Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Separation is not For Us

24Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28“ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29“ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ ”(Matthew 13)

Thoughts: Jesus lived this parable.  One of his disciples would betray Him, but he ate, slept, and taught this betrayer nonetheless.  So we should let the bad grow with the good until the time is ripe.  In our day, too many want to separate the good from the bad when it is not harvesttime yet.  Such separation divides an already fragile church.
      An enemy sowed the weeds among the seeds.  This was the work of the evil one who constantly wants to frustrate the work of God Almighty.  One of the curses of life is that it is not easy after the fall.  It is by the sweat of our brow that we must do our work.
      In the end, separation and judgment is the work of God, not ours.  The Church, local and general, will always be a mixture of good and bad- true believers and fake believers.  But God will eventually clean things up. 

Prayer: Lord, help me be patient, waiting on you to separate and clean up.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Blessed are Your Eyes,

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

Thoughts: Jesus only ministered on earth to the people for about three years- a very short time.  The eyes that saw the miracles and the ears that heard his teachings are blessed.  But it is even more blessed when the eyes that saw believed what they saw; and the ears that heard believed what they hear.  Even today, what counts is not seeing God work, but believing in the God who does the work. 

Prayer: Lord, bless my eyes and ears that they not only see and hear, but they allow me to respond to you.  

Monday, May 29, 2017


10The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
11He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
14In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“ ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
15For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’a (Matthew 13)

Thoughts: Why doesn't Jesus just use plain talk.  Talk about God is never plain with only one simple meaning.  Just as a multifaceted diamond has many sides to it, so God does as well- though there is only one true diamond. Parables allow people to think and not just cast off the teaching.  They are more easily memorized- and in an oral culture, that is important.  The parable was a kind of semi-apocalyptic writing (a hidden wisdom that only those who believe can understand- vs 11).  Parables are more easily understood by those who wish to understand them and who do not just shrug off the deeper meaning.  It is also prophesied in Isaiah that some would not understand though they heard the teachings of Jesus.  

Prayer: Lord, help me to understand and apply your word to my life. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Fertile Soil

1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13:1-9)

Thoughts: Jesus went out so the crowds could hear Him.  He went to a boat so his voice could be heard reflecting on the waters and he could be seen from the shoreline.  He wanted His teachings heard and understood.
       The farmer sowed seed- on a path, rocky soil, in thorns, and on good soil. Some came up but it only stuck on good soil.  Jesus was saying that the Lord is the farmer; the seed is the Word of God; the soil is our hearts.  Some have hardened their hearts, others choke it out with worry; We should do all we can do study and nurture the Word of God in our hearts.  

Prayer: Lord, let my heart be a fertile field for your Word.  Let me have ears to hear and a heart to respond. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

My brother and sister

46While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”
48He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50)

Thoughts: Jesus was not elevating friends over family here.  But he was elevating those who were in the family of faith to family status.  Jesus often saw his mother, brothers, and sisters.  His mother was with him at the cross and he told John to take care of her.  But it is true that when family rejects you for your faith, you still have a family in those who do God's will.  It is also true that when family dies or moves there are those who do God's will who comfort us and strengthen us.   In our day of mobile families, where the average American family moves about 12 times in their lifetime, church families add moral and loving stability.  We often and rightly call church members "brother" or "sister."  In Christ we have a common Father who gives us life but also a common Lord whom we follow. 

Prayer: Lord, help me to value my church family and those who are in it.  

Friday, May 26, 2017

Staying Clean

43“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. 45Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.” (Matthew 12:43-45)

Thoughts: Jesus had come, healed, and cleansed.  He had performed miracles and His teachings had helped the land and people.  Though the people accepted his miracles, they did not accept Him.  This made it worse.  They knew His power and His claims but rejected Him- opening themselves up for all kinds of spiritual evil.  Rejecting God opens ourselves up to selfishness and pride but the restraints placed on us by self-control and the Holy Spirit are also lifted.   It was not long after Jesus that the land was devastated with war and most of the people were kicked out of the land for almost 1900 years.  Within a generation of rejecting Jesus (by 70 AD) the people were wiped off the land.  
     But the lesson is a broader one than to just the generation that rejected Jesus.  The lesson is that we should fully accept Him (not just temporarily or half accept Him). 

Prayer: Lord, Let me embrace the cleansing you offer my soul and my life.  Let me hold fast and persevere in my faith in you.  

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Faith not a Sign

38Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”
39He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. 42The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here. (Matthew 12:38-42)

Thoughts: The people not only want credentials, they also want a magic show.  The Pharisees do not want to believe, so they want more evidence.  For some people there is never evidence enough.  Jesus had already healed the deaf, the blind, the lame, the leper.
     Jesus, however does point to a sign, a symbolic sign of Jonah.  Jonah was thrown overboard during a hurricane-type storm.  He was as good as dead.  But God saved him- through a miraculous fish.  It was unbelievable- such things do not happen.  But the fish spit Jonah up on the land where he lived to serve God.  The sign Jesus points to is his death, 3-day burial, and resurrection.  This is the greatest sign, and really the only sign necessary.
       The reaction of the people of Nineveh and later the Queen of the South is to listen and repent.  But the Pharisees, who asked for a sign, refused to listen and only hardened their hearts more to crucify Christ and then not believe the sign of the resurrection.
       Many want Jesus to prove Himself to them.  They want to see and have strong evidence more than faith.  But God wants us to believe in Him even if we cannot fully understand or measure His presence.   God does answer prayers, shows His mercy and love daily.  The Spirit moves strongly through providence.  We should not demand a sign, but it is not wrong to see God move and appreciate it.  The basis of our belief, however, is not any sign, but faith in God.  

Prayer: Lord, let me live by faith and not by sight.  Let me see you at work, but let me not demand a sign in order to believe.  

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Words and Heart

33“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:33-37)

Thoughts: The inside shows itself on the outside. A tree that is shriveled and without much health will not produce fruit.  If your mouth speaks evil and destruction, it is a sign of what is inside the heart. Words are not meaningless.  Though many today doubt that there is truth or that spin and profit are more valuable than truth.  If your heart is good, good actions and words will come forth.  By our profession of faith- our claiming Jesus as Lord, we are acquitted.  By our cursing, rejection, words of destruction we are condemned.  Let us choose our words carefully, and let them come from a heart transformed by Christ. 

Prayer: Lord, may my words match my heart- and may they both be fully yours.   

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Blasphemy of the Spirit

30“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.31And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:30-32)

Thoughts:  To some, this passage seems so unusual they want to say it is not really scripture - or not really Jesus and we don't have to pay any attention to it.  It does not fit with our preconceived ideas of how Jesus ought to be.  We want him to always look the other way and always forgive.  But this passage (which I believe is original and should be honored as canonical nonetheless) speaks of a limit to God's forgiveness.  It appears in the context of religious leaders calling Jesus evil.  There are other passages where Jesus says to brush the sand off your feet when you are not welcomed- a symbol of unforgiveness (Mt. 10:14; Mark 6:11).  The good news is the loving, gracious Jesus is our judge (Romans 8:34).  He is slow to condemn and gives many chances to repent.  In some ways all of life is an opportunity to get things right with God.  While we have breath, we hope.
     Everyone is invited to come- but not all do.  Blasphemy against the Spirit is calling the work of God's Spirit evil.  Jesus' coming, healing, teaching was certainly the epitome of spiritual work.  But there were those who condemned Jesus' work then, and condemn it now.  It seems that this involves the hardening of one's heart against God- not letting the Spirit in- and even more calling His work evil.
     Those who speak blasphemously of God and the church are not answerable to God's people but to God Himself. To think that there should not be any consequences for calling the most Holy God evil is naive.  Blasphemy of God- real blasphemy- is a poison that spreads.  However, in the Christian Church, while we may discipline people in the church spiritually, we do not condemn them physically.  There have been historic exceptions from which the church winces in sadness and repentance.  We leave that punishment up to God, who is the One who is ultimately offended.  Just as "revenge" is left to God (and we turn the other cheek), so defending God's honor is ultimately up to Him.  He will defend His honor with utmost fairness and with true justice.   
    While Jesus welcomes all- and made room for Gentiles, women, and the sick- there is a time when we must decide are we for Him or against Him.  

Prayer: Lord, let me be for you.  Let me be all in for you.  

Monday, May 22, 2017

The defeat of evil

22Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. 23All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”
24But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”
25Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
29“Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house. (Matthew 12:22-29)

Thoughts: To call evil good and good evil is a hardening of the heart and close to blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus healed, but the Pharisees still tried to call Him evil.  Jesus points out that Satan does not drive out Satan.  The devil does not divide his own house-fighting against himself.  Jesus came to defeat evil- and his driving out demons is a sign of his purpose.  But by calling Jesus a devil, they were taking the side of evil.  Jesus points out that He is coming to bind evil, and that the Kingdom of God- the presence of God is amongst them.  

Prayer: Lord, give me discernment to see good as good and evil as evil.  Then give me grace to do all I can to defeat evil and all I can to build up the good.  

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Glorifying God Quietly

15Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. 16He warned them not to tell others about him. 17This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
18“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
19He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
20A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
21In his name the nations will put their hope.” (Matthew 12:15-21)

Thoughts  There are some who do not understand why Jesus did not have a better PR guy or an advertising campaign so that he would be more popular.  Jesus almost seems against that as he warns people not to tell others that he healed.  Isaiah seems to also prophesy that the Messiah would not bang a drum and call a lot of attention to himself.  John records that after the feeding of the 5,000 the crowds wanted to make him king, but he refused.  When Jesus finally does get good recognition after Lazarus is raised and he processes to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday he is arrested days later and killed.  Jesus is trying to keep quiet so that he can continue to do ministry. There are those who believe bigger is always better and advertising is always best at all times.   But sometimes the build up is important until just the right moment. 

Prayer: Lord, help me to follow your example of knowing when to speak up and when to glorify God quietly.  

Friday, May 19, 2017

Doing Good on the Sabbath

9Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
11He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
13Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. (Matthew 12:9-14)

Thoughts: Jesus was the healer.  The Pharisees knew he wanted to help others so they tried to entrap Jesus into a contradiction of acting on the Sabbath.  But Jesus was not impressed with their trap.  They should not treat livestock better than they treat humans.  The Sabbath, Jesus teaches involves mercy and kindness as well as rest.  Instead of wanting to help the man with the hand, the Pharisees determined to kill the one who was bringing the hurt man help.  Their pride was leading them into more evil than they knew.  Having a listening heart to the helping Lord is important in our lives. 

Prayer: Lord, may my strength be found in your mercy and grace.  

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Sabbath's Lord

1At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
3He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’a you would not have condemned the innocent. 8For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:1-7)

Thoughts: Jesus was teaching about the Sabbath by publicly living in the Sabbath.  Basically He was saying that He is King of the Sabbath or Lord of the Sabbath.  That is, Jesus is claiming He has the right and the duty to speak of how to keep the Sabbath.  He is not saying there is no Sabbath, but that the Sabbath is not just a restrictive thing but a tool for rest.
     For Christians, taking a day of rest is still important.  It is not a legalistic and forced thing.  Jesus interprets the Sabbath with grace for rest, nourishment, and mercy.  The Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus, wants us to keep the Sabbath in merciful and graceful ways.  

Prayer: Lord, let me rest with hope, mercy, and in your love.  

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

He lightens our Burden

28“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Thoughts: Truth is, part of being human is that we grow weary and become burdened.  We all yearn for real satisfying rest.  But the best satisfaction in life does not come from any human accomplishment, but from the God who made the earth and also makes rest.  Marx says we are designed to work.  But we are also designed to rest.  We must sleep.  If we deprive ourselves of sleep, all kinds of health issues occur.  The rhythm of life- where work, rest, and sleep occur is important.  But Jesus offers us inner rest and inner peace.  Life is not just about excitement and achievement.  Inner peace that Jesus offers not only gives us a breath, it also motivates us.  Christ keeps us form being so tightly wound that we cannot enjoy life.
   The idea of "take my yoke upon you" is a bit hidden from us today.  An ox yoke usually was a double yoke for two oxen. Often a lead ox will do the main pulling and a student ox would learn (as in picture below).  Jesus is saying He will be pulling alongside us bearing the brunt of the load.  He is the gentle, humble ox who quietly helps us even when we don't realize it.  He lightens our burden and takes the edge off of our weary and burdened life.  

Prayer: Lord, I come to you.  You are my source of rest, peace, and help me to carry on.   

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Truth revealed to the Unlearned

25At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.26Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
27“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.  (Matthew 11:25-27)

Thoughts: Why does Jesus praise the Father for revealing the truth to the unlearned?  It is the humble who are being exalted.  The proud are being brought low.  It is that way with the Almighty, All-wise God.  The proud do not want to believe in a being more high and that they should submit to.  The humble are willing to listen and obey.  People who think they have God all figured out- either on the left or on the right do not.  The left wallows in doubt while the right is stuck in certainty.  The humble know that neither doubt nor walking by pride is the way to go.  There is a measure of darkness or doubt when we walk by faith and not sight.  There is also a measure of certainty to believe.  But pride shows itself in wallowing in doubt and in surety.
    Jesus says that if we do not know the Son we are missing the revelation of God.  God reveals Himself in Jesus.  Let us not be too proud to look beyond our doubts or our certainty to Jesus.  

Prayer: Lord, help me to look to you.  Give me grace to walk by faith and not in the pride of my knowledge.  

Monday, May 15, 2017

Faith and Seeing Miracles

20Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. 21“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.e For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” (Matthew 11:20-24)

Thoughts: There are times when we say to ourselves, "If I had been there, and I had seen the miracles that Jesus did- healing the blind, deaf, lame, raising the dead, calming the storm, walking on water, feeding the 5,000, then I would surely believe stronger.  Ironically, many of the people who see these miracles do not believe.  Judas saw them all.  The people of Chorazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum saw them all.  The Israelites who saw the mighty plagues against Egypt soon forgot to trust God and complained in the desert and thought they could not conquer the giants of Canaan.  I have known people who have been miraculously preserved from death or have seen a clear answer to prayer yet no longer come to worship.  How can this happen?  Does God care?  If God comes so near us and we still ignore Him, we are held that much more accountable.  Truth is, faith is always a matter of trust and seeing faith affirmed with our eyes does not always mean we will believe long-term.  Today you can go to Israel and see the ruins of these three cities.  When I went I literally saw jackals and owls there.  

Prayer: Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.  Give me a grateful heart to appreciate it when I see you at work.  

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Kind Not Critical

15 Whoever has ears, let them hear.
16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
17 “‘We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not mourn.’
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”  (Matthew 11:15-19)

Thoughts: Jesus was talking about the people who are never satisfied.  They were complaining that John was too strict.  Then they played that Jesus was too gracious.  Truth is, John and Jesus both were right, but they had a different approach.  The people should have responded to either one or both.  True faith could incorporate tea totalers and also people who hang around sinners.  Jesus and John both had their heart right with God.  Our goal is just that.  In the meantime, we should quit being criticizers and instead be people who look to the heart.  

Prayer: Lord, let me be kind instead of critical.   Grant me your peace.