Become Like Children

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.                                           (Matthew 18:1-4)

I have been taught over the years that the verses above tell us about coming to Jesus with faith like a child, to have the attributes of a child when we approach Jesus.  Attributes such as:  innocence, trusting, believing without complication, contentedness, and faith to move mountains.  And, while it is good and helpful to have these qualities, Jesus nowhere in the Bible actually tells us to have faith like a child.  In the passage above, when Jesus says to “become like children” he isn’t talking about faith (although faith is important as stated in numerous Scriptures). Nor is Jesus calling us to be filled with wonder in every moment the way a child so often is.  When Jesus says we must “become like children,” he is talking about humility.

In this passage, we see the disciples seeking prestige and honor for themselves.  Jesus corrects them by pointing to the example of a child.  Jesus points out the importance of humility in the life of those who claim to be His followers.  The life of one who follows Jesus is not about putting the focus on ourselves;  rather, we should be about pointing others to Jesus.  

Faith is a very humble quality, which is perhaps why it is associated with childlikeness.  Jesus was pointing out the truth that a child is completely dependent on adults for safety, sustenance, and knowledge.  Similarly, the faithful person depends on God in a way that is absolutely dependent.  The faith God looks for is humble, like a child.  In this way, we Christians are to have childlike faith.  

Childlike faith is saving faith, because it looks outside itself for salvation.  Salvation is a gift;  man does not pay for or contribute to his salvation, it is only of God.  

For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing;  it is the fight of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  (Ephesians 2:8&9)

Just as a child depends on his/her parents for everything that he needs, we depend on God’s provision for everything.

Faith always has an object, you always have faith in something.  It would be worthless to hope for something and not have a source to hope in.  The faith that saves is faith in Jesus.  To have faith in Jesus means that you have become like a child, you humble yourself and see that God is your Creator, your Father, your Provider, your Protector, your Savior, and your Lord.  

 

 

 

Greatly Distressed

Matthew 17

A couple of weeks ago, I began asking people if it were a full moon outside.  It was my sarcastic way of downplaying the distress in my life.  To be distressed, according to google, is to experience anxiety, sorrow or pain.  But, distress is more than that.  In fact, Marriam-Webster (by the way in our world that is all things Google, we lose some richness from our lives – use other sources for information occasionally) adds that distress is a state of danger or desperate need.  Distress, in my life, shows up when the things that I put my hope in, the things that I trust my future with, don’t perform the way that I expect them to.  The disciples experienced this too.

As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed. Matthew 17:22-23

Do you see it?  At this point, the disciples had given up their entire lives for Jesus.  Their careers, family life, money, everything.  The only comfort and security they know is Jesus.  What does he do?  He tells them that he is going away.  Worse than that, he is going to die.    They knew that they found the very best thing to live for and now it is going away.  It could never be replaced.  No relationship, no job, no wealth could give them hope.  The result?  Distress – agony, anguish, tribulation, excruciation, torment and torture.

As I consider the disciples’ lost hope, I see that distress reveals much about our own lives.  Chiefly, distress in our lives exposes the object of our affection. Some of us, put our hope in people, maybe a spouse.  Many choose the organization that we work for.   When these let us down, or they change course, our future looks different than what we originally chose.  We find distress.  Do not, for a second, think that distress is a bad thing.  I think Jesus allowed, even wanted his disciples to experience it.  Why?  Because it caused them to reevaluate.  It caused them to clarify why they were following him and was it worth continuing.

History shows that the disciples continued to choose Jesus, despite their distress and the uncertainty of his future.  In him, they found life, abundantly.  That abundant life continued even after his death.  Today, we get that same benefit.  In fact, he promises that he will be with us “even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).  Because of that eternal promise, we never have to experience distress.   When we do, our hope is in the wrong place.

 

Known

Today’s reading is Matthew 16.

In verse 7, we read the disciples are concerned because they have no bread to eat. Jesus follows up saying in verse 8, “O you of little faith..” reminding them that not only did he just feed 5,000 with 5 loaves in Matthew 15, but that he also fed 4,000 on 7 loaves in Matthew 14 and they even had leftovers both times! It is very easy to judge the disciples wondering how they could quickly forget the miracles He just performed?! However, when I take a step back and reflect, I realize I do the same thing all the time. Within a matter of weeks, days, and even hours it’s easy to forget the miracles recently performed in our lives. It’s the cancer diagnosis that could have been much worse, the accident that could have been fatal but wasn’t, and the job that could have been lost but was saved which are quickly forgotten, and we are on to worrying about the next thing. Instead, we should constantly be thanking Him, trusting Him, and giving Him the praise and glory knowing He has the whole world in His hands.

Despite our failures, imperfections, and lack of faith, God Has big plans for us. Jesus knew in verse 22 Peter would rebuke Him saying that Jesus’ words predicting His crucifixion were not true, and He knew Peter would later deny Him 3 times after He was arrested. Yet prior to these events and knowing Peter would fail, Jesus calls him by the name Cephas meaning rock, and He tells him He will build his church through Peter and give him the keys of the kingdom of Heaven. Peter doesn’t sound like much of a rock to me…does he to you? But, like I tell my kids every night before I tuck them in, God loves you and has big plans for you. Not only has He made us righteous and perfect before God through His blood (Romans 5:1), but despite our sinful actions, trials, and doubts, He will do in amazing things in your life as He did with Peter. Isn’t it crazy to think of the fact that He knows you will mess up as He knew Peter would, yet He is still planning big things for your future with and through you? But, He is. That’s grace. That’s love. Nearly every “hero” in the Bible was a messed up sinner, David, Moses, Paul, and Jonah just to name a few. However, God not only fully redeemed them through His blood, but he also redeemed them through their actions later in their life. Whatever sin you have going on in your life and whatever mistakes you have made and will make, God’s plans for you and His saving grace on the cross are bigger. This new Tauren Wells song Known says it perfectly…

“…You won’t let go no matter what I do

And it’s not one or the other

It’s hard truth and ridiculous grace

To be known fully known and loved by You

I’m fully known and loved by You…”

Faith and Healing

Today’s reading is Matthew 15.

As I read today’s verse, I was moved by the healing power Jesus provided the people, both Israelites and Canaanites, during his time on earth.  We are offered so many examples of his healing power and the faith people had in him.

In our first Faith and Healing example, a Canaanite woman comes to Jesus asking for healing.  The picture of a panicked mother comes to mind, fully exhausted dealing with her daughter.   25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

She does not know what else to do and appears to be at her wits end.  She needs her daughter to be healed.

22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David,have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

She is crying for help.  She is pleading, trying to draw his full attention by saying “Son of David”.  Jesus in turn does her her plea for help, yet he does not offer healing right away.  He instead questions her faith and questions her further.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

But she continues saying even the dogs need crumbs.  Even if this woman and her daughter are feeling as if they are not worthy, they still have faith and need Jesus’ healing.  Jesus sees her faith and heals her daughter.  Relief.

In the next story of Faith and Healing comes in the form of feeding the 4,000, no, not the 5,000, the 4,000.  This story is not as well known but a strong reminder of Jesus’ powerful time on earth.

30 Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 31 The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.

It must have been a wonderful seen as person by person, he offers healing power.  He offers healing to each person.  This story does not show discerning between who “deserves” the healing and who doesn’t, he openly offers his healing.  He must have seen or felt the strong presence of faith in the crowd, almost as we do sometimes going to church and feeling the power of the congregation in song and praise.

Jesus then turns to his disciples and shows his compassion.  He knows people have traveled far to receive his blessing and healing.  He does not want to turn away the hungry and he doesn’t.  This time, he has seven loaves of bread and some fish:

“Seven,” they replied, “and a few small fish.”

35 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. 

As we look for healing, we can count of God.  He may make us demonstrate our faith such as the Canaanite woman before he heals us, but he does heal us.   He also has compassion and provides the bread (fish) and wine we need through his body and blood offered through communion.

In the last few weeks, I have seen people in need of healing:  a concussion on the soccer field, a friend having sinus surgery, one son struggling with his path, and my ongoing journey with my mother’s failing health.  Faith and Healing.  Two powerful words for us to remember as we face life’s every day bumps.  May you remember God’s healing hand and to have Faith in his actions in your lives.

Great is His Faithfulness

Today’s reading is Matthew 14. This chapter tells of the death of John the Baptist, Jesus feeding the crowd of five thousand and Jesus walking on water. It’s a lot to fit into one post! One thing that really stood out to me in this reading is what Jesus said to Peter about doubt and faith.

Verses 25-33: And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear.  But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.

I’m struck by Peter’s actions. He wants Jesus to prove himself to them – and pretty much challenges Jesus. So Jesus tells Peter to come out onto the water. What really strikes me here is that Peter does it! He has enough faith to step out of the boat and start walking toward Jesus. His faith there is strong and his eyes are on Jesus. But then Peter notices the wind (and waves, no doubt) and his fear takes over. He takes his eyes off of Jesus and begins to sink. But he cries out to Jesus to save him before he drowns, and IMMEDIATELY Jesus reaches out and saves him.

It’s hard to put into words how I see this story in reflection to my own faith. It’s not a one-time thing – it’s a daily (and usually multiple-times-daily) situation. I love Jesus. I am a believer and a Christ-follower. There are times when my faith feels very strong. But the very second I lose sight of Him, things spiral out of control – I begin to drown. And that panic and desperation from not being in control cause me to cry out to Him for help. And this is what I really love – He immediately reaches out to me. Jesus didn’t let Peter drown, but he did let him begin to sink when he lost focus. I could give you hundreds of stories of how I’ve begun to sink when I lost focus too. Probably more, if I took the time to really think about it. But what really counts is the end of each and every one of those untold anecdotes – Jesus has never failed me when I’ve turned my eyes back to Him.

Peter’s faith was like mine – small and incomplete, mixed with trust and doubt. And no matter how strong or weak our faith might be, our Savior is one who will rescue us regardless of our struggle with doubt. His faithfulness to us is not dependent on ours to Him.

My grandma’s favorite hymn is “Great is Thy Faithfulness” – it’s been swimming around in my head while I wrote this post. If it’s not one you know, listen to it today if you get a chance.

 

Seeing, Hearing and Understanding

“Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” Matthew 13:10-13

Good morning friends! I had a last minute opportunity to take the McGriff Party of 5 camping this weekend so I’m writing to you from my chair in the woods. If this post smells like a campfire, please grab a marshmallow and enjoy! There is just so much for us to soak up in Matthew 13 but I wanted to write to you today about verses 10-13. When I first read this part of scripture, when I was new to Bible reading I interpreted Jesus’ words differently than I do now. At first I thought Jesus was telling his disciples that not all people are chosen that there are only a few “lucky” ones. Now that I am reading through a different lens, I see that it is usthat must choose Him.

Recently I suffered a great disappointment. And by suffered, I mean suffered. It was the kind thing where I was left feeling singled out, rejected and just plain not worthy. To make things worse, many of my friends were selected to do the thing, the thing that I thought I wanted so badly. When the judgment came down I felt the feels. I cried the tears and mourned the loss. I told myself a story about the loser I am and I believed it. Have you ever told yourself that story? Have you ever thought of yourself as not as good as other Christians? Have you compared yourself to others and thought, I’ll never be as close to God as they are? After losing the thing a few good people in my life talked with me about who I really am. They reminded me that I am a child of God, that I am surrounded by abundance. I prayed and prayed for things to go my way but I wasn’t truly seeing. All of us who give our lives to Jesus have also been given the secret to the kingdom. It isn’t that the disciples were perfect people hand-picked by Jesus to be the perfect Christians. On the contrary, they were imperfect people that gave their life to Christ in an extraordinary, all-in kind of way. They committed despite having to live the everyday reality that we can’t see or hear God’s plan.

When it comes to my big disappointment, what I was lacking is understanding. Ok, maybe I’m still lacking it. Although I can see many great opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus in my future, I can’t really understand why God would skip over this one. And although I can hear the encouragement of Christian elders in my life that say, “wait for it, this plan will be revealed it’s just not time yet.” It’s still really hard to understand. What I can take away from our scripture today is that if I make that commitment to follow Him, I will have and experience more abundance in my life. If I choose to turn away, more could be taken from me. The disciples asked Jesus, why he speaks in parables. I think maybe as broken, fallen people we relate more to the story than we do the harsh words of truth. The truth is, I wasn’t chosen this time but I’m always chosen by God. You will always be His child no matter what hurt, sadness, loss or pain you’re experiencing. Jesus still talks with us in parables or stories. When we are willing to share those stories with one another I think we get closer to Him. So, I hope you’ll share your personal parable this week with someone that needs to hear it. I pray that God blesses you with abundance and then more. Have a great (holiday) Monday!

 

 

The Sabbath

Matthew 12

In Matthew 12, Jesus tackles both the Pharisees misunderstanding of the law and the Sabbath.

Keeping the Sabbath holy was one of the Jewish laws that was taken very seriously. And an easy target for the Pharisees to use against Jesus, as He was performing miracles on the Sabbath. Read through this chapter – do you wonder if Jesus had any sarcasm in his tone? Or were His responses simple and straightforward?

John MacArthur delivered a sermon in 1986 that has stuck with me the past 20 years since I first read the transcript. The focus of the sermon is making decisions when things may be gray. In the intro he shares a humorous story from his youth:

There are people who think that if you do anything on Sunday other than sit and read the Bible, you have entered into sin.  When I was a little guy growing up, I can remember when you were not allowed to do anything on Sunday that even remotely resembled recreation.  We came home in our Little Lord Fauntleroy suits, with the little stiff collar, and a little tie, and sat on the couch all day.  Couldn’t read the funny papers, couldn’t read the sports page, couldn’t look at television, couldn’t go out in the yard and play catch, couldn’t take a walk.  We sat.  The only sin we could commit, and we could commit that sin all we wanted, was the sin of gluttony. We could literally gorge ourselves on Sunday.  And, of course, most of the women spent all morning cooking up this massive meal by which we sinned all afternoon, but couldn’t – but couldn’t run it off.  And so we were stuck with the consequence of our evil.  But that sin was tolerable.  

When we read Matthew 12 (or even John MacArthur’s experience) we may scratch our heads and think “come on, Pharisees, WAKE UP”!  You’re missing the spirit of the law by focusing on the letter of the law! Jesus came to fulfill the law – what is so hard about this to understand!

But when we start to examine our own hearts and even the modern church, we can still find ourselves in a place of judgement and missing the intent of God’s ways. As much as we want to be everything but a Pharisee, our perfection-seeking, works-based theologies can lead us to the heart of a Pharisee.

This past spring I was in the thick of a marathon training cycle, filled with Sunday morning long runs. I love my time on the road – time to think, pray, meditate, sing, focus, oh…and RUN! At the same time, these runs left Sunday mornings a scramble between getting my family to church on time, not being exhausted the rest of the day, etc. While I love the run, it did make my Sundays “fuller” than I would prefer. I mean, nothing says rest like a 20 miler before 9am church! In this same cycle, my training “rest days” of no activity for muscle recovery were Fridays. For some reason, Fridays were anything but restful. While I wouldn’t be pounding the pavement, the days were full of other responsibilities that were anything but restful.

I left the training cycle with an idea.

As much as we try to protect our Sundays as a Sabbath and day to rest in the Lord, oftentimes it’s just NOT. Between the rush to church, serving others at church, prep for the week ahead, and other commitments, it’s never a true and full day of Sabbathing.

Idea: What if our family had one day set aside as a full and complete true Sabbath day.  No commitments, school, sports, activities, training. No place to go, no chores, no laundry, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Not even church. Technology free. Meals prepped, clothes laid out, ready to Sabbath. Just people spending time with the Lord, doing whatever the day brought with time praying, listening for promptings from the Holy Spirit, dreaming, sharing. Doesn’t that sound so wonderful!? We have a Saturday selected this fall and we are going to make it happen!! I don’t want to wait for a vacation away for a true full day of resting in the Lord.

Do you have any ideas on creating a Sabbath experience in your world?  Here are some additional passages about the Sabbath:

Genesis 2:2-3, Exodus 20:8-11, Leviticus 23:3, Mark 2:27, Hebrews 4:9, Romans 14:5, Colossians 2:16-17

 

No one knows the Son except the Father

Today is our son Preston’s birthday so in the days leading up to this event I am spending extra focused time thinking about him and praying for him.

I think I know Preston better than anyone else does, or at least as much as Amy knows him. I know his many grins, each with a slightly different meaning; sneaky, joyful, mischievous, nervous, shy, eager, embarrassed, or relieved. So many images going through my mind right now.

I can smell his hair and know how long it has been since he last showered.

His walk, sometimes light and jubilant, sometimes slow and methodical.  Both tell his mode and mood.

Some of the little sounds he makes when he’s frustrated, sad or lonely. I almost always know what each little peep means.

His footsteps far away in the house when he’s scared; he runs recklessly. Amy and I always know this run and we tell him to walk, and we say “there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

The peace that he has when he plays with his toy cars or Legos. He’s in another place being creative, being a little boy, doing what little boys do.

When he’s hungry, or as we often use the slang term “hangry” (so hungry that you’re angry).

When he grabs my hand as we walk together. When he asks me to carry him because I still can, and he knows I actually like it.

When I’m about to leave for business travel and he snuggles up really close to me, he doesn’t have to say a word.

When his questions are not meant to generate a real answer, just a response. He just wants attention.

If you know me at all, you know tears of joy flow down my face as I wrote all of this so far. Perhaps you might also get a glimpse into how much I love this boy, and the more I know him, the more I love him.

A similar theme is in Matthew 11:

All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. (Matthew 11:27)

Jesus knows the Father (God), and God knows his son (Jesus) better than anyone else. When I think about my own sons, I think about how true this scripture is, the significance of our relationships, and how significant the God & Jesus relationship is.

This leads me to how significant it is that our God created us for a personal relationship with him and his son. He reveals himself to us all the time in many mysterious ways, sometimes seemingly small and sometimes massive.

It was modeled in the God the Father and Jesus relationship, and as we consider our Earthly relationships, this should serve as a reminder that God so much desires us, but we have to choose him. He loves us so much that he sent the one he loved to die in our place. The ultimate sacrifice. The ultimate substitution. The ultimate Father, the ultimate Son.

A Decision

Today’s reading:  Matthew 10

Matthew 10 is the account of Jesus preparing to send his twelve disciples out for ministry. He started with basic instructions for them in verses 5-15.

  • Who – Take the good news to the nation of Israel, the Jews, God’s chosen people (verse 6).
  • What – Announce that the kingdom of God is near (verse 7).  Heal the sick, raise the dead and cast out demons (verse 8).
  • How – Don’t take anything with you, rather search for a person to let you stay at their house until you leave (verses 9-11).  Bless those that welcome you in, move on by those who do not (verse 13-14).

Jesus then spent the next 26 verses preparing the disciples for the persecution they were going to face. He told them to expect to be beaten, arrested and put on trial. He went on and encouraged them not to fear, as their enemies were only able to kill their bodies, not their souls. This was a harsh dose of reality, but not different than what you’d expect Jesus to say to his disciples…until you get to verse 34.

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household (Matthew 10:34).

Wait a minute. Is this the Jesus I know?

When Jesus was born, didn’t the angels say, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14)?

Isn’t the fifth commandment to honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you (Exodus 20:12)?

Doesn’t Jesus call us, his followers, to be peacemakers? In the Sermon on the Mount he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

Later on in the New Testament, James the brother of Jesus, described those with faith in Jesus as “peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18).

Isn’t peace also one of the fruits that should be produced by a life that is truly devoted to following Jesus?  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).

Do you see my struggle here?

My Life Application Study Bible (Tyndale House) had good perspective on this verse.  Jesus wasn’t encouraging family conflict in Matthew 10:34, rather he was acknowledging that his presence demanded a decision.  The same is true today.  Either you’re with him or you’re not.  Either you have confessed Jesus as Savior and Lord of your life, or you have not.  There is no in between.  This dichotomy naturally causes conflict between those who follow Jesus and those who do not.  The result is persecution.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him (James 1:12).

Healing

 

Todays reading is Matthew 9.

Jesus is performing miracles of healing, recruiting disciples, and dealing with critics. I love the stories of healing. These verses in Matthew 9 remind me that Jesus is powerful and has the ability to heal. The common theme in all of the healing was faith. They believed Jesus could heal them and they showed up for it. I can picture the paralytic running home to tell everyone about Jesus. The blind man describing what Jesus looked like to anyone who would listen. The mute man telling his articulate story of what Jesus said to him while he was being healed. The woman who had been bleeding 12 years was no longer a lonely outcast. These are the stories that ignite our faith. People come to know Jesus through these miraculous stories of healing. And then they realize the real miracle….forgiveness.

I’m covicted that I forget this as I’m praying for physical healing in the here and now. I don’t want anyone around me suffering sickness and physical limitations. I want friends and loved ones to be healthy, radiant, and full of life. But I know this world is not perfect and I know God’s plans are much bigger than my own. Illness and death will happen.  God has the power to heal and we should continue asking for it in faith. But we can be thankful and rejoice in the healing of our souls first. That was the first thing Jesus offered the paralytic…”Take heart son, your sins are forgiven” 9:2. He then proceeded to heal his affliction to show the crowds that he had authority. God does miracles all the time. He can heal whatever your affliction is. But have you thanked him today for the healing of your soul to have eternal life with Him?

Shelly