in the hearts of the people around us.  And those seeds are growing.  Most times, we don’t even notice it.  But as with a plant that slowly grows over time, we can see just how much it has grown when we look back to its beginning.  Think of how the gospel has spread in 2000 years.  From one city, it has spread throughout the whole world.  And it is continuing to spread to this very day.

Moreover, the kingdom of God is inevitable.  No one can stop its growth completely.  Sometimes it can be hindered, but it can’t be stopped.  The U.S.S.R. learned that, as have many other countries that have tried to stamp out the gospel.

Because of this, a time is coming when the kingdom of God will be here for all to see, and Christ will reign.  A day of judgment will come when those who follow Christ will be rewarded, and those who went their own way will be condemned.

So what can we take from this?

First, wait patiently in hope.  It’s easy to get discouraged when we see all the evil around us.  But take heart.  God’s kingdom is coming.  It is growing even now, and it can’t be stopped.  So in your frustrations, through your afflictions, wait patiently.  It won’t last forever.  Know that you will be rewarded.

Second, be prepared.  We don’t know when Jesus will come back, but until that day, let us be about our Father’s business.  The key issue is not when Jesus will come back.  The key issue is to be ready whenever he comes back.

How about you?  Are you ready?

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Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:1-15 — Planting the seed

As I looked back on the last blog, there was one last point that occurred to me that I want to put here.

So often, I think of the farmer as Jesus.  But I think it’s equally if not even more valid to think of the farmer as Christians.  Because while Jesus was here for a short time, planting the words of God in the hearts of people, it is we, here and now, who are planting the seeds in the hearts of people today.

Taken that way, I think there’s one more valuable lesson to take from this parable.  Sometimes, as we plant the word of God in people’s hearts, as we scatter the seed, some seeds fall on hardened hearts.  People hear us, but they don’t understand, and Satan quickly snatches that seed away.

Other people hear it, and we’re encouraged because they get excited.  Perhaps, they even make a profession of faith.  But then trouble or persecution comes, they get discouraged, and they fall away.

In other cases, people receive the word and start to grow.  But then work starts to get in the way of their relationship with God.  Or they start getting too wrapped up in money or possessions.  Maybe they still go to church every Sunday, but they no longer grow.  They bear no fruit.

But for other people, they hear the word of God, and in their lives, they produce the fruit of God, making an impact for his kingdom.

What’s my point?  We are not responsible for the results.  We cannot shape people’s hearts.  What can we do?

Plant the seed.  Water it.  And then pray.  Paul put it this way: one person plants, another person waters, but only God can make the seed grow.  (I Corinthians 3:6-7).

Do you get discouraged because the seeds you plant don’t seem to bear fruit?  You can’t control that.  All you can do is keep planting the seed.  Keep watering  it.  And leave the rest to God.

How about you?  Are you planting the seed in the hearts of the people around you?

 

 

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Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:1-15 — The state of our hearts

This is the first full on parable we hear from Jesus, although he did give numerous illustrations to explain his points on previous occasions.

Here he gives a picture of a farmer scattering his seed along the ground.  It wasn’t, perhaps, the most efficient way of doing things by modern standards, but it was how things were done in those days.

Some of the seed fell on hard ground, and Jesus said that these are the people that hear God’s word but don’t understand it.  I think we can add another point here:  they make no effort to understand it.  As I mentioned before, the parables distinguished the people who really wanted to learn from those who simply wanted to be entertained.  The ones who really wanted to learn, like Jesus’ disciples, asked questions.  Those who didn’t, just went home.  Perhaps they enjoyed their time listening to Jesus, but because they didn’t understand the true message, nor did they try, Satan quickly took those seeds Jesus had planted and they forgot what they heard.

Others fell on rocky ground.  The picture here is not a bunch of rocks on the ground, rather it was a thin layer of dirt on limestone.  Because the dirt was so shallow, the seeds quickly sprouted, but because there was no root, they died in the heat of the day.  Jesus said that these were people who heard his words and received them with great joy, even believing them for a short time, but when persecution or trouble came, they fell away.  Were these ever true Christians?  Probably not, since they “had no root.”  It’s possible that all they had was an emotional experience.  But when the emotion wore off, and trouble came because of their “faith,” they quickly fell away.

Still other seeds fell on thorny ground, and when they grew up, they were choked out by the thorns.  Jesus said these were those whose faith was choked out by the worries of life, and the desire for wealth, pleasure, and possessions.  Too many Christians are like this today.  They are so in love with the world, they’ve forgotten their love for Jesus.

Finally, there are those who fell on the good ground, and produced great fruit.  Jesus says these are those who hear God’s word, understand it, accept it, and retain it.  Such people bear great fruit for the kingdom of God.

What kind of heart do you have?

When you hear God’s word and don’t understand it, do you just leave it to the side, or do you seek to understand?  Do you ask questions?  It’s through questions that we grow.  But if we never ask, we never grow, and Satan takes away the seed God wants to plant in your heart.

When you go to church, are you just seeking an emotional experience?  Emotions come and go.  They go up and down according to our circumstances.  And if you try to build your faith on your emotions, it will not last.  Are you instead building your faith on Christ and his Word?

What are you seeking in your life?  Is God above all?  Or are you so busy seeking, money, pleasure, and things, that you don’t have time for God anymore?  That you no longer seek his will in your life?  That you no longer pursue his kingdom?

Or are you a person that hears God’s word and pursues understanding?  Do you accept God’s word, trusting that it is true, and retain it in your heart and mind, bearing fruit as a result?

What is the state of your heart?

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Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-25; Luke 8:1-18 — Eyes to see, ears to hear

One of Jesus’ favorite phrases was,

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.  (Luke 8:8)

You see this admonition in the gospels, and you also see it in Revelation.

What did Jesus mean?

When Jesus told his parables, his disciples asked, “Why do you speak this way?”  And Jesus answered,

The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.  Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.  This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”  In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.  For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” (Matthew 13:11-15)

It seems a bit unfair for Jesus to say, “I’m giving you the secrets of the kingdom, but not them.”

But here are some things to consider.  First, anyone who wanted to could hear the parables.  And while Jesus says that the meanings of these stories were concealed from many, it was not meant to be so in perpetuity.  Rather, Jesus set out these stories to ultimately give light, not to hide the truth.  And anything that was hidden from the people would eventually be disclosed and brought into the open. (Luke 8:16-17)

Therefore, whenever anyone asked him the explanations to his parables, he would give them, and the apostles eventually passed these teachings on to everyone they taught.

The question, however, is do people want to know the truth?  Are they seeking answers?  Or do they just want to be entertained?  That’s what the parables did.  It separated those who really wanted to see and hear God’s truth from those who were just caught up in the popularity of Jesus.

The trouble with so many church-going people today is that they’re more interested in being entertained than in hearing God’s truth.

Therefore, though they hear the things the pastor preaches, and sing the songs, the words may “tickle their ears” but never penetrate their hearts.  And when something does strike their hearts and God speaks, they get uncomfortable and stop listening.  Unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned before, if they do this long enough, they’ll stop hearing God entirely, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophesy that Jesus quoted in Matthew.  They see but don’t really see.  They hear, but don’t really hear.  Rather, they close their eyes (and ears) to God’s truth.

So Jesus warns, “Consider carefully how you listen.  Think carefully about what you hear from God.  (Mark 4:24; Luke 8:18).  If you listen carefully and act on it, God will give you more.  But if you don’t, not only won’t you be able to hear God’s voice anymore, you’ll forget what things he’s already taught you.”

But Jesus told his disciples,

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.  For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. (Matthew 13:16-17)

How about you?  Do you have eyes that see and ears that hear what God is teaching you?

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Luke 11:27-28 — To find blessing

Everyone wants to find blessing in their lives from God.  But how do we find blessing?

As Jesus was speaking to the crowd, a woman called out,

Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.  (27)

But Jesus answered her,

Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.  (28)

Obedience is not a popular word, even among Christians sometimes.  We like to focus on the grace of God.  And certainly, apart of the grace of God, none of us would ever find his blessing because none of us ever deserve it.

Nevertheless, the key that unlocks that blessing in our lives is the obedience that comes from faith.  We can say, “I believe in God.  I believe in his Word,” all day long, but if it doesn’t result in obedience, our words are meaningless.  If we truly trust him, if we truly believe in him, we’ll do what he says.

The question is, do you trust him?  Do you trust that if you obey him, that you will find blessing?  Do you trust, for example, that if you put off sex until marriage, that your sex life and your marriage will be better for it?  Do you trust that if you learn the “grace of giving,” (II Corinthians 8:7) that your finances will not suffer for it, but instead be blessed by God?  Do you trust that if you submit to your husband as to the Lord, and that you love your wife as Christ loves the church, sacrificing yourself for her, that your marriage will flourish?

Or do you think this is all fluffy words with no real substance to it?

If you want to find blessing, you need to learn to trust God.  That he knows what is best.  That his way works.

And then you need to obey.

Is it easy?  No.  But the same grace that God extends to help us believe, is the same grace that gives us the power to obey.  All you have to do is ask.  As Jesus said,

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.  (Luke 11:9-10)

How about you? Will you trust God, and obey?

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Matthew 12:38-45; Luke 11:24-36 — When we refuse to invite the Spirit in

With Jesus condemning the Pharisees for saying that he was casting out demons by Satan’s power, the Pharisees then demanded a sign from heaven to prove he was doing it by God’s power.  Of course, even had he done so, they still wouldn’t have believed, so Jesus refused.

How do I know they wouldn’t have believed?  Because while he refused to give them a sign right then and there, he did give them a sign to watch for, the sign of Jonah.  And he told them just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and nights and came out, so would the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth, and come out.  This of course was referring to Jesus’ death and resurrection.  But when Jesus rose from the dead, the Pharisees still hardened their hearts and refused to believe.

So again, Jesus condemned their hardness of heart.  He told them that the people of Ninevah and the queen of the South (the queen of Sheba) would stand in judgment over them because when they heard the message of Jonah and Solomon, they turned to God.  But now Jesus, who was greater than Jonah or Solomon, was here, and they refused to believe.

He then gave an illustration of what would happen if they refused to believe in him and rejected the gift of the Spirit that he would later give all believers.

When Jesus came to this earth, he overcame the powers of hell, and among other things cast out demons.  But he warned the Pharisees and all Israel, “Though I cast out demons and overcome the powers of hell, though I set all in order in preparation for the gift of the Spirit to come in, if you refuse him, then the powers of hell will return in force and your spiritual state will be worse than ever.”

Why?  Because you’ve tasted the power of God in your life, you’ve come into contact with the only one who can save you, and you rejected him.

He then brings back in illustration from the Sermon on the Mount where he talks about how our eyes are the lamp of our body.  Here I think he’s talking as much of our spiritual eyes as our physical ones.  And he’s saying, “Are you really seeing?  When God speaks, can you see the truth he is giving?  When you look at me, do you see me for who I am?”

If you do, Jesus says you will be full of light.  But if not, you will be filled with darkness.  So he warns,

See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness.   (Luke 11:35)

How about you?  Have you put your faith in Jesus as your Lord and Savior?  Have you invited the Spirit into your life?  If you harden your heart towards God, you leave yourself vulnerable to Satan’s destructive work in your life.  But if you soften your heart and let the Spirit in, you’ll find life.

All you have to do is pray.

Jesus I believe that you are God, that you died on the cross for my sin, and that you rose again.  Now forgive my sin, and be my Lord.  Holy Spirit, come and fill me.  Fill my life with your light so that others may see you in me.  In Jesus name, amen.

 

 

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Matthew 12:33-37 — What comes out of our mouths

It always bothers me when people swear.  It especially bothers me when Christians swear.  Because what we say shows what’s in our hearts.  Our words show the state of our hearts.

When Jesus heard the Pharisees saying he was demon possessed, he told them,

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.  You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good?  For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.  But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”  (33-37)

In other words, for such blasphemy to come out of their mouths, their hearts had to be utterly corrupt.

That’s why he says we’ll be judged for every words we speak, even the “careless” ones.  Our words show exactly what’s in our hearts.  If our heart is full of good fruit, such words can’t help but flow out of our mouths.  But if our heart is full of rot, such words will certainly flow out of our mouths as well.

It’s impossible for us to say, “Oops.  How did that come out?”

It came out because that’s what’s in our hearts.  And if that’s what’s in our hearts, we need to repent.

If vitriol is in our hearts, it will show in our speech.  If bitterness is in our hearts, that’s what will come out.  If perversion is in our hearts, that’s what’s will flow out from our mouths.

Are these things in your heart?  What’s coming out of your mouth?

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Matthew 12:22-32; Mark 3:22-30; Luke 11:17-23 — The danger of hardening our hearts

In this passage, we see another confrontation between the Pharisees and Jesus.  A blind and mute man was brought to Jesus, apparently because of demon possession.  Jesus cast out the demon, and immediately, the man could talk and see.

Everyone was astonished, but the Pharisees immediately tried to discredit Jesus’ miracle by saying he did it by Beelzebub’s (i.e. Satan’s) power.  It’s interesting to note here, by the way, that the Pharisees (and all of Jesus’ other enemies) never denied Jesus performed miracles.  They only said that it was done by Satan’s power.  It’s only people who lived thousands of years after the fact that ever deny it happened.  It’s easy to deny something happened thousands of years after it occurs.  It’s much more difficult to do when it happens right in front of you.  And the Pharisees never did.

All of this brings us to the main point, and we saw this earlier:  some people simply won’t believe, no matter what they see.  Not because they can’t believe, but because they don’t want to believe.  Because they don’t want to believe, they harden their hearts to God, and try to explain away anything that God does to show he is really there.

The Pharisees tried to explain away Jesus by saying he had a demon and that he was casting out demons by the authority of Satan.

But Jesus countered that in two ways.  First, Satan’s kingdom wouldn’t be able to stand if he were fighting himself.  Second, by casting out the demon, Jesus was showing he wasn’t on Satan’s side.  Rather, he was fighting Satan.  Satan was the enemy, so Jesus was coming against him and making him and his demons scatter.  And in binding Satan up, Jesus set people free.

Then Jesus warns,

And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.  Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:31-32)

Mark explains Jesus’ words, saying,

He said this because they were saying, “He has an evil spirit.”  (Mark 3:30)

In other words, the Pharisees had so hardened their hearts to Jesus, they couldn’t even see what God was doing anymore.  Not only that, they were crediting the Holy Spirit’s work to Satan.

And that’s the danger of hardening our hearts.  If we do it long enough, there comes a point where we can no longer hear the Spirit’s voice, nor recognize his work even when we see it.  When that happens, all hope of salvation is lost.  This is what Jesus calls “the unpardonable sin.”  It’s unpardonable because there is no hope once we’ve hardened our hearts to that point.  Pharaoh in the time of Moses was a perfect example of this, and it led to his destruction.

When does a person reach that point?  Only God knows.  There have been people that seemed to be hardened beyond redemption and yet were saved.  The apostle Paul was  such a man.

Some Christians worry that they’ve committed the unpardonable sin.  But if you are worried about it, it’s almost certain you haven’t committed it.  If you can recognize the sin in your own life and your need for forgiveness, you have nothing to worry about so long as you keep a repentant heart.

It is only those who have hardened their hearts to God that are in danger of the unpardonable sin.

How do we keep our hearts from hardening?  Keep a humble and repentant heart before God.  And live each day in communion with him as Jesus did:  seeking the Father’s will, and following it.

How about you?  Is your heart soft or hardened toward God today?

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Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:20-21, 31-35; Luke 8:19-21 — Closer than family

It can be painful to be misunderstood by those we love.  I’ve mentioned before that Jesus experienced that in the temple when he was 12.  His own parents didn’t understand him.

Here again, we see his family not understanding him.  Because he was so involved in God’s work that he didn’t even have time to eat, his family started to think he was crazy, and so they came to “take charge of him.”  It would be easy to assume that it was just his (half-)brothers and sisters that thought he was crazy, but Mary was there too, apparently.  She knew he wasn’t crazy, but she was probably nonetheless concerned about his health.

But the crowds were so thick around Jesus, they couldn’t reach him, and so they had word passed to Jesus that they were there.  But when Jesus heard this, probably knowing their intentions to take him away from doing God’s work, he didn’t go out to them.  Instead, he looked around at the disciples gathered around him, and said,

“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”  Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”  (Matthew 12:48-50).

And again,

“My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”  (Luke 8:21)

There may be times when those you love will try to pull you away from doing God’s will.  Sometimes they think you’re crazy.  Sometimes they may think you’re overdoing it.

But what we need to remember is that we are not here to please them.  We are here to please God.  To hear what God is telling us to do, and to do it.

Now part of what God tells us to do is to honor and love our family.  And God certainly doesn’t want us to do more than he’s called us to do because that can lead to burnout.

With that in mind, however, God is to be closer to our hearts than our own family.  His desires for us are to supersede even our own family’s desire for us.

Does he have priority in your life?  Or is our family pulling us away from the things that God has called us to do?

This is, by the way, one reason why it’s important to marry a Christian.  Because when you don’t, conflicts between what your spouse wants and what God wants are inevitable.  Even if your spouse claims to be a Christian, if they are not walking with God and are not sensitive to his voice, conflicts can arise as you seek to follow Him.

So let us give our hearts to people who have given their hearts to God.  More than that, let us give all our hearts, souls, and minds to the one who died for us and rose again.

Who has your heart?

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Luke 8:1-3 — From blessed to blessing

This is a passage that’s very short, but teaches a very important lesson.  We see Jesus here going out from town to town, preaching the gospel.  And along with his disciples, we see three women, Mary Magdalene, the wife of a member of Herod’s household named Joanna, and another woman named Susanna.

We don’t know much about these women.  What we do know is that they had all been touched by Jesus.  Mary Magdalene had had 7 demons cast out of her, and Joanna and Susanna either had had demons cast out or been healed of their diseases (or perhaps both).  In short, they had all been blessed by Jesus.

Out of their gratitude, they began to follow Jesus, but not only did they follow, they supported his ministry financially.

What can we get from this?  We’ve all been blessed in some way by Jesus.  Most importantly, he has blessed us by saving us from our sin by dying on the cross.  But for some of us, he has also rescued our marriages, he has restored our families, he has delivered us from alcohol or drugs, or he has healed our pasts.

But while it’s nice to be blessed, are you also a blessing?  Are you always receiving as a Christian, or are you also giving?

Some Christians think, “Why should I tithe?  It’s not New Testament teaching.”

That may be true, but we are called as Christians to  be givers, even if we’re not told how much to give (II Corinthians 8:7).

Why?  Because God doesn’t simply want us to be a container of his grace.  He wants us to be a channel of his grace.  He wants his grace to flow through us to touch the lives of others.

Part of that is giving money to support your church, but it goes far beyond that.  It means investing your very life in the lives of others.

How about you?  Are you simply a container of God’s grace?  Or are you a channel of his grace as well?

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Luke 7:36-50 — Where’s your love?

As I look at this passage, I suppose the question I ask myself is, “How much do I really love Jesus?”

We see in this passage two people.  One was a woman who lived a sinful life.  What she did, we don’t know, but considering that everyone seemed to know about her, it would seem to have been a public sin, perhaps adultery and/or prostitution.  All this is mere speculation, however.

On the other hand, we have a Pharisee.  A person who was publicly “righteous.”  He said the right things.  He did the right things.  He was a person, in short, who had it all together.

This man Simon, invited Jesus to his house for a meal, and while they were there, this sinner comes in and starts weeping.  Her tears fall on Jesus’ feet as he’s reclining at the table, and she starts wiping her tears with her hair, and then pours some expensive perfume on his feet.

Simon’s reaction was immediate.  Contempt.  Contempt for the woman.  And contempt for Jesus.  He thought to himself,

If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner. (39)

But Jesus looks at him, and tells him a story of two people who owed a great deal of money, one more than the other, but who were forgiven their debts.  Then he asked,

Now which of them will love him more?  (42)

Simon, perhaps wondering where all this was going and if this was a trick question, replied,

I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.  (43)

Not the most confident sounding of answers, but nevertheless correct.

Jesus then sticks in the knife, saying, “You know Simon, it’s only common courtesy that a host would give a visitor water to wash his feet, to greet him with a kiss, and to pour oil over his head.  But you did none of these things.  This woman, on the other hand, washed my feet with her tears, and hasn’t stopped kissing my feet since she’s been here.  Moreover, she poured this expensive perfume on me.”

Simply put, “Where’s the love Simon?  This woman loves me.  By her actions, she’s shown the depth of her gratitude for the forgiveness of God in her life.  Because she realizes just how much she has been forgiven, her love is deep.  But you, you have so little awareness of just how much you’ve been forgiven, that your love is practically non-existent.  In fact, you take me for granted, and even look on me with contempt.”

He then turned to the woman and said,

Your sins are forgiven.  (48)

And while those around buzzed that he would say something like that, he told her,

Your faith has saved you; go in peace (50).

How about you?  How deep is your love?  Are you like Simon?  Are you so unaware of how bad your sin is, are you so unaware of how much you have been forgiven that you take Jesus for granted?

When we fail to understand God’s forgiveness in our lives, it results in two things.  A self-righteous attitude that leads to contempt of others who are “lower” than us.  And a love for God that is so shallow as to be non-existent.

But when we truly understand God’s forgiveness, it naturally results in a heart of thanksgiving and love towards God, and a heart of grace and mercy towards others.

What kind of heart do you have?

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Matthew 11:25-30 — Learning from Jesus

I’ve got to admit, after graduating from university, I never had a real desire to go back to school and get my masters degree or anything like that.  Looking back on it now, if I had to do it over again, I might do it.

But going to school can be tough.  Homework, exams, and of course, tons of reading.

Yet, Jesus does call us as Christians to go to school.  No, I’m not talking about going to seminary or Bible college, although God may very well call you to go there.  But Jesus is calling us to enter his school.

He said,

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.  (29)

This was actually something that many rabbis said when calling students to study under them.

What do we learn in Jesus’ school?  We learn who the Father is.  Jesus said,

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.  (27)

So many people want to know who God is, but don’t know how.  How, after all, can you get to know an invisible God.  It’s impossible…unless he is revealed to us.  And that’s what Jesus does.  He teaches us what the Father is like.  More than that, when we look at the life of Jesus, we see what the Father is like.  As Jesus said,

Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.  (John 14:9)

When we see the character of Jesus, we see the Father’s character.  When we hear the words of Jesus, we hear the Father’s words as well.

We also learn from Jesus how God intended us to live.  And how God intends us to live goes far beyond obeying a list of dos and don’ts.  That’s what the Pharisees had.  They lived by their lists of dos and don’ts.  But so many people in trying to follow them, got weighed down by them.  Instead of finding God’s love and grace, they found condemnation.  Instead of finding freedom, they found themselves bound up by all these rules that they couldn’t possibly keep.

But Jesus tells us,

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.  (28-30)

Jesus isn’t about rules and regulations.  He’s about drawing near to God.  He’s about loving those around us.  And when we are weak, he strengthens us.  When we lack wisdom, he gives it to us.  When we fall, he picks us up.  When we are discouraged, he helps us to keep on keeping on.

Because of this, his teaching is not burdensome.  It sets us free.

What is the requirement for entering his school?  A humble heart.  A teachable heart.  Things that the religious folks of Jesus’ day didn’t have, but Jesus’ disciples did.  That’s why Jesus said,

I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.  Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.  (25-26)

How about you?  Are you ready to join Jesus’ school?  Are you ready to learn from Jesus?

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Matthew 11:20-24 — Can’t believe? Or won’t?

There are a lot of people that say, “I just can’t believe in God.”

And they’ll go on to list all the reasons for their unbelief.  But for the vast majority of such people, it’s not really a matter of “can’t believe,” but “won’t believe.”  They can see all the evidence for God in nature, in the lives of others, and at times, even in their own lives, but they don’t want to believe.  Why not?  Because it means that their lives are no longer their own. That they can’t just live the way they want to anymore.  That they are answerable to someone else besides themselves.

As a result, they keep asking for more evidence.  And if it’s given to them, they’ll keep asking for more.  But one gets the impression that even if God himself were to appear to them, they would do their best to convince themselves it was just a hallucination or the result of drinking too much beer the night before.

That’s how the people in Israel were during the time of Jesus.  Though Jesus performed many miracles, though he healed the sick, and though he even raised the dead, still people would not believe.  Instead they kept asking for more miracles and signs to the point where Jesus told them flat out, “I won’t do it.”  (Mark 8:12).

But more than that, Jesus passed judgment on those who refused to believe, saying,

Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida!  For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.  And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens?  No, you will go down to Hades.  For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day.  But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”  (Matthew 11:21-24)

What is Jesus saying here?  Basically he’s saying that the more God shows you, the more God speaks to you, the more responsible you will be held if you continue to reject him.

In short, it’s dangerous to keep asking for more signs from God, if all you’re going to do is reject him regardless.  And of course it’s just as dangerous to reject God despite all you’ve been given already.

The day will come when we will all stand before God.  And on that day, he will strip away all our excuses for not believing him and reveal them for what they are.  Not an inability to believe.  But an unwillingness.  And when all is laid bare, judgment will come.

So lay aside your excuses.  Lay aside your pride.  Submit to Jesus as your Lord, and you will find blessing.  In this life, and in the life to come.  As Peter said,

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  (I Peter 5:6)

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Matthew 11:16-19; Luke 7:31-35 — Trying to please everyone

There is an old saying, “You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”

This was true even for the Son of God.  Jesus was perfect.  He was perfect in all he did.  He was love incarnate.  And yet, he could not please everyone.  Nor did he try.  Jesus pointed out the hypocrisy of his critics when he said,

To what can I compare this generation?  They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:  “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.”  For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon.”   The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners.’”  (Matthew 11:16-19)

In other words, when John the Baptist hit the scene with his ascetic ways, the Pharisees and others said, “Don’t listen to him.  He’s a madman.”

But when Jesus came on the scene, eating and drinking, they said, “Don’t listen to him, he’s a glutton and a drunkard (though Jesus was far from either).”

In other words, the only reason why the Pharisees rejected Jesus and John was not because of their lifestyle, but because they could not accept their message.

And many people today are the same.  When we preach the word of Christ, it makes people uncomfortable.  As a result, many people try to discredit the messenger in order to discredit the message.  And in trying to discredit the messenger, they will nitpick every single thing they can, making it impossible to please them.

What’s my point?  Don’t try.  The wise person won’t waste their time trying to please everyone.  The wise person will spend their time trying to please the one person that counts.  God.  And if they do, they will bear fruit.

As Jesus said,

But wisdom is proved right by all her children.  (Luke 7:35)

What did he mean?  The actions you take and the fruit you bear from trying to please him will prove that you are right, no matter what criticisms people may throw your way.

So don’t worry about trying to please everyone.  Jesus couldn’t.  Neither can you.  Rather let us focus on pleasing the one who called us.

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Matthew 11:7-15; Luke 7:24-30 — Rejecting God’s purpose for us

We were made for a purpose.  God’s purpose.  What is that purpose?  First and foremost, a relationship with him.  Second, a relationship with those he has put around us.  To touch them and to be touched by them.  And finally, to do his will with the gifts and talents he has given us.

Unfortunately, so many people wander around aimlessly in their lives.  Why?  Because they have rejected God’s purpose for their lives, and are living for themselves.  The Pharisees and teachers of the law were this way.  Though Jesus in this passage validates all that John the Baptist did, Luke says of these people,

But the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.  (Luke 7:30)

John’s message was twofold.  First to repent, the sign of which was carried out through baptism.  Second, to point the way to the Messiah.  But the Pharisees and experts in the law were so proud of their own “righteousness,” that they couldn’t see their need to repent.  And when God himself appeared in Jesus, they rejected him.  More than that, they crucified him.  Thus Matthew said,

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.  (Matthew 11:12)

Though the kingdom of God made great strides during John’s ministry, indeed though the King himself appeared shortly thereafter, the Pharisees and experts of the law did their best to put an end to it, not even knowing what they were doing.  And in doing so, they totally missed God’s purpose for their lives.

But Luke said of the other people listening,

All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John.  (Luke 7:29)

By humbling themselves, by acknowledging that God’s way was right and repenting of their sin, and ultimately accepting Jesus, they found their way into his kingdom, and a return to the purpose for which God created them.

How about you?  Are you in step with God’s purpose for your life?  It starts with repentance.  It starts with admitting that you don’t know best, and accepting God’s way in your life.  In particular, it means accepting Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life.  In short, it means to make him Lord in your life.  Is he?

It starts with a prayer.

Lord, I’ve been living my own way, and in doing so, I’ve totally missed the purpose for which you created me.  Forgive me.  I believe you died on the cross to take the punishment for my sin, and that you rose again three days later.  Now, be my Lord.  I want to do things your way.  I want to do the things you want me to do.  Draw me closer to you each day, and show me what you want of me.  In Jesus name, amen.

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Matthew 11:1-6; Luke 17:18-24 — Struggling with doubt

It’s nice to know that the “heroes” of the Bible had struggles too.  That they had fears.  That they had doubts.

I’m sure that’s exactly what John the Baptist was going through in prison.  He had been doing a great work for God, calling the people to repentance, and preparing the way for Jesus.  Then suddenly, it was over.

John was arrested by Herod for criticizing him for marrying his brother’s wife, and as a result was thrown into prison.

Perhaps at first, John still felt confident and triumphant.  “The Messiah is here!  He will save us from people such as this so-called king named Herod.”

But time passed.  And while Jesus did many things, political change was not one of them.  Herod was still on the throne.  Rome was still in charge.  And John was still in prison.

Day after day dragged by, and perhaps John’s words became less and less certain.  Finally, they may have been completely stilled by his doubts.

“Is Jesus really the one?  Have I made a mistake?  Maybe I heard God wrong.”

Finally the day came when his disciples came and they told him of all Jesus had been doing.  Perhaps after a moment of silence, he told them, “Please pass him a message.  Ask him, ‘Are you the one?  Are you the one we’ve been hoping for?  Or should we ask for another?’”

I wonder how John’s disciples felt at they came to Jesus.  Had doubt crept into their hearts as well because of their master’s misery?  But they asked.

How did Jesus respond?  He didn’t get angry.  He didn’t criticize John for his lack of faith.  Instead, he looked at John’s disciples.  Then he looked around at all the hurting people around him.  And he started to heal.  The blind, the lame, the deaf, the lepers.

And having done all that, he turned to John’s disciples and said,

Go back and report to John what you hear and see:  The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.  Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.  (Matthew 11:4-6)

Sometimes we, like John, struggle with doubts.  We wonder if Jesus is really there.  We look at the world around us.  We look at our own circumstances.  And we wonder, “Is my faith in Jesus just a farce?  Or is there real substance behind it?  Have I been wasting my life following Jesus?  Or is it really worth it?”

I think the nice thing is that Jesus doesn’t blast us for our doubts.  But he does remind us, “Look at what I’ve done.  Look how I’ve helped you in the past.  Look at the healing I’ve brought to your life.  I’m still here.  I’m still working.”

But beyond looking at these things, let us look to the cross.  Let us look at what Jesus did there.  Because in the cross, we have the ultimate proof of his love for us.  And in the resurrection, we have the ultimate proof that he has the power to help us right here, right now.

May we never stumble because of Jesus.  Rather let us stand on him.  For he is a sure foundation that will never crumble beneath us.

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Luke 7:11-17 — The God who has come, the God who is near

“Where is God?”

In the midst of tragedy, people often ask this question.  I’m sure the widow in this story asked the same.  Her husband had already died, and now her only son was gone.  Not only were these the people she loved, but they were also her only means of support.  In those days, without a husband or son to take care of her, she was doomed to a life of destitution.

And so as she wept, I would not be surprised if she asked, “God where are you?  Do you really care?  Why did you allow this to happen?”

Then God came.

One crowd gathered around a dead man came face to face with another crowd gathered around the Author of life.  And when Jesus saw the mourning mother, his heart went out to her, and said, “Don’t cry.”  He walked up to the dead man and raised him back to life.

When the crowd saw it, they were stunned, and then exuberant, shouting,

“A great prophet has appeared among us…God has come to help his people.”

Where is God?  He has already come.  And he is near.  You may not see him.  You may not sense him.  But he is here.  He sees your weeping.  He sees your sorrow.  And he cares.

He proved that on the cross 2000 years ago when he gave his own life for a world that was broken by sin.  And by rising from the dead, he proved he has the power to save us from whatever problem we may face, just as he helped that poor widow in Nain.  All we have to do is ask.

As David put it,

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.  (Psalm 34:18)

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Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10 — Grace and faith

As I look at these two passages, there are distinct points that I gather from each account.

In the Lukan account, we find that when the Roman centurion asked for Jesus help, he got the support of the Jewish elders who said to Jesus,

This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.   (Luke 7:4-5)

Yet though the elders called this man “deserving,” the centurion himself said,

I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.  That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you.  (Luke 7:6-7)

Sometimes, we think that in order to be saved, or for that matter, to get anything from God, we have to be “deserving.”

But grace says the exact opposite.  It says, “Though you are not deserving, though you are not worthy, nevertheless I will give you what you need, eternal life and more.  All you need to do is ask.”

The question is, do we have the faith to ask.  Sometimes we get jaded in our faith.  I know I do.  We ask for something, and for whatever reason, God says no.  And because of that, we wonder, “Is it worth praying?  Will God answer?  Does he have the power to answer?  Does he care enough to answer?”

But faith says, “I will continue to believe in God’s goodness.  That he knows what is best for me.  Not only that, he has the power to help me.  And because of that, I will continue to ask.”

That’s the kind of faith the centurion had.  He thought, “I’m an outsider.  A Roman.  Jews generally hate Romans.  And I am totally unworthy to get help from this Jesus.  But I believe that he not only has the power to help me, but the desire.  And so I’ll ask.”

And because he did, his servant was healed.

It is rare that you ever find Jesus astonished.  You only find it twice in scripture.  One was in the face of unbelief of the very people he grew up with (Mark 6:6), and the other was in the face of the incredible faith of this outsider, this Roman centurion.

Jesus said of him,

I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.  I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  (Matthew 8:10-12)

And that’s the other point I get from this.  It is people like this centurion, who understand their need for grace, and who put their faith in Jesus that will enter God’s kingdom.  No one can inherit God’s kingdom through their bloodlines or by doing works that make themselves deserving.  Rather, we inherit God’s kingdom when we say, “Though I don’t deserve anything from you, nevertheless I believe in you.  Save me.”

Paul put it this way,

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.  (Ephesians 2:8-9)

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Matthew 7:24-27; Luke 6:46-49 — What we build our lives on

And so we come to the end of the Sermons on the Mount and the Plain.

Both end the same way, with a challenge.  Essentially, Jesus sums it up by saying,

Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?  (Luke 6:46)

In other words, if you call me ‘Lord,’ but don’t do what I say, can you really say I am your Lord?

One person put it this way, “Either Jesus is Lord of all in your life, or he isn’t Lord at all.”

And it’s very true.  Jesus is either Lord of your life, or he isn’t.  There is no in-between.

Jesus then gives his very famous illustration of the house built on rock, and the house built on sand.

He tells us that if we hear his words and do them, we are like the person that digs down deep into the ground, and lays their foundation on rock.  And because we do so, because we have a stable foundation, when the storms of life come, our house will stand.

But if we hear his words and do not obey, we are building are lives on sand.  What is sand like?  Always shifting.  That’s what the thought patterns of this world are like.  Always shifting.  Morals and values are constantly changing.  Things that were considered abominable 50 years ago are being celebrated as good.  Things that were considered good are now considered passé.  But when we build our lives on shifting sand, our foundation is not stable, and when the storms of life come, our house will collapse.

How about you?  Are you building your house on rock?  Are you not only hearing the words of Jesus, but putting them into practice?  Or are you instead being conformed to the pattern of this world?  Are you building your house on rock, or on shifting sand?

In short, is Jesus truly your Lord?

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Luke 6:43-45 — What is in your heart

One thing that I notice about Jesus is that while he will repeat illustrations, he’ll apply it to different situations.  In Matthew, we see him apply the idea of a good tree bearing good fruit and a bad tree bearing bad fruit to false prophets.  And his point is to test the fruit (both the lives and the teaching) of those you listen to.

But in Luke, he uses this illustration to challenge us to test our own hearts.  The context of it in Luke is the judging of others,  condemning those around us, and forgiveness.

And having talked about that, he then says,

No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit.  People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers.  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart.  For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.  (43-45)

What is Jesus saying here?  He’s asking us, what kind of trees are we?  What is in our hearts?  Is it judgmentalism?  Is it condemnation?  Or is it forgiveness and grace?

How can we tell what is in our hearts?  By the fruit of our words.  Because Jesus tells us that from the overflow of our hearts, our mouths speak.

If our hearts are full of condemnation and judgmentalism, that is what will come pouring out of our mouths.  But if our hearts are full of God’s forgiveness and grace, that’s what will come pouring out of our mouths.

A key point to note here is that Jesus associates a judgmental and condemning heart to a bad tree.  But he associates a gracious and forgiving heart to a good tree.

So the question we need to ask ourselves is, “What is coming out of our mouths?”

Are we constantly criticizing and judging other people?  Or are our words full of grace?  Because the fruit of our words show just what kind of trees we are.

What kind of tree are you?

 

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Matthew 7:15-23 — Testing those you listen to

After Jesus tells us to go through the narrow gate that leads to salvation, he gives us a warning.

Watch out for false prophets.  They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.  (15)

People often associate prophets as those who issue out predictions of the future.  But true prophets of God did much more than that.  They confronted people with the words of God.  You see this throughout the Old Testament.  People like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.

You also see in the Old Testament many of the types of people Jesus warns against here.  People who looked good.  Who sounded good.  Who seemed spiritual.  But who spoke words straight from hell, leading people down the broad road that leads to destruction.

Unfortunately, there are people like this in the church today.  People who claim to speak the words of God but corrupt the very words he says.

The question then becomes, how do we tell the true prophet from the false prophet when they look so alike.

Jesus tells us the answer.

By their fruit you will recognize them.  Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.  (17-20)

In short, we need to test the fruit that they produce.  There are two types of fruit that prophets and teachers produce.

The fruit of their lives is one.  Are they living the things they teach?  Or are they mere hypocrites.  This is not to say that they must be perfect in order to teach.  But they should be continually growing and maturing in their faith.  And hopefully, as they speak, they are honest about what their areas of struggle are.

But there’s another kind of fruit.  The fruit of what they teach.  What is coming out of their mouths?  Is it consistent with the Word of God?  Or is it not?

As teachers, they are responsible to to teach the Word accurately.  To study to show themselves approved, workmen who don’t need to be ashamed, accurately interpreting the Word of truth.  (II Timothy 2:15).

But as hearers of the Word, we are to test what they teach.  That is what the Bereans did in the book of Acts.  They did not simply listen to the words of Paul.  They tested it by what scripture said when they went home.  And when they found that what Paul said matched up with scripture, they believed.  (Acts 17:11-12)

We ought to do the same.  Test what the teachers and pastors say.  And if their teaching matches what scripture teaches, accept it, and obey.  If not, reject it.

Many teachers today claim Jesus as their Lord.  And most do.  But some will come before Christ someday saying,

Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’  (22)

But Jesus will reply,

I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!  (23)

And unfortunately, those who blindly followed these teachers will be swept right along into hell with them.  Why?  Because they never tested what they were taught.

How about you?  Do you test what you hear?  Do you test what you read?  Or do you just blindly follow?

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Matthew 7:13-14 — When being broadminded is not such a good thing

A common criticism the world has of the Christian is, “Why do you have to be so narrow minded?  Why can you be more broadminded?  Why does Jesus have to be the only way to heaven?”

But there are some things we simply can’t be broadminded about.  We certainly can’t be broadminded when it comes to mathematics.  If a student takes a test, and says that 2+2=10, and the teacher marks it wrong, can the student argue with the teacher saying, “Come on, let’s be broadminded about this.  10, 4, it’s not so different.”

We also can’t be broadminded about medical procedures.  Imagine you have a bad kidney and it has to be removed.  The doctor knocks you out and when you wake up, not only is your kidney still there,  one of your teeth is missing.  You ask the doctor, “What happened to my tooth?  You were supposed to remove my kidney.”

The doctor says, “Oh, tooth, kidney, it’s all the same.  You’ve got to be broadminded about these things.”

Well if we can’t be broadminded about these things, how much less can we be broadminded when it comes to eternal life.  Especially when Jesus says,

Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (13-14)

Jesus makes it clear that you cannot come to God on your own terms.  You must come to him on his.  A person once put it this way,  “You can either go to heaven God’s way or to to hell your own.”

What is God’s way?  Jesus tells us,

I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.  (John 14:6)

Let’s put it another way.  If there were another way to heaven besides Jesus, would God have forced him to go to the cross?  How can we spit on the cross of Christ by seeking another way to God?  How can we spit on the gift of God this way?

Being broadminded can be a good thing.  But not when it comes to eternal life.

How about you?  Are you seeking eternal life on God’s terms?  Or your own?

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Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31 — Doing good, not just avoiding evil

I find the placement of the “Golden Rule” a little jarring in Matthew.  It doesn’t seem to quite fit, particularly with the “Therefore” at the beginning of it.  I suppose it’s pointing back to the totality of Jesus’ message up to that point.

In Luke, the placement of this rule is much more seamless.  It comes right after Jesus talks about loving your enemies, doing good to those who hate you, blessing those who curse you, praying for those who mistreat you, not responding to insult with insult, and being generous.

Jesus sums all of this up by saying,

Do to others as you would have them do to you.  (Luke 6:31)

In other cultures, we see a similar rule.  “Don’t do to others what you would not like them to do to you.”  What is the main difference between this rule and the one Jesus gave?

Jesus’ rule is much harder to do.  It actually requires action.  It’s relatively easy not to do evil to another.  Just avoid them.  If you never deal with them, there’s no way you can do evil to them.

But you can’t do good to another while avoiding all contact with them.  You actually have to do something.  To reach out.  Even though they hate you.  Even though they insult you.  Even though they try to take advantage of you.

That’s hard.  But that’s the kind of people God calls us to be.

As God’s child, it is not enough to just not do evil.  God calls us to do good.  To be a light, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden.  To be salt that flavors the world around us.  And what better way is there to do that than to do good to those who don’t deserve it.

It’s the kind of love that this world finds hard to understand and almost impossible to do (if not impossible).

But a Christian who is plugged into Jesus can.  Why?  Because the love of Jesus is being poured into their lives to the point that it simply must overflow to those around them.

How about you?  Are you simply avoiding doing evil?  Or are you going out with the love Jesus has poured into your life and touching the people around you?

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Matthew 7:7-11; Luke 11:1-13 — The Father who gives good gifts…generously

In America, there are some Bible teachers that say that if you want something from God, just claim it in Jesus name, and he has to give it to you.

For a lot of these people, God is like their personal genie.  But God is no genie.  He doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to do.  And whether people believe it or not, he doesn’t always want to give you what you want.

One key phrase we see in Matthew is that God gives “good gifts to those who ask him.”  (Matthew 7:11)

Sometimes, though, we ask for things, and God knows they are not good for us.  We ask for something thinking it’s bread, but it’s really a stone.  Will God give us that stone?  Other times, we’ll ask for a fish when it’s really a serpent.  Will he give us that serpent?  Of course not.  He is a good Father.  He would never do that to us.

With that in mind, we can be bold in asking things of God, knowing that if something is good for us, he will give it to us in his timing.  But if something is bad for us, he will tell us no.

So Jesus tells us,

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.  (9-10)

Too often, we don’t receive because we don’t ask.  We worry, “Am I being selfish?  Shouldn’t I be praying about other things?  Surely there are more important things to pray for than what I want.”

I think there are two points to be made here.  Number one, God is more generous than we realize.  He loves us and wants to give his children good gifts.  Jesus talks in Luke of a person who only drags himself out of bed because his neighbor keeps pounding on the door asking for some bread.  Far from saying that God has to be pestered consistently before he will answer, Jesus is contrasting God with that man saying, “If that man, though he is tired, will drag himself out of bed because his neighbor keeps pounding on the door, how much more will God gladly answer the prayers of those who come to his door?”

The second point is this:  God wants us to know him better.  To learn to trust him.  To know his goodness towards us.  And asking is part of that process.  As we ask, we start to find out more of what his will is for our lives.  We start to understand from his answers just what is good and what is not so good for us.  And through the yeses and nos and the results that come from his answers, we learn to trust God’s judgment and wisdom.

But if we never ask, we’ll never learn these things.

So ask.  Seek.  Knock.  More doors will be opened than you expect.  And more importantly, you’ll find yourself in a closer relationship with God as you understand him and his will more.

 

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Matthew 7:6 — Wasting your breath

I mentioned in the last blog that while Jesus warns us against hypocritical judging, he does call us to rebuke people who are in sin.  But when we do so, we should keep something else in mind:  who we’re rebuking.

Jesus says here,

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs.  If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.  (6)

What is Jesus saying here?  He’s saying that there are some people you are just wasting your breath with if you try to rebuke them.  They simply don’t want to hear what God has to say, and if you try to tell them, they’ll rip you apart.  So Jesus says, “Don’t bother.”

Solomon put it this way,

Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you.  (Proverbs 9:8)

This is also true in sharing the gospel.  There are some people that you share the gospel with, and instead of being receptive or interested, they simply mock you.  In that case, leave that person in the hands of God.  You did your job.  The responsibility now lies with that person to do something with the Word you’ve given them.  You are not required to keep tossing them the pearls of the gospel.

It can be hard to watch a person you love mock the gospel.  Or harden their hearts to the word of God.  But once you’ve done your responsibility and shared his Word with them, if they reject it and make it clear that they don’t want to hear it, there’s nothing left to do but pray for them.  Because at that point, only God can change their hearts, not you.

Who are you casting your pearls to?

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Matthew 7:3-5; Luke 6:39-42 — Hypocritical judging

One of my favorite comedy groups when I was growing up was Isaac Air Freight.  (Does anyone still remember them?)  They did a lot of Christian comedy sketches, and one that’s always stuck with me was one called “Final Minutes” which was loosely based on “60 Minutes.”

In it, they interviewed a couple called “The Loggers.”  They were Christians, who had a very “unique” characteristic.  They literally had logs sticking out of their eyes.  Because of that, they were constantly knocking things down with them.  And all the while, they’d criticize other people.

When the interviewer asked them about the logs in their eyes, they both asked innocently, “What logs?”

“Well,” the interviewer said, “There are these huge logs in your eyes.  You’re constantly knocking things down with them.”

“Hmmm…they never seemed to bother us before.”

And that’s exactly how a lot of Christians are today.  They are constantly criticizing others, while failing to see their own faults.

Jesus tells us, “You think you’re the one to help the blind by judging and criticizing them.  But you can’t even see the problems in your own life.  Their problems are but a speck compared to the logs in your own life.  You’re blind, and you don’t even know it.  And if you who are blind try to lead others who are blind, you’ll both fall into the pit.

“You think you’re a teacher for the ignorant.  But your students will become like you, taking in all the faults that you don’t even know you have.”  (Luke 6:39-40)

He caps it by saying,

You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.  (Luke 6:42)

What is Jesus’ point?  I think the main point is humility.

One of the biggest planks in people’s eyes is pride.

There are times when we need to confront our brothers and sisters about their sin.  Jesus commands us to do that (Matthew 18:15).  The apostles reiterate it in the epistles.  (Galatians 6:1)

But with what attitude do we do it?  With pride?  With an attitude of, “I am better than you.”

Or with a humble and gentle spirit that realizes that you need God’s grace and mercy as much as they do.

So before you rebuke someone, ask God, “What sins are in my life?  What logs are in my eyes?  I can’t help others if I myself am blind.  Am I suffering from pride?  Am I suffering from unforgiveness?  Am I suffering from the very vices the person I’m criticizing is suffering from?”

And as God reveals these things to you, repent.

If you cannot come to a person in full humility at your own weaknesses and need for God’s mercy, you should probably put off confronting them until you can.

Because even if they learn from you to avoid the sin you criticize them for, they’ll also learn pride, hypocrisy, and every other sin you’re carrying with you.  As Jesus said,

A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.  (Luke 6:40)

What logs are in your eyes?

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Matthew 7:1-2; Luke 6:36-38 — When we judge others

It is so easy to judge others for their shortcomings.  To rail on them for their character or their deeds.  It’s especially easy to do so when they’ve hurt us.

I think it’s very interesting that in the Lucan account, Jesus puts this teaching right after talking about loving your enemies and showing mercy to those who curse you or mistreat you.  He says concerning them,

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  (Luke 6:36)

Right after that, he talks about judging others, saying,

Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  (Luke 6:37)

In other words, when people hurt you, don’t condemn them.  It’s quite frankly, not your place.  That’s God’s place.  Instead, God says to forgive them.

Forgiveness, in a lot of ways, is more for you than it is for another person.  Because as I think I’ve mentioned before, when you hold on to unforgiveness in your life, it chains you to your past.  It keeps you from moving into the future God desires for you.  So God says to let go of your hurt, and forgive.  That the other person would actually change because of your forgiveness would be a bonus, but is not guaranteed.  (The Pharisees and Saduccees certainly didn’t change despite Jesus’ prayer for their forgiveness.)

And of course, this comes back to the Lord’s prayer where we say, “Forgive us as we forgive those who sin against us.”  Jesus then tells us exactly what will happen if we don’t.  If instead we pour out judgment and condemnation on others for what they’ve done to us.

He said,

Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  (Luke 6:38)

A lot of people take this verse and use it in reference to giving offerings.  But this is not what Jesus is talking about at all.  The whole context of this passage is judging others and showing mercy.

The picture here is of a farmer pouring out grain into a bag to sell it.  It’s a little hard to picture for us nowadays, but think about trash bags.  How do we fill them?  Well, first we put some trash in.  When it starts getting full, what do we do?  We shake it a bit to let the trash settle to the bottom, and then put in more trash.  When shaking no longer works, we push down the trash so that we can get more of it in.  Of course the point comes where we can’t put in any more trash and it starts to overflow.

So what Jesus is saying is that if you pour out judgment and condemnation on others, it will be poured out on you.  It will be pressed down and shaken so that more judgment and condemnation can be poured out in your life to the point of overflow.

If, on the other hand, you pour out mercy and forgiveness on others, mercy and forgiveness will be pressed down, shaken, and overflow in your life.

What do you want poured into your life?

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Matthew 6:25-33; Luke 12:22-34 — Worry

This is one of those passages that I know in my head, but I don’t know if it has truly sunk into my heart.  In fact, I’m pretty sure it hasn’t.

I know because I still worry about stuff, most recently about my job and my finances.

So when I read this, my mind says, “That makes sense.  God takes care of the birds.  He takes care of the flowers of the field.  Surely he will take care of me.”

And yet, I still find myself worrying about things.  How can I save more money?  Will I be able to get a better job?”

While some things I worry about are to a degree controllable, other things are, at least to some degree, not.

So again, my mind says, “You’ve done what you can.  Now leave it in God’s hands.  Be at peace.”

But my heart wars against it and continues to worry.

I can just hear Jesus speaking to me, “O you of little faith!  The world runs after these things, but don’t you know that your Father cares about you?  Don’t you know he’ll take care of your needs?  So take your eyes off these things and put it on him.  If you do, if you seek him and his kingdom above all things, he will take care of you.”

To be honest, because I struggle with this so much, all I can think of to do is to pray.  Please feel free to join me.

Father, you said that you love me.  That you care for me.  I do believe it.  But Lord increase my faith.  I have so little of it, and that’s why I worry so much.  But Lord, you have been faithful to me in the past.  I have no real reason to doubt you.  Why do I doubt you now?  Lord, help me to get my eyes off of my worries, and on to you, that “all things that surround [may] become shadows in the light of you.”

You are the only true reality.  Help me to focus on you.  And to trust.  In Jesus name, amen.

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Matthew 6:19-24; Luke 11:34-35 — Setting our sights

I talked briefly yesterday about how if we set our sights on the sins we want to avoid, saying constantly to ourselves “I have to stay away from this,” we are actually more likely to fall to temptation.  That a better way to fight temptation is to set our sights on God and follow him.

But this is true not only in temptation.  It’s true in every aspect of our lives.  Jesus here talks about where we set our sights in everyday life, saying,

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Matthew 6:19-21)

He then says,

No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money.  (24)

So the question is, “Where are we setting our sights?”

For many people, they set their sights on what is temporary; on money, on things.

But Jesus warns us that these things will not last.  That we are to set our hearts on that which is eternal.  What is eternal?

Only two things:  Our relationship with God, and our relationships with those who put their faith in Jesus.

There is nothing else on this earth that we can take with us into heaven.  And so this is what we need to be setting our sights on here on earth.  Developing our relationship with God.  Sharing the gospel with those who don’t know Christ.  And developing our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  By doing this, we earn for ourselves treasures in heaven.  For what greater treasure is there than a relationship with the God who loves us and with those we love?

But so many people, even Christians, set their hearts on money.  On the things of this world.  Jesus warns that we can’t do this.  God  doesn’t accept half-hearted service.  Either we serve money or we serve him.

Jesus asks in this passage what kind of eyes we have.  Do we have eyes that see things as they really are?  Do we have eyes that see what’s truly important?  He says that if we do, our life will be filled with light.  We’ll live a life worth living, the kind of life God intended for us.  A life centered around relationships.

But if we don’t, our life will be filled with darkness.  We’ll be stumbling around unfulfilled, and never knowing why.  We’ll constantly be grasping for money and other things that ultimately leave us empty if we make them our life’s pursuit.  And he laments that if what we think is “light” is truly darkness, how great that darkness truly is.  So he warns in Luke 11:35,

See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness.

How about you?  What are your eyes set on?

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Matthew 6:13; Luke 11:4 — A daily spiritual battle

Every day, we are fighting a spiritual battle.  That’s why Jesus instructed us to pray,

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.  (Matthew 6:13)

We’re living in an evil world, in which the prince of darkness dwells.  And he is hostile to us.  He will do anything to bring us down from within or without.

From within, he tries to get us to fall to our own sinful nature, to give into the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.

And so we are to pray that God would lead us.  That we would keep our eyes on him, following him, rather than our own sinful nature.  Everyone knows their weak points.  And to some degree, it’s good to be aware of them.  To avoid doing things that would bring you to the point of temptation. But if we spend all our time focusing on what we shouldn’t be doing, chances are that the temptation will only grow.

If on the other hand, we keep our eyes on God, we’re much more likely to avoid temptation.  It’s not enough to just avoid sin.  We need to follow God.

But beyond temptations, Satan wants to hurt us.  He will attack us, and many times he’ll use the broken people of this world to hurt us.  Other times, he’ll whisper his lies into our mind, saying things like, “You’re no good.  God can’t love you.  You messed up too badly this time.  He can’t forgive you.”

So Jesus tells us to pray, “Deliver us from the evil one.”

We are in a war against an enemy that hates us.  So let us remember the words of Peter, who said,

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  (I Peter 5:8)

And let us pray that God in his grace would limit his influence on our lives.

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Matthew 6:12, 14-15; Luke 11:4 — Not an option

This is one of the hardest passages in scripture for many people to deal with.  Jesus teaches us to pray,

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.  (Matthew 6:12-14)

Very strong words, and ones that Jesus will expand upon in other passages.

But let’s start with the prayer.  “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

Many people pray this so often, that they don’t think about what they’re saying.  But imagine praying this.  “I’m really angry at my sister.  She said something really hurtful, and I can never forgive her.  So Lord, please, please, in the same way that I refuse to forgive my sister, don’t forgive any of my sins either.”

That’s essentially what you’re praying when you pray the Lord’s prayer.  You’re saying, “God, inasmuch as I forgive others, forgive me.  But if I don’t forgive others, please don’t forgive me.  Inasmuch as I pour out unforgiveness and ‘ungrace’ in the life of those around me, pour out your unforgiveness and ‘ungrace’ in my life.”

In God’s eyes, forgiveness is not an option.  You cannot hold on to unforgiveness in your life and expect God’s grace and mercy in yours.  Why?  Because God has forgiven you though you didn’t deserve it, and he paid a massive price in order to do it.  It cost him the life of his Son.  You could do nothing to earn his forgiveness.  You could do nothing to ‘pay back God’ for all the wrongs that you have done.  And yet he extended his mercy to you.

Since God did that for us, how can we possibly withhold forgiveness and mercy from others?

To withhold forgiveness from others means that you truly don’t understand God’s forgiveness in your life.  It’s to downplay your own sin and to say, “My sin wasn’t so bad; that’s why God could forgive me.”

Your sin was bad enough to separate you from God for all eternity in hell.  Your sin was so bad, that it cost Jesus his life on the cross.  How then can you say, “My sin wasn’t so bad?”

If you cannot forgive others their sins, then quite simply, you are taking your own sin too lightly.  No Christian who has a strong sense of just how bad his sin is, and how much God has forgiven them can possibly withhold forgiveness from another.

Two things to meditate on.  First, how seriously do you take sin in your life?  Do you realize that it was and is serious enough to send you to hell?  Second, if God forgave you for such serious offenses, how can you not forgive those who have committed serious offenses against you?

Is it easy?  No.  Depending on the level of hurt you experienced, it’s difficult, if not impossible…in your own strength.  But the same mercy and grace that God poured in your life so that you could be forgiven is the same mercy and grace that he will pour in your life so that you can forgive others…if you’re willing to be changed.  Are you?  It starts with a prayer.

Lord, I’ve been hurt, and right now, I don’t even have the desire to forgive.  But you forgave me though I didn’t deserve it, and you paid a great price so that I could.  Help me to understand that more.  Let it sink into my heart and my mind.  And give me the desire to forgive.  Change me.  In Jesus name, amen.

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Matthew 6:11; Luke 11:3 — Praying for our needs

One of the most amazing things to me is that the God of this whole universe cares about me, even the simple and perhaps mundane things.  Yet he does.  And so Jesus tells us to pray,

Give us today our daily bread.

Jesus will talk about this in more detail later when he talks about anxiety, but God does care that we have what we need to live.  Food.  Clothes.  A place to stay.  Of course, all of these things require money.  And to have money, we need a job.

So often we worry about these things.  It is, I must admit, something that I’m thinking about constantly as I interview for a new job next week.

But God doesn’t call us to worry about these things.  To let these things dominate our mind.  Rather, he calls us to pray about them and leave them in his hands, knowing that our heavenly Father loves us and will meet our needs.

How often do we worry about things instead of praying?  (I’m speaking to myself too, by the way).  I suppose the big question we need to ask is, “Do I really think my Father really cares about me?  That he really will give me all I need?”  Because if we would just realize this, all our worries would shrink and disappear.

How about you?  Are you worrying about the circumstances of your life, or are you praying?

Lord, you know my needs.  You know this job I’m trying to get.  You know my anxieties about my future.  But Lord, you care about me.  I know that in my head.  Lord, let it truly sink down into my heart, that I may not fruitlessly worry about things, but instead rest in your peace.  In Jesus name, amen.

 

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Matthew 6:10; 11:2 — His Kingdom, His Will

I was in a quandary this morning.  I was asked in for an interview for a job that would be higher paying and have better benefits than the one I have now.  Whether I’ll get it or not, I don’t know.

My current company, however, seemed to be doing whatever they could to prevent me from going to the interview.  They denied me a day off, for reasons that were not clear, and so I was trying to find a way to go to the interview without breaking conscience.

In the end, by God’s grace, everything worked out.  With the vice-principal’s and head English teacher’s help (I work at a junior high school), I was able to convince my employer to give me a half-day off for which I’m truly grateful.

As for whether I’ll get the job or not, we’ll see.

What does this have to do with this blog?  Well, we’re praying, “Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

I’ll be honest.  I was very stressed this morning.  I felt like I was being treated “unfairly” as I mentioned several blogs ago.  And as I said then, I couldn’t control my circumstances.  All I could control was my attitude, and it was difficult.

But in the end, I had to say, “Lord, your will be done.”  I didn’t know what my current employer would say when I went to work this morning, and even now,  I don’t know if I can even get this job I’m interviewing for.

But I’m praying ,”Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Your will in heaven is perfectly done.  I pray that it would be perfectly done on earth, and especially right now, in this situation.  If you want me to get this job, work everything out.  If not, help me to accept your will.”

But another part of this prayer is “Your kingdom come.”  As important as getting this job is to me, my first priority needs to be his kingdom.  Honestly, I feel I can do more for God’s kingdom with this job.  I’d have more time to do the things I think God wants me to do, to go along with the better pay and benefits.

I read further than this passage today, I will admit, because I was reading where Jesus was saying not to be anxious about this life.  And the thing that caught my eye was Matthew 6:33, where he says to seek God’s kingdom first.  And if we do that, everything will fall in place.

Like I said, I don’t know how things will fall out.  But as God gives me grace, my prayer is, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.  In my life.  And in the world around me.”

Lord, you know my stress.  You know my worries.  But you are Lord of all.  Lord of my employer.  More importantly, Lord of me.  Let your will be done.  In my job situation.   With my future.  And let me always keep in focus your kingdom above all things.  In Jesus name, amen.

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Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2 — The one who is worthy of our honor

Well, I have a praise report before I start this blog.  After 2 months of fighting my computer, I finally figured out the problem.  A corrupted hard drive.  So with my new hard drive in, hopefully all my problems are behind me.

We now hit the second part of the Lord’s prayer, or as some have correctly pointed out, what’s really the “Disciples’ prayer.”

Jesus said to pray, “Hallowed be your name.”

Although I’ve been a Christian a long time, and I kind of like the word “Hallowed” in the Lord’s prayer, it really isn’t a word we use nowadays.  I doubt very many people ever use it outside the Lord’s prayer.

What does it mean?  Basically it means to recognize and revere something or someone as holy.  Which brings up the next question.  What does “holy” mean?  Essentially, it comes down to his perfection and purity in nature and character.  There is no flaw in either.

This is in contrast to us who are far from perfect and far from pure in our nature and character.

So when we look at God in his perfection and purity, we are to stand in awe of that and honor him for who he is.

But to merely stand in awe is not enough.  As we admire his perfection and purity, it should also stir something in our hearts that desires to be like him.

Just as a child longs to be like their father or mother, so we should have a heart that desires to be like our Heavenly Father.  That strives to be like him.  That desires to please him.  And that groans at our imperfections and our impurities.

To pray “hallowed be your name,” leaves no room for us to live a life of sin.  To say, “Well, God will forgive me for my sin, so I’ll just do my own thing.”

To pray “hallowed be your name,” if you are a true child of God, is to say, “Lord I so stand in awe of you, and I love you so much, that I want to be like you.  Help me.”

And he will.  God takes great delight when his children imitate him. And though we may occasionally fall into the muck and mire of our sin (as we inevitably will), he will lift us out of our brokenness, wash us clean with the blood of his Son, take our hand, and lead us forward, teaching us and giving us the power to become more like Him.

How about you?  Do you stand in awe of God, and desire to become more like him?

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Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:1-2 — Our Father

I suppose I could breeze through the Lord’s prayer, but I just felt it might be good to take it a line at a time.

In these passages, Jesus teaches us how to address God.  In Matthew, he says, “Our Father in heaven.”  In Luke, he simplifies it to “Father.”

Why did Jesus tell us to address God as Father?

I think the reason is because he wanted us to know it was okay to draw close to God.

It is by no means wrong to call God things like, “Sovereign Lord.”  It is in fact appropriate, for that is what he is.  Peter himself addressed God that way in the book of Acts (4:24).

But to call God that does seem to put some distance between you and him.  Certainly a king and his servant has a relationship, but it almost never is a relationship where the servant can ask for the king’s attention at any time.

But a king’s child can.  He has access that a mere servant doesn’t have.  More than that, he has the confidence that his daddy loves him and delights in him.

Our Father is a great king.  He rules in heaven and his dominion extends throughout the universe and beyond.  Yet he always has time for you because he is not simply your king, he is your Father.

The problem that many people have, however, is they can’t truly understand what it means to say God is our Father.  They can’t understand because their own earthly fathers were imperfect.  They never listened. They never loved.  They never cared.  They never provided.  They were never there.  Or in some cases, were even abusive.

And we take all these negative images of our fathers here on earth, and overlay them on God.

But God isn’t our earthly father.  He is our Father in heaven.  And all the things your earthly father isn’t or wasn’t, God is.

He cares.  He listens.  He loves.  He provides.  And he is always there.

What image do you have of God, when you hear “God is our Father?”

Hopefully you have a positive one that allows you to draw near.  But if you have a negative one, understand that God is different from the father you know.  Pray that God would heal you from the hurts your father caused you.  Pray that you can forgive your father.  And pray that God could reshape your view of what a father is so that you can truly understand who God is.

Note:  If you are having trouble with forgiving your father or people in general, there’s a great testimony by one of my favorite musicians, David Meece.  If you go to davidmeece.com, go to the “Meet David” menu, and then to “David’s Testimony” and you can download the MP3.  This testimony has been on Focus on the Family numerous times, and is the full version. 

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Matthew 6:7-8 — Empty words

Prayer is simple.  And yet somehow, it is difficult.

At its base, prayer is simply talking to God, just as you would talk to any other person.

If that’s all prayer is, why is it so difficult sometimes then?  I suppose it’s because we don’t get audible answers back.  It would be so much easier if we could actually converse with God like Moses did.

But because we don’t, we often wonder, “Is God hearing me?  Am I even doing this ‘prayer thing’ right?”

So instead of just talking, we often turn to formulas.  We turn the Lord’s prayer found here in Matthew and in Luke 11 into our formula for prayer.

But prayer is not a mere formula nor was it ever meant to be.  When we look at the Lord’s prayer, it gives us an idea of what prayer should look like, and what kinds of things we should be praying about.  But it’s not meant to be prayed as a magic formula to get God to hear you.

Too often, though, people take the Lord’s prayer and turn it into a formula.  They think that just because they say the words, God will hear them.  After all, that’s what Jesus told us to pray, right?

But Jesus tells us here in verses 7-8,

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

In other words, when you talk to God, talk normally.  You don’t need special words.  You don’t need to pray using long, flowery speech.  None of these things impress God.  All he wants to hear from you is your heart.

Sometimes people ask, “If God already knows what I need, if he already knows my thoughts, why pray?”

The best reason I can give is he wants to engage with you.  Sure, he doesn’t have to hear our voice to know what we’re thinking.  Sure, he could just give us our needs without our asking.  But by praying, we engage with the living God.  And that’s what he wants more than anything else.

But it’s impossible to engage with him, if we’re just mindlessly repeating words we’ve memorized.  It’s impossible to engage with him if we’re busy trying to figure out the right formula to get him to answer our prayers.

He hears.  More than that he will speak if we will just listen.  So let’s stop the formulas and mindless prayers and simply engage with the living God by telling him our hearts and holding nothing back from him.

How about you?  Are you truly engaging God in your prayers?  Or are you just saying words?

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