Vipers, a Coin and 10 Virgins

Today’s reading: Joshua 18–19; Psalms 149–150; Jeremiah 9; Matthew 23

July 13th, 2016

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. – Matthew 23:27–28

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In the preceding chapter Jesus had just finished silencing the Sadducees and Pharisees. At this point all Jesus’s opposers realized that challenging Him would mean public identification of their hypocrisy (see extra credit below). In the wake of their silence, Chapter 23 then is a clear warning to all, in their presence, not to follow them to hell (Matthew 23:15). Jesus warns us what to watch out for, how to identify them. Jesus tells us that they are all about profession; religious dress (Matthew 23:5), exalted places (Matthew 23:6), and phony titles (Matthew 23:9), but lacking true saving faith. Jesus then proceeds to indict them with eight specific accounts of their spiritual bankruptcy; the eight woes of the Pharisees.

In Mastering Self; to Lead Self and Others, Chief Hanna, holds that a Christian’s challenge in mastering self is to overcome our inherited corrupt nature expressed through the metaphors of the Pharisee, Philistine, and Pagan. He goes on to define: the Pharisee is preoccupied with pride and pretentious performance: hypocritical religionists with rules, rites, and rituals; Pagans are preoccupied with pleasure and all its passion and preference; Philistines are preoccupied with possessions and pursuits that do not edify. Discrimination, discernment and discretion or put another way; identification, understanding the truth, and freedom to chose life, are offered as the tools we need, and have in Christ, to overcome these destructive tendencies.

God would you help us to identify the deceiver’s lies, know your truth, and chose life? God would you empower us with Your Spirit so that we can live victoriously? We ask this in Jesus Name. Thank you God! You are good! Amen!

 

Extra Credit:

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The Coin. In the previous chapter several religious leaders challenged Jesus in the temple. It didn’t go so well for them. In fact, they were completely silenced (Matthew 22:46). Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s is possibly the most notable response in these series of challenges. The more we dig into history the more we can understand the implications of this public exchange. Just a few observations here to pique interest. When they tried to trap Him into opposing Caesar publicly, Jesus asks them a two part question about the coin: Whose is this image and superscription? (Matthew 22:20) They answered ‘Caesar’s’, identifying the image’s likeness but only the superscription’s author. They wouldn’t dare repeat the superscription, it was bad enough that they could even produce the coin, let alone that they brought it into the temple, for it read: “TI CAESAR DIVI AUG F AUGUSTUS,” which translates, “Tiberius Caesar, son of the god Augustus, himself now Augustus.” This is the guy the religious leaders were trying to align themselves with to condemn Jesus publicly. On the reverse side was the goddess of peace with the inscription “Pontif Maxim”, which translates to “high priest”; the person who gives access to god. Ironic. In the end the only begotten Son of God, King of kings, and Prince of peace was holding a little graven image with a king claiming to be the son of god and a goddess of peace claiming to be the high priest giving access to god. An entirely false thing in every way but one; it was seemingly a sound representation of the value of the Pharisee’s religious profession. Which brings us to the parable of the 10 Virgins.   

Five-Wise-and-Five-Foolish-Virgins

10 Virgins: 5 were wise, 5 were fools. In the upcoming chapter, Matthew 24 we have the story of the 10 Virgins. Given the context of the last two chapters consider how their lamps may represent Christian profession, symbols of their Christian faith. The five fools took their lamps, their Christian symbols but they had no oil. The oil makes the lamp work. It’s what’s on the inside. It’s what makes it all real. Having been surprised by Christ’s coming they scrambled to find oil but could not get any in time and so they were turned away. The virgins with not only lamps (Christian Profession) but with oil on the inside (real saving faith) were welcomed in. The takeaway: your faith better be real, on the inside. Not built to please men (John 12:42, Galatians 1:10). Know you are built to please God (Revelation 4:11) and live according to this truth. 

Interested to know if your faith is real? Read James and work through his book of faith tests. James helped the newly Jewish Christian people test their faith for authenticity. The Jewish people, in my estimation, were quite serious about their relationship with God. Which at the time, having just changed, presented quite the stir in their lives. James walks them through the most important question, “How do you know if you have saving faith in this new covenant?” Here’s a test of saving faith by way of wisdom. Interested to know if you are wise? John MacArthur leads us through James’s test: Earthy and Heavenly Wisdom

Wedding Feast Invitation

Today’s Reading: Joshua 16–17; Psalm 148; Jeremiah 8; Matthew 22

 

This past weekend I attended a wedding that made me reflect on the Parable of the Wedding Feast in today’s reading of Matthew 22:1-14. There is so much JOY at weddings. Love, laughter, dancing, singing, prayer, food, music and beautiful wardrobes being worn for the party. What a wonderful reminder of the invitation Our Father has given us to attend the wedding banquet of eternity. Have you accepted the invitation?
The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son,…everything is ready,… come.” I personally haven’t attended any royal weddings but can recall the most recent royal wedding that attracted much media and a desire by many to attend this event. The pictures shared all over the media portrayed and amazing event. Yet, behind all the glamour the most meaningful part is marriage itself.  This is the time when two hearts are joined together. God desires our heart. The invitation by God to an eternal wedding feast is way more important than a royal wedding and yet the invite is rejected multiple times.

What are our reasons for not paying attention and rejecting the invitation? I know at times this lack of importance to RSVP can be because of our own selfish desires, work, play, schedules, convenience. This could also include who we are putting first in our lives? It should always be God but as humans we can insert ourselves, spouses, children. God doesn’t give up on us. He desires for us to be at the wedding with Him.

The Parable Jesus tells about the Wedding Feast in Matthew eventually has a room filled with guests and many people are here physically together.  But will we be called out for our attire?  Are we dressed for the occasion of this event God has invited us to? Similar to our “Sunday’s best” do we wear the fine linen desires in Revelation 19:6-8.
Christ has provided a garment for everyone. The garment of righteousness has a perfect fit when you have accepted God as believers. But, we must choose to put it on in order to enter the King’s banquet (eternal life). What support do you need? Are you dressed and ready? Matthew 22:14 For many are called, but few are chosen.

 

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10
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If you are reading today and want to be part the Wedding Feast that will have an eternal impact. Take a couple minutes to read the invite and pray to our Lord.

Invitation to the Feast

Who: Insert Your Name Here

When: Today

RSVP: Now

Reception to Follow (eternal kingdom)

How: Praying this prayer. ..Lord Jesus, I ask You to forgive my sins and save me from eternal separation from God. By faith, I accept Your work and death on the cross as sufficient payment for my sins. Thank You for providing the way for me to know You and to have a relationship with my heavenly Father. Through faith in You, I have eternal life. Thank You also for hearing my prayers and loving me unconditionally. Please give me the strength, wisdom, and determination to walk in the center of Your will. In Jesus’ name, amen.

If you have just prayed this prayer, congratulations! You have received Christ as your Savior and have made the best decision you will ever make—one that will change your life forever! Please let us know by contacting us at biblejournal.net so we can rejoice with you.

Not Your Prince

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JUNE 2, 2016: Trained monkey in the dress rehearsal of the Show of Water, Fire, And Light in the Ciniselli circus. This new show first time arrived in St. Petersburg
Note: Originally I had chosen a lovely photo of a statue of Jesus Christ for this post.  I attempted to upload it and attach it at least a dozen times.  For some reason it just wouldn’t work.  I did a little searching and found this dapper guy.  I hope he makes you smile on a Monday morning and reminds you that no matter how many circus tricks a monkey or human might have, he’s no match for the love of Jesus!  Happy Monday.

Today’s Readings: Joshua 14-15, Psalms 146-147, Jeremiah 7, Matthew 21

Recently, I was at work meeting with a group of co-workers. While discussing a particularly difficult case one of my colleagues used the phrase, “not my monkeys, not my circus!” I had never heard anyone say that before and it still has me smiling when I think about it. I’m a person that can very easily get super involved with situations in which broken people need mending. I’m a real “fixer upper”! In fact one of the areas of growth that I’m really working on in my personal relationship with God, is praying for those near me that need Him most rather than trying to fix the problems in their daily life. My co-worker’s little metaphor resonated with me in more than one way. First, it reminded me that sometimes our worldly troubles aren’t so much problems for us to solve, but rather opportunities to grow closer in our relationship to God. I know that sounds so corny…I heard it when I just wrote it. I really mean it though. I can think of several times just in the last few months when I said out loud, “Come on Lord…cut me a break here!” Only to find later that had it not been for that little trial, I may not have discovered his presence in my life around the next corner. Secondly, I’m reminded that the people close to me and the people not so close to me are not necessarily my monkeys. In other words, we are all God’s monkeys and we belong in His circus. How often to I take on the problems of others rather than encouraging them to turn to Him for guidance. This whole idea was transported to a more macro level for me when I read Psalm 146 today.

“I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.” (Psalm 146:2-4)

Not your prince. That’s right. It doesn’t matter who our next president will be. He or she will not be your prince. We cannot put our trust in mere human beings. Not human police officers, not human doctors, not human soldiers and not even human ministers. They cannot save us. There is not one human on this earth that can make plans big enough to save us. No one is strong enough except Jesus. The one thing we can count on is that our world will continue to be a literal circus until the end. We can keep looking for a better qualified, bigger, stronger ring leader but we’re never going to find one. We can transfer to another circus with a bigger tent and better popcorn but again we’ll be faced with the same trials. This lesson is echoed later in today’s readings in Matthew 21:

“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Matthew 21:42).

Jesus is quoting Psalm 118. At first, rejected by the Jewish leaders he would later by vindicated by God and become the center of his kingdom. God would then take the kingdom away from the Jewish leaders and entrust it to Jesus’ disciples. Those who put their trust in Jesus were rewarded with eternal salvation. Later in Matthew 21:43-44, Jesus alludes to Isaiah 8:

“Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” Matthew 21:43-44

The stone is Yahweh over whom the people of Israel stumble, fall and are broken. By identifying Himself as the stone, Jesus strongly implied his diety. (HCSB Study Bible) Jesus is the center, the cornerstone of our lives. No other prince can be yours. As our world becomes more and more like a really scary circus, we have to make Him the ring leader. Not everyone will agree. So many will be looking for an earthly prince to place on the throne. But we know that our prince sits in heaven.

Lord, help us to turn our eyes to you in this time of chaos and uncertainty. Help us to see past the trappings of our human existence and instead move in this time and space with you at the center. We love you Lord.

Reincarnation

This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ I appointed watchmen over you and said, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’ But you said, ‘We will not listen.’ -Jeremiah 6:16-17 NIV

A few weeks ago I spoke with a young man about reincarnation. He had described his syncretism as a Non-Fundamentalist Christianity and believed that reincarnation was essential to the perfection of our souls. “One lifetime is just not enough time to get it right,” he said.

My first response was, “I believe in reincarnation too, just not in the same way. If you look to the Bible for truth it seems clear that we only get one life to figure it out. For me, every second; every thought, word and deed, is an opportunity for a new beginning. In an instant, I am reborn, and the trajectory of my life can be changed for the better. One life offers everything we need!”

But then I realized he was right about one thing. We will never get it right in this life. None are good enough in the end, particularly if the standard is perfection or some sufficient amount of holiness. On our own, we are unable live up to the highest standards established by God and God’s laws. Without help, in the end, we all fall short (Romans 3:22-23)!

What I forgot to tell this amazing young man, was that we don’t have to achieve perfection on our own, and certainly, we all need help! That’s where the Bible comes in, offering the ultimate prescription for perfecting our lives. We have an advocate to the Father; Jesus Christ the Righteous (1 John 2:1). The sacrifice of Jesus was made to reunite each of us to God, and in His sacrifice, we are redeemed and made whole. This is a great Christian paradox: by the blood of Jesus we are made perfect in God’s eyes, and yet we must then march through life trying to live up to all that undeserved grace by becoming what we were meant to be. As we surrender to God’s perfect will for our lives, and by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, we can change our spiritual trajectory and move towards the perfection that we have been offered by Jesus. We don’t have to get it right ourselves because God has made it right for us. We have only to receive God’s powerful blessing by faith and live by God’s Holy Spirit. When we seek God’s will,  His perfect plan for our lives is revealed.

So to my syncretistic, “Non-Fundamentalist Christian” friends, I encourage you to seek truth in life and hunger for wisdom. These are offered in abundance by God who is constantly speaking to us through His magnificent creation; through his written and living word; by his Holy Scriptures; and through the examples in the lives of those who have surrendered their will to God’s perfect will (Psalm 19). In this we are transformed into the people we were meant to be in the first place.

Wisdom is there for the taking, dispensed in good measure by the unseen hand of God, neither instant nor finite. It is specific to each, because it recognizes each as their own. Only as we surrender all, is it fully given. The steps towards this perfect thing, in perfect timing, in perfect measure, are laid out before us by God if we but ask; if we but listen. – Wisdom of the Hidden Places

Today’s reading: Sunday Joshua 12–13; Psalm 145; Jeremiah 6; Matthew 20

God our Father in Heaven, please give us the faith to hear your voice, to see your hand, to receive your grace, and to receive your power to seek your will. Amen.

Great American Heroes

Kyiv. Ukraine - October 3 2010: 42nd US President Bill Clinton during the "Battle for the Future" devoted to the fight against AIDS at St. Michael's Square in Kyiv

Joshua 11; Psalm 144; Jeremiah 5; Matthew 19

The historical context for today’s scripture in Jeremiah chapter 5 is Jeremiah’s prophesy about impending judgment to the tribe of Judah because of their sinful, idolatrous ways. God’s chosen people being disobedient to his ways is not a new storyline.  We have seen it over and over as we’ve journeyed through the first five books of the Old Testament these past six months.  But as I studied Jeremiah 5 this week, the words of verses 5:30-31 are heavy on my heart.

A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land:  The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way.  But what will you do in the end (Jeremiah 5:30-31)?

Does the phrase “and my people love it this way” create a pit in your stomach like it does mine? Does prophesying lies, ruling by their own authority and LOVING IT sound exactly like 21st century America?

Remember in early 2015 when Brian Williams, trusted NBC news anchor, admitted he lied about being shot at in a helicopter over Iraq in order to boost his credibility and importance?

What about Lance Armstrong’s heroic story of winning seven consecutive Tour de France races after beating cancer, only to find out he had lied about using performance enhancing drugs? In 2012, after being stripped of his titles and receiving a lifetime ban from competing in all sports that follow the World Anti-Doping Agency guidelines, Armstrong FINALLY admitted that some of the allegations were true.

Both of these scandals ended with an element of justice, as the heroic figures were never really able to recover from their downfall. But this isn’t how things always turn out in 21st century America.  How quickly can you come up with American “heroes” that are flourishing in spite of their deceitful actions?  It isn’t too hard.  Does our country sound similar to the tribe of Judah in Jeremiah’s time?  Do we really LOVE it this way?

Kobe Bryant, star basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers, was accused of rape in 2003. While never convicted of the crime, he eventually admitted to adultery and lost his sponsors for a time.  But do you remember the media hype when he retired from the NBA this past season?  It was crazy.  Despite the Lakers finishing the season at the bottom of the Western Conference, Kobe Bryant was all over SportsCenter for days.  He was heralded as one of the best NBA players of all time.  The Staples Center went on to sell $1.2 million of Kobe gear, including a piece of the court he played his last game on for a whopping $179k, during that final night.  Does this sounds like Americans LOVE it this way?

In 1998 President Bill Clinton was impeached for obstruction of justice and perjury due to an extra marital affair. For weeks, he denied the allegations, twisted words and attempted to marginalize his sinful actions.  In 1999 he became the first American President to be found not guilty after he had already been impeached.  In spite of this scandal, Bill Clinton is still regarded as one of America’s most loved presidents.  He is so popular that, today, he is earning an estimated $250,000 per speaking engagement.  Does this sounds like Americans LOVE it this way?

Please don’t mistake my message. As Christ followers, we are called to forgive. My focus here is not on forgiveness for sin, it is on a destructive cultural pattern.  Elevating celebrities/sports figures/politicians to iconic status, and worshipping them instead of the one true God, is so natural it rarely causes concern in 21st century America.  The Bible is clear – this behavior leads to destruction and separation from God.  Very scary.  As Christ followers, do we have the courage to be different?

God would you help us see the idols in our lives that take our focus off of you? Would you replace them with an irresistible desire for you and you alone?

ACTS

Joshua 10; Psalms 142–143; Jeremiah 4; Matthew 18

Several years ago I had the life-changing honor and privilege to participate in a study called Discipleship Essentials, written by Greg Ogden. One of the many takeaways from that study was on a model for prayer (keyword “model”, not a “mandate” as there are many ways to pray) using what is referred to as an acrostic to help teach us to pray. The model is ACTS; Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. ACTS invigorated my prayer life over the years and has served as a reminder to make confession a regular part of prayer as it is often very tempting to skip right to the “bless me” or “save me” part.

The ACTS pattern popped out at me today through Psalm 143. Here’s how I saw it and a good example for our own prayer lives.

Adoration: In verse one, David opens up by addressing God as Lord; his ruler, humbling himself before him and asking him to listen. I read this as “You are God and I am not”; it sets the record straight. David specifically expresses adoration through referencing God as faithful and righteous.

Hear my prayer, O Lord;
    give ear to my pleas for mercy!
    In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness! (Psalm 143:1)

Confession: David is acknowledging that he is a sinner. We all are. No one living is righteous before him. It is very tempting to skip over this part of prayer because we all have sins and it hurts to confess, however God already knows our sins. Confession is telling God what he already knows. When I get to the confession part and nothing is immediately there to confess, I ask God to reveal my sins that I’ve forgotten or suppressed… and the floodgates open… talk about an answer to prayer…

Enter not into judgment with your servant,
   for no one living is righteous before you. (Psalm 143:2)

Thanksgiving: Reflecting on what God has done and expressing gratitude.

I remember the days of old;
  I meditate on all that you have done;
  I ponder the work of your hands. (Psalm 143:5)

Supplication: Asking God to meet your needs and the needs of others. In Psalm 143:7-12, David asks:

  1. For the Lord to answer him quickly.
  2. For God to not hide his face from him (or for God to be near and present).
  3. To hear of God’s steadfast love.
  4. For direction; the way he should go.
  5. For deliverance from his enemies; to be within God’s refuge.
  6. To be taught to do God’s will.
  7. To be led by the Spirit.
  8. For his life to be preserved for God’s glory.
  9. For his soul to be brought out of trouble (again, deliverance).

And finally David has faith that God will answer his prayer; that in His love he will cut off his enemies and destroy the adversaries of his soul. As we worship our God through prayer, we can trust he will take over; we should be faithful because he is faithful.

Productive Faith

5920447977_f84dff5a33_o_cropped_0Joshua 9; Psalms 140–141; Jeremiah 3; Matthew 17

If only my faith were the size of a mustard seed. Then, I could move mountains. Nothing would be impossible. That is what Jesus tells us today in Matthew 17:20. This is difficult to believe, at best. My struggle with it has me questioning what faith is. Sure, I am familiar with the definition that is provided in Hebrews 11:1. It says that “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” While this is a good definition of faith, it doesn’t help me believe that I can move a mountain. In fact, I can barely move the dining room table!  What gives?

Don’t you think that this is what the disciples were dealing with? They tried and tried to drive the demon from the boy but were unable. Why not? Jesus doesn’t give them a practical answer, he simply says, “Because of your little faith.” (Matthew 17:20). The secret, he tells them, is to “have more faith.” So how is it that we get more faith?

It is helpful to look at a couple of people who have exhibited true faith. One man appears in Matthew 9. Jesus restores his sight after the man confesses his faith. Jesus affirms his faith saying, “According to your faith be it done to you” (Matthew 9:29). Another story involves a woman begging for her daughter’s healing. She worshipped and pleaded with Jesus. Finally, he responds, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire” (Matthew 15:28). There is also the centurion. He understands authority and ascribes the same to Jesus. Jesus affirms him and says, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” (Luke 1:9). How is it that these people had such faith? What is the difference? The answer is found in the object of focus.

These examples reveal three traits of faith.  First, the blind man confesses his belief, second, the woman worships and third, the centurion acknowledges Jesus’ authority. While these are separate and distinct traits, they have one commonality.   Their focus is on Jesus. According to A.W. Tozer, “faith is occupied with the Object upon which it rests and pays no attention to itself at all.” This is clear in these three examples. When we worship, confess and concede authority to God, we cease to be important. God becomes all. Tozer continues, “Faith is a redirecting of our sight, a getting out of the focus of our own vision and getting God into focus.” The result? The work we are trying to do gets done. Not on our own behalf or for our own satisfaction, but for God’s.

What have you been diligently working on that just isn’t working?  Do you have a persistent flaw that is keeping you from being the person you know God wants you to be?  Tozer says to, “Stop tinkering with your soul and look away to the perfect One.”

All A.W. Tozer quotes are taken from his excellent work The Pursuit of God.  Check out the FREE Kindle version!

Victory Plan

Today’s reading: Joshua 8; Psalm 139; Jeremiah 2; Matthew 16

July 6th, 2016

As I read Matthew 16: 21-28 I can not help but echo @BakerPastor’s sermon from this past Sunday. Victory is Christ changes everything! The sermon series; Victory, the sermon; Victory Plan. The key takeaway for me was a key question: Do I still love this world? It came by way of Pastor Baker referencing John 16:33. With this perspective of truth in mind he paraphrased a prayer that many may have prayed, “God let us stay in this place that hurts longer.” He prefaced it with a challenging rhetorical question, “Isn’t it weird to you? how much we want to stay in this world?”  

The key question above used the word still in it because in Christ’s victory, everything should be different. Before Christ I certainly loved this world. All my hope was of this world. I pursued its worthless promises and hurt more and more every time I realized them empty. Now though, through victory in Christ, my hope is restored and strengthened in truth, backed by the power of God’s word in His promises. Why then do I still struggle with trusting in this world (Romans 7:15)? God make us complete (James 1:4). God give us discernment to know truth from lies (Philippians 1:9-10). Empower us with Your Spirit LORD and light our paths (Psalm 199:105). Protect us from the evil one (Ephesians 6:12).

In Matthew chapter 16 just after Jesus established His identity with His disciples, He began to talk plainly with them about the victory plan. How He would suffer, be killed and raised in three days (Matthew 16:21). This was quite contrary to the the victory plan Peter (and presumably most of Jesus’s followers) had in mind. Their’s was one of the world. A great warrior king to overthrow the Roman empire, etc. Peter quickly begins to rebuke Christ upon hearing His non worldly victory plan. Christ then tells Satan in Peter to take his proper place, behind Him, as He gives clear instruction on how to live with an enlightened perspective in victory. He makes clear that the victory plan is above the world (Isaiah 55:8):

Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. – Matthew 16:24–27

I often hear this scripture misused, in my estimation, due to a lack of context. I hear of a call to take up one’s cross, as if it were some sort of burden to bare. Instead consider it a release from the burden and bondage of this world and its downward spiral of empty promises (Galatians 5:1). Keep in mind that someone carrying a cross in this time was literally a dead man walking. Would they not be looking to things past this world? Christ tells us to live this way today. Run the race this way today. Where is your mind stayed today? What do you have your eye on? What are you hoping to accomplish today? … Do you love this world? 

God would you give us a single eye for Jesus’s Kingdom? Would You send Your Spirit to empower us to run this race to win and finish strong? God we ask this in Jesus Name. Thank you LORD. Praise Your Name! Amen.

 

Extra Credit.

If you missed it, consider reading this post: This way to happiness, trust me – Satan

Comforting Confidence

Happy Tuesday and Post 4th of July!

July 5, 2016

Let’s jump right into His Word.

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5

God is talking to Jeremiah in 1:5. God speaks with Jeremiah many times over many years.  Actually, He doesn’t only speak with people from the Bible, He speaks to us. How is He speaking to you today? Are you hearing what He is saying?

Is knowing God speaking to us reassuring and comforting in our everyday lives of controlled chaos? It should be. This is true when our human mind tends to make us feel like we are lacking purpose, adequacy, or direction.  But, God has a purpose through it all for you and me. Yet, there will be our tribulations and breathtaking events of awesomeness!  But similar to Jeremiah, Deuteronomy 31.8 says, “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”  He is always there for you. God should be glorified. He is there for us in the middle of those important decisions  or when you think you are losing a little control of a situation God steps in and let’s you know He controls it all.

As I reflect on life before a relationship with God, I may have a response like Jeremiah did in verse 6 where he says,  “I do not know how to speak for I am only a youth.” To me, this youth represents not knowing God.  I focused only on myself and was hurtful to others in the process. This would include lacking in confidence or being boastful and only being about myself.  In our lives it also can mean being fearful and lacking courage to take that next step.  God doesn’t say, “Go; you are ready” he says, “Go; I’ll go with you”. Today, in all choices He is walking alongside you waiting for your call.

In my “youth” I was unhappy with many decisions I was making in my life. Most of the time trying to answer, prove, and do everything on my own making one mistake after another. This was the point where I was ready to “lose my life” like in John 12:25.

whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

I was about myself and stayed there for a long time until God purposefully put me around events in my life that allowed a life-changing attitude to surrender it all to Him. My excuses I would make started to change. “I don’t have enough money. ~ What am I doing with what I have? “; I’m not smart enough. ~How am I using God’s gifts?; I don’t have two parents. ~ Am I being an example for God? I don’t go to church. ~ What am I doing with my time?  The list can go on and on about excuses I could make to allow myself to have a “stay-theist” attitude or I can do it myself! I could just stay in my own dysfunctional world and not let anyone in or do what I had to in order to superficially make connections with others.  Yet all along God has known me and had a plan. He has this plan for you too. Each of us have a purpose, maybe you don’t know it yet? The details of our plan we don’t know and often can change in our lives but we know the root of what we need to do as a Christian. We are to love, obey, and serve God. In doing this our mission will become more clear.

Do not say I’m only a youth; for to all whom I send you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord. Jeremiah 1:8

Struggling with confidence, failures, and insecurity keeps you from doing many things and often making poor choices to compensate. Lacking in my faith because of my inadequate abilities outside of surviving skills, lack of experiences outside of an addiction dependent divorced household, and the tendency to make bad choices for the benefit of myself and no one else around me. This faith that God is with you allows your choices of serving to be about Jesus-Others-Yourself (JOY).

So what changed? Letting God into my life and surrendering to the relationship He planned for me. Not only as a last resort thing anymore. Dedicating waking hours with more consistent communication throughout my day. Being thankful and grateful for giving me one more day to impact His kingdom. I believe now that God is with us all the time and knowing this gives me the confidence to obey His call even if I’m unsure about the results.

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare[a] and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

When God gives you a job to do, He will provide all that we need. By no means have we figured out what job He has planned for us, but the doors God opens will lead us to a place he has already prepared.  I pray for our desire to seek His guidance. Turn to Him prayerfully and ask am I doing this for me or for You Lord?

No, we don’t have it all figured out, we are human. We are tempted by sins that sometimes we follow through on and in turn ask for forgiveness. We divinely and prayerfully follow God’s plans other times. Either way, God transforms us by changing our hearts. Whether lacking in confidence or full of confidence or in-between does our decisions, actions, and whole heart trust and serve God?

“Behold I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pick up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

God gives you all you need in order to fulfill His plan for you. In reading, “The Places You’ll Go” by Ortberg I’m reminded of this glory. He goes before us and is with you throughout ALL you do. God doesn’t promise a trouble free or temptation free life but that He will be with us and we need to call on Him. He will walk with us through the storm and calm the seas.

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” Matthew 19:26

Dear God,  You alone are the Creator of everything.  You have a perfect plan for all of us. You are the perfecter of my faith, and I thank you for the Grace when I didn’t believe or trust in the seemingly impossible dreams you had planned. Help me to have courage to place my faith in You in all things. To trust your strength when mine fails.  Thank you for allowing me to be part of your master plan. Stir in my heart a passion and gratefulness for all that you do in my life. Thank you for the comfort we have knowing you are always with us. Amen

Today’s ReadingJoshua 7; Psalms 137–138; Jeremiah 1; Matthew 15

Phantasma

Azure Window, Gozo Island, Malta

Today’s Readings: Joshua 6:6-27, Psalms 135-136, Isaiah 66, Matthew 14

The ancient greeks used the word phantasma to describe the experience of dream visions or spirit apparitions. It’s the word that’s used in Matthew 14, when he describes how the disciples felt when they were in the boat in the midst of a storm and saw Jesus walking on water. As I read Matthew 14 this week, I anticipated this very feeling. The story of the loaves and fishes didn’t surprise me. Of course, we’ve heard this one since we were young. Having been to several potlucks myself, I can imagine sitting amongst the crowd, awaiting my turn to eat and being awestruck that there was something left. After all five thousand people had eaten, he sent the disciples in the boat to the other side of the lake. He dismissed the crowd and went up onto the mountainside to pray.

“Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he ad dismissed them, he went up ton a mountainside by himself to pray.” (Matthew 14:22-23)

 He went by himself to pray. Did you catch that? I took that short phrase as my first and most important lesson today. Seeking solitude was an important priority for Jesus. He made time away from his “celebrity moments” to be alone with the Father. Spending time with God to nurture our relationship with him is critical. Jesus shows us here that disciplining ourselves to spend time alone with Him will prepare us to manage life’s challenges.

We know what happens next! The disciples are halfway across the lake in the boat when the water starts to get a little rough:

“But the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them…” (Mattthew 14:24)

 Ever feel like the wind is against you, like you’re being beaten by the waves? Jesus sees that! He’s standing on the side of the mountain. We may feel alone in our boats. We may feel like we wish we hadn’t set out on that journey with a few of our best disciples and no leader on the ship! But the very best is yet to come:

“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.” (Matthew 14:25).

 In that moment Jesus revealed himself to his disciples. He revealed himself to us as his people. He wants very much to be there with us and for us when our boats are rocking in the wind. But the disciples responded with fear. They immediately said, “It’s a ghost!” I think I would have too. I don’t know that I find myself worthy of a walking on water moment. Certainly Peter and the other disciples didn’t either. In fact it looks like Peter gives Jesus a little test. He tells 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.” (Matthew 14:26-27)

 What looks like a test is really an act of faith, right? Peter is the only disciple willing to step off that boat and meet his Jesus. He started to sink when he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the menacing waves. Jesus reaches out and takes hold of him, right in that moment of his doubt. Jesus is not a phantasma, he’s not a ghost that comes in and out of our dreams. He’s not intermittent at all. He’s revealing himself to us every day. Walking on water isn’t just a thing that happened in 400 B.C. He’s leading us to him, but we must be willing to follow. I loved that there was a little message to me in Matthew 14 today. That short sentence that told us about Jesus going to the mountain to be alone with his Father. It’s a holiday weekend. We’re all focused on our potlucks, parties and fireworks. But JESUS is the real fireworks. There’s nothing phantasma about him. I hope you spend time today with family and friends but I also hope you take time to be with the Father. Reach out, take hold of him. He’s waiting to walk with you.