Saturday, August 30, 2014

Seeing Jesus Only...

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. (Matthew 17:1-8 ESV) The Light has been coming on a lot for these disciples, as the finally have made the break with the legalism of the Pharisees. They have even gotten to the point of recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, "The Son of the Living God." But things have not fully set in, as they still do not see the total uniqueness of Jesus. He is not merely in the top ten or final 3 or 4; He is the one to look to and listen to above all others. He and He alone is the King, worthy of our worship, devotion, and full faith.

Friday, August 29, 2014

In Context...

Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matthew 16:28 ESV) In the immediately preceding statement, Jesus talked about His coming back with His angels as Judge, when everyone will see His glory. This statement might make it seem like He was saying that some of them would see that event. But in the fuller context He is talking about the fact that most, unlike the twelve, had not recognized Him at all. This statement foreshadows what Matthew will share next - an event when some of them did see His glory, and the understood more fully how His death fit into the big picture. He is the King. He does deserve our allegiance. He is coming again.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The call for self-denial

Matthew 16:24-27 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. This profound statement is packed in the middle of a whole group of dramatic statements. Peter has confessed: "You are the Christ!" Jesus has announced that He will carry out the ultimate self-denial by willingly giving His life for His followers. How can we respond to such truths? the only proper response is to "give it up" to Him, to stop thinking and living for what pleases us in this world, and live for what lasts. If He is the Savior, Our Savior, He will also be our judge, and we should willingly submit to Him.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Reverting again...

Matthew 16:21-23 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” Jesus has been working hard to do one main thing: keep the disciples' hearts and minds focused on things eternal. Their tendency and ours is always to revert to things physical. Most recently, when He talked about the leaven of the Pharisees, they fretted because they forgot to bring bread. Here Peter (probably again speaking for the rest...) does it again. He does not want to see Jesus suffer, while at the same time failing to see the ultimate victory. Today, may we revert back to the spiritual, seeing and hearing what Christ has to say and to show us.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Put in trust with the Gospel...

Matthew 16:17-20 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. This was a distinct moment - not only for Peter, but for Jesus and His disciples as a whole. They were beginning to get the big picture, and He is about to show them more. They are being entrusted with the truth and given the responsibility to share it. But it was not yet time to "go public" with this all. That would come soon enough. For those of us who have come into a relationship with Christ, we too have been given this trust. We too can see victory in our lives and in the lives of those who have come to the truth. And we need no longer remain silent.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Governed by public opinion???

Matthew 16:13-16 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” This is one of the most dramatic statements in the Gospel. The twelve disciples had seen more of Jesus than anyone else; they had the best "view" to make such a value judgment. We can take their word for it. But their opinion was not shared by most. We live in an age governed by public opinion polls, where everyone makes decisions based on what the majority think. Many times those decisions are wrong. When it comes to deciding Who Jesus is, and what our response should be to Him, don't rely on the opinion of those who really don't know Him. Get the facts; examine the evidence; know the truth.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Cloudy lenses, muffled hearing, confused hearts

How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16:11-12 ESV) The disciples were so accustomed to filtering spiritual life through the legalism of the Pharisees, and so used to filtering life in general through only the lens of the physical, that they were missing the message Christ was conveying. It took a lot of repetition for them to finally understand. In an age of instant everything, we struggle to keep focus - to persist in hearing the lessons of Jesus over and over again, thinking that we understand when we really do not. How dependent we are on the Holy Spirit to guide us and interpret the truths Christ has for us! Today, may our spiritual sight be clear, our ears open, and our hearts attentive to the things He has for us.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Missing it on multiple levels...

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? (Matthew 16:5-10 ESV) The Twelve had witnessed so much - far more than even the average Jewish resident around the Sea of Galilee: The miracles, the marvelous teaching, and the Man Himself. Yet, putting it all together was not always that easy. They failed to understand what Jesus was trying to impress upon them. They were thinking physical bread; He was talking the Bread of Life, the Word of God. They were thinking He was talking physical yeast; He was talking spiritual influence. We tend to automatically revert to the physical, even after spiritual high after spiritual high. He wants it to be a supernatural response for us to maintain a spiritual plane - always connected to the way He thinks. When that is the case, worrying about our next meal is not an issue; we know the great Provider, and we know His heart. We won't miss a meal, or a lesson.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Never Enough Signs..

And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed. (Matthew 16:1-4 ESV) Text messages in the sky... billboards addressed to me... a voice from heaven every morning. Sometimes we think that if we had these things come our way, our faith would be greater. No, it doesn't work that way. Faith comes from within, just like excuses come from with. We don't need more signs... there are too many to read already... we need to respond to the one BIG sign we have already: the Risen Christ.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Same story, different lesson...

And Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven, and a few small fish.” And directing the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up seven baskets full of the broken pieces left over. Those who ate were four thousand men, besides women and children. And after sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan. (Matthew 15:34-39 ESV) Jesus did so many miracles, as crazy as it seems, could the disciples get bored with them? Was it always the same old routine? Not really. There are important distinctions. They are no longer in their stomping grounds in Galilee; they are in the Gentile part around the Sea. This time it is Jesus who speaks up, not them. Maybe the did not care so much about these people from the other side of the Sea? Jesus cares about them too, and wants us to as well. May we never tire of learning something new God has for us.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Forgetful or Faithless?

Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” And the disciples said to him, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” (Matthew 15:32-33 ESV) It has not been that long since the disciples witnessed the feeding of the five thousand firsthand. Yet, they act surprised by Jesus' idea that they be fed. Have they forgotten what He can do? Often we do. Or do they believe He can only do certain things and not all things? Often we do. And maybe there's more... Maybe the don't want Him to provide for these Gentiles they way He provides for them. Often we are selfish and want Jesus only to bless us.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Where are we???

Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel. (Matthew 15:29-31 ESV) Reading quickly and casually, passages like this seem to repeat themselves over and over again in the gospels. On the one hand, that is a good thing: Jesus consistently performed miracles that amazed, bringing glory to God. But after awhile, we might ask: "Why waste the writing space?" Since the gospel writers picked and chose a small selection of events from thousands they had to choose from, why chose to repeat the same thing over and over. Because there IS something different here that is significant, that we need to wait until the very last phrase to find: "they glorified the God of Israel." Jesus is no longer in Israel. These people are Gentiles. For the disciples the experience is old hat, but this is a whole new group of people, who had heard about this Jesus from the other side of the lake, who has now come to them. It is no longer second hand experience; they can now see for themselves.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Even us dogs...

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:21-28 ESV) At first glance, Jesus appears ruder than rude to this woman. But culturally, he was not bound to treat her and differently. She was a woman, a gentile, and in association with demonic forces. But He is teaching the disciples something profound about what it means to be clean before God. It comes when we respond in faith, humbly admit our need, and call out to Him. He does love each one - even us Gentile dogs...

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Missing the obvious...

But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” (Matthew 15:15-20 ESV) We are not that different than Peter, often not understanding plain truth because we are set on thinking there must be another way. The Pharisees had the people of Israel so indoctrinated into the external that the eternal became unclear. So Jesus restates: "where do you think all this sinful action came from? Something you ate?" As strange as it may seem, yes, we often do think and act that way: we want to blame someone or something outside of ourselves for our sin. But we cannot. It comes from within, and can only be changed from within. And we cannot do it ourselves. We need Him.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Blind leading the Blind into the pit...

And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:10-14 ESV) We've got a dirt problem. It's not outside, it's inside - hearts dirty with sinfulness. How did it get there? Not by what we eat. We cannot vacuum it out. We cannot hope it goes away by eating right. We cannot change from the outside in. Some people think so, and want us to think the same way. This nullifies the amazing grace of God. Simply put, Jesus says: "Don't follow them. Ignore them. Treat them like the weeds they are. Don't try to pull them out, because then you will pull up good seed too. Keep on planting the truth. Open your life to the Holy Spirit. Let Him cleanse and change from within.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How far the wrong path will take us...

He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me,teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Matthew 15:3-9 ESV) These leaders had taken the wrong path, heading down Human Tradition Lane instead of Divine Revelation Trail. We think we know best, even better than God, how we should live. While proclaiming to honor their fathers by keeping their traditions, what they ended up doing is dishonoring their fathers by writing them off as has-beens, not worth the time of day. Have we "written off" our elders, thinking we have discovered a better way than God revealed to them?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Did you wash your hands???

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” (Matthew 15:1-2 ESV) How many of us can hear our mother's voice when we see those words? Or our own voice speaking to our children? From the perspective of a child,these words sound annoying, even though meant for our own good. But the Pharisees could care less about the health and well-being of Jesus' disciples. This was a ceremonial cleansing, not a health one. They wanted people to live by their rules, added to those of the scriptures. Now that IS annoying - being told God's Word is not enough. Jesus will have none of that; neither should we.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Radiating Power

And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well. (Matthew 14:34-36 ESV) Matthew and the other disciples were beginning to see it: Jesus does not just have power; He does not just speak power; it oozes out of Him. He is the Almighty God the Son. What is especially exciting here is to see that when the people realized it was Him, they went all out to bring others to Him. Do we get that excited about Jesus, and Who He is, to bring others to Him, expecting Him to impact their lives?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Shared Small Group Experience

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:28-33 ESV) The Twelve had experienced miracle after miracle with Jesus, but this day was most memorable in their intensity and succession. But even more than that, these miracles - Jesus walking on the water, having Peter do so, and then calming the sea without a word, had a n amazing impact on them. Jesus did great things in the crowds, like feeding the 5000, and healing all brought to Him, but this cluster of words and actions are the ones that bring the disciples to their knees in worship, realizing Who He really is. May we not be content sitting back at a distance in observing what Christ is trying to teach us. May we be up close and personal with Him and with His other disciples in learning and experiencing all He has for us.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Always on time...

And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:25-27 ESV) Jesus is always on time. After struggling for hours against the storm, the disciples were there, between 3 and 6a.m., the hardest part of night watch, the most exhausted and spent, and to top things off, they see what they think is a ghost. As fisherman, they had heard all the stories of departed fishermen reappearing on the sea. But this was not a ghost; it was their only Hope. And rather than bringing further fear, He brought the greatest peace possible: His presence - just when they needed it most. He does the same thing today. Take heart. Do not be afraid. The Great I Am is close at hand.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Sent into the Storm...

Matthew 14:22-24 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. His disciples are finding out what it means to follow Jesus. First, He made them do what they did not want to do: feed the five thousand men and their families. Then, rather than let them relax, He forced them into the boat to go to the other side, when it was near the end of the day. Worse yet, He was not coming along. Finally, here He let them experience a storm. This life following Jesus does not always seem like what we signed up for - blessing after blessing, miracle after miracle - but it is! The miracles come in the midst of the storm, at the times when we have almost forgotten Him, when we think He does not care, and it is "out of our view" that there He is, praying for us in the presence of the Father.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Multiplying faith...

Matthew 14:18-21 “Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. Here Matthew, unlike most parallel events covered in more than one gospel, has more than other gospel writers. As one of the 12, he observed all the steps, which most people did not see. The 12 definitely are the target audience of this miracle. As a tax collecting CPA he took count of how many fish, loaves, baskets and people there were. The mutliplying of the food went a long way in multiplying his faith and developing him as a disciple. He now was able to see people as Chirst does, and obstacles and opportunities in a different way, when Christ is present. May Christ mutltiply our faith today.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

What do we lack most???

Matthew 14:15-17 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. The disciples lacked three things in this situation. First, they lacked the resources needed to meet the need of the people around them. That was a fact. Secondly, they lacked the ability to do anything about it. They had no bank or foodbank or supernatural powers to create food. What they were forgetting was that Jesus does, and He was right there with them. The third thing they lacked was the first thing: the compassion and ability to see what God could do. In the verse before these, we are reminded of Christ's compassion as He looked out on the people. As His disciples look out on the same people, it is not with this eye of compassion; they see them as a problem who should take care of their own probelems. Jesus disagreed. He did not want them to leave. So He calls on his disciples to admit and recognize their need, what they lacked, so theyc could learn from Him what they really needed.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Looking to show compassion

Matthew 14:13-14 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Jesus has just had a long round of rejection: the Pharisees refused Him, His hometown viewed Him as a scandal, and King Herod acted like He did not even exist. But some sincere seekers still followed. When He saw them, His innermost nature came out; His heart of compassion could not resist their need. We need to reflect that nature. Having received His compassion over and over, it should flow out of our lives towards others. We need to have eyes that are looking for ways to show His love, responding as if it is second nature (which it is, the new nature of Christ.)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

What are you wanting to see or hear?

Matthew 14:11-12 His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. This short two-verse summary of this account shows a sharp contrast. Herodias could not wait to see and hear that John the Baptist was dead, and would no longer bother her. The truth was, Herod was so bothered by guilt that things would only get worse around the palace. Jesus too awaited word - the trusted testimony of John's faithful followers. But He was not looking for revenge, nor for the removal of some competitor. Jesus realized that people's receptivity or rejection of John said something about the spiritual climate he was facing too, and was relevant to how He should proceed in ministry. What did we want to see? Others fall and fail? The removal of some irritating person or rival? Or do we want to see God directing us in the way He would have us go?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Greatest Fears...

Matthew 14:6-10 On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted and had John beheaded in the prison. Some of the most monumental decisions we make in life are those which have raised some sort of fear in our hearts. The question becomes: "Who and what do we fear most?" And with that: "What will I do with that fear?" Herod feared many things: public opinion, the nagging of his mistress, how to make everybody happy. But let us not forget the context of this story: because of these actions made in fear, Herod later refused to check out the stories about Jesus, writing them off as John coming back to haunt him - an action, or lack of action, based of guilt-driven fear. What have you allowed your fears to convince you to do, or not do, in response to God's calling? Who do you fear most? Do you have a healthy fear of God? What do you fear most? What people think? A lack of possessions? A loss of opportunity? How have those fears driven you to wise or bad decisions?

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Emotionally Driven Life...

Matthew 14:3-5 Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet. 
Herod was so twenty-first century.  He lived life driven by emotions.  He had chosen to pursue an adulterous relationship with a woman who was his one brother's daughter and his other brother's wife.  When confronted he was ridden with guilt, but unwilling to repent. He lived life in fear of public opinion.  Such are the lives of many today: making all the important decisions, or lack thereof, based upon emotions, feelings, and not wisdom and truth.  This kind of life is chaotic and foolish, leading not only to poor decisions for oneself, but for all those around us, especially those under our care and leadership.   What is driving your decisions today?