Desperate For Transformation

Message: One of my favorite NT stories is the man delivered from the “legion” of demons and although I understand that the town lost 2000 pigs that day which probably destroyed their lively hood, I am always surprised at how disturbed they were. Was the dysfunction so normal for them to see this man whom they could no longer restrain, living in the cemetery naked, crying out and cutting himself? Now seeing him fully dressed, sitting there in his right mind they are afraid?  I get that it disrupted their town and cost them 2000 pigs but his restoration scared them so badly that they begged Jesus to leave! What kind of dysfunction have I learned to live with so long that I would resist the change? Is it the cost it would take for the change that I’m afraid of? Maybe the disruption? On a side note, I couldn’t help but be sad for this guy when he wanted to go with Jesus after he was restored, and Jesus told him to stay there and tell everyone about it. These were the people that were so afraid of his transformation that they begged Jesus to leave and now Jesus wanted to stay with them and tell them about it. The cool part about it is that he did stay and tell them all about it and verse 20 says that they were amazed. I think people resist change they don’t understand but when they see someone they have always known to be in disarray, suddenly, or even gradually transform, they are impacted by it.

What also stood out to me more than anything else in Mark 5 is that the “woman of the issue of blood” we have heard about in so many sermons received her healing after touching Jesus. When Jesus asked “who touched me?” the disciples made a very obvious and valid point…’literally this entire crowd is touching you Jesus- and pressing up against you for that matter!” What was different about the woman? She touched him from a place of absolute desperation and she believed that she didn’t have to even have his attention. She could just reach out touch him quietly and be restored. She didn’t need a production, she wasn’t there to be seen. She just desperately wanted to be healed. I thought about this in the context of worship. We all gather and we all press in and worship, and we all want to see Jesus and be healed and changed, but there is something powerful about pressing into Jesus desperately and  quietly with no audience. Our desperate determination unleashes a level of faith in us that touches God.

Command: Worship with a desperate and  completely honest heart and don’t let the fear of the cost of transformation hold me back from grasping that change.

Promise: God sees my heart and he knows when I am just going through the motions with the crowd, but he also sees me in my honest desperation when nobody is around.

Warning: I can resist my own transformation and healing if I am hung up on the cost of it or the disruption of my life, or even my own idea of how it should happen.

Application: Lord, Jesus, if I am honest, I know I am not pressing in to you with the same kind of desperation that I have before. I see myself pressing into you like one of the crowd, but Lord, I want to have the kind of intimacy with you that transforms my heart and disrupts the norm. A transformation that will be noticed by those who know me best.

Clean Conscience

Message: As I was reading Genesis 32 I couldn’t help but notice some of the similarities and some of the stark contrasts in how Jacob handled Laban vs how he handled Esau. With Laban, Jacob was fearful that he would not be able to leave peaceably with his wives, children and livestock so he left without saying goodbye. But when Laban caught up to him he was bold and confident. He knew he had worked hard and served Laban well and even caused him to prosper because of his faithfulness to God, so he had a clean conscience and he challenged Laban to search his things to prove he had nothing to hide. He made the covenant with Laban and went on his way. His approach with Esau was much different. He was afraid for himself and his family because he had cheated his brother out of his birthright and his blessing and his brother had vowed to kill him- 20 years prior. He had been carrying the weight of it for 20 years, he was hoping to win his brother over but he just didn’t know how he would respond. He sent gifts ahead with his servants, he split his caravan into two, and he even hid his wives and children across the creek just in case things went south.

Command: Deal with issues as they come. Don’t let time separate me from resolving situations. They don’t dissipate over time. They build more tension and cause more anxiety.

Promise: Walking free of guilt allows me to walk with confidence without wondering what awaits me.

Warning: Hanging onto unresolved issues does not get better with time. It multiplies the dread and depletes my confidence.

Application: Walk in honesty with myself , with God and with people and I will be able to maintain confidence that God will take care of me. I do not have to avenge myself, cheat or deceive anyone. My clean conscience will make room for God to work.

Altar of Obedience

Message: Jacob made built an altar and made a commitment to God before he met his uncle Laban. He honored his commitment even when he was cheated, abused and taken for granted and because of this, God honored that commitment and blessed everything Jacob put his hand to. We all want that kind of blessing and favor but what stood out to me here is that there were long periods of continued honor and obedience to that commitment, and at first, God’s favor benefited his uncle WHILE he was cheating Jacob and before that favor benefited Jacob. Jacob honored his commitment because it was right, and he didn’t become impatient with God’s timing. He continued to be honorable when it wasn’t appearing to benefit him. He knew that God’s favor on him was benefiting Laban, but he was also confident that God’s favor would bless his own family when he was finally free. Not only was this true, but God also protected Jacob by warning Laban in a dream.

Command: Honor my commitments and be obedient to God regardless of circumstances. My commitment to God is non-negotiable and is not contingent upon my circumstances.

Promise: God’s favor will follow me when I honor and obey him even when it doesn’t appear to pay off for a while, or even when I am treated unfairly, cheated or abused.

Warning: Don’t give up on doing the right thing just because people or circumstances don’t look favorable. Jacob endured many years of building someone else’s wealth while being cheated, misused and lied to. Imagine how things might have changed had Jacob decided to vindicate himself.

 Application: This reminds me of Galatians 6:9 where we are reminded not to grow weary in well doing because in due season we will reap if we don’t faint. Jacob had the same promise in the first 20 years of faithfulness before he ever saw any of it benefit him. In fact, he watched HIS favor benefit the person who was cheating him and he never once questioned God about it. If my obedience and commitment to God is non-negotiable, than I can’t choose to stop being faithful, or blame God when his favor on my life doesn’t seem to feel like a benefit.

Silence the Cynic

Message: In Mark 2 some men brought their paralytic friend to Jesus on a mat lowered through the roof where Jesus was teaching. In response to their faith, Jesus told them “son, your sins are forgiven.” The scribes who were sitting nearby were THINKING to THEMSELVES “why does he speak like this? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Verse 8 tells us that Jesus understood in his spirit that they were thinking these things and he responded out loud to them a very direct answer. He asked them why they were thinking those things (so now everyone gathered there knows that Jesus is responding to their inner thoughts) and then he asks them “which is easier, to say “your sins are forgiven or get up and walk?” Then he took it a step further and told them that so they would know that he has the authority to forgive sins, he would do both. As soon as he told the paralytic man to get up, pick up his mat and go home he did just that. He had been lowered in so dramatically through the roof by his four friends in front of everyone. The house was packed with people so his entrance was probably a huge interruption and now he was completely healed and walking out in front of them all too. Verse 12 tells us they were all amazed. What I’m wondering about is the miracle that the people didn’t see. When the scribes were thinking those thoughts Jesus did all of that in response to them. Did they understand the personal miracle that just happened with them? I saw the my own cynicism in the scribes when I read this. I am not quick to believe anything, and sometimes I have to reel in the critic inside me to hear Jesus respond to me. Some of the biggest miracles I have experienced in my life were personal responses to the questions I have had. Those things I was pondering in my heart that Jesus responded to in ways that were so powerful and so personal to me, that nobody else would even know about.

Command: Honest questions are very important, but I need to silence the critic and the cynic inside me so I can hear Jesus respond.

Promise: Jesus is not just after the big crowd pleaser miracles. He speaks to our hearts in powerful and personal ways that nobody else could possibly know or understand. He responds to our questions and shows us things on a personal level just to let us know that he sees us.

Warning: If I don’t reel in the critic and the cynic within me, I may miss the response from Jesus, and fail to see the miracle he is trying to show me.

Application: When I am feeling critical or cynical, I need to separate my emotions from it and begin to ask the bigger questions and then ask God to show me. I really have to approach these kinds of questions from a place of humility because this is where God’s grace shows up. God is not offended by my questions, but my attitude can pollute my questions into something else and when pride is in the way, I will not hear God’s voice.

Prepare the Way

Message: John the Baptist was the voice preparing people ahead for the ministry of Jesus. We are the parallel of John the Baptist preparing people for the coming of Jesus. Our message is the same “repent and be baptized.” Jesus set the example for discipleship. He had 12 disciples and a select few of them were with him for the deeper levels of intimacy and learned things about him that the rest were not privileged to witness. Peter, James and John were the only ones with Jesus on the mountain of transfiguration when Elijah appeared to them, and it was here that he had the revelation that Jesus was the Messiah. There were other disciples following Jesus who were concerned with their status and who would sit on the right and left hand of Jesus.

Command: Prepare people for the coming of Jesus. Make disciples.

Promise: Jesus is coming.

Warning: Don’t be concerned with status. Don’t lose sight of the vision.

Application: I don’t have to run around the wilderness and eat locusts and honey like John the Baptist, but my mission is still to follow Jesus and go to the deeper, more intimate places with him, while also making other disciples to follow Jesus.

Mission M28

Message: At what point are you so convinced of the truth that you intentionally lie and cover up to deny it? The scribes and Pharisees knew enough truth to want to discredit Jesus during his ministry. They were crafty about the types of questions they asked and they set up other people to also ask these questions also. They used attorney type tactics in the hopes to set a trap for Jesus that would contradict the law of Moses or himself. Even when he was crucified they were trying to stay one step ahead. They knew that Jesus had said he would rise from the dead after three days so they set up guards at the tomb. Then after he did resurrect and the guards told them what happened they moved on to their next cover up. They paid the guards to lie about what happened and tell them that they fell asleep and the body was stolen. Contrast this with the disciples who walked with Jesus. Jesus had been warning them and preparing them for everything that would happen and they seemingly didn’t believe it or didn’t understand it. They fled when Jesus was taken and they were hiding and mourning after his death when you would think they would be looking for his resurrection. Or were they? Verse 16 tells us that the 11 disciples (minus Judas who betrayed Jesus and hung himself) traveled to Galilee to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. Verse 17 tells us that when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted. Ok that’s fair. Wouldn’t that be hard to take in?? Verses 18-20 is where Jesus gave what we call the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This was their instruction and ours too. This is the point of it all.

Command: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” This was their instruction and ours too. This is the point of it all.

Promise: Jesus promised he would be with us always.

Warning: There will always be those who want to discredit the truth. Even those who are most convinced OF the truth will try to deny it. Regardless, this is our mission and we can’t allow it to distract us from that mission.

Application: This chapter reminds me that there are people who see all of the facts, and are so dedicated to what they want to believe, or a lifestyle they want to preserve that they will fight it all the way. The religious leaders had position and authority that they didn’t want to lose. They were fighting to keep that life even if they were able to see that Jesus was who they believed he was. There are also people who may not comprehend all of the facts, but they have had an encounter with Jesus that they can’t deny. My mission is not to debate with people. It is to share my own testimony and make disciples- not to follow me as a person, but to follow my example as I follow after Christ. Jesus had plenty of people trying to distract him from his mission. He didn’t allow these distractions. He recognized the difference between honest questions and distractions. I don’t have the capacity to judge the heart, so I shouldn’t, BUT Jesus promised he would be with me and he gave me the Holy Spirit to lead and guide me so I need to listen to him when I speak with people. I need to set my own opinions to the side and ask God to show me the questions behind the questions that people are really asking. The questions coming from their hearts because that is where he meets us.

Parallel Manipulations

Message: Today I saw Genesis 27 and Matthew 27 parallel each other. In Genesis, Rebekah manipulated her son Jacob to deceive her husband and cheat her son out of his blessing. It worked and she got what she wanted out of it, but it caused a lifetime rift between her sons. I felt torn as I read this because on one hand, this was a terrible manipulating situation, but it was prophesied years earlier when she was pregnant with her twin sons and it was spoken that she had two nations in her womb at war with each other and that the older would serve the younger. I couldn’t help but wonder if she was trying to fulfill this prophesy on her own, or whether the prophesy was spoken to reveal what would eventually happen. Regardless, we will always know God as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob-even though Esau was the rightful older son. In Matthew 27 Judas Iscariot, a disciple of Jesus manipulated when he went to the elders and priests and asked what they would pay him to give up Jesus. He would later hang himself from the guilt of realizing the gravity of what he had done, but once again, this was spoken prophetically and was part of the plan of God for Jesus to sacrifice himself.

Command: Serve God with honesty and trust him to bless in the time and the way that he chooses.

Promise: God’s ways and his promises for us are for our good-even if it appears that people have manipulated situations to cheat or deceive us and have even gotten away with it.

Warning: Trying to manipulate people and situations has a heavier price than we will ever want to pay.

Application: This passage reminds me to be aware of my tendency to want to manipulate situations, and it also reminds me that regardless of the situations where I feel I have been deceived or cheated, God has a bigger plan in mind and his plans for me are good.

Watch & Pray

Message: Despite our best intentions and our most passionate devotion, we can’t comprehend the ways of God with our small minded thinking, and our flesh is weak and is prone to crumble under the weight of the pressure. Over the course of his ministry, Jesus brought up a lot of old prophecies, and he spoke them out as they were being fulfilled. Even though the disciples and the crowds would have been familiar with these prophecies and probably heard them read in the temples their whole lives, it doesn’t seem like anyone really realized they were actually being fulfilled right in front of them in real time. As Jesus recalled these past prophecies, he also spoke prophetically about the things that were going to occur over the next several hours and days. He had been preparing his disciples for his crucifixion and resurrection for quite some time but they weren’t emotionally prepared to hear it nor were they spiritually mature enough to receive it.  I can almost see them glazing over just trying to comprehend this. Peter even pulled Jesus aside and tried to rebuke him earlier on when he told them that he would have to die, and Jesus had to rebuke Satan for his influence. So here they were just hours before it all. The disciples are comfortably reclining at the dinner table with Jesus as he warns them all that one of them will betray him and he even identifies the betrayer. They are all so appalled by the idea that one of them would be capable of betraying him that seem to obsess over that idea and deny the possibility. Then he quotes the prophecy that the shepherd will be struck and the sheep will scatter and he warns them ALL that they will all run away- so not only will one betray him, but really, they all will when they abandon him. They are still not listening and they all deny it and Peter, with all of his passion emphasizes that even if they all do that he will not. What stood out to me the most was that even after all of this warning and denial going on they are still so comfortable. When they got to the garden of Gethsemane and he tells them to stay awake and pray with him. They are clearly not comprehending that this is all going down right now. They drift off to sleep a few times and when Jesus wakes them up to pray, it is not for Jesus’s benefit but their own. He tells them “Stay awake and pray so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” This really grabbed my attention because I feel like we spend a lot of time trying to pray for or against things that are probably all part of a plan that we don’t understand, when we really need to be praying and asking God to help us to withstand the pressure of it all. For him to help us to see with spiritual eyes so that we aren’t expending all of our fleshly energy trying to stop something that God is doing.

Command:  Stay spiritually awake and pray so that I don’t enter into temptation.

Promise: There will be a whole lot of unrest, and a lot of things will happen that I have been warned about in scripture. Things that I have heard, but I will not understand. But in the end, God has promised that he is coming. He is faithful when I am not and if I stay spiritually awake and pray through this,  God will be faithful to help me in my time of temptation, and to show me what my spirit is willing to see, but my flesh is too weak to handle.

Warning: If I am not willing to stay spiritually awake, and I insist on trying to walk this out with my fleshly passion, I will be swept up by temptation and I will not comprehend the things that are going on spiritually.

Application: Lord Jesus, please help me to put on humility, and not rely on my own fleshly passions. As much as I want to believe I will be faithful, I need you Lord to keep me faithful because my flesh is weak. Help me to see what you are trying to show me is happening in real time-right before my eyes and stop just assuming that I can rest comfortably without a plan for the future.

Appetite Management

Message: Our appetites can be so strong in the moment, but we have to keep them in check. An unchecked appetite can take on such a powerful influence that we give it an improper priority in our lives.  This can cause us to devalue other important things because in the moment of our emotionally driven state, we rationalize the priority. Esau sold his birthright to his brother Jacob for a bowl of stew. He was hungry and emotional and he rationalized in the moment that a birthright wouldn’t do much good for him if he died of hunger. I don’t know how long he had been out hunting and missed meals, but as dramatic as that sounds, we have been just as foolish, if not worse in moments of strong appetite.

Command: Keep my appetites in check.

Promise: God has promised a lot of blessings to us as a reward to us for a life of surrender and  obedience. The bible is full of promises!

Warning: If I allow emotional appetites to run rampant in my life, I risk forfeiting the bigger blessings that God had otherwise intended for me.

Application: Lord Jesus, please help me to keep my appetites in check! Help me to manage my emotions and deal with daily needs consistently so they don’t become unmanageable and overtake my life. Show me the smaller things that I tend to ignore on a daily basis that have the potential to get out of control. Grief, stress, offenses, impulsive shopping, impulsive eating, impulsive outbursts of emotions, procrastination. Help me to realize that any of these unchecked things can cause me to sacrifice my influence or my purpose.

Find Me Faithful

Message: There will be signs that we will recognize when the end is close and the coming of the Lord is near. These signs will include lawlessness, wars and rumors of wars among many  others. We should recognize the signs but we are not to be alarmed by the signs or distracted by them. They are meant only as a way to measure the time.

Command: Don’t get caught up in the signs and ignore the work we are supposed to complete. Jesus cautions us to remain faithful and obedient keeping in mind that he could come at any time so we want to be found faithful and attentive when he does.

Promise: Jesus is coming back for us!

Warning:  We need to be aware of the signs, but not caught up in them. The bible cautions us that these are supposed to take place so we can’t allow them to serve as a distraction from what we’re supposed to be doing. We also can’t ignore them and allow ourselves to drift off course.

Application:  Lord Jesus, help me to recognize the times we are in so that I’m aware and anticipating your coming, but help me to stay focused on the tasks you have assigned to me so I can be found faithful when you return.

Inside Out

Message: Obey the authorities but don’t follow their hypocritic example. Do what is right because it is right, not as a PR show. Jesus was telling the people that because the scribes and Pharisees were occupying the “seat of Moses” by teaching the law, they needed to honor and obey the law, and the position of authority, but not to follow their example of corrupting the law. Needless to say, Jesus was not impressed by their religious show, and he was angry with the way they had created layers of impossible manmade rules for the people to follow while also doing evil and corrupt things that were hidden from view. He criticized them for creating a religious outer impression while doing evil things in secret.

 As much as this was directed toward leaders and people of authority during that time, I see a huge parallel of this happening within the current American church. Not just with leaders (but certainly not excluding) but Christians as a whole in America are upholding an exterior appearance of godliness by pushing for biblical laws to be upheld in the laws and the courts of the land. At the very same time, many of the same Christians are not living godly lives themselves. They are criticizing unsaved people and trying to hold them to the standards of the word of God in the form of governmental law, but while doing so they are violating the very principles of the word of God in the way they treat people. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t vote for laws that reflect our spiritual convictions. What I am saying is that if our spiritual convictions cause us to despise people who don’t agree with it or live it, then we are seriously missing the point of it all.

Command: Obey the word of God and live a godly life without trying to polish an exterior PR type of reputation. Living a godly life will speak for itself and people will see that while not perfect, I am living a life consistent with what I say I believe while constantly evaluating and changing.

Promise: If I focus on living a godly life from the inside, this will show on the outside. My humility will increase and so will my compassion.

Warning: If my focus and concern is on my outer appearance and reputation, I will ignore important matters of the heart in my efforts to be seen. This will also increase my pride and decrease my compassion for people.

Application: Lord Jesus, please show me the things in my heart that are corrupting me. Help me to be more concerned with the things you are showing me, than how other people perceive me. Help me to change from the inside out and obey the things that you are showing me to do-regardless of what anyone else is saying or doing.

Promise On the Altar

Message: In Genesis 22 God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son. This is such a widely known story and I have heard this story unpacked with more angles than I can count. It’s uncomfortable and it’s inconceivable and I believe that is the intended point. Since we don’t like the discomfort, I feel like our tendency is to want to read this in such a way that softens the edges. I have heard many narratives that point out the conversations that happened before he took his son up the mountain. Abraham told the men that were with him that he and his son were going up to the mountain to worship and that “they” would both return. He also had the conversation going up the hill when his son noticed that they had everything they needed for the sacrifice…but he asked his father  “where is the sacrifice?” To that, Abraham responded that the Lord would provide. Many have concluded that Abraham had the faith to believe God would provide another way and that he knew God was going to provide a sacrifice. While I believe that is true, the point of this whole thing is that Abraham was also 100% prepared to sacrifice his son. If he wasn’t, then this story is nothing but theatrics. As difficult as that is to accept, and as uncomfortable as that is to ponder, we can’t explain it away to pacify our own discomfort. God had made Abraham a promise that he would make him the father of nations and multiply his seed like the stars in the sky and the sands of the earth. When it didn’t happen in a timely manner, he had already made the disastrous mistake of listening to his wife by trying to make it happen through Hagaar and he paid the price for it when he later lost that son after God told him to send him away. He had endured the very long wait for their promised son to come through Sarah, and now God was testing Abraham once again. This test was beyond just proving whether he loved his son more than God. This test was directly related to the promise God made to Abraham. They were old, and after that long to get Isaac, he knew he couldn’t just have another child. This child WAS the promise and God was testing it. Abraham got all the way to the point where he bound his son to the altar and reached for the sacrificial knife. At this point Isaac was fully aware and I can only imagine the fear and the horror coming from Isaac as he lay bound to that altar before the angel stopped Abraham and provided the ram in the thicket.

Command: Every promise God has made to me has to be released back to Him.

Promise: God is faithful to fulfill his promises.

Warning: I can’t make the promises happen by trying to control them, or by hanging onto them with a death grip.

Application: I have heard many people try to relate to this story by trying to imagine sacrificing their own child. We simply can’t relate to it. God made that promise to Abraham and Abraham only and a promise that great required an obedience and a trust even greater that God would do it his way. To me this story reminds me that for whatever promise I firmly believe that God has made, I have to also be willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice of that very promise to completely release it. Do I want eternal life? I have to be willing to offer my life as a sacrifice no matter how much it screams to be lifted off of that altar. I think we tend to get in the habit of trying to “help” God fulfill his promises so we try to preserve things that God is flat out telling us to give up and release. Once I give it up, he is able to trust us that I will do it his way. What dreams and plans or ideas am I holding onto with a death grip? What things in my life have I been clinging to so hard that God is waiting for me to put on the altar of sacrifice?

Stay On Mission

Message: We are not obligated to respond to every question asked of us about the gospel. Some questions are formulated with hidden motives. The scribes and Pharisees did this to Jesus constantly because they were trying to set him up to answer in a way that would contradict Moses or the law. They hoped to discredit him by proving that Jesus was contradicting Moses. Jesus was never in opposition to Moses or the law but it would almost appear that way by watching the things he was deliberately doing. He healed on the sabbath and it absolutely infuriated the Scribes and Pharisees because they had taken the laws of Moses and added their own rules to it as a means of control over the people. Jesus was turning all of that on it’s head in order to bring clarity back to what the law had intended to be. So when they came with their sneaky questions, Jesus saw right through them and often answered their questions with other questions- exposing their motives. I’m not suggesting that we treat every question we are presented with hostility, but we don’t have to accept a question in the form it is presented. It’s ok to ask follow up questions to determine what the person is really trying to ask. In the case of Jesus, he rejected their original question of “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority?”. This really was a “who do you think you are?” type of question and he didn’t come there to prove he was the Messiah. In fact, the opposite was true and he even quieted the demons who recognized him and reacted. Jesus was on mission to bring redemption to the world and he didn’t let anyone distract him from that mission. In this case, he answered their questions with parables. The parables were very telling and exposed the motives of the scribes and Pharisees.

Command: Stay on mission!  Our mission is to share our personal testimony of our encounter with God and provide the opportunity for others to be saved.

Promise: If I share the good news of the gospel and live it out, those who are legitimately searching will respond and be saved.

Warning: Don’t get tripped up by arguments and hot button topics. I personally don’t discuss what sin is or isn’t with unbelievers. These types of questions are not purposed with the intent of learning and becoming obedient to the gospel. Most of the time these types of questions are designed to discredit, disprove or unleash a “cancel culture”. In fact, if they are coming from unbelievers these questions do not even matter until they become believers. They can’t be saved through morality and obedience to a gospel they don’t believe, so until they are saved- why does it matter to them what our stance is on sin?

Application: This application is so simple, yet we make it so hard. We live in a world that is in constant outrage. There are opportunities everywhere we turn to engage in these debates and arguments. We weren’t called to engage in this stuff. We were called to share the GOOD NEWS of the gospel that Jesus came to save. The apostle Paul shared his testimony with the unsaved, and provided the opportunity for salvation. He discussed sin issues with only the church, not the unbeliever. If we follow this example we will stay on mission.

Comparison, Expectation & Discontentment

Message: Comparison is the thief of joy. When the landowner hired the workers in verse 2, they were in agreement to work the whole day for one denarius. At the end of the day they saw the other workers receive the same pay as them for less work. This caused an expectation in their minds that they would and should receive more than they agreed on. When it didn’t happen they became angry and they fought with the land owner. This is such a tough story, and also a very real one. The land owner represents God in this story. I believe the interpretation for this story is really about salvation. At the end of the day, those who have been saved and living in surrender for one day will receive the same eternity as those who have lived a surrendered life for 50 years. I don’t know about anyone else, but this is not necessarily the point of contention for me. For me the comparison struggle comes when I know God is requiring something of me, while someone else is seemingly getting away with bad behavior toward me. When I know that God is requiring me to humble myself and apologize to someone else who is living unrestrained in their behavior and is not sorry about it even a little bit. This is where the “it’s not fair” wants to rise up in me. It could also be looking at blessings that other people receive, or maybe it’s hardship and struggle. It’s tempting to look around and make comparisons with other people and feel like God owes us something. This internal angst rises up and causes us to feel like we have not been given a fair shot, or like God is withholding something from us. Our minds are way too crafty though, so we will never admit that we are mad at God. We convince ourselves that we’re mad at people who we feel have held us back or robbed us of blessing or opportunity.

Command:  Live life in obedience to God without comparison, but also keep those expectations in check! I know that God is a fair and just God, but even if he wasn’t -God owes me absolutely nothing and has the right to bless whomever he chooses. My response to that is a direct reflection of the condition of my own heart.

Promise: God delivers on what he promises, and he is more generous to me than I will ever deserve!

Warning: Comparisons lead to expectations, and expectations lead to discontentment.

Application: This is a daily heart check. I have to stay focused on my own walk with God and where he is leading me. I can’t be distracted or tripped up by what is going on with anyone else, except to be either inspired by them, or to be an encourager and to empower other people who are also walking this out. When I feel that quiet distance from God creeping in I need to address it immediately and not allow it to continue. That quiet distance is a result of discontentment and I need to address the expectation behind it.

Banishing Self-Righteousness

Message: We can’t earn eternal life based on good works because it would be impossible for us to accomplish. Jesus emphasized this truth very clearly when the rich young ruler came and asked what good he must do when he answered with “Why do you ask what is good? There is only one who is good.” Then he told him to keep the commandments. I love how the man asked him “which ones?” and then answered like oh yeah! “I have kept all of these. What else do I lack?”. I’m just speculating here but it seems to me that he really believed he was all good and I can’t help but wonder if he asked these questions with the motivation of putting himself on display thinking Jesus would commend him. Instead, Jesus reached for the heart issue that was holding him back when he told him to sell all of his belongings and give them to the poor and then follow him. This was not a new command that Jesus was giving us to follow. It was a command that he gave this man that revealed the non-negotiable thing in this man’s heart.

Command: Live out the commands from the heart, and not by the letter of the law.  Doing this will shatter the tendency to look for loopholes and qualifications because my heart and motive change.

Promise: Heart change is far more satisfying than living religiously.

Warning: Religion leads to self-righteousness. If am concerned about fulfilling rules and laws without addressing the motivation behind these things I can completely miss the point and deceive myself.

Application: Instead of asking questions like “is it wrong to…” and need to rephrase questions to ask things like “is it beneficial to…” When I ask these questions I need to include more people than myself when considering if it’s beneficial. This will expose selfish motives.

Childlike Surrender

Message: The disciples asked Jesus “who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus called a child to him to stand as an example and he told them “unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child-this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Typically I have heard this scripture used to emulate a childlike faith in believing, but as I thought this out further I realized there is so much more to this example. A child is under the authority of parents so he is required to obey without question, and a child is vulnerable and completely dependent on his parents for everything. A child has no rights to be able to  do anything without the permission of his parents.

Command: Relinquish my “right” to autonomous living. This is not a pick and choose situation. I have to completely submit myself to the vulnerability of obedience at all costs, complete dependent and with the trust that God is for my good even when it is difficult and painful. I have to allow God to teach me, guide me and help me mature.

Promise: My complete childlike surrender is what will give me a place in heaven. Not just my belief, but my belief that is demonstrated by my surrender and obedience.

Warning: I can’t believe and enter the kingdom of heaven without my obedient surrender and dependence.

Application: Lord Jesus, please help me to really grasp the gravity of these words. That my surrender and obedience are not negotiable or just for my good. They are required to enter your kingdom. My life is not my own and I need to live this out without pretending this is an option.

Blameless & Fruitful

Message: God came to Abraham and told him to “I am God Almighty. Live in my presence and be blameless”. Then he told him he would establish a covenant with him and “multiply” him greatly. Abraham’s response was humility. He was facedown as God spoke with him and told him he would be the father of many nations, that his name would change and that he would be so fruitful that nations and kings would be born from him. He gave him the land that he was living in and then explained that his side of the covenant was to circumcise himself and all of the men in his household whether born of him or slaves purchased by him throughout all of his generations. Abraham raised his questions and God answered, As soon as God left Abraham took immediate action and he had everyone in his household circumcised- beginning with himself and his son Ishmael.

Command: Live in the presence of God and be blameless. (Not sinless- but a life free of disobedience) God gave Abraham instructions to circumcise himself and the males of his household. Abraham did not hesitate to obey God. He did it immediately- that very day.

Promise: God will fulfill his promise to make me fruitful.

Warning: If I do not live blameless in his presence, I will not be fruitful.

Application: Living blameless and in his presence is to live a life of obedience and surrender with nothing kept back that God can’t touch. If I am doing this my life will flourish and be fruitful. If I refuse to be obedient in any area of my life, I can’t expect God to bless it. Lord Jesus, please show me any areas of my life where I have disobeyed or delayed my obedience for any reason. Help me to own the issues and walk in obedience to you without excuse and without delay. Thank you for making me fruitful.

Backwards & Upside Down

Message:  Throughout Matthew 16 we see lots of confusion over signs and interpretations of all kinds. The Pharisees (with insincere motivations) asked Jesus to show them a sign from heaven and Jesus responded by telling them that although they know how to interpret natural signs for things like weather, they don’t know how to interpret spiritual signs. Then when Jesus and the disciples were in the boat he cautioned them about the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees and they thought he was scolding them because they forgot to bring bread. They didn’t understand the spiritual interpretation that Jesus was trying to show them about the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees. But then a while later Peter has this miraculous moment when Jesus asks them who they think he is. Peter blurts out that he is the Messiah and Jesus confirms that not only was he spot on, but that this was revealed to him only by God. Just six verses later after Jesus reveals that he will have to suffer, die and will resurrect we see Peter pull Jesus aside and rebuke him telling him “never Lord” and Jesus rebukes Satan in that moment for his influence. My point in all of this is that our own understanding can’t be trusted. We judge situations as good or bad based on how they make us feel, or the pain it will cause. We base our judgment upon our own perceptions, emotions, experiences, pain or even joy. This is why we have to be so careful about how and what we pray. Most of the things that have happened for our good, we would have never chosen for ourselves because our flesh nature is to avoid discomfort. This is why Jesus followed his rebuke of Peter by telling them (and us) that whoever wants to be his disciple must deny himself, take up his cross and follow him because whoever wants to save his own life will lose it in the pursuit, but whoever loses their life for his sake will end up finding it. This is so backwards and upside down to our instinct.

Command: Don’t trust my own interpretations of things apart from the Holy Spirit because my flesh is prone to reject pain and discomfort and it doesn’t always discern the difference.

Promise: We are promised that if we lose our lives in pursuit of following him, we will end up finding it.

Warning: If we trust our own interpretations for things we may find ourselves working against the plans of God, and if we live in pursuit of trying to preserve our own lives (chasing happiness, comfort and security etc) we will lose it.

Application: Lord Jesus please reveal to me the evil motives in my heart that are working against your plan and the things I am still chasing after instead of you. Thank you Holy Spirit for being my teacher so I don’t have to trust or rely on my own interpretations for things. Help me to come to you first before taking on a prideful humanistic view.

The Heart of the Matter

Message: The Pharisees asked Jesus why his disciples broke the traditions of the elders, so Jesus turned it around on them and asked them why they  broke God’s commandments because of their tradition. The nature of mankind is to look at rules of law on a superficial level because the heart level is way too convicting and difficult. Our superficiality create loopholes within the wording to justify doing the things we want to do. Our loose and superficial interpretations tend to create our own system of sub-rules based on those superficial interpretations. Those sub-rules become so integrated within the culture that they are taught as doctrine and are upheld at a higher degree than what the law actually says so much so that we often don’t even remember what the original law was. The law of God was never meant to be interpreted this way and where it appears that Jesus was rebelling against the law when he came to the earth, he was actually refuting the manmade interpretations of the law of Moses. An example of this was their application of the command to “honor the sabbath and keep it holy.” This law which was intended for them to set aside work  for that day to worship and honor the Lord, somehow became a rigid set of rules telling them that they couldn’t do any form of work. They criticized Jesus for healing on the sabbath and used things like that to build their own case against him in an effort to disqualify him. To this day, the sabbath rules apply in Israel and they even have “Shabbat Elevators” that are programmed to stop on every floor on during the sabbath so that they don’t have to break the rules by pushing a button- because that would be “work”.

Command: Get to the heart of the matter. What are these laws really about? Jesus summed it all up in just a few lines. Love the lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. If we were to really live by the bible’s definition of love, there would be no additional rules needed. We know that the word “love” as defined in 1 Corinthians 13 is patient, kind, not rude, not envious, not boastful or proud, not dishonoring or self-seeking, not easily angered, does not keep record of wrongs, does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres and never fails. If this is was the filter that we lived by, there would be no need for interpretations and loopholes. Is what I am doing honorable, respectful, truthful?

Promise: There are tons of promises for each law that exists. “If you do this, I will do that” kind of promises. If we obey these promises at the heart level and not just at the superficial level, we will see the rewards that are promised.

Warning: If we ignore the heart level and obey rules on the superficial and man-made level, we get rigid and unsatisfying religion. There is no love in that at all.

Application: Lord Jesus! Please help me read your word and love the law at the heart level as King David wrote about. Let your law be my delight because love is the motivator of it all.

Captain Obvious Instructing Jesus

Message:  In Matthew 14 Jesus had just heard the news that John the Baptist had been beheaded, so he tried to withdraw by boat to the wilderness to be alone. The crowds were like paparazzi and they followed him anyway using  routes on foot from the towns. When he saw them he had compassion and healed the sick. The disciples observed what was going on and started thinking ahead. They came up with a plan and approached Jesus with it. They brought up three obvious points to alert Jesus of the problems they foresaw, and then proceeded to instruct Jesus as to how to solve it.

  1. This place is a wilderness (Thank you Captain Obvious, Jesus was aware. He had picked that place to be alone.)
  2. It’s already late.
  3. The people will be hungry.

Their solution:  “Jesus, send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus rejected their plan and instead told them “They don’t need to go away. YOU give them something to eat.” I love how he completely turned this around on them, which forced them to point out another obvious: “But we only have five loaves and two fish here.” Jesus commanded the crowds to sit down, he blessed the 2 fish and 5 loaves and then broke the loaves before handing them to the disciples to feed 5000+ people. There were still only 2 fish and 5 loaves when he told them to start passing it out. This did not change until they were obedient in the instructions of Jesus. They had to start passing it out and they had to continue passing it out until everyone was fed and full. THEN they counted 12 baskets FULL of leftover pieces!

Command: It’s ok to observe the obvious, but leave the solution to Jesus.

Promise: Jesus has solutions that defy the obvious. He is not limited by the problems that we see, and his view always encompasses a larger picture than the one we are observing. His ways are higher than ours.

Warning: When we focus on problems and try to present our solutions to Jesus, we will always come up short. Imagine if Jesus had acted on their instruction to send the crowd away. What a huge miracle they would have missed out on! When we present our perceived problems to Jesus and then try to instruct Jesus in the form of our prayers, we not only miss out on partnering with Jesus for HIS solution, but we also set ourselves up for disappointment as we wait for Jesus to deliver on the orders we gave him. He is not obligated to act on our command.

Application: Lord Jesus! Please forgive me for the prideful act of using my limited observations and abusing my partnership in prayer by trying to manipulate you to move according to MY will. Help me to recognize that the purpose of the partnership of prayer that you blessed me with is to bring YOUR will to pass! Help me to understand your will and your nature as I read your word, so that my heart and attitude, and ultimately my prayers line up with your will. Help me to be a faithful partner when I come to you in prayer so that I am  praying for your will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.