Building Together

Genesis 24; Matthew 23; Nehemiah 13; Acts 23

The other day Jon shared many amazing leadership attributes that were in Paul. I have read them many times since then.  One of the common themes among many biblical leaders is their faith in God.  God has a divine plan for us all and he equips us if we listen and follow his examples.

Hebrews 13:21 God will –equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever.

I’ve previously read through Nehemiah without totally reflecting on his amazing leadership and passion to listen faithfully to God.  His faith in God, his non-judgmental direction he provided to all who listened, persistence, and courage to follow through in adversity in order to complete a task.  The job of rebuilding Jerusalem’s city wall was a daunting job that at first brought Nehemiah to his knees in agonizing prayer and later brings him to his knees in prayers of joy. Nehemiah’s dedication to God and prayer is modeled throughout this story.

Often an opportunity will arise in our job or in life a situation may seem too hard to accomplish and won’t go according to our plan. What if we responded more like Nehemiah.  I can be quick to make up an excuse, pass it on to someone else, jump ship, or just complain about it. Often it is my pride or fear of failure that holds me back because we depend on ourselves to complete something and afraid of failure.  I’m reminded in Matthew 11:28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Through God, Nehemiah’s was equipped with skills including; having vision , organization , management, supervision, courage in adversity, and a master of encouragement. Nehemiah and the many families of believers rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem while rebuilding their own faith in God. Nehemiah used prayer throughout the unbelievable 52 days it took to rebuild the wall. These prayers were asked, heard, and met by God.

Do I first use prayer in solving my own problems? We may not all be building physical walls but what is God asking us to build? Are we listening? Pray for vision, courage, faith, and follow through to see and complete all things God has planned for us. Thank you God for providing us with the amazing leader in Nehemiah who truly wanted to build your kingdom.

Nehemiah 13:14  Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for his service.

While trying to be the best leaders we can whether at work or home I’m also reminded to always “practice what you preach” (Matthew 23:3). I’ve have been a hypocrite long enough in my life and continue to strive towards cleaning the inside while not just portraying the outside. (v.26) Through God’s mercy and his blessing of a wife and two children this saying holds so much more value when I don’t follow this principle.  The greatest leadership I can offer is loving servant leadership.

Matthew 23:4 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.  

Few Are Chosen

January 22, 2016

Today’s Link: Genesis 23; Matthew 22; Nehemiah 12; Acts 22

I have often struggled with the idea of the exclusivity of Christianity.  The notion that salvation is available to all, but then somehow is limited to only the elect, or the chosen.  This has often weighed heavily on my heart, and has been a central issue in many discussions with Christians and non-Christians alike.

When I refer to salvation, I mean the freedom that comes from being saved or delivered from sin, and its consequences.  I often wonder; is this salvation truly available to all people or just special people?  What is it about the “path to salvation,”  that makes it difficult to get on, and to stay on?  And when is it easy?

I think this path is both easy and difficult.  Since salvation is offered “by grace, through faith……,”  the path may be easier than it looks.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Salvation is also easy in the sense that it’s main requirement is the willingness to receive a precious gift.  And it is also easy because Jesus did the really hard work, paying the price for our sins with his very life.  It would have been hard, impossible really, for us to do what he did.  It is impossible for us to live perfect holy lives on our own; lives which would allow us to be worthy of a relationship with the infinite, perfect, all powerful, all knowing creator of the universe.  We cannot live perfect lives; but we can live lives blessed by the deliverance from our sin as if we had earned it ourselves, because of Jesus.

As one who wants to reduce things to their simplest purest form, I love this very powerful and incredibly simple proclamation that Jesus made.  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)  These words shed a brilliant light on a narrow path leading to salvation.  Finding and following this path however, while it seems easy in concept, is not so easy to do.  This passage has often helped me realize that I needed to focus on God all the time, another easy idea to grasp, but much harder to do in practice, especially on my own.

What is especially challenging for me is to surrender my sense of self-importance, along with the desires of my flesh.  These are the things that often stand between me and God.  Between me and a God who knows me, and who I can know in a very powerful way, if I so choose.

Ironically, the difficulty of getting closer to God, is our “hard wired” genetic code to survive.  This includes amazing God given ability: to reason, to justify anything, to learn and understand about everything, and to create really cool stuff.  But as I compete to survive, I have this persistent urge to want more than, and to be better than others.  When I compare myself to others, unhealthy competition is reinforced.  When I think and behave this way, I can never find fulfillment of purpose.  This foolishness of chasing after the wind also sets the trap of thinking I am better than others.   Jesus explicitly stated, I am not to think of others as any less than myself.  When I “love my neighbor as myself,” I am set free from the endless cycle of unfulfilled self seeking.

The problem with all this self focus is the need to be on “top” of something to be ok, to find peace or satisfaction.  Since there is always something better, someone with something more; the rewards for this pursuit of supremacy are limited, and fleeting at best.

I am not saying that the pursuit of excellence is wrong, but we are called to excellence for the glory of God.  And it is in this challenge of seeking constant improvement that we are forged to become something more than animals.  We are encouraged to find fulfillment by following the example of Jesus who demonstrated a life of first seeking God’s will.  Our spirits are made for unity with God.  The path to salvation is the path away from the “worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth” (Matthew 13: 22).  This is our destiny!  If we miss this, we become misdirected, and this misdirection, at least for me, never leads to lasting joy or fulfillment, despite all the contrary messages from our culture and the basic urges of my flesh.  We were made for fellowship with God which is abundantly available through the life and death of Jesus.

The easy part of this path to salvation begins with the willingness to take it on faith that God exists.  As Jennifer talked about yesterday, it all starts with faith, then acting upon that faith by trusting God to be God.

We must choose to enter into a relationship with a God who seeks us out, and who invites us into covenant through the sacrifice of Jesus.  In accepting this we are made clean, we are made whole, and we are made worthy of a true kinship with God.  Then, in the realization of this miraculous adoption into God’s family, in our deepest humility and abundant gratitude to His amazing grace, we bow down to worship — surrendering all that we desperately cling to in our brokenness and in our confusion.  In this way we receive God’s spirit and we are changed forever.  This is a process I have repeated many times, and each time I become more like the creature God has already made me to be.  If I am to be chosen, I must choose to follow Christ, and only then am I given the power to do so.  The invitation to salvation is universal, but it is by faith that we must choose to be chosen.

Yes the path to salvation is both easy and difficult.  It is God who makes it easy for us, we are the ones that make it hard.  Many are called but few are chosen.  Thank God we are given the invitation and the will to answer the call.

Faith and Trust

Macro image of a female hand holding a mustard seed. The mustard seed is often seen as a symbol of faith and belief because of various biblical passages.

Today’s reading link: Genesis 22; Matthew 21; Nehemiah 11; Acts 21

Merriam-Webster defines faith as, “strong belief or trust in someone or something”. Matthew has talked to us a lot about faith this week. Today’s reading starts with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  The crowds believed in Jesus, and had confidence he was who he said he was.  Their response was to praise him.

Back in Matthew 17, Jesus rebuked his disciples for not having the faith to cast out demons. He tells them if they just had a little faith, even that as small as a mustard seed, they could do something:  move mountains.  In Matthew 21:21-22, Jesus again reminds the disciples of the power available to them through faith.  “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.

As defined in the English dictionary, faith is a noun. Note that Merriam-Webster uses the word “trust” in the definition.  In contrast to faith, trust can also be a verb.  It is something we do, an action, prompted by our faith.  God calls us to act upon our faith.

James 2:17 says, “Faith without works is dead.”  A few verses later, James references one of the greatest examples of faith, which we read about in Genesis 22 today.  Here we see Abraham’s faith in God prompting him to take action.  God tells Abraham to offer Isaac as a burnt offering.  The long-awaited son born to him by Sarah to be sacrificed as an offering to God?  He had just sent Hagar and his son Ishmael away, was God really going to take Isaac from him too?  In order to do follow through with God’s command, Abraham had to trust that God would bless his action.  God is faithful.  Not only did he bless Abraham by preserving Isaac’s life, God’s blessed Abraham by promising to multiply his offspring.

What does that faith look like in your life and my life today? Are we completely trusting God enough to follow through in action?

Growing Leaders

Today’s reading link: Genesis 21; Matthew 20; Nehemiah 10; Acts 20

Jesus, although having all authority over heaven and earth reminds us that he came to serve.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many. Matthew 20:28

Jesus set the greatest example of servant leadership and Paul sought to live it out. Today’s reading in Acts 20 provides numerous examples as to how Paul lived the servant-leader lifestyle. From this chapter we could perhaps summarize all of the (good) leadership books ever written!

Before diving into the leadership attributes, there is some background on Paul that should be noted. Paul (formerly Saul) had some serious training. He studied and memorized Jewish law and scripture for many years. He was trained to become a Pharisee; the highest in order within the ruling class of Israel. Paul was chosen by Jesus to take his message to Gentiles, kings, and the people of Israel (see Acts 9:15).  In summary: Paul was educated, trained, and appointed. He didn’t just show up on the scene taking over the leadership reigns.

Here are the leadership attributes that I’ve noticed in Acts 20 along with the verse number for reference. Perhaps I’ve missed some… Can you identify more in this chapter?

Leaders “are” and/or “do” the following:

    1. Encourage; Paul “encourages them”. Encouragement helps give us meaning to our work and can also help get us through rough times. (1-2)
    2. Engage; they meet with people in their environment; they’re visible; Paul spends much of his time traveling to be with those who need him (2-3) and “lived among them”. (18)
    3. In-sync; leaders surround themselves with team-members for assistance and mentoring. They know what is going on with their team and vice-versa. Paul was accompanied by several people, he wasn’t going at it alone. (4)
    4. Tireless; leaders selflessly invest hours and make many sacrifices where and when appropriate. Prior to departing, Paul preaches and teaches “until daybreak”. (7, 11)
    5. Compassionate, merciful; Paul shows kindness to the young man who fell out of the window. Reading this I also sense a calm confidence from Paul as he embraces the injured young man who was believed to be dead. (10)
    6. Intimate; they broke bread together.  Some commentary suggests verse 11 was a meal, some suggest the Lord’s Supper, and some suggest both. Regardless, breaking bread equates to “doing life” with people and this kind of environment can open doors to deep conversation and build bonds among peers. (11)
    7. Humble, passionate;  Paul served with all humility and with tears due to the trials he was put through. (19)
    8. Direct; Paul tells it like it is, without holding back; “didn’t shrink” (20, 27)
    9. Devoted; Paul led and taught publicly and privately for the benefit of others, he taught in public and from house to house. (20)
    10. Focused; leaders know the mission statement and act on the mission; Paul firmly led and taught: “testify of repentance” and faith in Jesus. (21)
    11. Inclusive; Paul made it clear that the mission and message were for all, both Jews and Greeks. (21)
    12. Faithful; Paul didn’t know exactly what would happen but faithfully presses on for the cause. (22)
    13. Fearless; jail and suffering lie ahead and Paul is committed to facing both. (23)
    14. Relentless; finishing the work means everything; considers his life worthless unless he finishes his course. (24)
    15. In touch; Prepare others as leaders to take over, giving instruction; Paul has been watching over these people and is getting them ready, and is in touch with them as well as in touch with the knowledge of hardships yet to come. (28-29)
    16. Truthful; warns them of liars coming to distract and destroy. Paul cherished the truth. (30)
    17. Invest; Paul spent three years, night and day, instructing. (31)
    18. Commend, pass the baton; turning over leadership position at the right time, to those who are ready. (32)
    19. Noble, they do not seek wealth for themselves; Paul didn’t seek after money or things such as clothing. (33)
    20. Preserve; they are good stewards of their resources, not burdening others; Paul supplied for his own needs, he didn’t ask for much from a material standpoint. (34)
    21. Helpful, hard-working, with the focus on helping others. (35)
    22. Prayerful; Paul prayed with others. I’ve spent time with executives and leaders whom I highly respected and nothing touched me more than when they prayed with and for me, humbly bowing down and seeking council from God Almighty. (36)
    23. We can also tell that Paul was a real leader because he was respected and admired by those whom he impacted. They even wept when he departed. (37-38)

These leadership attributes hadn’t ever popped out to me in the past, even after reading the chapter several times. Then after taking some time reading it over again slowly, and prayerfully considering what to write, it became so clear and I wondered how I missed it before. I’m so thankful that the Bible is relevant and that God uses it to speak to us when we take the time to read it with the intent to seek and do his will.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

Obstinate

his is as stubborn as a mule

Family: Genesis 20; Matthew 19. Secret: Nehemiah 9; Acts 19.

Am I the only one that gets a little anxious when reading Matthew 19? There is something about verse 25 that scares the snot out of me. As I ponder the reasons why that may be the case, I am confronted with a stark reality.

In reality, I am just like the rich young ruler (I’m speaking more about my heart than my bank account). That is to say that when God asks me to give something up in order to better serve him, I leave in sorrow, just as the rich young ruler did. Sometimes, I just don’t want to give up what I want!  It doesn’t matter what you call it ambition, wealth, money, possessions or fortune. At the end of the day, these things entangle our hearts. The rich young ruler chooses death. I really do not want to choose the same!

This reality is driven home for me in Nehemiah 9. Starting with verse 35, we are reminded of the great land that God had given his people. It is described as large and rich and surrounded by God’s great goodness. But, of course, the people did not serve God, or turn from their wicked works.  As in Nehemiah 9:36, I realize that I am nothing more than a slave. I become so surrounded and submerged in American culture that I often cannot see the goodness of God. No longer do I care that we have been given a great and rich land. When called upon to use a portion of it for His purposes, we reject him and live for our own passions and desires.

So what are we to do? Is there no hope? It would seem that we are all doomed to live as slaves, replaying this scenario over and over again. Thankfully, the disciples were on to this same question. It appears that they are just as freaked out as I am when they ask, “in astonishment, who can be saved?” (Matthew 19:25). I can hear the desperation in the question. They sense the impending doom. But, it is not. As long as we can keep an eye on Jesus there is hope. Jesus replies, “with man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.”   When we focus on him, nothing else matters.

Father, remember us as you have remembered those before us. Even though we turn away and forsake your goodness, you are great in mercies.   You did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God. (Nehemiah 9:31 ESV)

 

Try Again, Go Deeper

1.18.16

Today’s reading: Genesis 19; Matthew 18; Nehemiah 8; Acts 18

In Matthew 18 Jesus tells a story of a King who calls to account his people, finding among them a debtor. The debtor unable to pay. His sum too great to bear; he begs for mercy promising to pay all. The King moved, forgives all and sets him free. What a beautiful story.

Until one day some of the King’s servants bring report of a great atrocity. The debtor had been found giving no mercy to those who owed him little. Upon receiving this report the King seized the debtor and handed him over to the tormentors. What a shame.

Had the debtor not received mercy to extend on? Had his debts not been forgiven? Should not margin abound so that he could extend mercy too? It does not make sense to me why he would act this way. Perhaps, could he have had trouble receiving the freedom?  Could it have been because he didn’t really believe he’d been forgiven that he turned so ruthlessly in the shadow of his great grace to collect? How could this be? What a tragedy. He had it all!

I recall the first time I read the Parable of the Prodigal Son and realized who I was in the story. It hit me quite hard. So hard I had a defensive response to laugh at my grand oversight. I suppose it was one of those ‘laugh or cry moments’ and I took the weaker way, not wanting to face straight on to wretchedness deep in my heart.

The Bible is full of lessons for us that come through stories. When we read of a protagonist, let us not be too quick to say, ‘that’s me alright’, but instead might we say “how can I become more like them”? When we read through the proverbs let us not be too quick to give ourselves a pat on the back that could end up deep in our hearts. Let us be careful what we believe for out of our hearts’ come the issues of life. More still, when we read of an antagonist let us not be too quick to dismiss; asking from the outside looking in saying ‘how could they?’ Instead, let us look from the inside out and say ‘how could I have?’ Then we go deeper. What is God teaching us? Who are you in the today’s story?

Go Deeper in God's Word

Oh God please forgive me of my wickedness, would You? LORD that I would even notice offenses towards me from others, which are so little and insignificant, within the shadow of Your beautiful and perfect and steadfast forgiveness of my great wickedness, pains my soul. God if you leave me to myself I will continue in my wickedness. Oh God, would You please rescue me from myself? God would you please help me extend a measure of the Grace You afford me for Your Namesake? God would You please be gentle with me for I am weak? I ask this in Jesus Name. Thank You God! You are good and worthy of all praise! Amen.

From today’s reading, after the king receives the tragic report:

Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. – Matthew 18: 32-34

From Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount:

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. – Matthew 6:12

The first thing Jesus Says after the Sermon on the Mount:

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. -Matthew 6:14–15

On the benefit of believing and understanding the gravity of the truth; that we are who God says we are: sinners deserving of all tournament; and that God is who He says He is: our Redeemer; and that Jesus can do what He says he can do: save us.

Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; -Ephesians 3:8

2016-01-16 Logos Image of the Day

A Changed Life

 

Genesis 18; Matthew 17; Nehemiah 7; Acts 17

I love the times when I’m in the Word. Every moment a person spends in the Word can be a blessing to that person and those around them.  The Word touches our hearts and is displayed in our actions leaving a imprint on us with a ripple effect on others. There are times when a single verse can change your perspective on a situation guiding our future thoughts and actions. Reading and reflecting in the Word each day provides me with a reminder of God’s grace. The Word shares an example of how Jesus lived His life and guides us on how to live ours.

In  today’s readings I was impacted by a couple of versus in Genesis 18 that have  helped me reflect on how I demonstrate hospitality in our home.   Abraham and his wife, Sarah, showed genuine love in their hospitality to the Lord by immediately dedicating themselves to Him. This servant minded hospitality when shown immediately, not when it fit in their schedule.   Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”.  Sometimes we worry about the presentation of our house or choice in meal.  The real message though is to show dedicated, genuine love to others.  Do I dedicate myself to the other person? Do I avoid thinking of my response to what they are saying or am I checking my phone?   Do we serve them with all we have?

Later in Genesis Sarah was having a hard time believing she would conceive again at an older age. Genesis 18:14 said, “Is anything to hard for the Lord?”  Not at all. Why do we have the tendency to limit God and what he can handle? Asking that same question in our own lives allows us to develop our prayer life and relationship with Him. Job 42:2 says, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of  yours can be thwarted.”

Our Father is in complete control and he reminds us many times in the Word when he says, “have no fear”.  Why do we allow fears to slip in? What are the ways that you increase your faith to overcome this?  In Matthew 17:20, “Because of your little faith. For truly I say to you that if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, move from here to there and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you”.  – Where’s our faith? Where do we turn our minds and heart in various trials?  We can overcome any tribulations with our faith in God our father.

Finally, in Acts 17:6 Paul and Silas had, “turned the world upside down” when they told others about Jesus and the Word.  We are so blessed by Scripture and through our testimonies we demonstrate how “our world turned upside down”.  Our lives are changed.  I was and can be so far from God. My pride leads me to losing God’s way for me. It can hurt my wife, children, brothers, sisters, parents, family, friends, and others. I hurt God. I receive God’s grace not because I deserve it, but because of who He is. God is good! God’s grace and Word can turn your world “upside down” from focusing on yourself to focusing on Him. The scary part is that at any moment when we do things without him our world can change right back.

God I’m always praying for a life where we focus more on you and less on ourselves. Provide us with courage to continue to share the wonderful Word about God because we never know when we can open a door to turn another persons world upside down.

A Changed Life

Covenants with God

Today’s reading: Genesis 17; Matthew 16; Nehemiah 6; Acts 16

About four thousand years ago, God made a covenant with a man from a tribe wandering through the desert.  When God makes promises, he means to keep them!

Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram,[b]but your name shall be Abraham,[c] for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. (Genesis 17: 4-5)

God’s pact with Abraham involves the miracle of new life from old, and a promise that from Abraham would come two great nations. From one of these, from the line of Isaac, would come the the Christ!

Covenants in the time of Abraham were traditionally sealed with blood, with something cut, a sign of commitment.  The Covenant of Circumcision was a demonstration of Abraham’s commitment to God, and the acknowledgement of that commitment by succeeding generations.

Abraham stayed true to to his promise, and later would be tested even further by God and found worthy.  I believe, God ultimately wants to bless us in covenant and the more willing we are to give everything to God, the more we are blessed. God asked Abraham to withhold nothing, not even his son, Isaac. God said to Abraham: I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me. (Genesis 22:17-18) When God makes a promise, He sure means business!

God would go on to establish a new covenant through Jesus, who’s father Joseph, was Abraham’s descendant. This was a covenant for all people, of every nation. A covenant of the willing! A covenant made through the blood of God’s own son, Jesus.

This covenant was proclaimed in the Old Testament:  “The time is coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” (Jeremiah 31:31)

And fulfilled in the New Testament:  In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:20)

Matthew 16:24-25 reminds me of the sacrifice we make if we choose to follow Christ:  Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.

As a child, this evoked fear, as I could only understand it in the literal sense. As I have had decades to ponder this passage, today I see it differently.

The cross for me, represents “that thing’ in our lives that is hardest to do. There is, however, no true parallel to the act of God in the flesh, humbling himself to extreme torture and disrespect, when in an instant he could have vaporized the world. Instead, he endured extreme pain and suffering, out of love for all humanity, and in the knowledge that this was the path God choose to offer reconciliation to man.  The path He chose!

The thing that is hardest for me to do is subordinate my life to God, to surrender it fully. I am invited to follow Jesus, not to a death on a cross (though it could come to that) but to a life of putting God’s kingdom (in every way) above mine.  Death to self!

In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed a prayer I have often prayed in circumstances considerably less arduous than what He faced. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done .” (Luke 22:42)

Our lives are not our own. We are of God, and he invites us to surrender our gifts and our blessings to His divine will and purposes.

To me God’s promise to Abraham seems like a great lesson in waiting on God. A sign for all that our dreams, without God’s hand in them, can never become what we hope. Can we sacrifice our plans for God’s plan?  Are we able to wait on his timing? Lord God, please help me to do so.

What’s in your heart?

print of heart in the soft wheat flour

Today’s reading links: Genesis 16; Matthew 15; Nehemiah 5; Acts 15

Every day when I drive my kids to school, we start our 15 minute car ride by talking to God. In these few minutes, we affirm that we want our hearts to look like Jesus, and ask for God’s help to change them.  I’ll be honest, we’ve been praying this prayer for about a year and a half, but my heart still requires a lot of work.  Many mornings, especially on Mondays, this request is often followed by a prayer of thanks that God’s mercies are new EVERY morning.  Oh how I need them!

Since reading Matthew 12 on Tuesday, I haven’t been able to get the last phrase of verse 34 off my mind, “…out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

In reading Matthew 15 today, we find the Pharisees and scribes challenging Jesus about his disciples’ failure to keep some traditions. I love how he answers their question with question and begins to get at their hearts.  In verses 10 and 11, Jesus gets very direct with those gathered to listen to his teachings, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”

My small group is reading the book Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.  In this week’s reading, Lewis says, “…surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is.” Why? Back to Matthew 12:34, because what instinctively comes out of your mouth truly reflects what is in your heart.

Think about what’s in your heart. With my children and I, today will you ask God to help change your heart to look like Jesus?

Son of God

Jesus walking on water.

Today’s reading link: Genesis 15; Matthew 14; Nehemiah 4; Acts 14

Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

In 2005, I felt God challenging me to come to terms with the fact that I claimed to be a Christian but I was living indifferently, without demonstrating any faith and without any action that might remotely resemble someone who loved, trusted, or followed Jesus. I was lukewarm on God.

The way C.S. Lewis boiled it down was the turning point.  Those words spoke to me saying: decide for yourself, man up. It was time to get rid of my bad assumptions as to what Christians believed or how they behaved.  It was time to act: read, seek, pray, get real and come to a final answer for these two very important questions. Was Jesus who he said he was?  And if so, what did he say?

I had previously dabbled in Bible reading but it was mostly half-hearted. This time I approached the Bible with reverence because I was actually afraid of coming to the conclusion that Jesus was perhaps a madman, and then I’d be left lost and empty.  Then I read the book of Matthew and it spoke to me like it had never done before.

Matthew documents how Jesus faced opposition even though over and over he proved his love for people, he wisely taught them, and performed numerous miracles for the benefit of those he loved and to give glory to God. Jesus healed every disease and became famous:

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains,those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. Matthew 4:23-24

People were going crazy for Jesus and his fame was spreading like wildfire but, in his hometown of Nazareth he was rejected. They had heard about his miracles but they didn’t believe, and this disbelief was why he didn’t perform any miracles in Nazareth. Isn’t this how we treat Jesus sometimes? Show me a sign, then I’ll believe.

Matthew 11 tells us that after a long day of teaching, Jesus’ disciples hop into a boat and after dismissing the massive crowd (of 5,000 who Jesus just miraculously fed), Jesus went up the mountain to pray. I’m thinking Jesus had a good heart-to-heart with his Heavenly Father and spent some time mourning the loss of John the Baptist. This John, whom Jesus referred to in Matthew 11:11 as “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater”. John was a relative of Jesus, he prepared the way for Jesus, he baptized Jesus. John served him through imprisonment and a brutal death so Jesus must have been in deep sorrow.

Faith saves, doubt destroys.

When Jesus returns from praying, he finds that the boat had drifted and he performs another miracle: He walks on water to meet his disciples. They see someone coming; they were frightened and thought he was a ghost. Jesus tries to calm them but Peter wants proof of who he is. Peter shows some faith by telling Jesus to “command him” to walk on water. Peter then miraculously walks on water, but even with this he starts to doubt and he begins to sink. Again, like us, we want a sign, we get a sign, but we end up doubting and sinking.

Before closing, I want to take the time to say happy birthday to Rick Jebb. Rick is one of our authors, a close friend, a mentor, a leader, a brother who cannot stop talking about Jesus (seriously, I don’t think it is in his power to stop).  Rick is the person who was integral in my own in-depth study of the Sermon on the Mount – which I am eternally grateful for. Rick, you’re a difference maker and a wonderful human being, I thank God for all that He has shaped you to become!

With that, we’ll close today with some questions to measure ourselves as we consider the Matthew readings thus far. First, please meditate on this verse for a moment:

And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” – Matthew 14:33

Finally, let’s ask ourselves:

  1. Do I believe that Jesus is the son of God?
  2. Do I live like I believe Jesus is the son of God?
  3. Would my friends, family, and co-workers agree with my answer to question two? What actions should I take to reconcile any differences?