Friday, January 18, 2019

Devotional: Jesus Calls Sinners Into Service #2, Matthew 9:27-38

The rest of chapter 9 continues the narrative about Jesus' miracles with an emphasis on his authority over sickness and death, and his ability to bring the outcast, the unclean and the gentile into the presence of God through forgiveness and cleansing. Jesus' ability to heal paralysis, bleeding, blindness, dumbness, demonic oppression and even death is evidence for his ability to overcome evil, sin and separation from God. Jesus was reaching out and touching these disabled outcasts, healing their disabilities and strengthening their weaknesses to prepare them for service in his kingdom. This is how he was answering his own prayer for kingdom workers. This was something new which the religious establishment was not willing to accept. The one that the scriptures spoke about, who would take on the pain of the curse and defeat it, was there and it was time to embrace Him and leave behind unbiblical tradition and that which was no longer relevant. The king was there and true disciples would listen to him, obey him and spread his message and compassion wherever they went.
The healing of the two blind men and the demonically oppressed mute man (9:27-34) is the other half of the evidence, (corresponding to the healings of the two women in 9:18-26) in chapter 9,  for Matthew’s point that Jesus is able to forgive, heal and restore sinners and make them into kingdom workers and effective servants. The only requirement to receive this blessing from Jesus is to come to him in faith, Sometimes, as with the paralytic and the dumb man, they are in such a bad state that they must be brought to Jesus. The two blind men come to Jesus expressing their faith in him as messiah. It is interesting that Matthew has blind men confessing Jesus as messiah even before Peter. The dumb man is set free from demonic oppression instantly. This was something unprecedented. Only Jesus was able to make the blind see and free people from demonic oppression. Jesus will build his kingdom from sinners who are saved, healed and enabled to serve.
There are two basic reactions to this miracle. The crowds marveled but the Pharisees ridiculed Jesus. No one could deny the miracles that were being done right before their eyes. The scholarly pride of the Pharisees refused to believe that God would work outside their own narrow tradition and  in ways they did not sanction. That attitude received Jesus’ strongest warning and rebuke. The crowd’s reaction was also inadequate. They recognized that God was working but they had not yet made the faith response like the blind men who “went away and spread Jesus’ fame through all that district.” Jesus wants followers who will do what he did. “Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.” (9:35) He did this because he had compassion for everyone he encountered, This is our calling: to take the compassion and healing of Jesus that we have received and pass it on to others. If you have been touched by Jesus, you now have the capacity to touch and minister his healing to others.
Jesus wants workers enabled by him to take his message and blessing to the world. Our inadequacy is never an excuse. If Jesus can make blind people see, dumb people talk and free the demonized, he certainly can enable you to serve and represent him. We must do more than sit in our churches and marvel at who Jesus is and what he has done. We must take Jesus compassion, healing and blessing to the world.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Daily After-Cancer Life

I haven’t posted anything in a while about what is going on in our “cancer adventure.” Basically, I am continuing with rehab and recovery and I feel like I am getting slowly better. We have passed the one-year anniversary of the stem-cell transplant. I will be getting, what I hope will be, my last PET scan on January 23rd with the doctor visit to review it on January 30th. So far everything looks good and we expect that to continue with this scan. We appreciate your prayers for that. In the meantime, we continue to look forward to what God has in store for us in the future. We are also waiting to hear if I will be placed on permanent disability status with SSDI. I am not sure if the government shutdown is impacting that. So we are still in the exciting position of living day-to-day. We are making some tentative plans now but are hoping we can make some more definite (I’ve learned that nothing is ever as definite as we think!) plans in a month or so.
I did enjoy teaching a class – Old Testament Survey – at PIU this past fall. It was good to get back into the classroom even if it was a virtual one. I am planning to teach Basic Exegesis in the summer session so I am getting ready for that one.
Over the past year, I have tried to keep myself on a pretty regular schedule. My morning always starts with the exercises and massage routine given to me by my physical therapist. That takes about a 1/2 hour. After that I make my breakfast smoothie and coffee and do my devotional reading while I drink them. For the past few months I have been reading the Ancient Christian Devotional which goes through the traditional church liturgy with quotes from the church fathers explaining the passages. I post my favorite quotes on my Facebook page. After that is my study time. I try to read through the Bible in the original languages every year. I am reading through the LXX in my OT reading this year. My main writing project right now is a homiletic devotional on the New Testament. My plan is to write a few paragraphs on every pericope (teaching section) of the NT in the next two years. I post them section by section here and plan to try to publish it as a book when I’m done. I value comments (especially on my Facebook page). I usually work on this until about two in the afternoon. After that, I am pretty wiped out, but It’s getting better. We have been going to some Bible studies, mission meetings and meeting with friends and family. We have been blessed to be able to meet with a couple cancer patients to encourage them. I always come out of those encounters feeling like I am the one who has been encouraged.
One of the hardest things in all this is not having an official “job” or “ministry.” It sometimes feels like the wheel of time is just turning over and over, faster and faster and I am not going anywhere. I know that is not true but my mornings and evenings all tend to look alike. I enjoy study but I am asking God when he is going to give me an outlet. Right now it seems that he is telling me to be patient. I keep reminding myself to be “faithful where I am” but I miss my church on Guam and the people and ministry at PIU. We are able to do more – I have preached four times in the last couple months – and I am looking forward to doing more of that starting in February.
I like to have resolution at the end of my blog posts. Not gonna happen here. God is moving and leading in our lives but we still have to be patient. Thank you for your prayers as we move forward.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Devotional: Jesus Calls Sinners Into Service #1, Matthew 9:9-26

The next section (Matthew 9:9-10:42) makes the point that Jesus calls sinners to follow him, provides healing and forgiveness, and then empowers them to serve him in his kingdom. The passage is framed by the calling of Matthew into Jesus’ service (9:9-13) and the sending out of the twelve to minister as his kingdom representatives (10:1-42). It revolves around the healings of two women and a blind man (9:18-34); people that no one would expect to have prominent places in Jesus’ kingdom. This means that God is now doing things in a different way through Jesus, and anyone who wants to follow God must humbly acknowledge oneself as a sinner, come to Jesus in faith and follow him. Jesus’ kingdom welcomes and embraces sinners but then changes them into God’s images, representatives, and servants, Only those who are willing to humble themselves and acknowledge this are invited into the “kingdom banquet.”
Matthew uses himself as an example (9:9-13) that Jesus repairs people who are broken by sin. Jesus is not ashamed to reach out to a man who would be hated as a Roman collaborator and may have even scammed the other disciples. He was a man who could not be trusted and would not have been welcomed into the homes of the religious leaders or the fishermen disciples. Yet, Jesus not only welcomes him, he eats with him and his other Roman collaborator friends and then makes Matthew one of his representatives. Jesus connected with sinners to make them into his co-workers. This should also be the business of the church. Our practice should also be to connect with and welcome sinners. When we do not, perhaps we are with the Pharisees: outside the banquet Jesus is hosting. We are in God’s service because “Jesus the doctor” healed us. We are now obligated to take that healing to others.
This kind of ministry would require a change in the way God worked through his people. The situation had changed because God’s people were no longer preparing for the king. Now the king was there and so new methods, forms and structures to serve him were required. Jesus answers the questions of John’s disciples, about why he did not fast (9:14-17), with an illustration that urges us to discern the times and act appropriately. It was not appropriate to fast when Jesus was there healing and restoring sinners. That was a time to celebrate and feast. The time would come when Jesus was taken away and then there would be hard times and fasting. The purpose and goals of the old traditions would be “fulfilled,” but would be updated and applied to the new situation. Jesus’ disciples, and we the church, are called to engage sinners and allow God to work through us to bring healing to all those around us. We need to be alert to what God is doing around us, and not so sure of our own man-made theological systems (like the Pharisees), so that we are able to live out God’s inspired word in a way most appropriate to the times we live in. 
The healings at the center of this section provide the evidence for Matthew’s point. The healing of the bleeding woman and the resurrection of a young girl provided powerful evidence that Jesus had the ability to do what he promised (9:18-26). The blood flow would have barred this woman from many of the temple and synagogue activities and likely would have destroyed her personal relationships. In her desperation she reached out to Jesus in faith for healing. Instead of drawing back, as was required in the old covenant, Jesus called her “daughter” and welcomed her touch. He could do this because he knew that she would not transmit her uncleanness to him, but he would transmit his wholeness to her. This is seen even more clearly in the raising of the young girl. There was nothing so unclean or debilitating as death. Yet, Jesus touch was even able to overcome that. The point is that there is no barrier to God that Jesus cannot remove, no sin that he cannot overcome, or no sickness that he cannot heal. He is always willing and able to fix whatever we bring to him in faith.
This is why Jesus connected and engaged with sinners. Their sin did not taint him. Instead his wholeness changed them. When we have been touched and experienced his healing we can do the same thing. Jesus “came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Let’s practice the “mercy” he desires and minister that healing to everyone we meet.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Devotional: The Authority of the New King, Matthew 8:28-9:8

Outline of Matthew 8.19-9.8

Matthew closes this section with two more “proofs” of Jesus’ authority and power to bring in the new age of the promised kingdom of God. God had arrived in the flesh and was calling men and women into relationship with him.. In the encounters with the two demonized men and in the healing and the paralytic, Jesus claims authority that belongs only to God. Even the demons recognize Jesus’ authority to command them with a word and Jesus’ right to judge them at the final judgment (8:29). Jesus claims his authority to bring people into relationship with God by publicly forgiving the sins of the paralytic and then proving that he has the divine authority to remove the effects of sin by healing him. These are the kinds of things that would only happen when God’s promised kingdom had arrived. In Jesus then, and in us now as we represent Jesus (28:19), God’s kingdom and its benefits are breaking out on earth and we can be sure that they will be fully experienced at “the time” of judgment and renewal of the earth when Jesus returns.

The main point of the exorcism story in 8:28-34 is that even the demons recognize Jesus as their God and judge and must submit to his call and command. The irony in this passage is that the demons quickly and completely obey Jesus’ command but those who hear the message of what Jesus did reject him and send him away. We also see the “already-not yet” character of the kingdom in the demon’s surprise that Jesus was dealing with them before the appointed time of judgment. What Jesus was doing to purge evil here was a preview of his decisive defeat of evil at the cross and resurrection and of the final removal of it at his second coming. We also operate in this “already” stage as we wait for the “not-yet” promise. Finally, we see, by Jesus willingness to destroy a herd of pigs to save two men, that Jesus valued people over property. It is this priority that caused the people of that village to reject his message and send him away. Sadly, the unwillingness to surrender one’s stuff to Jesus still causes people to reject him today. .

The healing of the paralytic shows that Jesus has the authority and willingness to forgive sin and remove its effects. (9:1-8) Here the people who bring the paralytic to Jesus provide a sharp contrast to the villagers who sent him away. They trusted Jesus enough to bring their friend to him for healing and Jesus responded to that faith by, not just healing him, but also by meeting his greatest need by forgiving his sins. Jesus here does what only God can do when he offers atonement apart from the provisions of the Torah. If he was not God it was blasphemy. Sadly, the “scribes” do not have the perception of the demons who recognized who Jesus was. One other important point that comes out of this passage is the need to pray for spiritual and physical healing for ourselves and others. If we truly believe Jesus’ claims here, we will be willing to do the work necessary to bring ourselves and others to him. This is how God wants us to bring glory to him.

These two miracles show that Jesus; defeats and frees us from the slavery to and oppression of evil. He has the divine authority and willingness to forgive sins and heal all of sin’s effects on us. He has removed every barrier that divides us from God. He can heal the paralysis which keeps us from serving and enjoying God. Like the friends of the paralytic, let’s come to Jesus and bring our friends with us.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Devotional: The Cost of Following Jesus, Matthew 8:18-24

Outline of Matthew 8.18-27

Matthew continues to show his readers that Jesus’ teaching is reliable as the foundation for building one’s life by recounting several miracles. These miracles show Jesus’ identity as God and the one who fulfills all the promises to the nation of a powerful deliverer from spiritual and physical oppression, sin,  sickness,  and even death. Jesus, though possessing all the power and authority of God, chooses to endure all the consequences of the chaos that humans (and the rebellious supernatural powers in the spiritual realm) caused and must endure in this age. Jesus will not only deliver us from all of it in the age to come, but he lives with us now to endure it with us and empower us to get through it to the other side. All that he requires is that we trust him completely and imitate his lifestyle of commitment to God and self-sacrifice for others. If Jesus is who his miracles suggest that he is, then we owe him the highest allegiance and must make following him the highest priority in our lives.

In the midst of six miracle stories in 8:1-9:8, Matthew inserts Jesus’ teaching about the level of commitment and sacrifice required to be his disciple (8:18-22). The position of this section highlights its prime importance to the point Matthew is making. Jesus requires nothing less than full commitment to his agenda and a willingness to sacrifice everything else that we have to him. No other obligation can be allowed to interfere with with the ones he places on our lives. First, Jesus calls us to be willing to give up even the basic needs of life. By the way, these are the very things he promises that God will supply in abundance in chapter 5. Jesus shows us the way by being willing to give up the security of food and shelter (“nowhere to lay his head”) when God’s mission required it. Second, Jesus requires us to submit all social obligations to our prime obligation to follow and serve him. When he told the prospective disciple to  “let the dead bury their own dead,” he was subjugating the most important social obligation in Jewish culture to his calling. This means that, for us, family, work, personal, or any other obligation must take a back seat as Jesus demands to be the solo driver in our lives.

This is a huge commitment and Matthew wants to make sure that we know that Jesus has the power and authority to make that commitment pay off for us. To do this he recounts one of Jesus’ most spectacular miracles – the calming of the storm. (8:24-27) There were stories in the ancient world of gods doing this kind of miracle but Matthew records this as an eye witness who was sitting in the boat when it happened. Can an exhausted Jesus, who doesn’t even have a house to sleep in, protect those who follow him from the chaos, darkness and the supernatural forces that threaten them? The answer is a resounding yes! Matthew succinctly understates the drama and impact of this incident to highlight the ease by which Jesus deals with the situation. The worst that the powers of darkness can dish out is stopped by a casual word from Jesus. Jesus then wonders why they were afraid. They had seen what he could do. There was no reason for fear. Matthew had already answered the disciples question, “what sort of man is this.” (8:27). This is Jesus, “God With Us,” who goes with us through the chaos of life and delivers us from and through whatever this chaotic world can throw at us.

This is why it makes sense to give up all to follow Jesus. We can still trust the Jesus who sits at the right hand of the Father to do miracles in our lives today. He is all-powerful and loves us beyond what we can understand. We love him back by trusting him for everything we need and for safety as we navigate through the chaos. There is no need to fear. Trust Jesus’ word and he will calm your agitated heart just as he calmed the stormy waters and bring you to the other side.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Devotional: The Power of the New King, Matthew 8:1-17

Outline of Matthew 8.1-17

Chapter 8 begins a section recording Jesus' miracles. Matthew continues his portrayal of Jesus as the “greater than Moses” as he has him coming down from the mountain after giving the new Torah.  But, unlike Moses who was powerless to deal with the people’s sins (the golden calf) and diseases, Jesus is able to cure disease with a touch or word. Unlike Moses who brought in a kingdom that extended only to Israel, Jesus’ kingdom includes and benefits everyone, Jew and Gentile. The miracles are an indication of Jesus' identity as creator and Messiah and that the promised kingdom has arrived, though not in its full and final expression. Matthew portrays Jesus' healings as a sign that the atonement of the kingdom predicted by Isaiah has arrived and sin and its effects (death, disease) are dealt with. Jesus provides access to God for the leper and prefigures the mission to the Gentiles in healing the centurion's servant. The kingdom of heaven has broken out on earth. Though it will not be fully expressed until Jesus’ return, we should still expect similar events, as the disciples saw and did, to happen as we minister in the power of the Spirit.

In Matthew 8:1-17, Jesus healed a leper, a centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law and many others to show the Jews and Gentiles that he was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s servant prophecy and that a new kingdom and new covenant had arrived. The healing of the leper (8:1-4) was a witness, to the nation’s leadership, that the new age and a new king had come. The old covenant dealt with leprosy by quarantining lepers from society so that they would not infect others with the disease. It made provision for them by providing a procedure by which they could be pronounced clean and be restored to their families and lives. Jesus, the new king, touches the untouchable and, instead of being infected, removes the infection. The barriers are removed and God is now with his people and is willing to heal and restore them. Jesus, always obedient to Torah, then commissions the leper to report to the priests as a witness to who he is. Jesus continues to say to you, “I am willing” to restore what has been destroyed in your life and return you whole into relationships which have been broken. if you will come and kneel before him.

The next miracle, the healing of the centurion’s servant (8:5-13) is quite surprising in a Gospel showing that Jesus is the king of the Jews and fulfills the Old Testament covenants.But Matthew wants us to see right up front that Jesus is meeting the original purpose of God’s setting apart the Jewish nation: the extension of his kingdom, blessing, and promises to the whole world. This was not the conquering Messiah the nation was expecting. Instead Jesus responds to an “enemy” who was in need and conquers him in the best possible way: by making him a friend. This humble Gentile soldier typifies the many kingdom outsiders who will respond to Jesus, as predicted in the Old Testament. Jesus heals a Roman with just a word, and from a distance, to show that his authority and power extend beyond the artificial boundaries we place on him and will restore and bless anyone who comes to him. It reminds us to believe God for miracles of healing and life restoration that go beyond what we think is rational or possible. It reminds us of our desperate need for Christ’s word and touch and to humbly come before him with our needs. He is willing and compassionate and will give us what is best for us.

The next paragraph (8:14-17) recounts the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and provides a summary of Jesus’ healing mission. Jesus’ has authority and power to defeat the spiritual forces of darkness and heal the effects of sin. His touch heals this woman and makes her able to serve and minister to him and to those around her. The great servant prophecy of Isaiah 53 promised that the Servant’s life and death would provide complete reconciliation and intimate relationship with God and all the blessings that would bring. These blessings were clearly seen in the physical healings of Jesus’ day and should be seen as we do ministry in the power of the Spirit. We still await the full healing that will come with the new heaven and new earth but we should expect to see the evidence of the kingdom breaking out around us as we submit, trust and serve King Jesus. Like the Roman centurion we need to be willing to “go” in faith when Jesus “only says the word.”  

Monday, January 07, 2019

Devotional: Christian Discernment, Matthew 7:15-29

Outline of Matthew 7.14-29

Matthew closes this portrayal of Jesus as the authority, greater than Moses, who calls us to us to be wise and discern our situation in relationship to God, ourselves and others. Those who really understand judge themselves by God’s standards and recognize that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of what God is like and what God wants from us. The proper response is allegiance to Jesus and his agenda that trusts what he has provided for us and produces active obedience to his words. He calls us to discern our own hearts and choose our human leaders wisely. There are deceivers out there who use Jesus’ name for their own benefit. Jesus urges us to look at their behavior and lifestyle, not giftedness or popularity. Do we and do our leaders live a life of obedience to Jesus' teachings? Growing obedience is the demonstration of real faith. If we practice this kind of discernment now we can be confident that when we stand before him in judgment we’ll be ready.

The big point of Matthew 7 is that Jesus is the judge and ultimate authority (7:28-29) Jesus makes the radical claim that he will be the one to whom all humanity will give account at the final judgment. Every word, every thought, every action we do in this life will be submitted to Jesus Christ for his approval. Each one of us will report to him personally (7:22). Are we “cultural Christians” or have we trusted in Jesus and experienced the Spirit’s work of conversion? “On that day” of judgment we will give an account of how we have used his gifts of grace to serve God and others. This is why it is important to judge ourselves rightly if we are to be ready for God’s judgment. We need to be alert constantly washing out our own eyes for that log in our eye that can blur our vision, so that we can help others with their speck. In this section Jesus gives us four tests that will help us test ourselves and those we follow.

The first must primarily be applied to ourselves: the “narrow way” test. (7:13-14) Have we really followed the way of Jesus or are we on the broad way of pretend religion? The “narrow way” submits to Christ to allow the Spirit to transform us from the inside out. The “narrow way” commits to costly discipleship that gives up all for Christ. The easy, popular way is usually the wrong way. The right way is often lonely, difficult, costly and persecuted. The “narrow way” does bring blessing in the present but it calls to sacrifice now to get the ultimate blessing in the future kingdom. If your Christian life doesn’t cost you something you might be on the “wrong way.”

The “fruit test” is applied to Christian leaders. (7:15-20) How do you tell true gifted leaders from the false? It is difficult because you cannot always tell by outward appearance and what looks harmless (sheep) can be very destructive to your spiritual health (wolf). “Fruit” implies that inner reality will eventually come out in action and so we shouldn’t be too quick to condemn or trust ourselves to someone until the evidence is in. The criteria for judging Christian leaders is not popularity, giftedness or even ministry “results.” The key is do they speak like Christ (doctrine) and do they act like Christ (character). So we need to carefully judge who we will follow and then “cut off the bad trees” and “eat from the good trees.”

The third test, the “obedience test,” should be applied to yourself and to the people you follow. (7:21-24) The question here is, “Is Jesus Really Your Lord?” Jesus is both Yahweh – God in relationship with me- and Adonai – my leader, boss, and ultimate authority. It is not enough just to call Jesus Lord or have correct doctrine. Unless verbal commitments and doctrine are applied they are useless. Religious works and rituals are not enough and, in fact,are often done to avoid what God really wants: relationship with him. Even miracles are not enough. Judas Iscariot used the same words and performed the same miracles as other disciples. These are not good tests because someone may use the right vocabulary, repeat the right formulas, know and agree with the right doctrine and even take part in the activities of believers but not truly be in a believing relationship with Jesus Christ. The true test is obedience to God’s will. Is our character being transformed into the image of God and is Jesus loving and acting through us in the Spirit? Real faith produces action and a new nature will produce a new lifestyle.

The final test is the “foundation test.” (7:24-27) Is your life built on Jesus Christ? Do you trust his promises, obey his commands, imitate his character and center every part of your life on him? Anything we build apart from Christ is foolishness and will not last. A life built on Christ and his word will stand up to the daily trials and chaos of life and will receive the “well done” from the final judge. The crowd was amazed at Jesus’ claim. He is not just “one way among many.” Instead he is the standard for judgment and the only foundation for life. 

God is judging us and will judge us. We need to judge ourselves first so we will be ready. This would be bad news if we were on our own in this. But the judge is willing to judge us on the basis of our being in relationship with him. When you trust and submit to him he will transform your life into one that passes all four of these tests. When you build your life on Jesus he will change you, and your life will become a lovely house that you will be happy to live in with him for all eternity.