Monday, July 31, 2017

Eunuchs for the Kingdom

12For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”  (Matthew 19:12) 

Thoughts: Jesus main point is that some are called to be single to further the kingdom of heaven.  It is not an evil thing to be single, nor is it necessarily more honorable.  Paul said that those who marry are concerned for their family when there is a time of persecution, and may lose focus for the kingdom (1 Corinthians 7).  Calvin and Luther derided the idea of monks and nuns as more holy than those who were married.  Calvin said that the godly family is the model for the world of the kingdom of heaven. This does not mean that those who are single are second class.  Singles have a different calling and can be more focused on holiness and service.  But it is taking this passage too far to say that all priests/ministers must be single.  There is evidence of Peter's and other disciples being married (Peter had a mother-in-law (Lk. 4:38).
      We need to be careful that we not do eisegesis (putting our own day's, culture's views, our preferences onto the text).  Jesus was not giving another category of sexuality besides male and female (there are 58 genders on Facebook today).   People are so confused about genders today that some are calling for an end of talking about it (agender) as it has become too complex and for many "gender" doesn't make sense.  In 19:4 Jesus points out God made two genders: male and female- then he links gender and biology in marriage- the two becoming one.
    People are so consumed about their sexuality as if this were the only thing in life driving them.  Sexuality is an important gift of God but it is not the only one, and can be controlled. In fact, this is what Jesus was saying.  Some give up their sexuality for the kingdom of heaven.  Jesus did this. There is no evidence- contra DaVinci- that Jesus married or had an affair.  There is every evidence that he led a pure and holy life in every way.  Contrary to popular belief it is not unhealthy to control your sexuality.  To not practice self control of your sexuality ends up deeply hurting others, and even hurting ourselves and our relationship with God.
    Ironically, Jesus knew not everyone can swallow this teaching.  So he says, "the one who can accept it should accept it."  It is almost a challenge he gives us to accept that control of our sexuality is important to live a holy and God-pleasing life.  

Prayer: Lord, let me let you be Lord over my sexuality and help me to control myself in the face of the temptations and confusions of the world around me. 

Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Special Word

11Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.  (Matthew 19:11)

Thoughts: This is a very interesting and overlooked verse.  Not everyone can accept this word.  He was saying not too many people will remain single (as Jesus did).  But only those to whom it has been given- there are people called by God to be single.  It is a rare calling.  Jesus did not have in mind the monk or nun structure of the latter church.  Jesus was saying that some are not called to be married and that is okay.  But there is a broader principle found in this verse.
     Some are called to a different calling, and they do not need to think that everyone is to be called like they are.  Not all soldiers are called to be paratroopers.  But the paratroopers do not need to look down on the other soldiers.  Everyone has a role to play.  Not all Christians are called into full time Christian work.  But those who are do not need to think that they are better than others, or that everyone should feel this call.  God calls different people with different gifts in different ways.  If the word is given to us by God- we should answer it- but not expect everyone to answer in the same way.

Prayer: Lord, when I hear your call, give me grace to follow you in that way.  Give me grace too, to be gracious to those who are different than I.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Not Marry?

10The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” (Matthew 19:10)

Thoughts: The disciples understood that it takes effort to keep a marriage.  Jesus also basically said that once you get married you need to stay married.  So the disciples said this scares them about marriage.  Today, there are many who are afraid of marriage.  They are afraid they marry the wrong person or end up getting a divorce.
     Marriage is going to happen.  93% of Americans say that they want or have wanted to get married.  Jesus immediately responded by saying that not everyone needs to get married.  But those who do get married should enter into it prayerfully and carefully.  

Prayer: Lord, help those who are married.  Give them grace to stay in love and keep their vows to each other.  

Friday, July 28, 2017

Jesus Against Adultery

9I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:9)

Thoughts: Jesus strengthens marriage by restricting reasons of divorce to vow breaking.  Jesus sought to reform marriage back to its original intention of permanency with the single exception of divorce.  Jesus knew that such a strict standard would be broken and tested.  Yet, his intention was to protect the hearts of his people and also the integrity of their relationship made in a vow before God.  Adultery was a terrible sin that is now downplayed in the West.  Purity in heart and in relationship insured trust and safeguarded the raising of children, and enabled spiritual growth.  Jesus said that to marry again except for the cause of adultery is to commit adultery- marrying someone else's spouse.  Jesus saw sexual immorality as a way to destroy a relationship, and thus encouraged us all to avoid it. The intimacy of a sexual relationship is special and unique and is to be guarded.
     Perhaps it is helpful to also remember that Jesus protected the woman caught in adultery from those who wanted to stone her.  He said, "Neither do I condemn you."  This is great grace- a second chance.  It is obvious from other passages Jesus hated adultery.  When he condemned Israel for rejecting him and the Father, he called them "a wicked and adulterous generation."  Yet Jesus told the woman caught in the act that while He didn't condemn her, He also wanted her to go and sin no more (give up her adulterous ways).  

Prayer: Lord, let my heart be true to my spouse.  Keep me from the lust of the world and to long to be faithful and true to the love you give me.    

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Moses permission but not God's ideal

8Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. (Matthew 19:8)

Thoughts: It is interesting that Moses permitted divorce because their hearts were hard.  It means God adjusts to our sin albeit reluctantly.  It also means that divorce is not the ideal but is allowed in the face of hard hearts.  Jesus noted that from the beginning divorce was not intended.  It is this way when we get married- almost no one who sincerely gets married intends to divorce.  We vow and say, "Til death do us part."  There is grace in the way we are commanded- adjusting to our hearts.  But grace in the face of our sin is still not the ideal. 

Prayer: Lord, help me to love those near me with your love and grace.  

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Moses Permitted Divorce

7“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” (Matthew 19:7)

Thoughts: Moses permitted divorce.  Deuteronomy 24:1 says: "When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house,"  Malachi, who live post exile and the last prophet before John and Jesus said, "For I hate divorce," says the LORD, the God of Israel, "and him who covers his garment with wrong," says the LORD of hosts. "So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously." (Mal. 2:16).  Bad things happen to people and bad things happen to marriage, relationships and the church.
    Divorce in those days was like abandonment.  There was no settlement.  The man could just walk away.  It was even worst in other middle eastern cultures of that time.  Jesus would not allow bad intent or the using of another person for a few months or years.  Yet even in this passage Jesus allows divorce for infidelity.  But he did not just allow divorce for anything and everything.  God cares for human relationships.  

Prayer: Lord, let me balance grace with truth with love and hope.  Thank you that you do not abandon me but stick with me.  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Love in Marriage

5and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’b ? 6So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:5-6)

Thoughts: "What God has joined together" is the key statement.  God has designed male and female to be together in a love partnership for life.  It is important also to note what Jesus did NOT say.  He did not say that the purpose of marriage is having children.  Not everyone can who is married.  He did not say that the purpose of marriage is having sex.  There are times when couples are a part- like when one is on an extended trip or in the armed forces) and cannot see each other.  The purpose is a oneness that is brought together by God.  Marriage is not just a physical thing, a monetary thing, but a oneness thing.  Male and female- two different genders with different perspectives are brought together for oneness- love if you will.  Love goes beyond sex or place or children.  

Prayer: Lord, let me be a person of love, and live in the way you call me to love others in my life.  

Monday, July 24, 2017

A Design of Oneness

4“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’a 5and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’b ? (Matthew 19:4-5)

Thoughts: Jesus said that at the beginning God made human beings male and female.  Up until just a few years ago, the bast majority of people agreed with the very basics of this statement.  Now there are many different classes of sexual "preference."  But the basis for reproduction is still male and female.  The DNA we have is male or female.  While we may try to manipulate things, to create life still takes male and female.  We may be inquiring or confused about who we are, but we are created male or female.
     There may be others who consider marriage for other than male and female, but the Christian view of Jesus was that marriage is between male and female.   The inherent idea of oneness in body and soul is brought out here quite graphically.  
     But there is also a leaving that many need to recognize today.  It is a starting of life together versus hanging onto parental support and influence- however powerful.  While it speaks of "a man" leaving parents, implied here would also be "a woman" must leave father and mother in order to be united to her husband.
     What is sad is that many will get so angry about this statement that they cannot see the beauty of human love as God designed it.  Jesus was not trying to alienate anyone in this passage, He was simply describing the basis for male and female marriage in God's eyes.  The beauty here is a oneness designed by God- that no one should try to separate.  It is a beautiful partnership that is designed to go through thick and thin- richer and poorer- sickness and in health.  Nothing should separate this God-given oneness drawn together in His providence, timing, and love.
      This does not mean that divorce doesn't happen.  It does mean that it should not be our intention when we get married to divorce for the next person who comes along.  We'll look more at that next session.  But our intention is to be one forever when we get married.  This intention and design is a wonderful beautiful thing.  

Prayer: Lord, there is much about life I do not understand.  There is much about human love and design that is a mystery.  However, give me grace to trust in you and listen to your teaching.  

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Such Thing as a Bad Question

3Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” (Matthew 19:3)

Thoughts: Questions can be sincere in an effort to get an answer that can be helpful.  But there are particularly religious questions that are meant to stop conversation or put someone down. There are such things as bad questions, and this is one of them.  Yet, God can even turn a bad question into an opportunity for teaching- which Jesus does here. The Pharisees were continually asking Jesus trick questions.  This was a particularly touchy one.  Moses allowed for divorce, but it was out of hand (as it is in our day).  The Pharisees were asking, "for any and every reason" as an exaggerated rationale.  Divorce is very personal, and it could easily be a reason why some would reject Jesus and his teaching.  Even today, many leave the church over this issue.  Some leave because one church's teaching is too strict, and others because it is too loose.  So this, perhaps, was the perfect trap for Jesus.  Jesus did not care about traps.  He cares about people and their hearts.  Sometimes we can find excuses to quit following Jesus too.  It may be about sexuality or ethics.  In the end, we will stand before God and all our excuses will melt away.  

Prayer: Lord, keep me from giving up on you.  Help me to be able to find peace and patience in the midst of my questions.  

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Power and Teaching

1When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. 2Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. (Matthew 19:1,2)

Thoughts: Matthew divides Jesus' teaching into five major sections (7:28, 11:1; 13:53; 26:1; and 19:1,2).  This is the end of the fourth section- for each ends and begins with the phrase: "When Jesus had finished saying these things..."  Now Jesus' ministry in the northern province of Galilee.  Now He moves toward Judea and with that his final teaching, and the cross, and resurrection.  By now Jesus was famous.  Herod had heard of him and wanted to see him do some miracle.  Large crowds were following him, and doubtless the Romans and Pharisees were getting a bit nervous if not afraid.  The first century was full of rebellions.  But Jesus was not raising soldiers, He was healing people and teaching them to make followers.  He was willing to face the cross. His raising followers was done by this combination of amazing teaching and amazing power.  We should remember Jesus is not just another good teacher, He also is Lord and able to help us.  

Prayer: Lord, thank you that you kept your calling. Help me to keep to mind.  Help me to remember not only your teaching, but your ability to answer prayer.   

Friday, July 21, 2017

Forgive as you Have Been Forgiven

32“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18:32-35)

Thoughts: God cancels our debt.  So we should cancel the debt others owe us.  We are called into our faith to be a forgiving people.  It is an affront to God when we do not forgive others, for it devalues His forgiveness of us.  When we know what a debt has been forgiven us, we tend to be quick to forgive others. 

Prayer: Lord, help me to forgive others out of the forgiveness you have shown me. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mercy for Mercy

25Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.i He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.(Matthew 18:25-31)

Thoughts: A key point of Jesus' teaching is "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."  This parable illustrates the lunacy of wanting forgiveness but not giving forgiveness ourselves.
     The master's servant probably got a good salary but he also ran up a large debt.  The servant's servant had smaller salary and smaller debt but was treated as someone without rights.  Even today, the rich who have debt are given a second or third chance whereas the poor are not.  One easy illustration of this are car title loans that mainly prey on the poor and whose interest rates average 300%.  In this parable the king sees how his poorest subjects are treated and is upset when he shows mercy but the one to whom he shows mercy does not have compassion and mercy on another.  The debt was so great that no small price would pay- only the selling of the whole family.  Perhaps the wife and children played a role in the debt being so great.  The selling of a human being is a disgusting way to pay for anything.  Yet, before God, our sins pile up to create a debt that we cannot begin to pay.
      God is merciful and wants us to show mercy. 

Prayer: Lord, you have had mercy on me.  Let me be merciful to others.  

A kingdom built on Mercy

23“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of goldh was brought to him. 25Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. (Matthew 18:23-27)

Thoughts: The kingdom of heaven is described by Jesus as being a King holding us accountable.  We cannot pay the debt, so we cry for mercy.  The debt was cancelled out of the magnanimous generosity and mercy of the King.  We have a debt to God that we cannot repay.  Jesus also sets the stage for recognizing that more mercy is needed from the one who was shown mercy.   Jesus was teaching that the good news is that God gives us mercy. 

Prayer: Lord thank you that though I cannot pay you for my sins, your mercy is great.  Help me to be merciful to others in your name.  

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Forgiveness is Important to the Church

21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22)

Thoughts: Jesus had just talked about gathering together.  One impediment to gathering together is to hold grudges, to want revenge, or just not wanting to be around those you don't like.  What if someone keeps doing things that need forgiveness.  Truth is, we all do that.  Some bad habits are hard to break.  The rabbis had a saying to forgive someone three times.  Peter thought he was doing good to ask, "seven times?"  But Jesus said seventy times seven.  Jesus  was not saying, "You can forgive someone 490 times but not 491."  He was saying an uncountable number.  Forgiveness is what Jesus came for.  In many ways forgiveness is a distinguishing mark of Christianity. We do not earn our way to heaven- rather we are forgiven to get there by the cross of Christ.  If we cannot gather together and forgive then our souls are in danger indeed.  
    But the church is also in danger indeed if we allow ourselves to be offended and just walk off.  There is, of course balance here.  But Jesus did not indicate balance.  We tend to over-balance toward being offended.  The church that never repents of sin is wrong.  But the person who sees sin in the church and leaves is also sinning.  The sin of divisiveness and schism is everywhere in scripture.  We are often quick to be offended- and slow to be gracious and patient.  Elijah, Jeremiah, Jesus all were patient with the church of their time.  The church was so corrupt in Elijah's day (with real Baal worship) that he was the only prophet of the Lord left.  Jesus said we should not separate the weeds from the wheat- meaning to live in the midst of sinners in the church- and thus a church that is at least partially corrupt.  There really is no pure church on earth.  If we leave in anger we are in danger spiritually.  How can God forgive us our debts if we do not forgive our debtors at the church?  If there is no forgiveness, there would be no church.  Jesus formed the church on the cross.  Without the forgiveness and sacrifice of the cross we would not be believers.  It frankly takes tremendous sacrifice to forgive others when we have been offended.  But God does that, and we are called to do that too.   

Prayer: Lord, thank you for forgiving me.  Help me to forgive others because you have forgiven me.  Let my ability to forgive grow.  

Monday, July 17, 2017

Gathering For His Presence

20For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

Thoughts: This is one of the greatest verses on the church in the Bible- certainly the greatest verse Jesus said about the church.   The church is the place where Jesus is worshiped- and His presence resides.  Jesus promises to be there when we gather in His name.  It doesn't take a large number, it just takes enough to love.
     This not only defines the church, but it calls the church into existence.  We are to gather not to talk psychology, or politics, or just to have food and fun.  We are called to focus on Jesus Christ our Lord.  There is always a pull to focus on other things.  But we are called to focus on Christ and seek His presence and the blessing that comes with His presence.  

Prayer: Lord, help me to desire your presence and to desire to gather together.  

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Agreeing in Prayer

19“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. (Matthew 18:19)

Thoughts: There is power in agreement in prayer in the church.  Why is agreement important?  Agreement gives a single vision with two eyes.  Having two eyes gives us depth to our vision.  If both eyes agree then we are not short sighted.  The more who earnestly agree in prayer the more powerful the prayer is before God.
   This is so powerful a statement that some (like Barnes notes) suggest that this was meant only for the disciples in the forming of the church.  But the sense is that any two who are on the earth agree.  The agreement must be sincere and real and deep- but this kind of agreement assures God's help.  The temptation is to think that because we are saved as individuals we don't need the church.  The church sometimes appears as a secondary institution.  But the Bible sees the church as simply the body of Christ that is supposed to work together.  Being a Christian means we are to love and we cannot love with others.  Agreement in prayer puts love into the praying relationship- and God cannot stay out of that.  Where love is, God is- in prayer.  Jesus implies this loving relationship that happens when we agree by calling God "Father."  As a father loves it when his children agree on a common request, so God loves it when we agree for the good of the church and for the glory of God. 

Prayer: Lord, help me to seek to agree with others in prayer.  Help me to see the need of others in my prayer life and relationship with you.  

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Church Binds and Looses

18“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will bee bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will bef loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18)

Thoughts: What does this mean?  The context is of treating someone as a pagan when they rebel against the church.  Basically, Jesus is saying that the church has some heavenly power, that is not to be taken lightly.  In a similar phrase in Matthew 16:19, Jesus is talking about the church and says to Peter, "I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven and whatever yo bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."  The Jewish Targums speak of this binding and loosing as forbidding and permitting (like deciding a judgment in court).  Some see this as opening the kingdom of heaven to others by preaching and giving other an opportunity to respond to Jesus
    Today many think that there is no authority in the church.  The church sins, and how can an imperfect institution judge.  But the mistake is to think that sinners cannot be used by God and that the church is an institution instead of the children of God together.  John Calvin speaks of the church liberating people (loosing them) by restoring them after discipline, but also reminding people that their sins are forgiven when they truly confess them.  The church not only has the power, but should use its power to rebuke those who are leading others astray- causing them to stumble, and to free people of guilt by reminding them of their forgiveness in Christ- that if we confess our sins He forgives them.  The power to do this is by the Word of God- not the church's own proclamations.  The promise also pertains to prayer- when we agree on earth it is done in heaven (18:20).  There is power in the church AND power in prayer.  

Prayer: Lord, thank you that you steer me on the straight path but also set me loose on that path in true freedom.  

Friday, July 14, 2017

Listening to Rebuke

16But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’d 17If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:16-17)

Thoughts: Sadly, there is a time to let go of those who go their own way.  There are those who will not listen to others.  The old Pharisaical rule is to give someone three chances to repent.   While Jesus told Peter to forgive a brother 70 x 7, Jesus balances forgiveness with putting a limit, and a boundary.  We would be naive to think that sinning doesn't matter because we will ultimately be forgiven.  We would be wrong to think that God doesn't care if we listen or not.  We would be sadly mistaken to think that it doesn't matter what we do or what we believe; Jesus says to confront someone with their sin, then bring a witness, and if they refuse to listen still tell the whole church, and if they still go their own way then let them- but do not consider them a part of the church.  To not be a part of the church is to be broken off from the body- like a hand cut off from the body.  To not be a part of the church is like a branch lopped off from the vine.  It is to isolate ourselves from the way of life, of love, of hope to choose the way of death, of selfishness and destruction.  It is a terrible thing to isolate ourselves from the church.  We should do all we can to remain in the body, to build up the body, to listen to rebuke, and to move forward as the body together. 

Prayer: Help me to abide in you, O Lord.  Give me wisdom to listen to those who might rebuke me.  

Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Place for rebuke

15“If your brother or sisterb sins,c go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. (Matthew 18:15) 

Thoughts: What business is that of yours?  If I mess up- it's my own fault!  So says the person who does not think the body of Christ is important.  Part of being a people of love is caring when someone hurts themselves with their own sin.  This also hurts the body of Christ- the church- and hurts those around them.  To think that our sins only hurt the ones who perform them is short sighted and misses the power of love and affectation.  Ideally, someone will respond to a private rebuke.  If they refuse to respond, then we are called to take another with us.  But if they listen there is room for them to come back.  We are not our own- we have been bought with a price.  It is no longer us alone- but it is us with God and with others who are part of a larger body.  The balance is that we are not to be nosy and gossips.  But when sin confronts us, we are to confront it.  

Prayer: Lord, help me to listen to rebuke and also to give it when needed not for my sake, but for yours.  

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Jesus calls the Wandering Heart Home

10“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. [11]a
12“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish. (Matthew 18:10-14)

Thoughts: In Matthew's context Jesus is still talking about children.  There are not only sheep who wander off, there are also children who wander off.  We are all like children who wander off, and we need our caretaker- our shepherd to come find us.  We are all valuable to God.  God cares for us by name, knows us by name, and seeks to redeem us. Jesus had just talked about not causing children to stumble. Jesus wants all to be saved.  

Prayer: Lord, thank you that you care for my soul and know me by name.  

Value Your Soul

8If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.9And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell. (Matthew 18:8,9) 

Thoughts: Jesus was saying to value eternal things over temporary things.  Jesus certainly valued the physical.  He created it, He healed many of their physical hurts.  But He knew that temporary lust or sin - going places where we should not go (with our feet), or seeing things we ought not to see (lust)- should not damage our eternal soul.  He also knew that we have a tendency to value what we see over what we cannot see. Love- love for God as well as neighbor (in the purest sense)- should not be undervalued.  Value your relationship with God for that relationship effects your eternity.  Value what you do with your feet and eyes because that effects your relationship with others, with God, and with yourself.  

Prayer: Lord, whereas the world says there is no cost to sin, remind me to value you for your sake as well as mine and my neighbors.  

Monday, July 10, 2017

Those who Cause Others to Stumble

7Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! (Matthew 18:7)

Thoughts: There are things in life that cause people to stumble (to start to fall away from God and good).  There is doubt, there is suffering, there is evil that seems to be overwhelming and chaotic, there are false beliefs.  Jesus speaks later about wolves in sheep's clothing.  One of the things Jesus guards his disciples against are false teachers, false prophets, false leaders, and blind guides.  There will always be doubt in the world- but woe to the those who love to sow doubt, relishing in the destruction of faith, hope, and love.  There will always be suffering- but woe to those who inflict suffering, relishing in the pain of others which leads to spiritual pain and alienation.  There will always be evil but woe to those who love to destroy good and destroy values.  There will always be people who believe wrongly- by accident or on purpose, but woe to those who would purposefully teach false beliefs in order to destroy faith in God and hope in another person.  Jesus has no sympathy for those who love to lead people down destructive or wrong paths for the sake of their own god-imitated control, power, or money.  

Prayer: Lord, protect me from those who would destroy my faith or the faith of those I love.  Strengthen me with your truth, your hope, and faith in you.  

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Building a Child Up

6“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)

Thoughts: It is one thing to lead a child to faith and hope.  It is another to destroy a child's faith and hope.  The punishment listed (millstone around their neck and drowned) was inflicted on the worst criminals by the Romans in Galilee.  It is important to not lose faith, and to try to sustain the faith of little children.  One of the vows made by a congregation on behalf of the church universal at baptism is to encourage the child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  To bring a child down in faith is to bring ourselves down as well.  

Prayer: Lord, help me to do all I can to build up the faith in others and not tear it down.  

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Becoming Like Children

2He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.(Matthew 18:2-3)

Thoughts: Who was the child called to him?  One tradition is Ignatius of Antioch was the child.  Ignatius became a leader in the church.  Ignatius had the nickname "Theophoros" which means "God carried" perhaps because Jesus carried him on his knee.  William Barclay floats the idea that perhaps the child was the apostle Peter's though there is no evidence for this.  It perhaps is best that the child is anonymous- for any child is a lesson in this humility.  Children were seen as unimportant, unproductive and with little power.  Jesus valued the powerless who could not pay back those who did them favors.  So he lifts up the prisoner, the poor, the stranger/homeless, the sick (Matthew 25).
     Jesus rebuked his disciples who were inquiring about greatness.  Those who would grab church power are not the greatest in God's eyes, but those who are humble and convert/change/repent (straphete).  In fact, Jesus adds that those who seek power will not be made great, but that unless they change their attitude they will not even enter the kingdom of heaven.  These are harsh words.  Jesus did not hestitate to say that not everyone makes it into the kingdom.  He holds evil to account, especially human pride.  Pride and the inability to be humble destroys faith and the work of the kingdom of heaven. Reinhold Niebuhr view pride is the root of human sin.  Children, who are without power, in general do not value pride- and when they do it seems particularly out of place . 

Prayer:  Lord, help me to seek humility and to seek change.   

Friday, July 7, 2017

A Question of Greatness

1At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1) 

Thoughts: The disciples were wondering about greatness.  They were talking about eternal greatness- greatness in the eyes of God.  They were asking out of pride and a desire to be first.  For Jesus the last, the humble, the child is first. Jesus response to them was that they need to change (to turn, be converted) or they would never learn.  We tend to want Jesus to make us great.  When in fact, we need to give ourselves fully to His greatness.  It is only when we want Jesus to be great without care for our greatness, that God lifts us up.  It is only when we humble ourselves in God's sight that He will lift us up.  

Prayer: Lord, give me grace to want your greatness ahead of my own.    

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The King who pays to the People

24On their arrival in Capernaum, the collectors of the Temple taxe came to Peter and asked him, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the Temple tax?”
25“Yes, he does,” Peter replied. Then he went into the house.
But before he had a chance to speak, Jesus asked him, “What do you think, Peter?f Do kings tax their own people or the people they have conquered?g
26“They tax the people they have conquered,” Peter replied.
“Well, then,” Jesus said, “the citizens are free! 27However, we don’t want to offend them, so go down to the lake and throw in a line. Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a large silver coin.h Take it and pay the tax for both of us.” (Matthew 17:24-27)
Thoughts: Should the King pay tax himself?  Do kings pay taxes to the people or do the people pay taxes to the king?  Ironically, there are many who feel the government owes them, and they are dependent. However, normally, the taxes are paid to the king, and the tribute is given by the vassal and people to the king however small.
    Jesus was asking Peter this- to point out as the King He has no duty to pay.  He is the King of kings paying taxes to tax collectors.  Jesus is not interested in suing, and did not debate the collectors.  But He did want Peter to see a point.  Not just that he shouldn't pay the tax, but that part of His humility in coming to earth is for the King to be a servant.  For us, we need to soften our pride so that we do not mind being treated as servants and even serving others instead of expecting others to serve us.
      The other lesson learned is that God provides for giving to God.  Jesus knew the fish caught would have a coin that would pay the tax and more for both of them.  Jesus didn't touch the fish.  He didn't say the fish was dead on the shore with a coin in its mouth.  These things would bring doubt.  But catching a live fish on a line and then finding a coin is miraculous indeed.  God can provide also for us when we are trying to give to Him.  
Prayer: Lord help me to entrust my honor and provision into your hands.  Let me not mind being humble but let me also know who I am as your child- a child of the King.  

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Jesus Pays the Temple Tax

24After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”
25“Yes, he does,” he replied.  (Matthew 17:24-25)

Thoughts: Exodus 30:11 (Neh. 10:32) speak of the voluntary tax for the purpose of materials for worship.  The Temple tax was used to pay for sacrificial animals, wood, salt and other worship materials.  It was in addition to the regular tithe and was seen as voluntary.  This was why the question was asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?"  Peter's immediate reply was that he does.  Jesus was not a rebel against the system.  He was a reformer who wished to make things focused on God again.  Ironically, Jesus paid taxes to the system that eventually led to his own death.  It was not that Jesus did not think that the religious officials were right morally and spiritually. He knew of their sin and spoke against it.  In some ways his paying the tax gave him a platform and right to speak out against the corruption.  In a similar way, we live in the midst of an imperfect church.  We give not because the church is perfect or never makes mistakes.  We give to the Lord- not to any minister, program, or institution.  We give in faith that when we are generous to support the work of the Lord, He will use it and bless us.  Jesus sets us this great example.  

Prayer: Lord, I am not perfect, I do not believe perfectly.  Help my belief.  Your church and body here is not perfect either.  Help me to support your cause even if it is imperfectly lived out on this side of heaven.