True Identity

Message:  In Genesis 32 Jacob was leaving his Uncle Laban and heading back to his homeland. He had lived his life as a deceiver and a cheat and this is what caused him to live on the run in the first place. Once he had found a wife and wanted to begin building his own life he experienced the other side of being deceived and cheated. He had to work hard building wealth for someone who was trying to cheat him but because of the blessing of God on his life (that he stole from his brother) God didn’t allow the cheating to be successful. Everything worked out in Jacob’s favor because of the blessing. Not because Jacob was faithful, but because God was faithful, and the word spoken over Jacob’s life was honored in spite of Jacob’s deception. When Jacob left Laban God didn’t allow Laban to harm him and he caused the two to form a covenant. Now he was heading back to his homeland and he still feared the wrath of his brother that he had left behind. He attempted to appease him by sending extravagant gifts ahead but he also divided his family into two separate camps just in case something went bad with his brother so it wouldn’t wipe him out completely. As I read this, I realized that we do this very thing on an emotional level. If we have hurt or wronged someone, we fear the vulnerability of what should be coming to us, so we only reveal half or part of ourselves emotionally. We hold the rest back because we are inwardly and subconsciously trying to protect ourselves from full exposure. If we haven’t done this with people, we have certainly done this with God. Verses 9 and 10 reveal exactly where Jacob was with God. He prayed in that moment and acknowledged that it was God who sent him back to his homeland but he also acknowledged that he was unworthy of all the faithfulness and kindness that God had shown him and he begged God to rescue him from the hand of his brother. Jacob must have still felt pretty exposed because the divided camps and the gifts he sent ahead still didn’t feel like enough protection. During the night he took both wives, their servants and his sons and hid them across the river with his personal belongings. That night Jacob ended up wrestling with God described as a “man” and interestingly enough, he told him he wouldn’t let go until he blessed him. Wait what? Didn’t Jacob already have the big blessing that he stole from his brother? Didn’t he even see the fruit of that blessing when God didn’t allow Laban to cheat him and the flocks multiplied in Jacob’s favor? Why then did Jacob still want a blessing? He must have felt desperate as he was about to face his brother. So after he demanded the blessing God (in the form of a “man”) asked him what his name was. This is fascinating because when he had stolen the blessing from his brother, he claimed to be his brother. Now his identity was being challenged here by God and once he stated his true name God blessed him rightfully in his own name but told him he would no longer be called Jacob, but Israel. This is so symbolic of us when God takes us in our broken state with our identity issues and our deception and he brings it all to light before telling us that we will no longer be known as that person, but we will be a new person. We will no longer carry the identity of a deceiver and we will no longer have to lie and cheat our way through life because God has blessed us and given us a new identity.

Authority

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Message:  In Mark 2 we read that Jesus was at home in Capernaum when word got out and crowds began showing up. There were so many people that a group of men who had brought their paralyzed friend removed the roof of his house to lower their friend in. Jesus responded in a surprising way. He told the man “son, your sins are forgiven”. When he said that some of the scribes were THINKING to themselves that Jesus was a blasphemer because only God can forgive sin. Jesus responded to their thoughts and said “why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier to say to the paralytic, ‘your sins are forgiven’ or to say ‘get up, pick up your mat and walk’? But so you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” he told the paralytic to pick up his mat and go home and he did! Verse 12 tells us that “everyone” was astounded and gave glory to God. There is so much going on here. The friends of a paralyzed man brought him for a physical healing but Jesus told him he forgave his sin. This didn’t heal him right away but Jesus was after a bigger miracle. His words stirred up the minds of the scribes sitting there who were calling into question his authority. Sometimes I feel like we’re a little hard on these guys but technically, they were right. If Jesus was not who he was he would have been unrightfully standing in the place of God’s authority. But since Jesus is and was God, he was showing them that not only did he have the power to do the miraculous healing, but more importantly he had that power because of his authority. At this point he had been seen as a prophet. The prophets they knew could do all kinds of miraculous things under the mantle of prophet and the power of God. Jesus was showing the distinct difference that he was not healing under someone else’s authority. The authority was all his and he was showing them that he could do what a prophet could not do. He could forgive sin because he was God in the flesh and he used the miracles to confirm this. Throughout Jesus’s ministry Jesus did a lot of miraculous things but he never walked around proclaiming that he was God. Instead, he revealed his true identity doing things that they all knew only God could do.

There Are No Shortcuts

Message:  In Proverbs 12 there is a lot of compare and contrast bits of truth between the wise and the foolish, the diligent and the lazy, telling lies and speaking truth, righteous and wicked, life and death. The very first verse tells us that whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but one who hates correction is stupid. I had to laugh as I wondered to myself “who actually loves discipline?” I love the results that discipline brings to my life, therefore I have learned to fight through the dislike of applying discipline, and I have to admit, I enjoy the freedom that discipline has brought to my life as a result. As I read through all of these, I realized that all of these contrasting topics present an “easy way” vs a “hard way” but the end of each choice produces the opposite effect. If I lie about something, it spares me a hard conversation up front, but then I bear the burden of concealing the truth and getting caught. Being foolish with my words is easier than controlling them in a moment of heated emotion, but the cost of releasing those words can damage relationships and opportunities that take a long time to repair because although you can certainly apologize, you can’t simply take it back. Eating whatever I want is enjoyable in the moment but trying to control weight and restore health later on is hard work! The next one has always blown my mind. Scheming and living corruptly versus working an honest wage. Though it’s true that you can often make a lot more money by scheming and making money corruptly, there is a constant unrest of not knowing who to trust, hiding, plotting, living with suspicion, silencing people who might blow cover and plotting the next scheme. The amount of time, energy, unrest and plotting that it would consume of your life to keep that going is unbelievable and I just can’t help but wonder how much better it would be to work this hard honestly and this creatively and be at peace with what you earn. There really are no shortcuts because you will either pay the price of diligence and discipline up front, or you will choose what you believe to be the easy path and pay for it on the back end.

Doubt

Message:  In Matthew 28 we land on what we know as Resurrection Sunday. We established in yesterday’s reading that Jesus’s death had not been business as usual. There was fear among the soldiers for what they had witnessed, and they had even spoken out loud “surely this man was God’s son”. These were not followers of Jesus and they weren’t weak, scared men. They were hard core soldiers who enforced harsh torturous discipline and death sentences. They were comfortable with death, cruelty and gore but they obviously knew something was very different about this. There was fear among leaders and government that what Jesus predicted just might be true so they tried in advance to concoct a story promoting the idea that his followers might try to come in the night to steal his body to make it appear that he had resurrected just like he had said. Even with guards in place they couldn’t prevent his resurrection from happening and the next morning there were even more terrified men. The tomb guards who witnessed the angel and the resurrection were lying on the ground petrified by what they had witnessed. When they sought out the priests to explain what happened the priests paid them a large sum of money to corroborate their made-up story that somehow his followers came and took his body. I had always heard that the women came to the tomb to anoint the body, but as a woman myself I can’t help but wonder if they really came just to see if what he said was actually true. They loved Jesus and they had to have had some hope, if not just plain desperation that drove them to go first thing in the morning to see. They were the first to see Jesus resurrected and I don’t believe that’s any kind of coincidence. Jesus sent the women to inform his disciples and verse 16 tells us that the 11 disciples traveled to Galilee to the mountain where Jesus had directed them to go. Verse 17 tells us that when they saw him they worshipped but “some doubted”. As I pondered this I found it ironic that the soldiers and guards who had witnessed these events couldn’t deny what they had seen (even though the guards accepted money to say otherwise) but some of those who walked with Jesus on a daily basis and heard him predict his death, watched him die and were standing face to face with him still doubted. This blew my mind! We might criticize them for their doubts in our minds just like we are tempted to criticize the Israelites for their constant doubts and complaining. I wonder what my doubts would look like in the perspective of someone else.

Agendas Built & Sustained By Deception

Message:  Matthew chapter 27 is the story of the trial and the crucifixion. Reading this I couldn’t ignore the fact that as cruel as the Roman government was, they were organized, they had a proper system for trying criminals and they knew that Jesus was innocent and that the Jews were doing this out of envy. Pilate tried to persuade them, and his wife was tormented in a dream and warned her husband not to get tangled in this. The Jews were set on this so Jesus was really condemned by his own people exclusively. They were just using the Roman government system to do the dirty work for them. I also found it interesting that once Judas had abandoned the 30 pieces of silver in the temple and hung himself, the priests suddenly had a conscience that they couldn’t leave that money in the temple. They called it blood money and used it to purchase a field as a burial ground for foreigners and they named the field “Field of Blood”. One last huge observation that I have never paid close attention to is the fact that Jesus’s death was so powerful before he even resurrected that when the ground shook and the sky went dark, there were also tombs opened for many saints that had died and they all were raised from the dead, entered the holy city and appeared to many. This could not have been ignored and these events were so powerful that the centurion and his men that were guarding the body of Jesus were terrified and believed. They said “surely this man really was God’s son”. This was even before Jesus himself resurrected. There were so many details that had been prophesied, things that Jesus fulfilled and things that were known among the Romans in the city so when Jesus resurrected it was not just a small group of people who witnessed these things. It was predicted, surrounded by other miraculous things and boldly in the faces of all those who tried to cover it. In fact, they were so scared that it was all true that they sent the guards to guard the body. Unfortunately, the priests who knew their power was at risk had to choose denial in order to hold onto their positions. This is the nature of humans. We often choose denial when the truth is right in front of us because the storyline of our denial fits our agenda. We fearfully hang onto our agenda and choose to lie to ourselves and others. We avoid looking at the truth because we know that if we even consider it for a moment, our neatly built house of lies will crumble our world. We see this so often in politics and we marvel at the deceptions of others while failing to look at our own. This goes beyond politics though. It’s what we do in order to sustain our selfishness and our will -whatever that may be. Nobody lies to us as blatantly as we lie to ourselves. Today, I’m asking God to show me the areas where I am deceived and living a lie that I am trying to sustain. This is a hard thing to face and our defense mechanisms kick in full throttle with justifications. Lord help me to tear down the walls of deception in my life and look at the naked truth!

Pulled Away By the Current of Our Own Desires

Message:  In Matthew 26 there was so much betrayal and political manipulation going on many levels as Jesus prepared himself to fulfill the mission he came for. His sacrificial death. While reading the details as they unfolded, I couldn’t help but marvel over the people who believed they had power. Technically, they had all of that power and authority on a human level, but as they exercised their authority and as Jesus even submitted to that authority, they had no idea that the very power they had was given to them by Jesus- the unassuming man they were abusing. They had no idea that as they schemed and plotted against Jesus using all of their earthly power and authority, they were playing right into plan of God. Who was really in control here? As things played out and the pressure was on, it flushed out the true nature of people in both good and bad ways. Judas is most known for his betrayal of Jesus when he sought out the chief priests and asked how much they would give him to hand over Jesus to them. He agreed on 30 pieces of silver which would ultimately haunt him so deeply that he would later take his own life because of the guilt. It seems shocking that one of his own would suddenly flip and betray Jesus, but if you back up and pay attention to the details you will find that Judas was already unfaithful, and it was his greed that pushed him further than probably even he expected. Judas was the disciple who held the money for the group of disciples and small snippets of scripture tell us that he often stole from the money bag while pretending to be in the best interest of Jesus. He opposed the woman who broke her alabaster jar to anoint Jesus by saying that it could have been sold and given to the poor. It all sounded so noble, but his motives were so focused on greed that it distorted his view of not only this woman’s beautiful sacrifice, but of the mission of Jesus. Peter’s betrayal was different. He was close to Jesus, full of passion and loyalty and he never dreamed he would ever betray Jesus. So much so that he actually spoke it out, believing with all of his heart that he was so loyal that he would be willing to die with Jesus if necessary. When the pressure came on and he watched Jesus get hauled away for questioning he knew full well what this meant. I’m speculating here, but his betrayal was most likely not out of social embarrassment, or even selfish or greedy motives, but more likely out of fear that his association with Jesus might land him in the same kind of predicament that Jesus was in. He knew full well what kind of torturous horror was ahead for Jesus because he had lived to see many Roman cross crucifixions. This was not what any of them had anticipated for the man they believed to be Messiah, so although he loved him as his friend, it probably appeared to him that maybe Jesus wasn’t really who they believed he was. Reading these kinds of betrayals I find myself to be like Peter. I see myself as loyal, but somehow can’t imagine that I would ever deny Jesus. I pray with all my heart that it is so, but as painful as it is, I think we all have a little but of Judas in us too. I actually believe that Judas cared about Jesus. This is somewhat evident by his guilt that caused him to hang himself. It was his greed that caused his betrayal. When I think about this it causes me to do a little heart check. We all believe we are faithful and loyal, but what things are in my heart pulling me in other directions? Those things in our hearts are at war with our desire to follow Jesus. We can see how much hold they have when we are faced with the challenge to put those things down, or even in our fight to stay faithful with our prayer and devotional life. What things are pulling us away each day? We would never say we love work or TV more than Jesus, but what wins our time? Fasting can be another checkpoint right? How badly do we want a snack when we are fasting? Do we allow ourselves to give in during those weak moments? How many of those weak moments of giving in does it take before we find ourselves further than we ever expected to be? This is HARD to think about, but the reality is we are always making decisions toward or away from Jesus. This is a daily battle, and we have to remind ourselves that none of us are immune to this kind of betrayal. Lord, please help me in my faithfulness to keep steady and never assume I am immune to being pulled away. Show me the things in my life that are pulling me and help me to keep those desires and those obsessions in check.

Polished, But Dead Inside

Message:  In Matthew 23 Jesus was speaking to the crowds about the Scribes and Pharisees. He called them hypocrites but something very important came out. He told the crowd that they needed to listen to what they say because they sit in the seat of Moses (meaning they are sitting in the place of authority) but do not follow what they do. He continued on to point out in great detail all of the hypocritical things that these leaders did. How they showcased an image of purity and religious behavior on the outside, but they were liars and cheaters on the inside. They loved places of honor, but they did not live honorably on the inside. They wanted to be seen as holy and righteous, but they were only displaying a false image. Everything about them was for show but they had no character or purity on the inside. Jesus was speaking to the crowd but he knew they were listening. He exposed them, rebuked them openly and publicly and warned them of their punishment. On one hand, reading this made me feel indignant toward Christians I see acting like these Scribes and Pharisees, but on the other hand, I had to acknowledge that we all have a part in this. It’s so tempting to read the bible and align with the good guys. The truth is, we all have parts in us that we would rather not see. I don’t want to believe that I might have some of this behavior in me, but the word of God is not for us to just read and apply toward others. It was intended to read us and expose the evil within ourselves that we need to address. My question to myself today is what areas of my life am I polishing on the outside to keep hidden what is wrong on the inside? What things do I expect of others, but refuse to do myself? As I ask these questions I know that God is faithful to reveal these broken areas inside me, and as I acknowledge them he will heal and restore. We can polish any exterior image we choose but we will continue to be dead inside if we insist on pleasing people instead of God.

Jesus Had the Last Word

Message:  In Matthew 22 the Sadducees were taking their turn to challenge Jesus as the Pharisees watched. Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead and this had been an ongoing debate with the Pharisees so they used the words of Moses in their attempt to disqualify Jesus. They probably thought they had him pinned to a corner until he blew their minds by explaining to them that they didn’t even have the right understanding of heaven to bring any validity to their question. Verse 34 says that when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees they came together, and an expert of the law came forward to try to test Jesus by asking him which command was the greatest. It didn’t seem they had a response to that so Jesus did a little testing of his own by asking them whose son the Messiah would be. They told him David and Jesus instantly flipped it on them by challenging them why David, who was inspired by the Spirit, called the Messiah “Lord”. He said if David calls him Lord, how can the Messiah be his son? Nobody had an answer and verse 46 tells us that from that day, nobody dared to question him anymore. What I really pulled from this is that although God doesn’t shame us for having  honest questions and asking them, he knows the heart and motive behind our questions and he understands the faulty thinking behind the questions we have. He doesn’t just answer our questions. He adjusts the faulty thinking behind our questions. Often times the questions we talk about are not really the root of our real questions. They are a result of deeper things that we don’t understand. We get frustrated because we want Jesus to answer basic questions, but he digs at the root to identify the real problem. The digging doesn’t make sense to us but if we will allow him to show us what we don’t know he will answer our questions in a way we never expected. We often criticize what we don’t understand. The Sadducees didn’t understand the resurrection so they didn’t realize that their challenge had no grounds. The Pharisees were right in the fact that the Messiah would be born from the lineage of King David, but they didn’t understand that the Messiah would come from God the Father in Heaven. What I really took from this is that we have to be careful with our frustrations and challenge the questions we have. The times I have asked Jesus legitimate questions he has shown me the error of my thinking behind it and changed my understanding. Some of our beliefs are not necessarily biblical at all. They are religious beliefs that man has attached as doctrine. We often get frustrated with people who challenge those things, but we ourselves need to challenge why we believe what we believe and make sure we are in line with the word. If we will surrender our questions and our thinking to God, he will always have the last word- after all, He IS the word!

Recognizing God

Message:  In Matthew 21 the people of the town had begun to accept the idea that Jesus was the Messiah so they began to celebrate and honor him throughout the city. As I read about this I started thinking about the fact that it all unraveled so quickly. As quickly as the celebrated him, they also turned their backs on him. The problem wasn’t that Jesus wasn’t who they believed he was. The problem was that Jesus as the Messiah was not behaving the way that they had expected. They had plans of their own for the Messiah. They had heard scripture and prophesy their entire lives about how the Messiah would come to rule and reign. It didn’t appear that Jesus was going to do that. Their minds were on the human kingdom they were living in. It was terrible and they badly wanted a redeemer to come in and take over. Jesus kept telling them that his kingdom was not of this world but they couldn’t see the kingdom he was talking about. When Jesus was crucified they were disillusioned. This didn’t look at all like they were expecting it to look. I also thought about the Scribes and Pharisees. They were the religious elite and they knew every scripture and every prophesy about the Messiah. So why didn’t they recognize him when he came? They were blinded by their pride and their own agendas. They weren’t living in heart obedience to God because they were using their position as a platform to promote their own selfish agendas. They didn’t recognize the Messiah when he came because their hearts were not submitted to God. As I read this I thought about how easy it is to believe we are on track. We know scripture, but are we submitted to God? To we know his heart? Would we recognize him if he walked among us, or are we too busy trying to use his name to promote our own ideas, agendas and even political persuasions?

Justice & Privilege

Message:  In Matthew 20 we see a few stories that speak to our understanding of social justice and even the area of privilege. Only in this case, there is no race attached to it because the assumption is that everyone in the stories were part of the Jewish nation. In the first story a land owner hired some men to work in his field for an agreed upon price. As the day progressed he hired additional workers for the same amount all the way up to the final hour of the day. He had his servants pay the men the same amount beginning with the workers who were there the shortest amount. The original workers were enraged to see that those who worked an hour received the same pay as they did when they had worked in the hot sun for a full day. The land owner told them he did them no injustice because after all, he had paid them what they agreed upon and he challenged them by asking if they were jealous of his generosity. This is a tough pill to swallow and it challenges me in my attitude at work. Notice he didn’t try to justify the reason for it. The story doesn’t tell us the financial status of any of the workers, or even try to tell us what special conditions they might be facing. It straight up told us that it was nobody’s business to make comparisons. Each worker was paid according to what was agreed upon and it didn’t matter how much more the owner was willing or able to pay. As much as this story ruffles my feathers, I actually raised my kids this way. If I saw something at the store for one child I bought it and gave it to them. I didn’t go looking for something for the others to make it even, but I didn’t favor one child over the others consistently either. We get in trouble when we start looking at the lives of others and making comparisons. God owes us nothing and everything we receive is a gift. He didn’t come to make everything fair, but we will all be accountable in the end for what we did with what we were given. We will have less then many and we will have more than many. What we do with it is what matters and our hearts toward being on the lower or the higher end of things matters too. In some cases it may not even be financial.  

In the second story we see the mother of the sons of Zebedee approach Jesus to try to get them an elevated status in his kingdom. She must have had some high class status and was expecting that her status would work as a privilege and an advantage to her sons. She had no idea what she was asking. Jesus made it clear that his kingdom does not function the way the world functions. Position and status is not given by class, by special favors or by privilege. It can’t be obtained by someone else’s reputation. Jesus said that not only were those positions not given by he himself, but those who hold those positions of honor will be honored because of their great suffering and their character through that suffering. Because they blindly and arrogantly expected to be handed the privilege without merit, Jesus promised that they would surely endure the suffering involved with what they were asking, even though they would not be guaranteed the honor of those prominent positions. Sometimes we get so caught up in comparing ourselves to others, that we arrogantly believe we deserve things when we have no idea the cost that is required for the blessing or the position we want. Often times the fact that we believe we deserve it exposes the arrogance in us and proves that we don’t have the character for it. I remember hearing a country song with the lyrics “ I want a love like Johnny & June.” (referring, of course to the relationship between Johnny Cash & June Carter). I remember thinking, what an idiot! Do they have any idea how much pain and suffering they went through to have a relationship like that? I see this often when people want relationships to be satisfying and fulfilling, but they aren’t willing to work and fight for the marriage they are in. Their priority is their happiness, and they want it to come easy. But what comes easy does not carry the place in our hearts of something we have fought long and hard for. Today, I challenge every thought that elevates my status without counting the cost of what it takes to obtain it. Whether this is a relationship goal or a work goal, what we desire has a price and we have to be willing to pay the price for the quality that we want. It may be handed to us in this world, but in God’s kingdom we are expected to give our absolute best and trust God to put us where we belong.

Walking Away Sad

Message:  In Matthew 19 the Pharisees came back to test Jesus with more of their “is it lawful if…” type of questions. They hoped to get Jesus to contradict Moses in order to prove that Jesus was a fraud. Their questions were always framed in a black & white rule sort of way, but Jesus always responded with a response that exposed the heart issue. The same thing happened when the rich young ruler came. His opening question exposed his motives in the first place when he said “what good must I do to enter?” He seemed to hope he would impress Jesus with his claim to following every command, but Jesus exposed something deeper in his heart when he told him to sell everything he owned, give it to the poor and follow him. It’s not that Jesus was saying that wealth was bad. He was just exposing what was most important to this man. This was too great a command and after his claim to all of his years of doing good and following rules, he walked away sad from one request that was just too much. As I thought about this, I realized how easily we all fall into that same trap. We don’t see it that way, but we live out our lives following rules and and doing good things, but there are certain things in our lives that we have set apart for ourselves and the idea of surrendering those things (no matter what they are) causes us to live in a bargain mentality. We hope that if we do enough good, then God will be happy with us and not touch the things we don’t want him to touch. But God is asking us what those things are that are non-negotiables in our lives. Sometimes these are sin issues we don’t want to let go of, but sometimes it’s much more subtle than that. Sometimes our love for the people or the blessings in our lives is in the way of our obedience to God. It sounds honorable to love our families this much but when situations arise that take, or threaten to take our families, jobs or possessions and we begin to blame or question God it exposes our attitude that as long as we do good things for him, we have an expectation for God to hold up “his end of the deal” by protecting us from having to lose anything of value.  The question is, will we still serve God when we face the threat of loss? Will we set aside our idolatrous image of what we believe our lives should look like, in order to serve God in the face of loss and brokenness? Is our commitment to God contingent on the grounds that he restore or supply the things we love or want? These are hard questions, and we may believe we are serving God without conditions until something happens and our immediate reaction exposes the truth.  Today I need to honestly ask myself if there is anything in my heart that would cause me to walk away sad or even mad if God took it or asked me to lay it down?

Discernment Training

Message:  In Matthew 16 Jesus was teaching them about discernment and understanding. He used the sky for an example and how we can determine the weather approaching by the color and look of the sky. Then he used another example. He had previously told the disciples to bring along the leftover bread from feeding the crowds of people. They had forgotten the bread so when Jesus told them to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees, they were so hung up on the bread that they didn’t pick up on what Jesus was really telling them- which was to beware of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees! Next, he got a little deeper by asking them what people were speculating about him. “Whom do people say I am?” They answered a few names before Jesus asked them directly “who do you say that I am?” This is when Peter suddenly understood and revealed him as the Messiah. Jesus affirmed and told Peter he was blessed because flesh and blood had not revealed that to him, but this was shown to him by the Father in Heaven. The beautiful thing that happened here was that once Peter knew who Jesus was, Jesus was also able to tell Peter who he was. Thinking about the power in this I realized that we go our entire lives trying to understand, define and identify ourselves, but we will never understand our own identity until we know who Jesus is. Jesus was teaching them with each thing how to discern and understand these things because bigger things were coming. He was about to start telling them that he would die and rise again. This was the plan of God and they were not yet able to recognize or understand it. This was so evident that when Jesus said this, Peter, who had just identified him as the Messiah couldn’t grasp the idea of a death and resurrection. When Jesus said he would die at the hands of the religious, Peter responded out of his own fear and his own perception of the plans and he told Jesus “No! This will never happen to you!” Jesus immediately rebuked Satan for his influence and said “you are an offense to me because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s.” As I backed up the focus of all of this I realized how hyper-focused we become on our earthly perspective. We see and feel things from the view of being human and we determine what we believe is good or bad based upon human and emotional understanding. Jesus was trying to teach them to discern things from a spiritual perspective. Though it was true they had forgotten the bread, they had just seen Jesus create enough bread out of scraps to feed a multitude because he was literally the source, yet they were kicking themselves for forgetting to bring the scraps. He had just revealed himself as the Messiah, but they couldn’t fathom that a physical death would result in spiritual life. He was trying to teach them to see beyond what feels right on a human level. There is so much about this world that we don’t understand from a human perspective and we try to reconcile our puny human understanding of justice with God’s eternal plans for it and we just can’t wrap our minds around it. We want Jesus to set things in order here on the earth but he’s trying to accomplish something much, much bigger. He’s trying to tell us to stop getting hung up on the “bread” and fix our eyes on him because he is the bread of life and he wants to do something far more amazing and if we are willing to discern it, we just might catch the vision of what is happening right in front of us.

The Blind Spots of Hypocrisy

Message:  In Matthew 15 the Pharisees came once again to question Jesus. They wanted to know why his disciples broke the traditions of the elders by not ceremonially washing their hands when they ate. As I thought about this question, I remembered that his disciples weren’t of the religious crowd at all. They were fisherman and former tax collectors and all kinds of unlearned and unclean people by the standards of the law. Jesus responded back to the Pharisees asking them “why do you break God’s command because of your tradition?” He went on to expose their hypocrisy by reminding them that God said to honor your mother and father. We all have heard of this command but what was the significance of bringing this up to the Pharisees? They had a manmade tradition for making promises of funds to the temple. This made them appear spiritual and generous and it also found themselves a loophole for not helping their parents financially by telling them that their money is already committed to the temple. Jesus went on to confirm and quote the prophetic words of the prophet Isaiah by saying “These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. They worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commands of men.” This is what stuck me in the heart today. As I read this I could think of plenty of examples of Christians who are out there calling out other people on “the rules” while missing the point and living hypocritically, but what about me? What areas of my life am I doing this very same thing? What areas am I completely blind to my own hypocrisy while turning my nose up at those who I believe are missing the point? The hard thing is that when we see someone else’s issues and we develop an attitude and an opinion we often get the idea that God approves of our critical assessment and agrees with us.  This makes us feel justified and blinds us from our own issues. We are living in a mess of this behavior right now and I marvel at the people who say they are struggling with their respect toward others because of their “ignorant and uneducated” beliefs and biases. We all have a category of people that we tell ourselves that we love ‘in spite of’ what we perceive to be wrong thinking on their part. We are SO convinced that we have it right and others just need to get it together and we have several angles of this pointing at one another for their “ignorance”. Today I’m going to pay attention to the critical spirit in my own heart because I have often found that the people I feel the most irritation toward often are a mirror reflection of a behavior in myself that I need to deal with. Lord Jesus, please shine a light on my blind spots!!

Untimely Interruptions

Message:  In Matthew 14 Jesus heard about the beheading of John the Baptist. As I read this I thought about the relationship between John and Jesus and how much their lives and purpose intertwined. They were cousins and both of their mothers had divine miracle conceptions of different types. As I pondered the history all the way back I realized how much their lives were tied together before they were even born.  When Mary told her cousin, Elizabeth about her miracle conception, John (who was conceived first) leapt in the womb of his mother. As John himself put it in John 1 “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’” John had been conceived first but he knew Jesus existed long before he came in human form. John’s ministry began first and was drawing large crowds as he laid the ground work pointing ahead to Jesus. He preached and led disciples until Jesus came and he phased out. He knew his purpose was to come ahead of Jesus paving the way and their lives reflectively intertwined even to the point of suffering. John’s ministry ended and he was beheaded just as Jesus was beginning his ministry and was eventually crucified. When Jesus heard the news about John, he withdrew from the crowd by boat to a remote place to be alone. When the crowds heard this, they followed him on foot through the towns. Reading this I was instantly irritated at the thought of the personal invasion. Maybe they didn’t know why Jesus was alone or maybe they didn’t care. We don’t hear how long he was able to be alone in the boat but in my own speculation I don’t imagine it could have been long because the passage tells us that when he stepped ashore he saw the huge crowd, felt compassion for them and healed their sick. As it got late the disciples tried to send the crowd away to feed themselves, but Jesus told them to feed the crowd. I won’t get into the miracle story of feeding the 5,000+ because that’s usually the focal point of this story. What I really want to talk about here is that life is full of interruptions. People and situations often crash our schedules, our peace and our plans, and they don’t often know or care what we are dealing with. Our time spent alone (even if and when it is interrupted) gives us the ability to handle those interruptions with care and compassion

Preparing the Soil of Our Hearts

Message:  In Matthew 13 a very large crowd had gathered and Jesus was speaking to them in parables. The disciples asked him why he was speaking to them in parables and he told them “The secrets of the kingdom of heaven were given for you to know, but it has not been given to them. For whoever has, more will be given to him and he will have more than enough. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. For this reason I speak to them in parables, because looking, they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand.”  The first time I read this passage it really tripped me up. It seemed harsh and unlike Jesus. I had always been taught that it’s important that we simplify the gospel for people to understand. Here Jesus was doing the complete opposite. He seemed to be cryptic about it all. What I noticed as I read this is that the crowd didn’t ask questions about what Jesus was saying. The disciples did. They asked Jesus what the parables meant and he explained them. I started to see through this that Jesus gave everyone the same opportunity but only those who were genuinely interested pursued him to ask questions. It made me think of times I have asked questions for things that I truly wanted to understand, versus times I was only casually interested and received an answer that was far more involved than I was interested in hearing. In the latter situation it was really a waste of someone’s time and energy to answer because my heart and mind were not invested. That information went in and right back out. Jesus was not keeping the gospel from people. He was planting seeds for later on. It’s no coincidence that the first parable he told them was about the soil of our hearts while he was literally planting seeds into their hearts at that very moment.  For their sake he didn’t try to force them to hear what they weren’t ready to hear. I also picked up in other places of scripture that he said certain things to the crowd and left them cryptic on purpose because he knew that later on when prophecy was fulfilled that they would remember his word and it would click. Isn’t that so true of all of us? I can’t count the number of times that something someone said clicked way later when I had more experience or more pieces to the puzzle. I wonder how many people from that crowd heard those parables and came to understand them later on after Jesus rose from the dead? If he had told them all the plan ahead of time they would have never believed it or understood it. Even the disciples didn’t understand that plan until it was over, and Jesus told them several times that he was going to die and come back. How many times have we been frustrated that God seemed so vague, but thought later on after all was said and done “I would have never guessed he would do it that way!” Today I’m asking God to bring light to the things in the gospel that I have heard but not yet received. Thank you Lord that you give us pieces of things to be revealed when the soil of our hearts are ready for them. Forgive us when we become frustrated because you seem so cryptic and vague. We don’t know what we don’t know but we ask you to prepare the soil of our hearts and make us ready to hear the truth of your word.

Don’t Miss the Point

Message:  In Matthew 12 there is SO much going on! Jesus was speaking to the crowds and being watched and challenged by the Pharisees at every move and every angle. At the beginning of chapter 12 the Pharisees called out the disciples for picking heads of wheat to eat them when they were hungry. It was considered “work” and that was unlawful on the sabbath. Jesus healed a man’s withered hand on the sabbath and that was also considered unlawful work. Clearly, they were missing the point of the law entirely and had turned it into something it was never intended to be. Jesus made it very clear, as the chapter went on that we are either a good tree that produces good fruit or an evil tree that produces evil fruit. It really doesn’t matter what things we say, what we believe or what rules we abide by if our hearts have missed the point and are full of evil. We can try to save the physical lives of all the babies in the nation by demanding abortion laws, but why do we think our hands are clean when our hearts are full of contempt and hatred toward lost people in the world who don’t respect their value? Do their spiritual souls not have a price just as precious as each of these babies? I have heard the phrase “Love the sinner, hate the sin” said so many times by people who want to convince everyone that they are not full of disgust and contempt toward lost people. Our job has never been to hold the lost world accountable for the godliness of this country. The bible tells us that judgment begins in the house of God, so our job is to hold the CHURCH accountable for godliness while sharing the GOOD news of the gospel to the lost world. We will never evangelize our nation by forcing biblical rules on those who have no conscience of sin or relationship with God. In fact, as Christians, we do a pretty bad job about submitting ourselves fully to God. We like to claim we are submitted to God while still trying to call the shots of our own lives and of our country because we are full of pride and arrogance and believe that our plans are God’s plans. When Jesus came to die for us, he discipled twelve men. They were following him intimately but when Jesus told them his plan was to die Peter objected! It didn’t seem right to him because although he was intimately in relationship with Jesus, he didn’t know or understand the plan of God. Prophesies had been spoken for generations about the Messiah coming to rule and reign so the idea of Jesus dying didn’t fit the plan they had in mind for their strong Messiah to come in and take over the crooked Roman government. The Pharisees thought they were fighting for godliness but they were on the wrong side of things because their hearts were full of contempt. They weren’t godly, they were religious. What seems right or more right to us is not always the case. We just might find ourselves fighting against the plans of God. As Americans we are obsessed with our rights and we think our rebellion to ungodly government is taking a stand for Christ. As Christians we are supposed to be following after Christ. Jesus gave up his godly rights when he walked this earth and sacrificed himself for our salvation. What if we actually gave up our rights and our victim mentality for the sake of the gospel so people could actually see Jesus and not our Pharisee contempt? If we want to win people to Christ we have to act like Christ and stop demanding our own way so we can lead people to freedom by our example. People change from the inside out when they have a real and true encounter with God. Why in the world do we think we will have a godly nation by forcing lost people to conform to our godly convictions before they have even met the one who loves them so deeply that their lives are transformed?

Dark Places Stir Up Questions

Message:  In Matthew 11 John the Baptist heard from prison what was going on so he sent disciples to Jesus to ask if he was the promised one or whether they should be expecting someone else. John was the one who boldly prepared the way for Jesus and he had even witnessed the dove descending upon him and the voice of God approving him so it seems odd that John would have this question. Then I realized that John was in a dark place. He had completed his mission but now he was unfairly sitting in prison waiting for his execution. A place like this causes room for all kinds of questions and doubt. What really stood out to me here is that Jesus didn’t just say, “yeah, I’m the one.” He pointed to the fulfilled prophecy and instructed the disciples to tell John what they see happening “The blind see, the lame walk, those with skin diseases are healed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor are told the good news.” But then he said one last thing. “If anyone is not offended because of Me, he is blessed.” It seems he understood the place John was in. The questions he had and the darkness and isolation he felt. Jesus had a vibrant ministry going on at the time but he was well on the way toward his own dark place as he anticipated the suffering he would have to endure on the cross. Jesus spoke highly of John after the disciples left. John wasn’t being punished. He was suffering the price of his calling. Sometimes we feel like we’re forgotten in a dark place of suffering. Like John, we have questions even though we have experienced a very real encounter with God. The first thing we are tempted to do is assume God is punishing us. While we often are suffering consequences for poor decisions, we were also called to suffer with Christ because we also have the privilege of being glorified with Christ. When we find ourselves in the dark places we need to remind ourselves of the things we have seen God doing all around us. If we choose not to become offended and bitter when we are in the dark places we will receive the blessing on the other side of it all. God isn’t punishing us. Pain is part of our journey and if we allow the pain to work a process in us God will never allow it to go to waste!

Focus On the Right Mission

Message:  Today Matthew 10 stood out to me as bright as a neon sign. Jesus was instructing the 12 apostles to go and reach the lost children of Israel before reaching the Gentile nations. He gave them firm instructions and warned them that they will not be well received by many but to shake off the dust from their feet and move on. The verse that really stood out was verse 34. “Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” He continues to say that he came to turn man against his father, a daughter against her mother etc. This sounds so unlike Jesus because we all think of Jesus as the nice one who wants everyone to get along. Jesus is not an enabler. He came with a purpose to reach the lost and he came to do it his way. The gospel itself will divide because it can’t be handled casually. It is a life changing decision that can’t be compromised. Jesus literally called us to share the gospel and stay focused in our purpose. As I read this I thought about the current state of our country. There are Christians currently fighting for a political candidate. They are so convinced that this candidate is God’s choice that they are using the name of Jesus to endorse him. They see this as a fight against good and evil, right and wrong, the kingdom of God against the kingdom of darkness. The problem is that they are fighting for the wrong kingdom. Jesus clearly said “my kingdom is not of this world” and we’ve seen this scenario before. When Jesus came as the promised Messiah the Jews had plans in mind that Jesus should overthrow the Roman government and rule and reign with them just like God had promised. This was not the plan. The plan was his death on the cross and because the Jews fought so hard for the plan they thought was God’s, they literally found themselves fighting against God himself. Instead, Jesus reminded them that this world was not his kingdom. They were to fight for another kingdom. He taught them to spread the gospel in spite of the state of the world and their government. He was not interested in reforming Israel and they were his chosen people. He had a global plan to change the world one person at a time. When we put our hope in a political candidate, we are putting our government in the place of a king and priest. We are not going to win the world by using our government to moralize our nation. We have to stay focused and on target with his instructions. We were commanded to preach the good news of the gospel to those who will hear it. When we stay focused on that task, the world will change with or without governments. We have to grasp the fact that God is bigger than our political system and his plan is so much higher than everything an elected official could ever do. We weren’t called to force Christian morals on the world. We were called to spread the gospel and let the truth of the gospel work its perfect work in the hearts of man one soul at a time. Let’s not get side-tracked on another mission. There is only one mission we were called to.

Wisdom Speaks

Message:  In Proverbs 8 Solomon wrote about wisdom as a personified being crying out to the people to listen to her. The value of wisdom is compared to other things we seek for ourselves, like silver and gold, except that the value of wisdom is higher than all those things. I thought about all of the things we pursue in life because we desire the value, but how often do we underrate the value and importance of wisdom. It’s not a coincidence that Solomon wrote so much about wisdom. When he was anointed as king over Israel God gave him the choice for anything he wanted. Solomon chose wisdom and because of that God gave him greater wisdom than anyone who had ever lived, but he also gave him the wealth and status that he didn’t ask for. This is what he is talking about as he uses wisdom as a personified being calling out to us. What stuck out to me was the comparison of gold and other precious jewels. I thought about the gold rush that sent men from all over to dig through the dirt seeking this precious metal. All these years later and gold mining still captures people with gold fever. It’s not an easy process and it’s often dangerous. What if we sought out wisdom the way miners search for gold? Digging through the dirt and carefully sifting it and washing it clean until the valuable metal rises to the surface. Anyone can search for gold in the dirt, but few do. You have to know where and how to look for it and the effort it takes often deters people… Just like wisdom.

Break Me

Message:  Today my reading was in Genesis and Matthew, but because I am currently on day one of a fast with our church I also read Isaiah 58 a few times to really soak in the purpose. In this chapter God was saying that the people were complaining that they fasted and afflicted themselves, but God didn’t notice. He called them out for the hypocrisy that they would suffer and afflict themselves while also indulging in abusive and selfish behavior. The point of the fast is not to make ourselves look spiritual or puff ourselves up with arrogance for our pathetic sacrifice. The point is to see chains broken and people set free. To hear from God and allow him to break us so that he can heal and restore us to be healthy and whole. Tonight as I drove home I prayed for God to reveal to me the things in myself that I am blinded to. A concerning thought hit me as I realized that these kinds of things aren’t really just shown to us apart from an experience. These lessons come when we hurt someone and God shows us where we were wrong. Tonight I prayed for those around me that I am hurting and am blind to it. I prayed that God would open my eyes to the issues so he can work change in my heart. I felt reluctant to pray this until I realized that I’m not praying disaster on myself and those around me. I’m already living out the disaster and damaging people around me. I am praying that God would open my eyes to see it so that healing and wholeness can come.