Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Devotional: The Most Important Question #1, Matthew 12:15-32

In this section Matthew shows us the main point of his Gospel. Jesus is the Servant of God (Isaiah 42) who brings in God’s kingdom. In the original context of Matthew’s quote, it is clear that the servant is Israel, but as Isaiah continues, the description of Israel as the servant seems to morph between the nation and an individual who would represent the nation. Matthew’s point is that Jesus is the one who ultimately fulfills this prophecy and will accomplish what God chose Israel to do. As the Messiah, he will fulfill David’s covenant and bring God’s righteous and just rule now and in the age to come. As the Servant, he will fulfill the promise to Abraham as his descendant who brings the blessing of God’s rest to Israel and to all the nations and families of the earth. But this is not just an academic theological statement. How we answer the question, “Who is Jesus?” determines our status in the final judgment and our current experience of peace, wholeness and victory over the forces of evil and chaos in our lives right now.

Matthew here continues his presentation of the conflict between Jesus and the religious scholars over who has the authority to interpret God’s revelation to the people. He has already shown that God brings healing and rest through Jesus on the Sabbath. He now provides more specific identification and proof for Jesus’ identity in 12:15-21. First, Jesus is able to heal ALL who come to him. Second, he withdrew from the fight with the Pharisees and ministered gently and humbly to the people. This fits the description of Isaiah’s servant. First, the miracles show his endowment by the Spirit. The Spirit is bringing the healing, rest, and blessing of the kingdom to Israel. Second, he had a servant ministry which did not seek political power or military victory, but came to humbly meet the needs of his suffering people. He would go to the cross and sacrifice himself to “bring justice to victory” and “hope to the Gentiles.” The evidence was there in front of their eyes. What would they do with it? What will you do with it?

In the next section, we see the importance of the question. (12:22-32) Jesus, amazingly and instantly, heals a demonized man who could neither see nor speak. This prompts the key question, “Can this be the Son of David?” Is Jesus the one who is bringing in God’s kingdom? The Pharisees respond by accusing Jesus of magic, that he is using the power of Satan. They cannot question the miracle so they question the source of the miracle. They were so hard-hearted that the very events God was using to reveal himself to them were seen as the work of Satan. Jesus wonders why they question him when they don’t question other Jewish exorcists. Even they knew that someone could not be working for Satan and Jesus at the same time. All they needed to do was look at the character of the ministry he was doing. People were not bring exploited. They were being freed from darkness, sin, and its effects. The Pharisees were in a very dangerous place. Though they claimed to uphold the Torah, they were taking council to murder a man in contradiction to the law they claimed to be protecting. (12:14) They were dangerously close, like pharaoh of old, to hardening their hearts beyond repentance.

Matthew has presented the evidence. Jesus is the Servant, endowed by the Spirit to bring in the kingdom, provide rest and blessing to his people, forgive sins, and break the chains by which the forces of darkness have imprisoned us. All he asks is that we trust him with our lives and follow him. What’s your answer today?

Five "Christian" Oxymoron's

Here are five phrases that  I have heard in church circles that make me cringe. What do you think? Can you add to the list? Please comment on my Facebook page.

  • Executive Pastor

  • Worship Marketing 

  • Christian Amusement Park

  • Part-Time Minister

  • Celebrity Christian (or even worse Celebrity Pastor)

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Weekend With Family

Last weekend we had the opportunity to spend some extended time with Joyce's family (pictured above). Joyce's sisters came over. Janet and Paul flew in from Texas and Judy drove down from Redding (we missed Wayne, her husband). Joyce's mom and dad now live in Gold Country Retirement Center so were able to all be together for a whole weekend, which is a rare experience. It was great to be able to sit and talk and enjoy one another's company. Gotta enjoy those blessings. 

Many of you know that Joyce has been helping her dad take care of her mom who is suffering from advanced dementia. She goes over there several times a week to help and takes her to "senior day care" a couple times per week. Part of the purpose for us getting together was discussing the need for hospice care. Paul is a hospice chaplain and had some good advice for us. We were able to help Joyce's dad with a new computer. Janet and Paul also brought an interactive electronic picture frame that allows us to upload pictures by email. It was fun to upload old and new pictures to the device and watch them pop up on the screen (right). They also help Joyce's mom and dad stay connected to their grand-kids and great grand-kids. 

Here are a couple old but good pictures we uploaded to the device...

Devotional: LORD of the Sabbath, Matthew 12:1-14

In chapter 12 Matthew continues to contrast Jesus’ approach to Torah with that of the Jewish religious leaders and law scholars. First, and most important, Jesus taught with a higher authority than the Pharisees. For example, he does not just interpret Torah passages about the Sabbath, He shows himself to be the LORD who created the Sabbath and thus gives the authoritative interpretation of its meaning and purpose. The Sabbath is just one of the issues that Matthew uses to show that Jesus has fulfilled Torah. The purpose of Torah was to point to Jesus, and, now that the messiah was there, allegiance to him had replaced allegiance to the Torah. Jesus, as the ultimate revelation of God embodied the goal, purpose and meaning of Torah so there was no contradiction between its stipulations and Jesus’ teachings. Jesus was bringing out the underlying meaning that was already present in the Old Testament. His point was that the heart attitude toward God and others was more important than just keeping the rules. Even the regulations themselves taught that there were exceptions when human need or ministry necessitated. The key was to make allegiance to God, which to Matthew means allegiance to Jesus, more important than anything, including one's own family. In 12:1-14 Matthew uses two conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees about the Sabbath to make this point.

The first conflict concerned Sabbath laws about preparing food. (12:1-4) The disciples were going through a grain field, plucking the heads of grain, and rubbing them together to get to the edible kernels. The Pharisees accused Jesus that his disciples were breaking the law by doing the work of food preparation on the Sabbath. This was a stretch, even by the way the Pharisees normally interpreted the law. Jesus counters their charge, not by the details of the law, but by two illustrations of the way the law was applied in the Old Testament narratives. First, he uses the example of David and his troops eating the bread presented to God in the tabernacle. This bread could only be eaten by the priests, but because of the hunger of David and his men, an exception was made. Jesus’ point is that human need took priority over the regulations in the scriptures. The Pharisees were using the scriptures to place legalistic burdens on the people. They had missed God’s kindness and desire to meet genuine human need. They were interpreting Torah in a way that made them less like God instead of reflecting his image.

The second argument that Jesus uses against this charge is that the law permits the priests to work in the temple on the Sabbath. (12:5-8) If the priests were given an exception to the stipulation to do temple work on the Sabbath, how much more should the one who is the ultimate revelation of God and “greater than the temple” be working on the Sabbath to minister to the people? Jesus then quotes Hosea to focus on the underlying purpose of the temple service and protocol. Again it is the heart attitude, “mercy,” not the symbolic action, “sacrifice,” that is important. Jesus has used all three sections of the Old Testament, Torah, prophets and writings, to show that purpose of the law was to change hearts rather than burden God’s people with ritual or rules.

The Sabbath healing of the man with the withered hand (12:9-14) provides the evidence that Jesus had the authority he claimed. The conflict in the grain field may have been a set-up by the Pharisees, but Jesus is definitely trapping them here. Before he heals the man he asks them “is it lawful to heal a man on the Sabbath.” When they accuse him, he responds that it is lawful to rescue an animal. Since people are more valuable, it must be lawful to heal a man too. He then heals the man with just a word. Only God is working here through Jesus. He could not be doing this without God’s approval. His claim to be the one who brings God’s kingdom and the one who provides God’s rest must be considered.

Jesus is the LORD of the Sabbath who calls us into his rest. It is a call to absolute commitment and sacrifice, but it is the call of the one who loves us and bears our burdens with us. It is not about debates over words. It’s all about genuine relationship with God and pleasing him by serving others. Do we reflect God’s kindness or do we place burdens on others? 

Monday, January 28, 2019

Devotional: Woe and Rest, Matthew 11:20-30

Jesus continues his surprising teaching about the kingdom in the rest of chapter 11. It’s surprising because Jesus places himself at the center of what it means to trust God and be part of his kingdom. The only way to enter and live in God’s coming kingdom is to follow Jesus into it. The only way to find rest and blessing in God’s presence is to be in Jesus’ presence and to know him. It is surprising because many of the people who thought they were surely in were out, and many who were considered to be out were in. The “wise” who claimed to know God and what he wanted received “woe,”  Their spiritual pride and confidence in human traditions caused them to misunderstand scripture and miss the new thing God was doing in Jesus. The rest and blessing of the kingdom would come to the “little children” who would humble themselves and “learn” from Jesus.

This section begins with a pronouncement of judgment (“Woe”) on the unrepentant cities in which Jesus had done some of his most spectacular miracles. (11:20-24) Matthew’s point is that all the expectations about the coming messiah in the old covenant scriptures had been fulfilled in Jesus. However, the religious scholars had rejected him because their pride and desire to maintain control had blinded them to it. He compares Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum to the most pagan cities of the past; Tyre, Sidon and Sodom. More people in those immoral cities would have responded to the message and work of Jesus than the people of these hard-hearted “religious” cities. It is sad that, often, those who claim to be the people of God are often the most resistant to what he is doing in their lives. If we think we have God figured out, we often miss what he is trying to do in our lives. It was not Torah that would bring them life. Instead, Torah was there to point them to Jesus who would bring life and the blessing that comes from intimacy with God. Scriptural knowledge is a good thing. But if it becomes the end goal, instead of the means to know Jesus better and bring us into the presence of the Father, it can take us down to join the dead.

Jesus provides the remedy to this in 11:25-30. Only Jesus knows God and offers the wisdom that comes from being in the Father’s presence. The “wise” and “powerful” miss this because they fail to see their need to come to Jesus with childlike dependence and trust. Deep knowledge of God is relational. It must begin with devotion and love for Jesus. All scripture must be interpreted through love for God and then love for neighbor as exemplified in Jesus. God cannot be reduced to just a book. Jesus pointed out that the Bible itself contained exceptions to its Sabbath laws based on devotion to God and his work and meeting the needs of people. This does not mean that Jesus demands less from his people than the law did. He demands much more. Rather than a tithe, he demands use of all of it for God’s kingdom work. Instead of a temple tax he demands meeting other’s needs like we meet our own. But Jesus’ yoke is easier because he cares for us and shoulders the burden with us. His Spirit brings his entire body, the church, together to minister to us, and indwells and empowers us to reproduce his thoughts and actions. When we live this way there is no room for pride or selfishness.

The irony here is that, when we acknowledge our ignorance of God and his ways, then we become wise. When we recognize our weakness, then we become strong. It is only when scholarship and training are submitted to Jesus that they are effective for the kingdom. Final judgment is based only on our connection to Jesus and what he has done for and through us. To understand that is to know his rest and blessing.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Devotional: Even Prophets Have Doubts, Matthew 11:1-19

Chapter 11 begins with Jesus' response to a delegation from John the Baptist, who is doubting the meaning of his own mission and the identity of Jesus, asking if he really is the Messiah. Jesus responds graciously and without condemnation, understanding that John is in prison and he is not doing exactly what John expected. He quotes from Isaiah 35 to assure John that Jesus is the promised one and that John’s ministry was valid and important. He then calls John the greatest in God's kingdom because he was the one who introduced God's greatest revelation, Jesus, and John had stood faithfully in the face of suffering and persecution. We carry an even fuller message of Jesus than John did and thus, should be better able to deal with opposition. The opposition often comes from those who refuse God's message no matter how it is packaged. They listen only to come up with arguments against what God is saying. Jesus, and John, minister to the one who recognizes his need, not the arrogant person, often religious, who thinks they have it all figured out. Jesus is a LORD, but He is a humble one who wants to serve His people. We benefit as we humbly receive and then humbly, but boldly and confidently, serve as Jesus does.

Matthew records John’s struggle with doubt (11:1-6) to encourage us that doubts are normal when our faith is tested and gives his disciples advice to counter the doubts, so that we won’t “fall away” or give up when we face them. He compares John to Elijah, one of the greatest Old Testament prophets, who doubted his mission in the face of Jezebel’s persecution. In one way the doubts are unexpected. John had seen the Spirit descend on Jesus like a dove and heard the voice of the Father identifying Jesus as the Messiah. But now John was in prison, his message had been rejected by those in power and Jesus wasn’t doing exactly what he had expected. Jesus does not condemn John’s doubts. Instead he reassures him that God does not always work in the ways we expect. John was right that final judgment was coming, but wrong about the timing. Next, Jesus points John back to scripture for the answers to his questions. Jesus was doing exactly what Isaiah had predicted that the Messiah would do. This should always be our response to doubt. Like Elijah our doubts are overcome as we focus on God, recognize his “still, small voice,” and listen to his voice in scripture. God is neither surprised nor overcome by our doubts. He stays with us and his work in us will continue through them.

Instead of condemning John for his doubts, Jesus praises him for his faithful ministry.(11:7-15) He praises John as “greater” than all the Old Testament prophets. He refused to evaluate John by the world’s standards. John was a great prophet because he lived the same type of self-sacrificial life that Jesus calls his disciples to live. John was not great because the powers of the world, like Herod, accepted him. He was great because he was the “messenger” who heralded the coming of Jesus the Messiah and prepared the way for him. He was the prophet who bridged the gap between the old and new covenants. John was a “spiritual warrior” who fought with kingdom weapons to contend for God’s kingdom. Jesus then says that his disciples will be even greater than John, not because they are better people than John, but because they have the full message of who Jesus is to bring to the world. How much more then should we live self-sacrificial lives that humbly, confidently, and boldly contend for the truth of the gracious message of the gospel and actively follow Jesus’ example.

Finally, Jesus makes the point that John was not the problem. The problem was with the audience. They refused to listen, were offended and rejected God’s message that he, and Jesus, brought. Jesus compares them with spoiled children who pout when they don’t get their way. Sometimes we doubt our mission because we think our inadequacy caused the bad response. Jesus says that may not be the problem. John and Jesus came to the people in a completely different way and yet both were rejected by the majority. Jesus identified with the culture and people while John stood outside and criticized it. The problem was not how the message came. It was the hard hearts of the people that had rejected God.

In the end, wise people know that it is God’s opinion that counts; not what the world thinks, not the immediate “results” of ministry, or even what we think about ourselves. We will all have doubts, but we can be certain that Jesus will evaluate us just as graciously as he evaluated John. Jesus understands how hard it is to stand in the midst of difficulty. He will stay right with us, love us, and empower us through the doubts. That we can be sure of.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Joyce’s Birthday 2019

We celebrated Joyce’s XXth birthday yesterday. It was a nice family day with a dinner out and a cake and ice cream celebration at home. I am thankful that both of us are still around to celebrate. We are blessed.

Devotional: Boldness in the Face of Opposition, Matthew 10:16-42

Outline: Matthew 10:1-42

  • Jesus sends out the 12 to represent him and minister like him with an expected result of rejection by the majority but acceptance by the righteous. 10.1-42
    • Jesus commissions and empowers his disciples to proclaim his kingdom message beginning in Israel. 10:1-15
    • Disciples should expect persecution wherever they proclaim Jesus as king, but that they should not be deterred because the mission will succeed. 10:16-25
    • Disciples should not fear the inevitable persecution because the Father guarantees protection and eternal life and reward. 10:26-42

Chapter 10 concludes Jesus’ instruction to his disciples for their first kingdom mission to the Jewish nation. But Matthew expands Jesus’ words to have great significance to anyone who will go out and represent Jesus until he comes again. Those who will represent Jesus should expect to be treated the way Jesus and his first disciples were treated. We should expect persecution and be willing to die, if necessary to accomplish the mission he has called us to do. We should expect some of those closest to us to misunderstand or reject us because of our kingdom priorities. However, we should also expect that God will use our faithful, bold response to persecution to draw people to him just as Jesus’ cross provided access to God for even those who denied and killed him. In the midst of it we can trust God to provide inspiration to convince those who oppose us, protection from and through the persecution, and a rich reward from God now and in eternity at the final judgment. Jesus’ point again is that when we fear God and follow Jesus we need to fear nothing else.

Jesus promises that times of persecution would come. (10:16-25) This first mission caused the disciples to experience the rejection of their peers. Post-resurrection ministry would bring pain (Paul received the 39 lashes in the synagogue 5 times) and cost most of them their lives. In every era of church history Jesus’ representatives somewhere are called to give their lives to complete his mission. But, in every place and at every time, if we are to take a stand for Jesus’ values and message it will cause some of those around us to respond with misunderstanding, rejection and opposition. In the midst of that, Jesus’ calls us to respond, not in kind, but with love and speak the truth without guile. He promises that God will give us the right words to say in the situation. Rather than fighting back Jesus calls us to flee when we can. This may cost us treasured relationships but Jesus also promises that he will always give better than we lose. History shows that our reaction to persecution may be just what is needed to bring the perpetrator into God’s kingdom.

Though we should expect persecution we do not have to fear it. (10:26-33) Persecution may take the form of shame and estrangement from friends, family and our culture, but Jesus promises honor from God and vindication in judgment. God’s care and presence will never leave us and we can entrust ourselves completely into his protection. Our loving Father values us and will bring his best for to us. Even if we are called to face death, God will work in that, as with Jesus, to bring victory, honor and eternal reward. This is not an easy thing that Jesus calls us to do here. It is not often emphasized in our churches. But Jesus promises kingdom blessing when our confession of Christ brings opposition. Do we believe it enough to take the same stand as Jesus and the disciples did?

Jesus closes with a warning that the kingdom of God requires us to give everything, including our life, for it. It must take priority over our families, our cultural obligations and our own well-being. (10:34-39) This will inevitably put people with other priorities at odds with us. It will cost us something. But Jesus promises that, not only will that commitment bring you future reward, but you will “find real life” now. Not only that, but Jesus will also bring others into your life who will receive you, support you and restore what was lost. Your commitment will become the vehicle for their finding life and eternal reward. (10:40-42)

We, as a church, need to take these instructions more seriously and get out of our comfortable church buildings and take Jesus' kingdom actions and message out to those who need it. The effectiveness of a church should be evaluated by how they serve the needy of their own community, share the good news about Jesus, and by how much of their resources go into sending missionaries out to make disciples of all nations. It may bring opposition and persecution, but God promises to use even that for our blessing and to accomplish his purpose to bless every nation.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Devotional: The “First” Commission, Matthew 10:1-15

Chapter 10 ends this section (9:9-10:42), with Jesus’ call to kingdom service. It is a first commission which, in a way, serves as a preview of the “great commission” (28:18-19); Matthew’s conclusion and call to action for the church. Here, Jesus sends out the 12 disciples, as his agents, to announce the coming of the kingdom to the nation of Israel. Both Matthew and Mark tailor their presentation of Jesus' instructions to their own audience showing that we can apply the principles contained in these instructions to our situations as we announce the kingdom today. First, Jesus calls his agents to live simply, trust God to supply their needs, and devote their resources to kingdom work. They should expect opposition and persecution even from those closest to them, that could be lethal, but they should fear God alone and be willing to give their lives for the kingdom. Jesus assures the disciples that the rewards for this commitment and sacrifice are eternal and worth it. There is even great reward for those Christians who provide support and resources for those who are on the front lines.

There are five principles in 10:1-15 from Jesus’ instructions that we can apply to our kingdom service today…
  1. Jesus is the one who authorizes ministry and sends out his representatives. (10:1-4) This means that he defines the mission and the roles each person plays in fulfilling the task. The disciples were supposed to model their ministry on what they had already seen Jesus doing and according to the way Jesus taught them. If they did this, they would be ministering with Jesus’ authority and power, and not their own. Jesus would validate their ministries with the same signs and miracles he was doing. The main purpose of miracles, then, is verification of the message and this has been repeated throughout history when the good news about Jesus enters a new region, or as is currently being seen in the Muslim world, when the gospel is reclaiming territory that has been lost for many years.
  2. Jesus calls us to begin the task where we are. (10:5-6) Jesus is beginning this new phase in his kingdom plan with 12 Jewish men, so they would begin with a mission to Israel. These average guys, with Jesus power would become the foundation of Jesus’ new worldwide community, but he would begin with what they knew: Israel. In the church today there is a lot of interest in “mission trips.” But no one should be sent out somewhere else unless they are already doing it “here,” where they are now.
  3. The message Jesus calls us to proclaim is God’s kingdom. (10:7) For the disciples the message was that the kingdom was there in the person of the king, sickness, evil and death were being overcome and sins were being forgiven. This was available to all if they would trust and follow Jesus. We proclaim a similar gospel message, “Jesus is LORD” (Romans 10:9), he has risen and conquered death and sin and calls us to trust and follow him. Like the first disciples we must proclaim this message with out words, our actions and our lifestyles.We invite others to follow along with us as we follow Jesus.
  4. Jesus’ disciples are to live simply so that they can devote their resources to his mission (10:7-10). Ministry should never be about making money. We can do this because God promises to take care of those who devote their lives to God’s mission. One of the main tasks of the church is to be the means of this provision. “The laborer deserves his food” but the New Testament is full of warnings about using ministry to get rich. We must exercise wisdom in our giving to ministries to avoid giving to hucksters who use Jesus to build up their bank accounts, but support generously dedicated servants who devote their resources to God’s mission. All Christians are called to make regular evaluation of their finances to make sure that God’s mission is prioritized in their budget.
  5. The responsibility for the response to the message belongs to the audience and to God. (10:11-15). The responsibility of the disciple is to accurately bring the message of “peace” wherever they go. If the message is received and supported, the disciple has become the means of blessing to their neighbor. The one who rejects or opposes the message brings down God’s judgment on him/herself. They are responsible for their own loss of blessing.
From the beginning of creation God made us to be his representatives. Through Jesus, God has made us the messengers of his kingdom. God calls us to take what we know and have experienced in Jesus to our neighbors and to the world. He promises to take our efforts and empower them as his efforts. What a privilege it is to take God’s peace and blessing to those who need it. It is our greatest blessing and most important responsibility.

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.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Devotional: Judging Ourselves and Others, Matthew 7:1-14

Outline of Matthew 7.1-14

Chapter 7 concludes the "Sermon on the Mount" by gathering more of Jesus' regular teachings. The distinctive of this chapter is the authority of Jesus. He equates his word with that of Torah and makes God’s final judgment dependent on our obedience to his words. On judging, Jesus urges thorough self-examination before we try to deal with issues in the lives of others. On prayer, Jesus talks about the Father's great willingness to answer the prayers of kingdom focused people and the great power their prayers have. In this opening section of the chapter Jesus teaches that true worshippers do not judge and condemn others. Instead they realize that God is the judge and they leave final judgment to him. They understand that what their main concern should be is God’s judgment of them and so they judge themselves first so that God will not have to condemn them. Then, when they have experienced God’s forgiveness and peace, only then are they able to help others to gain the same life and forgiveness.

First, Jesus teaches that we must honestly examine ourselves before we can recognize other’s problems and help them. (7:1-6) He calls us to exercise discernment rather than criticism and condemnation. Don’t be in the habit of being a sin-sniffer, guilt-layer, complainer, burden-dropper or rule-maker. You have no right to condemn another because God alone is the judge who knows all deeds, thoughts, and intents so that he can judge absolutely perfectly and justly. Instead of being critical, God calls us to be discerning, first of our own faults by taking a long prayerful look at Jesus, and then at ourselves to honestly evaluate where we fall short. Then, when you see wrong, confess, repent, and receive God’s forgiveness and ask for God’s power to grow. Then you will be ready to help others follow the same path because you can provide, not just criticism, but solutions and gently lead people to forgiveness and restoration. The world has enough critics and condemners. We need to quit condemning and beating up on ourselves and others and, instead, like Jesus, provide the way of salvation, not condemnation. We can be honest and real because Jesus has removed the condemnation and has provided the way to life.

We need to be discerning so that we are better able to help and pray for others. (7:6-11) We need to exercise discernment so that we can be more effective helping people. Discernment is essential to recognize which people God is calling us to help. Some people are not ready to hear and we need to recognize that and not waste our time. We need to get to know people that are ready to hear and assess their needs so that we apply the gospel where the Spirit is already drawing them. This is why Jesus brings prayer into the conversation. Prayer is our main resource for discernment.  We must constantly be asking God for wisdom and direction and watching and listening for his answer. As we earnestly seek God’s righteousness and guidance he will generously give us exactly what we need for each situation.

In 7:12-14 Jesus gives us the foundational principle for the discernment process. Evaluate others in the way you want to be evaluated. In Matthew “The Golden Rule” is commanded in a context of judging other people. This means that you should use standards and means to judge others that you would want to be used on you. In other words, you should give ministry in the way you’d like to receive it. How would you like to be corrected? How would you like to be treated when caught in a sin? How would you like others to share in your successful moments? Mostly we just want to be loved, receive grace and know people care about us and we should approach those around us in the same way.

This is the “narrow way” that leads to the blessings of the kingdom. Most choose the “wide, easy way” because honesty about ourselves and others is scary. We don’t like to admit that we need grace. We need to take the “narrow road” by giving up hiding our faults, trusting ourselves and our own actions, and place our trust completely in Jesus and accept the complete forgiveness he offers and pass that on to others. Then we can get to know ourselves as we are before God and live open and honest lives that glorify God and bless others. 

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Devotional: Worshipping God With Our Stuff, Matthew 6:19-34

Outline of Matthew 6.19-34

God has given us this beautiful world, and all the stuff that is in it, to show us that he is our loving Heavenly Father who provides us with everything we need. When we use that “stuff” to serve him and get to know him better and share it so others can know the goodness of God through us, we experience His fullness, peace and joy. But when we love the gifts more than the giver, misuse them and try to grasp them tightly in our selfish little hands we miss out on God’s good gifts and place ourselves in a prison of greed and worry. Possessions are a wonderful gift and tool when Jesus is the master of them but a terrible master when they take Jesus’ place in our lives.This is what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 6:19-34. Possessions are to be used to worship God. They are not a god to be worshipped. When we are single-mindedly devoted to trusting and serving Jesus he can trust us to use our possessions to serve and worship Him.

The “bottom line” (literally!) of worship is making Christ the highest priority in your life (6:33) and how we use our possessions is one of the best indicators of what our highest priority actually is. Jesus commands that we “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” In other words the highest (first) passion (seek) of our life should be relationship with God (righteousness) and service to God (kingdom). Worship always begins with a deep desire to know God and be like him. Real worship is the commitment to revolve all my life around this. With this commitment everything is worship; without it nothing is worship.

In 6:19-24 Jesus describes what this looks like. Real worship involves a heart that values Christ above all, eyes focused right on Jesus and a mind singly devoted to serving Christ. We will invest our lives in the things we really value. Jesus warns us not to place high value on earthly things because they are temporary and can be lost. Instead be urges us to invest in what will last forever: God’s kingdom. Where you put your time, money, and effort betrays what you really worship. When we take our direction from Jesus we can be sure we will go in the right direction. When we know his promises and see his blessings we can live generous, fulfilling lives that impact all those around us. When we make the choice to serve Christ rather than stuff we serve a master that frees us and bears our burdens with us. After all, God’s promise is that, when we prioritize his kingdom, he will supply everything we need,

This is why Jesus commands us not to worry (6:25-34). When are lives are in the hands of the Father we don’t have to worry about what we can’t control. We can enjoy the blessings of each day and then place tomorrow in God’s hands. We don’t have to worry about the basics of life. The God who gave you life and a body; certainly can cover it, house it and feed it He will always provide the resources for what he has called you to do. In fact, God will take care of you far beyond the basics because you are very valuable to him. He has made a tremendous investment in us by giving Jesus Christ His only Son so that we can enjoy him forever. A God who makes beautiful flowers that last just a moment knows how to provide extravagantly for his children. God loves you and knows what you need and revels in your joy. Worry is a denial of his character and accomplishes nothing. So, Instead of worrying, pray about it, make a plan, do what you can, pray about it again and then take a nap and forget about it for a while.

Wealth is not a bad thing, but its use reflects our real devotion to God. Wealthy people should use their wealth, not to gain luxuries for themselves, but to serve God's kingdom by serving and sharing with God's people. Less wealthy people should not worry about their needs or live their lives focused on getting rich but should trust God to meet their needs. We need regular self-examination of our motives for ministry and evaluation of how we use the resources God gives us. A life lived like that has no worries because it is now in the hands of the loving Heavenly Father who loves us enough and is powerful enough to give us all good things. Are you in his hands or has worry got you holding your head in your own hands? You’re better off in his.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Devotional: What Kind of Worship Does God Want? Matthew 6:1-18

Outline of Matthew 6.1-18

In chapter 6 Matthew continues his summary of King Jesus’ teaching about the basic values and perspectives that should rule the lives of his followers. In chapter 5 he focused on standards of righteousness for daily life. Now he moves to what worship should look like in the kingdom of God. Worship that pleases and glorifies God flows from a heart that is fully committed and dependent on God. Worship is any word or action that shows God as he truly is and comes out of real experience of God in his word, in prayer or in daily life. In this section Jesus looks at three examples of religious practice, giving, prayer and fasting, and contrasts their misuse with the way they should be practiced in God’s kingdom. Jesus’ point is that our personal piety should be practiced before God as an audience of one, not for a human audience. Our worship is real when our highest priority is relationship with Jesus and serving him. (6:33):

Jesus begins by discussing what worship is not. (6:1-2) It is not a show that tries to manipulate God or impress people with how spiritual or religious we are. This is hypocrisy. Hypocrites practice religion for their own benefit and promote themselves rather than God. Hypocrites emphasize ritual over motive and titles, control, and power over service. Jesus stresses this because he knows how easy it is to fall into this trap. We need to look carefully at ourselves to make sure our private practice matches our public profession. Would we minister without the title or serve without thanks or notice? Jesus warns us, “Watch out!” for hypocrisy.

Giving is Jesus first example of true worship. (6:3-4) Instead of giving to impress people, true worshippers give the way God gives. They understand that everything was made for God’s pleasure. We recognize that it all belongs to God and we manage his resources to honor him. What does that look like? We should give without expecting anything back because we know our gracious God will meet all our needs. We give proportionately according to how God has blessed us. We should give willingly, joyfully, generously, and sacrificially, with our time and efforts following our money. Our prayers should include asking God and planning for where and how he would like us to give. Our generous giving in church, at home and in every part of our lives should reflect the generosity of our God who has given us His greatest gift. His Son, to reach out to us to meet our every need.

Second, the public prayers of true worshippers flow out of a private prayer life that becomes a running conversation with God throughout the day. (6:5-13) Prayer does not “heap up empty phrases.” it involves bringing your thoughts, needs, hopes and cares to God and listening for his direction. The purpose of prayer is for us to seek and conform ourselves to God’s will, not to convince Him to do ours.  Jesus models this kind of  prayer for his disciples with five requests guaranteed to be in God’s will for you. I would suggest you pray it this way…

  1. May God’s holiness and glory be seen in me and in the world. Pray that Jesus’ character qualities (fruits of Spirit) will grow in your life and that people will come to know Christ and be in relationship with him. Focus in on the qualities that are hard for you and specific people you know that need Jesus.
  2. May God’s will be done in my life and in my community. Ask God what he wants you to do and submit yourself, your stuff, and your daily schedule to him.
  3. May my daily needs be met. Think about your basic needs (healing, finances etc.) and talk to God about them. Thank him in advance for meeting them and then pray the same thing for the needs of others around you. Commit yourself to being God’s servant to help meet those needs.
  4. May I experience the forgiveness of my sins. Confess daily sin, repent and ask him to cleanse you. Discuss wrongs done to you with God and commit to deal with them biblically and “choose not to remember” based on what Christ has done.” Ask God to reveal to you how you have hurt other people and commit to setting those offenses right. Thank God repeatedly for his forgiveness and your righteous standing before him.
  5. My I be delivered from the evil one and evil situations. Thank God that the forces of evil were defeated at the cross. Think through your day, anticipate your temptations and pray for God’s strength. Commit yourself to walking in the Spirit. Pray for others to be delivered from temptation and evil.

Finally, Jesus deals with fasting. (6:16-18) Fasting was one of many types of public acts of worship in the Jewish tradition which included Sabbath, sacrifice, singing, public prayer, special clothing, abstaining from sex, washing, and other rites. The purpose of these acts was the temporary giving up of something in order to take extra time to devote oneself to God. The problem happens when we focus more on what we are giving up than what we should be devoting ourselves to. When the focus is correct these acts become joyful worship that regularly flow from a heart devoted to God.

The point is that true public worship is nothing more than our heart connection to God showing itself in our daily life. Our public speaking for God, whether teaching, prayer or witness, should flow out of our regular private conversation with our heavenly father. Our acts of worship, whether its fasting, singing, or service should flow from a heart that is so dedicated to God that it cannot help but overflow into daily life. The eyes of God are “roaming to and fro through the earth” looking for hearts that are truly devoted to Him. He is looking for true worshippers. 

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Devotional: God’s Standards For Daily Life #2, Matthew 5:33-48

Outline of Matthew 5.33-48

In the rest of chapter 5 Matthew continues with three more of Jesus’ examples, as he corrects the Jewish leaders misunderstanding of the Torah and explains the kind of lifestyle that God really requires from his kingdom people. God wants our words and actions to be absolutely truthful and honest, generously merciful, and graciously and unconditionally loving. Basically, what this means is that we are to act toward other people as God does and this is perfectly demonstrated to us in the actions and words of Jesus. Jesus’ actions were never controlled by what others did to him. He always acted based on who he is and what his Father had called him to do. This is an impossible standard for us on our own, but the good news is that Jesus’ authority and promises guarantee that, as we trust him, his spirit will work in us, as Jesus himself worked with his disciples, to grow us into the image of Jesus and do the work he left for us to do. We then can act as who we are in Christ and live that out before everyone we come in contact with.

First, God requires us to speak and act truthfully without manipulation. (5:33-37). Spinning the truth is nothing new. Jesus corrects the misunderstanding that only oaths in God’s name required the truth. Jesus makes the accusation that, instead of using oaths to affirm truth and commitment as they were intended in the Torah, the leaders were using clever language in their oaths to obscure truth and deceive people. Jesus’ point is not so much to forbid oathtaking but to urge us to be careful with the truth. Everything we say and think, in a way, should be spoken with oath-level truth because everything is related to God in some way. God owns your mouth and brain so they should reflect his character. God at the core is absolutely truthful with no lies in him, so everything we say and do should reflect his holiness and authority. The point is that you should be so truthful that you never need oaths. If the truth shouldn’t be aired, say nothing. Reflect God by keeping your commitments and being honest with your words and actions.

Secondly, God requires us to be as merciful and generous to others as he is to us. (5:38-42) The Torah tradition of Lex talionis (“eye for eye”) which was intended to limit retaliation and revenge and insure that justice was administered by the governing authorities, was being misapplied to personal relationships with the misunderstanding that God approves of revenge. Instead Jesus calls us to look for opportunities to be merciful. Because of who we are in Jesus and the blessings we have, when offended, we need not exercise our rights if it is to the eternal benefit of the offender. Practically, this means that we should give others the benefit of the doubt and be willing to endure an insult without retaliation to maintain a relationship. We may need to be willing to give up what we may legally keep. The bottom line is that we are called to go beyond what is required to be helpful and at peace with others and to be generous as God in meeting the real needs of others.

The final example gives the motivation for these standards (5:43-48). We must love others, not based on how they treat us, but according to God’s gracious actions toward us. The misunderstanding here is that God wants us to hate sinners. When you hate someone you are condemning them. Only God has that right and he chooses to love them. In fact God will love people even as they choose to turn away from Him. We are most like God when we love our enemies. This means that we generously give someone what they need, not what they deserve. We do this as we “pray for those who persecute you” by forgiving them as Jesus forgave his enemies. Only then will we be “perfect” (complete) as our Father in heaven. To be complete we must strive to submit to God so that he can produce this kind of love in us. This is what changes the world.

We can do this only because God always keeps his promises and commitments to us. Everything he says and does is truthful and so it should be with us. God acts toward us in mercy. He was willing to give up his rights so we could have relationship with him. We also should be merciful, in the same way, to everyone around us. God relates to us based on his love and grace. He always gives us what we need, not what we deserve, even when we act as his enemies. We should do the same with the difficult people in our lives. God calls us to an impossible standard: his righteousness. But he gives us the power through his Spirit to make us like him. Will you let him do it?