When my kids were little, they used to love to try to stand on their heads.  They couldn’t, of course, because they were only toddlers at the time – but they sure loved to try.  I think they enjoyed looking at their little world from a different vantage point:  upside-down.  This idea of looking at life from an upside-down perspective is what I first thought of when I read chapter 23 of Matthew, our scripture for today.   

In this chapter, Jesus speaks plainly to the scribes and to the Pharisees.  These men were known to be the most religious group of people in the land at the time.  But instead of praising them for their devotion, Jesus calls them out for their hypocrisy.  Hypocrisy occurs when a person does not behave according to the moral code that they say they believe in.  Many times, hypocrisy looks like living an upside-down life:  focusing on the non-important while ignoring the essential.  Let’s take a look at an example from Matthew 23.

First, Jesus tells these religious men that they are actually being impediments to God’s kingdom, and that several of their behaviors are holding other people back from becoming followers of Christ.  For example, He says, they are more concerned with their outer appearance than they are with the condition of their hearts (Matthew 23:25 and Matthew 23:28).  Jesus tells them clearly to, “First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean” (Matthew 23:26).

Jesus also told the scribes and the Pharisees that they were guilty of ignoring some of the basic tenets of Christianity, such as justice and mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23) and focusing instead on tithing to the exact penny.  Indeed, He tells them, tithing and keeping accurate financial records is important – but, “the basics are required” (Matthew 23, verse 24, The Message).

These religious people, then, were living upside-down lives.  They were professing to believe one way, yet behaving in a way that directly opposed those beliefs.  They were like my kids standing on their heads, really – looking at life from the wrong perspective.  Eventually, my toddlers tired of being in this position and stood back up, a little dizzy but none the worse for wear.  The scribes and Pharisees, though, were adults who were held responsible for leading others in spiritual matters, which is why Jesus called out their upside-down behavior – their hypocrisy – in no uncertain terms.  The thing about hypocrisy, though?  Those around you, and those around me, are usually able to see right through it.

I love how Jesus’ reprimand is recorded in The Message version:  “Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?”  (Matthew 23, verse 24b, The Message).  Maybe it is because I’m a writer, but verse 24 really spoke to me.  Am I, are we, focusing on the wrong things?  Are we focusing on the punctuation rules, and not the telling of the story, His story?  I know that I am certainly guilty of this!  And so I’m thankful to read that Jesus also offers hope, saying that He wanted to bring the people of Jerusalem to Him as “a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Matthew 23:37).  He only asks that we be willing to change our behavior and turn back to Him.  This repentance, this turning back, begins not in the posture of a toddler’s headstand, but in a posture of prayer.  Join me?

Follow Me

    “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.”  And he rose and followed him.  (Matthew 9:9)

     I’ve always been a planner.  September 1 has long been my favorite day of the year, coming just before the beginning of a new school year.  I grew up in New England, so our school year didn’t begin until after Labor Day weekend.   Labor Day itself would usually find me organizing my new school supplies and setting up my planner for the academic year.  I still love September 1  – after going to school for 17 years and then homeschooling for another 16, my love for the beginning of a new school year is probably here to stay.  For the past few years, though, I’ve also come to love the first of January, New Year’s Day, almost as much.  I love the beginning of a new calendar year filled with promise and dreams and plans.

So when I read Matthew 9, our text for today, in which Jesus calls to Matthew as he is working and says simply, “Follow me” – I’m amazed that Matthew simply dropped everything and walked away with Jesus.  I’m amazed, and maybe even a little uncomfortable!  Matthew was a tax collector, a man whose job involved important things like schedules and ledgers and money.  He was probably a planner, too, like me.  Yet Matthew didn’t even question Christ when He called to him to follow.  He didn’t ask, “May I just finish this one thing?”  He didn’t say, “Sure, but I have to come back next week for this reason.” Instead, Matthew stood up and simply walked away from the life he knew to follow a man he did not yet know.

To do as Matthew did would have been a challenge for me, to be sure, and in realizing this, it made me wonder if this step of obedience was difficult for Matthew as well.  I would imagine that it was.  Nonetheless, Matthew stood and followed, and in so doing he set a fine example for me – for all of us, really – to do the same.  In Luke 9:23, Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Clearly, just as Christ called Matthew 2000 years ago, He calls us today – and he expects our response now to be the same as Matthew’s was then.

     Even though today is January 10, and we are already almost two weeks into the new year, I’m still in planning mode, still thinking about the new goals I’ve set for this year and working to make progress on them.  But my study of Matthew 9 has reminded me of Jeremiah 29:11, in which God reminds us that, “I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  God has plans for me – and for you – that far surpass any I have for myself.  So in order to follow Him well, I need to approach any plan I make by first seeking God’s  input and His guidance.  Each plan I make and every goal I set should be placed before Him first, filtered through His perfect plan for me.  I encourage you to do the same!  May we all follow Him well, together.

Blind but now I see

Have you ever been metaphorically blind to something in your life, then later ask “what was I thinking?”. Oftentimes the truth, the right path, or even something incredible awaits us but yet it is almost as though we are blind to it. Brainstorming thoughts on the potential causes of this blindness:

  • Selfishness. We can be so focused on ourselves; whether it be our own pleasures or even needs, that we miss the bigger picture.
  • Fear. What we don’t know scares us so we avoid it.
  • Pre-conceived notions (invalid assumptions). For example, taking one bad experience or hearing about someone else’s bad experience we assume something will “always” be like that. Google some reviews on your favorite and most reliable restaurant or hotel and you’ll soon learn that someone has deemed the restaurant “low grade dog food”, and the hotel has bed bugs. My favorite here is beach vacation resorts when people say the mosquitoes were as big as birds, there was sand on the floor in the room (can you imagine?), or the walk to the beach was horrible – a whopping three minutes. Spoiled!
  • Arrogance. My way is probably better so why change?
  • Distractions. Follow your favorite baseball team through the playoffs and the World Series and you’re in for a minimum of 11 games (that’s if they sweep all three rounds). Assuming the team loses four or five games and each game lasts around three hours that is somewhere in the 45 hour range over the course of a few weeks. Not judging here; you’ll find me watching some baseball this post-season. The point is that we need to be cognizant of our distractions.
  • Carelessness. Just plain old “not paying attention” or not caring enough to pay attention.
  • Deception. Believing lies.

Today’s scripture readings include the conversion of Saul (Acts 9:1-19) and while this was true physical blindness, it is also a great example of one who was metaphorically blind to the truth of Jesus Christ but through a miracle, he came to see and believe.

Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; (Acts 9:8-9, 17-18)

One of the things I love about journaling is that it has challenged me to do a lot of self-reflection, and document some of the things of my past. This week I took some time to consider my prior “blind spots” and their causes. The list below is about a third of what I came up with in a short period of time. Writing this list gave me a greater appreciation for God’s mercy and grace in my life as there are so many areas where I’ve been blind to the truth and missed out on the joy that our lord and savior Jesus Christ has for me.

  1. beetsBeets. Okay, so it starts out light but it was the first thing that popped into my head. Quite a few years ago I claimed this was the only food I despised and wouldn’t eat. I was so blind… beets are colorful, nutritious, and delicious!!! They can’t be beat! If you’ve ever seen (or heard) me eat really good food, you know that I do find joy in some of the little things.
  2. Career. Opportunities were right there in front of me. My priorities were not in place. I was selfish, arrogant, careless, distracted.
  3. Tobacco. I “dipped” tobacco as a teen and through college. Literally throwing up upon trying it, I still went on to become addicted to nicotine. The habit of placing a known cancer causing substance between my lip and gums went on for years. Blindness.
  4. Frequently getting home from school and playing video games for countless hours, or procrastinating (or simply not following) other worthy pursuits. These distractions were detrimental to my education, and personal/professional growth.
  5. Recognizing friendships that were good and healthy vs. those that were toxic. Do your friends lift you up? Do they encourage you to follow the straight and narrow path or the path of destruction?
  6. This next one has been on my heart for a while, in part because of some of the marriages that I’ve seen fall apart. Too often I have been blind to my own wife; the person I voluntarily chose and promised to spend the rest of my life with, for better or for worse. It is blindness to not recognize her beauty inside and out, all the time. We (talking about humans in general) invest so much time into education, career, kids, and retirement but how much do we invest in our relationships with our spouses? Simply living in the same house and trying to get along is so not enough, it isn’t even funny. Sometimes I realize Amy is waiting for me to notice her, and I’m just blind. However, when I get it right and pay attention, I receive the most beautiful smile imaginable. She’s the most amazing person I’ve ever met and I’m so thankful for her. She is a true gift from God. Husbands: love your wives. Pay attention.
  7. What greater blindness is there than missing the significance of the cross? Upon Saul’s conversion he proved his belief by immediately taking action. If we are not actively sharing the gospel with those who are lost, what does it say about what we believe Jesus has done for us?

And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” (Acts 9:20)

What am I blind to now? Lord, please remove the scales from my eyes. Let me see my sin as you see my sin. Let me see others as you see them; lead me to love others more and myself less. Amen.

Judges 5; Acts 9; Jeremiah 18; Mark 4

The Fear of the Lord

Today’s reading has three verses referencing a fear of the Lord. That made me wonder if I actually fear him, so as an exercise to help me think about what it means to fear something, I brainstormed on a few things that I actually do fear: falling off the edge of a cliff (even though I’m nowhere near the edge), ladders, electricity, clowns, extreme turbulence, diving into shallow water, and lack of preparation. Some irrational fear in there but some healthy fear as well.

Deuteronomy 22; Psalms 110–111; Isaiah 49; Revelation 19

He provides food for those who fear him;
    he remembers his covenant forever. (Psalm 111:5)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    all those who practice it have a good understanding.
    His praise endures forever! (Psalm 111:10)

And from the throne came a voice saying,
“Praise our God,
all you his servants,
you who fear him,
small and great.” (Revelation 19:5)

I’ve come to view the word fear in these verses to be reverence as opposed to a common “fear” of something we might want to run away from. For example, I don’t fear a hot stove, but I have a healthy respect for its intended use and corresponding dangers when misused. In what ways do I reflect a lack of fear (reverence) in the Lord? What does fearing the Lord look like? How is this wise?

Creating the table below was a great exercise to challenge my thinking and behaviors. Each of the earthly focused items are all too near to the way that I live, so creating this table reminded me of my current focus and where it needs to be.

My earthly focus disrespects, dishonors, or demonstrates a lack of fear of God when I… My eternal focus demonstrates fear or reverence for God when I… The wisdom…
Blatantly disobey to feed my own desire. If it feels good, I do it! Obey his commands, even when I don’t want to. Die to self. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:38)
Keep on sinning. He’ll forgive me right? Choose to give up a recurring sin and remember the price that Jesus paid for me to be forgiven. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
Put my trust in wealth, power, and pleasure. I choose the lies that the world tries to tell me. Put my trust in Godly things. His word, guidance from the Holy Spirit, his mercy through Jesus. The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy (Psalm 111:7)
Seek “what’s in it for me” in this relationship. Meet someone new and contemplate how I can share the love of Jesus with them. Pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit so as to make Jesus known. Share what a difference Jesus has made in my life. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)
Try to speed through the week to get to the weekend for some fun! Slow down. Rest. Live in the moment. Thank God for each new day, for the little things. Live in prayer and set aside time for the reading of scripture. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. (Mark 6:31)
Worry about the future; my job, family, and finances. Give it all up to God. He’s got it!!! He may not give me what I think I want, when I want it, but he’s in control and that’s that! Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)


Good Morning!

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
    that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. (Psalm 90:14)

When I read that verse it reminded me of one of the questions I’ve been so intrigued by recently: What do you look forward to when you wake up each morning?

Deuteronomy 7; Psalm 90; Isaiah 35; Revelation 5

I heard a sermon a while back where the question was asked, “why wouldn’t your first morning act be to thank God for the new day?” Every breath we have, and every new day happen because he allows it. This act helps remind us of who God is, that he is in control, and it acknowledges him as first in our lives.

Think about the other things that we often look forward to when we wake up. While I’ve made progress in my first thoughts and actions in the morning I still too often fall short and make it “me first”. I’m praying over this verse right now that it will speak to all of us as we consider seeking God’s help to grow into the people he designed us to be. This is a verse to help us acknowledge our sins; he already knows our sins, we have no secrets from him.

You have set our iniquities before you,
    our secret sins in the light of your presence. (Psalm 90:8)

Let’s look to some of the Ten Commandments to help guide us.

“‘You shall have no other gods before me. (Deuteronomy 5:7)

What sort of habits can we develop as our first morning thoughts and acts so as to reflect there is no other god before God Almighty? What are our actions as adults saying to our children and others who observe us in the morning? How can we influence our children to develop “holy habits” in the morning without becoming legalistic and thus pushing them away?

“‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, (Deuteronomy 5:8-9)

Have our smartphones become our idols? Do our phones serve us or do we inherently serve them? While hopefully no one “bows down” to their phone, do we metaphorically bow down to social media with the amount of time we spend, with our seeking to be validated by someone else rather than our God who made us and loves us unconditionally?

but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.  (Deuteronomy 5:10)

It is refreshing that this portion of the Ten Commandments closes with a promise of love. Our God is not a god who seeks to destroy us; he is seeking relationship with us, he is seeking the best for us because he loves us.

So teach us to number our days
  that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12)

Time is our only limited commodity. We can earn more money, we can buy more things, but what equalizes the super wealthy and super poor is time. While we may not have an equal amount of time on this Earth, none of us can make more time, so let’s not waste it! Let’s LIVE ROBUSTLY and say no to the good things so that we can say YES to the GREAT things!

Father God, teach us to number our days; to live them robustly for your glory, to live in a way you designed us to live. Reveal to us the distractions and increase our faith to focus on you. Help us to be a light that shines for you so that our friends, families, and those who observe us notice a difference; that we may not be “of this world” but living with eternity in mind.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
    and establish the work of our hands upon us;
    yes, establish the work of our hands! (Psalm 90:17)