Thursday, October 19, 2017

What We Value Most

16“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ 17You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’19You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.(Matthew 23:16-22) 

Thoughts: Blind guides are not trustworthy.  The Pharisees thought they saw and understood but they were confused (foolish) and blind. 
    Here Jesus rebukes them for valuing gold over worship.  They were willing to swear by the gold but not by the Temple as the steadfast valuable thing to swear by.  This is one of the problem of our day- we are so materialistic that we think the gold makes the church- not that the church itself is golden.  We tend to value the best stuff of earth more than the best stuff of God.  God is the maker both of gold and the Temple.  Jesus is trying to help people to value the house of God more than they do.  We who believe in Jesus need to hear His teachings on this.  

Prayer: Let me see clearly what you value, O God.  Give me grace that my values would be more and more in line with yours.  

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Converting others to a fake salvation

15“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are. (Matthew 23:15)

Thoughts: This is the third woe. The Pharisees wanted people to be like them.  But they themselves were lost.  They were trying and trying- and trying to be good but could never get there.  They were running like hamsters on a wheel- but going nowhere (like Sisyphus in Tartarus/hell rolling a rock to nowhere continuously).
    The Pharisees converted people to their way of torturous tireless trying but failing because of sin.  The Pharisees needed grace but they refused it because they thought they could get to the kingdom by their own effort.  They turned their own Messiah down.  So any converts they made were brought down with them. 
     There are religious people who steer people away from God.  The Pharisees did this.  They were sincere, but they forgot about grace and God's help and love.  Instead they believed it was all about obedience and duty. Duty without heart is an empty shell.  Converting others to that kind of religion only brings them down too.  

Prayer: Lord, help me to see that I am a sinner in need of a Savior.  Help me to see I need your help- your grace to remove my failures.  

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Refocusing Religion

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation. (Matthew 23:14)

Thoughts: Most manuscripts leave out verse 14.  Yet it is found similarly to Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47: ("they devour widow's houses and for a show make lengthy prayers.  These men will be punished more severely").  So it was a saying of Jesus that makes sense in this place.
    "They devour widow's houses" this means they take advantage of the needy to advance themselves financially.  Their greed possessed them more than their compassion.  All of us are called to give up greed and instead be generous toward those in need.
      "And for a pretense you make long prayers."  It is hard to mess up praying.  Many feel uncomfortable praying.  But the only real requirement of Jesus is that it be talking to God FROM THE HEART- AND NOT JUST FOR SHOW. 
     True religion takes the focus off of us and puts it on God and others.  But these scribes and Pharisees (teachers of the Law) found a way to manipulate religion to still focus on themselves.  In our day this happens with a different twist.  We believe in God only for what God can do for us.  The focus therefore is not on God- but on what God can do for us.  This shows clearly when we are disappointed with something that happens in our lives and we blame God.  It is not about us.  

Prayer: Lord, let my life's attention and focus be on you.  You alone are worthy of worship, praise, time, and all that I am.  

Monday, October 16, 2017

Shutting Heaven

13“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. (Matthew 23:13) 

Thoughts: The Pharisees condemned people they considered "sinners."  They did not give second chances.  They lived only by rules and not be grace.  So, the Pharisees were quick to condemn (and in their minds) send people to hell.   This is what Jesus means when he says, "shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people's faces." 
    But the Pharisees do not enter.  They believe that they deserve heaven because they try so hard to obey their rules.  The problem is no one is perfect.  If heaven is a perfect place, even the Pharisees- who try harder than anyone- will not make it.  Imperfect people cannot come in or haven will no longer be perfect.  The Pharisees did not think they needed God's help to get to heaven.  They felt that all they needed was to keep all the commands and they felt they could. 
     The Pharisees also condemned those who were trying to follow Jesus.  Thus He said, "Nor will you let those who enter who are trying to."  The sinners who repented and followed Jesus were condemned by the Pharisees as were all who followed Jesus. 
     The Pharisees acted as it they were guardians of the door.  They did not have that right because they couldn't get in themselves.  The invitation to heaven is open to all and only God has the right to let people in. 

Prayer: Lord, let me trust in your grace and not in my own ability to do good.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Titles and Robes

5“Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteriesa wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
8“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.9And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11The greatest among you will be your servant. 12For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23:5-12)

Thoughts: The Pharisees did things for people to see.  Many in America do this as well.  We like to look good- with good cars, nice houses, nice boats, the best tickets at the best events- things that make us supposedly look good.  But looking good temporarily does not affect us for eternity.  It could even adversely affect us.  Some will go into debt so high in order to look good- or have our children look good.  But this is just for show.
      One of my seminary professors said that the further we move away from the Bible, the longer our robes and the more colored our stoles become, and the more degrees and titles are meted out. 
      The biggest truth for us is that the greatest will be a servant and the humble will be exalted.  We are called not to seek to look good, but to humble ourselves rightly before God.  

Prayer: Lord, let me seek you from the heart and not to seek to simply look good.  

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Not practicing what we preach

1Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. (Matthew 23:1-4) 

Thoughts: Jesus was the King of kings.  Yet He could have flinched at obeying bad rule makers.  He did not foment a rebellion against the Romans- even encouraging rendering to Caesar what is Caesar's, though He certainly did not approve of their behavior.  Later the Romans would be the ones to kill Him.  He criticized the Pharisees because they had corrupted the faith.  This whole chapter is a scathing criticism- seven woes and a tough introduction.  But here he clearly calls for the people to listen to them since they were over them.  In a few days these Pharisees whom He said to listen to would have Him killed on the cross. 
      The Pharisees were hypocritical because they did not practice what they preached.  They made all these human rules but did not keep them.  They were great about making rules, but they did not believe in grace.  Jesus was about hope, grace, and love- the motivational things that make religion worthwhile.  We should not focus on the moral side of faith as much as the motivational side.  Luther said, "Love God and do what you will."  He meant if we love God the rest will fall into line.

Prayer: Lord, help me to love you with hear, soul, mind and strength.  Forgive me when I do not practice what I preach.  

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Messiah is Lord

41While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42“What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
“The son of David,” they replied.
43He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,
44“ ‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.” ’e
45If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” 46No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Matthew 22:41-46)

Thoughts: Jesus asks the Pharisees a question for a change.  The question was about the identity of the Messiah. Strong prophetic tradition says that the Messiah is the Son of David, so their reply was quick (based on 2 Chr. 17:10-14; Isa. 9:2-7; 11:1-9; Jer. 23:5-6).
     But Jesus is more than just an ancestor of David.  He is David's Lord. Jesus quotes Psalm 110:1 (the most quoted Psalm of the New Testament).  The Messiah is not only David's descendant and thus a king, but also the one David follows and owes allegiance to- even as the mightiest king of Israel. Jesus was laying claim to divinity, and the Pharisees had no answer. 
       The Pharisees could not trap Him, outsmart Him, out maneuver Him, so they did the only thing left as those in power to stop Him- arrest and kill Him. 
       Jesus was clearly laying claim to the Messiah- the descendant of David- the King but also the Lord worthy of following.  The Pharisees just did not want to follow Jesus or give Him their allegiance.  Our call is to not just acknowledge his identity but listen to Him and worship Him as David did.  

Prayer: Lord, you are worthy not only of my allegiance but my life.  You are my Lord, and I give myself to you. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Greatest Commandment

34Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’c 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’d 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22;34-40) 

Thoughts: This passage is why I would choose to be a Christian. It is a call from God to love.  The Christian God is love, who calls us to love Him and neighbor.  But He also intersected our world- came down.  He came to show us it is not only possible to be a loving person but how to do it.  Jesus embodied love with courage and changed the world for better.  The incarnation of Jesus and the atoning crucifixion of Christ embody the love of the Father for us, and the love of the Son for the Father and Spirit; and the gentle love of the Spirit  for us.  god so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son- so we are called to love Him in return- not reject Him or go our own way.  But we are also called to love the ones that are placed around us and that we are placed around- our neighbor.  A neighbor may be near or maybe someone we meet by opportunity who lives thousands of miles away.  They do not have to believe- like the Good Samaritan loved the Jewish wounded man (that parable was in response to the question- "Then who is my neighbor?"). 
     Martin Luther said 500 years ago, "Love God and do what you will."  He meant that if we really absolutely love God then everything else (including love for neighbor) will fall into place.  Usually the Ten Commandments are divided into two parts: 1) Loving God (no idols, no graven images, no vain nametaking of God, honoring parents, remember the Sabbath) and 2) Loving neighbor (no lying, stealing, killing, adultery, coveting).  So love for God and neighbor sum up the Law.  The Old Testament calls us to love neighbor (Lev. 19:17-18).  Jesus teaches us God loves us.  Some religions do not talk about loving God and God's loving us as centrally important- but it is centrally important to Christian faith and worship.  It is a practical softening of the faith and the greatest blessing that there can be in life. 

Prayer: Thank you Lord, for your great love.  Help me to love you more and more., and to grow in love for my neighbor.  

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Marriage in Heaven

23That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24“Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. 25Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27Finally, the woman died. 28Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”
29Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’b ? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
33When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.  (Matthew 22:23-33)

Thoughts: The Saducees only believed the first five books in the Bible.  They also did not believe in miracles or heaven and the resurrection.  It seemed they were trying to trap Jesus in his belief in the resurrection. 
    In the Old Testament, as a way to protect widowed women and children, if a brother died, the other brother would marry the widow and adopt the children (called levirate marriage Dt. 25:5-10).  But marriage and sexual activity are not the same in heaven, according to Jesus.  This will disappoint many who (Freud) who think the major gift of God to human kind is sexual pleasure.  This actually points out that we should not over-value sexuality (as we do in America today).  In heaven we become like the angels who do not reproduce.  But there is deeper knowledge and love for all who are there. The Mormons believe some marriages (performed in their Temple) can be eternal.  But that does not accord with Jesus' teachings here.  As one woman commentator put it, "This means that women are not the property of multiple men but stand on equal footing in heaven." 
     The Saducees thought they knew all about the scriptures and how predictable God was.  But Jesus rebuked them.  God is the living God and is God of the living.  God "IS" the God of Abraham not "WAS" the God of Abraham.  Jesus did not just believe in the resurrection, He lived and proved it.  

Prayer: Lord, let me live in you and love in you.  

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The King vs. the king

15Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial taxa to Caesar or not?”
18But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?19Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
21“Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
22When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away. (Matthew 22:15-22)

Thoughts: The leaders of the people were trying to trap the leader sent by God.  They at first tried to butter Him up, like they were intent on listening to what He said- when they did not really care what He said on this subject.  For most of them, they did not want to pay taxes to Caesar.  He was pagan. But they also did not want to risk open rebellion.  Jesus was not in rebellion against Caesar- He was in rebellion against pride and evil. 
      Jesus escaped the trap brilliantly while giving a lesson to us all.  Jesus was not against government- even wicked evil government.  In fact, it was Caesar's government, supposedly one of the most legal minded in the world, that would kill Him.  Yet here He supported giving to Caesar what is Caesar's.  Caesar made coins and roads, and made the way clear for commerce and trade.  Yet Caesar worship was evolving too.  Within a century the followers of Jesus would be killed for not pinching incense in homage/worship before a statue of Caesar.  The Romans were okay with Jesus as long as He would allow Caesar worship.  So many today are okay with Christianity as long as it is saying yes to things and never no.  It is the narrowing of truth that pagans and the wicked have a problem with.  Even with the Pharisees, if Jesus did not go against some of their practices, they may not have had such animosity against Him.  When Jesus said "No" to the money changers, to the open Pharisaical hypocrisy they could not bear it. 
    Here Jesus was able to find a way to say yes to Caesar and to God that others did not see.  Again, Jesus, in contrast to the messianic pretenders of the first century did not seek open rebellion against the Romans.  After He fed the 5,000 some wanted to make Him king but he refused.  Jesus teaches us that it is not necessarily a conflict to have an earthly king while also a heavenly King. 

Prayer: Thank you that you are the One True King.  Help me to follow you, even while I listen to the earthly rulers that are placed over me.  

Monday, October 9, 2017

Many are Called

8“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.
13“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
14“For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:8-14)
Thoughts: No one deserves to come.  But some simply reject the invitation.  The King graciously then turns and asks anyone to come.  It sounds a bit sad that the king of the land has to almost beg people to come to the real party.  But that is what happens.  The invitation to heaven (the ultimate kingdom) is extended to all.  Whoseoever will- may come.  You can come rich or poor, blind or lame, living in another country under another name- as Bob Dylan says.  So all too are invited to church.  Anyone can come.  We don't have so much a problem with that anymore- at least not on the surface. 
     Our problem comes when the king asks us to be well-suited for the occasion.  Most scholars believe that the wealthy and rulers had robes (like togas) for their guests to put on for their parties.  This one person refused to put on the robe.  He made no excuse in the face of the king but stood "with his bare face hangin' out"- speechless- tongue tied.  As someone said, we live in a "come-as-you-are culture."  We want the rules to bend to us.  Baptism is a symbol of the clothes we have.  We are to be clothed in our baptism ["For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves in Christ." Galatians 3:27]. 
    But it is more than that.  We are to be clothed with holiness, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience (Col. 3:12).  The righteous robe- the robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10)  is what we are to put on (see also Job 29:14; Rev. 19:8; Isa. 59:17; 11:5; 64:6; Psalm 132:9; Zech 3:4; Rev. 3:4).  All our own righteousness is as filthy rags (Isa. 64:6; Romans 10).  We are to put the robe of Christ's righteousness on.  He is our righteousness.  We are to live like guests of the King, wanting to please Him who provided such a rich feast for us.  We are all called in- but not all of us put on the righteous robe of Christ.  There is a choosing going on here.  Perhaps we choose, perhaps the King chooses to let us go as we choose.  The word "chosen" seems to point to the King's choosing.  This parable is not about giving us the details of election.  But it is a reminder- all are invited now- but not all are chosen.  Baptism is a gracious gift, but we are also baptized and called in baptism to follow Him- listening to His command to put on the robe.   
Prayer: Lord, help me to listen to your voice and to respond to your gracious call to come to your party.  Thank you for the invitation- I treasure it and will respect your party rules. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The King's Invitation Rejected

1Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2“The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
4“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
5“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. (Matthew 22:1-7)

Thoughts: First the kingdom of God is like a party.  It is a fun.  It is not like a funeral.  It is like a wedding banquet- everything laid out- an amazing feast- just waiting.  But some think it is a waste of their busy time.  It is the best of the table -not gruel, not just one fattened calf but many.  The people were too busy for a real king's party.  They went off to their fields, and their business, forgetting about the king to whom they owed their allegiance.  They were apathetic.  Bu others were actively hostile, killing the messengers of the king.  The king sent an army and burned the city of the people who killed his messengers.
     What does all this mean? God chose the Jewish people to be His. He would be their king, they would be His people.  The party is when God comes down in the person of Jesus to be with His people.  It is the marriage of the bride (the church) with the groom (the Messiah- God's Son).  But the people were not interested in the marriage, and some actually tried to kill the groom- Jesus.  By 70 AD an army of Romans came and destroyed Jerusalem and tore down the Temple.   To some, this had nothing to do with Jesus' death.  This would be a bit naive since Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple.
     Out task is to join God's party- to accept His invitation.  Listen to His voice.  

Prayer: Lord, help me to listen to your voice and accept your gracious invitation.  

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Renter's Parable

33“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.
35“The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.
38“But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.
40“Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”
41“He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”
42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“ ‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’h ?
43“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”i
45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet. (Matthew 21:33-46)

Thoughts: This could be called "The Parable of the Landlord and the Renters."  God is the landlord, and we are the renters.  God made the world, and designed it beautifully.  We as renters have not been giving the landlord His due- acting as if we own it ourselves.  God cares and wants us to pay Him homage- and He sends His prophets whom we kill, and then His Son whom we crucify.  The kingdom will be taken away from the Jews and given to the Gentiles.  Whether this was written in 80 AD or even 100 AD it doesn't matter.  The writer had no real inkling that the Gospel of Christ would go to every nation and have adherants in every nation.  

Friday, October 6, 2017

Lesson from Two Sons' Decision

28“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
29“ ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
30“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
31“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him. (Matthew 21:28-32)

Thoughts: Jesus ends this group of sayings (chapter 21 in Matthew) by giving two parables of rejection: the parable of the two sons and the parable of the bad tenants.  Jesus knew He would be rejected by His own people.  He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him (John 1:11).  Both are of the owner of a vineyard- symbolizing God our Maker and sustainer. 
This parable is about two sons- both loved by the father and both called by the father.    One son said he would obey but did not listen.  The other said he would not but later changed his mind and did.  There is a dual meaning here.
     In one sense this is a symbol of those who are proud and think they are right simply because they say they are willing to do God's will.  Others may do wrong but are later changed or converted and do God's will.  Obedience proves love.  The sinners who repented and followed Christ are better off than the Pharisees who didn't feel the need to follow Him.
     The other meaning is that Jesus was about to be rejected by His people as a whole- the people who said they would follow Him.  But His Gospel is about to be spread to those who said "No" at first (the Gentiles).  Many of these would come to Jesus (along with some Jews too).  What counts is not your words, your liturgy, your show, but your heart. 

Prayer: Lord, let my heart be true to you and finish in love for you.  

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Listen to the One in Authority

23Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”
24Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”
They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”
27So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. (Matthew 21:23-27) 

Thoughts: Jesus knew they didn't want to hear Him say, "By God's authority."  They did not have ears to hear His answer.  Yet, Jesus was shaking things up- driving out the money-changers, and teaching the destruction of the Temple in the Temple (which happened in 70 AD).  So Jesus answered their pretend question with a question about John.  They could not answer.  The real reason they could not answer is that they could not listen to God through John or Jesus. 
        Of course, Jesus' authority was as the Son of God.  The owner of the Temple has the right to have the Temple cleansed and shaken up a bit. 
     Sometimes people cannot listen, and we can learn from Jesus not to try to give an answer that they will not hear.  But our task is to always be listening to the Spirit.  The Spirit does not contradict Himself-- so the Spirit doesn't go against scripture- what the Spirit has said before.  A false prophet (Dt. 8) would speak what is contrary to scripture.  So let us listen, and listen carefully.   

Prayer: Help me to have ears to hear your voice, O Spirit. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Bearing Fruit

18Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. 19Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.
20When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.
21Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”  (Matthew 21:18-22)

Thoughts: The theme of this chapter is the rejection of the people of God and then God's rejection of them.  To expect God to continue to bless us when we are not grateful to Him or live for Him is naive. 
     The fig tree was a symbol of Israel.  In Jeremiah 8:13 God says He will take away the fig harvest as a sign of their rejection of God.   The people of Israel were chosen to bear fruit- to glorify God and to be a kingdom of priests to the nations.  But the fruit was non-existent.
       We do not exist for our own comfort- or simply to grow without bearing fruit.  We are called to bear the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control).  We are called to bear fruit by reproducing our faith in others.  Fruit is part of the reproduction cycle of a tree that nourishes us and makes the tree useful.  We are not simply made to grow and prosper- we are called to have a purpose and bear fruit.  In John 15:2 Jesus says that a branch that does not bear fruit will be pruned. 
But there is another part to this passage.  "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. "  Prayer is not just wishful thinking, talking to the ceiling or talking to thin air. Jesus is trying to get His followers to believe in the power of God and to trust in Him.  There is power in prayer- so we should pray more.  Prayer is another way we may bear fruit for God.  

Prayer: Lord, help me to believe in your power.  Help me to bear fruit for you.  

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Shaking Up the Temple- Shaking Up Me

14The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.
16“Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.
“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read,
“ ‘From the lips of children and infants
you, Lord, have called forth your praise’g ?”
17And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night. (Matthew 21:14-17)

Thoughts: It boggles my mind that the priests would want the children to stop singing about Jesus and they were irritated about his healing people in the Temple.  It seems so cruel of them.  How callous they are to Jesus, the Son of God.
       Then I think again.  Do I really want Jesus to shake my life up that much?  Do I really expect and desire Him to answer my prayers so that people are dramatically changed for the better- yes- and no.  There is always a part of me that wants only the expected, the normal, the status quo.  Some times I would rather have just a touch- just a pinch of religion but not too much.  I put on the brakes.  I say, in effect, "God come in and be real- but my life is pretty nice- don't shake it up too much."  When I speak like this (too often- after all- I AM a Presbyterian), I am expressing more trust in my reason and less real trust in God's love.  I have found that God has been super patient with me.  I have found that He is much more sensitive to my fears than I am to His love.  He treats us all with more mercy than we deserve.  But I hear the voice of Jesus say to give a bit more of my heart and my life to Him.  As I do, without fear, he proves Himself trustworthy.  Truth is, I am the blind man.  Blind to His true love.  I am the lame man- half walking as a Christian and half walking as a sinner.  He longs to make me truly whole.  Lord, let me listen to the uninhibited voices that call me to give my whole self to you. 

Prayer: Lord, it is easy to condemn the Pharisees without seeing that I am one.  Forgive my desire for only a half-religion.  Help me to grow in love with you and neighbor and without fear or putting on the brakes.