Monthly Archives: September 2016

Today’s Scripture – September 30, 2016

Matthew 7:6 (NIV) “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”

Much has been written and discussed about who Jesus considered dogs and who He considered pigs.  But those discussions miss the real point.

Both animals were listed as unclean in the law.  Jesus is using them to point out that those who are unclean, unforgiven, and who have no desire to repent, will have no appetite for the things of the kingdom, so it is a waste of time to try to argue them into seeing and understanding spiritual matters in their present state.

Jesus’ main target here was not gentiles, which might be a natural way for Jewish people to interpret those words.  The context of His remarks shows that He is talking about the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  The vast majority of them, though just as spiritually corrupt and stained as anyone else, saw themselves as holy and righteous, and thus were impervious to calls to repent.  They saw themselves as the core of God’s kingdom, so the calls of John the Baptist and Jesus to enter the kingdom were received with scoffing and hostility.

Jesus pointed out that those kinds of people, when shown the treasures of the kingdom, will, at best, merely scoff, trampling those treasures underfoot, treating them as waste.  At worst, they could be expected to turn on the messenger and tear them to pieces, which they demonstrated in spades when they plotted against Jesus, and ultimately had Him crucified for no other crime than sharing with them the truths of the kingdom, and trying to get them to see themselves as God saw them, so that they would be moved to repent.

Some might take Jesus’ words as motivation to never share the gospel with others.  After all, why share the good news with people who are not in the kingdom, and who might get hostile?  But that was not Jesus’ purpose here.  He was talking principally about people who were actively hostile or fighting against the kingdom.  We need to remember that God is continually working in the hearts of those who are not yet part of the kingdom, drawing them to Himself, and sending His people (us!) to share the good news with them.  Good examples of this are Nicodemus (John 3), the Samaritan woman (John 4), Cornelius and his household (Acts 10), and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40).

Jesus is telling His disciples that when they find hostility to the gospel, they will be wasting their time, and maybe even putting themselves in danger, if they just keep pushing.  He reinforced this idea with the twelve when He sent them out.  (See Matthew 10:5-6, 14-16.)  If hostility is encountered, it is best to simply move on, and pray that those hearts will be softened.  Perhaps the next messenger, or even yourself at a later date, will find softer soil and a more receptive heart.

Father, it really is in a lot of people’s nature to push and to argue, to try to “close the sale” when sharing the gospel, even when the ground is hard and unyielding.  It’s even more likely that we’ll keep pushing if the person or people are important to us.  Help me in those situations to remember that those people are just as important to You as they are to me, and that You will continue to work on their hearts so that they will have every chance to turn to You in repentance, if they are willing.  And keep our eyes and ears open to where You are working, so that we never miss an opportunity to partner with You in the harvest.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 28, 2016

Matthew 7:1-5 (NIV) “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Many interpret Jesus’ words here as an absolute decree that the people of God’s kingdom are never to pass judgment on anyone or anything.  Unfortunately, that interpretation leaves them at a loss to explain other things that Jesus said, including verse 6 right after this section.  How is one to know who not to give pearls or sacred things to without judging who the dogs and pigs are?

What Jesus is actually doing here is continuing His condemnation of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  Jesus found many of them to be what He called “whitewashed tombs” (cf. Matthew 23:27), clean and holy-looking on the outside, but inside harboring hatred and all kinds of sin and foulness.  Many of them actually did in private the very things that they condemned in public.  So Jesus was warning them that God would judge them using the same standards that they publicly used to judge others.

This hypocrisy is the basis for Jesus’ illustrative parable about the speck of sawdust and the plank.  Both items are composed of wood, illustrating the same type of sinful behavior in both people.  But the picture of the person with the plank protruding from his eye seeing himself as superior to the one with the speck of sawdust in his eye, and offering his help to correct the situation, is ridiculous.  But, as ridiculous as the caricature might be, the truth of the situation is sobering.

Jesus’ solution was not that we simply refrain from judging that something might be amiss, that our companion might have a speck of sawdust in his eye.  That would be unloving, especially with regard to sin, which could cost that person his soul.  Instead, Jesus directs us to clean up our own lives, to remove the plank from our own eye, before becoming the judge of others and trying to get them to clean up their lives.  Only when our own life is free from that sin will we be able to clearly see the solution to recommend to others.

Jesus never condemned true and righteous judgment of what was legitimately sin.  And the apostles never refrained from calling a sin a sin.  (See Acts 5:3-4, 8:20-23, and 1 Corinthians 5:3 for examples.)  But they always did so from hearts that were free of hypocrisy, never condemning in others what was present in their own hearts.  They also encouraged others to judge sin correctly (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13).  But they recognized that even that must be done in accordance with Jesus’ overarching standard of non-hypocrisy.

Father, it is easy to slip into condemning others for sins they are committing, while turning a blind eye to my own sin.  But taking the complete opposite tack of never p sin, pointing out sin, just leaving the other person separated from You, isn’t right either.  Help me to do all things, even this, in Your way:  first keeping my own heart clean before You, and then confronting sin when we see it in love, desiring only to prompt repentance so that the other person may be saved and experience the same restored relationship with You that I enjoy.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture

Matthew 6:25-34 (NIV) “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow.  They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Jesus Himself actually lived out the care-free lifestyle that He is advocating here.  Even though He didn’t own a house of His own (cf. Luke 9:58), He was not left without shelter from storms and cold.  His Father always provided for Him.  Even though He didn’t have what most would consider a regular job, He never lacked for the necessities.  His Father always provided for Him.

The examples that He used for this lifestyle are significant.  Everybody knows that birds don’t have to go to the store to buy seed or worms to eat.  God provides food all around them; they just have to go out and pick it up.  And they don’t have to buy clothes.  God provides them with soft, warm feathers that withstand heat, cold, and even rain.  All they have to do to receive God’s provision is to be what He created them to be, and to do what He created them to do.

The wild flowers don’t have to wander around looking for food, either.  In their season, all they have to do us to suck up the nourishment all around their roots.  Check out dandelions for an excellent example.  Even during most of the dry season, they still grow, drawing every available drop of moisture from the ground with their thick, deep root system.  And God also clothes them with rich colors and amazing textures.  All they have to do to receive God’s provision is to be what He created them to be, and to do what He created them to do.

As a human being, Jesus received God’s provision for the same reason.  He always was exactly what God intended for Him to be – a man who lived in complete harmony with God’s ways and obedience to His will and His commands.  And He always did exactly what God intended Him to do.  In fact, the theme of His life was, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19 NIV)  Jesus’ only concern in life was knowing and doing the will of His Father, being continually obedient, even taking it as far as laying down His life on the cross (cf. Philippians 2:8).

God knows every necessity that each us has, and longs to supply them, exactly as He did for Jesus.  There are two things that get in His way:

  • We crave more than the necessities. God does not focus on wants, but on what is truly needed.  Today many of God’s people already have far more and far better than what is actually necessary, and end up spending more time and money using or maintaining the things they have than they spend focusing on God and His will for them.
  • We don’t actually trust God. Many of us seek security in an abundance of stuff and in pantries full of food, unwilling to trust God to simply provide just what He knows is necessary each day.

The key to unlocking God’s provision is not simply to lay back and trust God to bring food, or clothes, or money to the door.  Jesus was never idle.  The key, as Jesus clearly stated, is to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness.  To seek God’s kingdom means to be completely focused and actively involved in making His kingdom a here-and-now reality:  helping people to come into relationship with Him through Jesus; helping those people to grow into mature, Christlike disciples; and bringing God’s kingdom values into contact with the world at every juncture, just like Jesus did.  Seeking God’s righteousness means to live in obedience to God’s commands, conforming our entire lives to God’s agenda, and allowing God to transform our hearts, so that they will be completely transformed, and aligned with His character, just like Jesus.

These two items are not items to be added on to our already full agendas.  They are to become the primary focus of our lives as God’s people, just as they were for Jesus Himself.  Into those kinds of lives God can pour His provision without limit, always ensuring that whatever is really needed is provided; not just food, and drink, and clothing, but also His presence, His power, His purity, and His passion.

Father, I can see that it is very common for us to give You only a part of ourselves, but still expect You to give everything to us in exchange.  It is also easy to see that Jesus, the great exemplar of life in the kingdom, never gave You partial measures.  He always gave You 100%, and thus opened Himself to receiving all that He needed, exactly when He needed it.  No worry, no fretting, no concerns for tomorrow.  Lord, help me to trust You each day, to follow You each day, to obey You each day, to be 100% Yours each day, and to put seeking Your kingdom and Your righteousness at the top of my agenda each day, so that You can freely provide all that I need each day.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 26, 2016

Matthew 6:22-24 (NIV) “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
“No one can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money.”

Jesus continues His pivot from the sin of aiming for the praises of people instead of pleasing God, through the concept of being careful about where our treasure is, to how we are to deal with worldly wealth and physical needs.  But He never loses the thread that, in each of these, the key is the heart.

“A bad eye” is a Hebraism for stinginess of the heart.  That is the opposite of “a good eye,” symbolizing a generous spirit that is willing to hold the wealth of this world loosely.  People with a good eye see themselves as stewards of the wealth and material possessions with which God has entrusted them, and are instantly responsive when God moves them to give.  Those who see themselves in this way have hearts that are full of light, because no greed or coveting darkens them – no scrambling after the things of this world, or grasping what they now have, clouds their relationship with God.

Those who are grasping and greedy easily become entirely consumed with the pursuit of more, a pursuit which replaces their love of God with a golden idol, and the love of others with the love of material things.

The draw of the things of this world is much stronger than most people are aware of or willing to admit.  It often masks itself as a quest for security, believing that just a little more will be all that is necessary to provide for the future, or to make one’s present more secure.  But in the end, the pursuit and acquisition of more money or more stuff provides no real security.  In fact, more time and energy must now be spent protecting and maintaining what has been obtained so that it will not be damaged or lost.

A person with a bad eye, a grasping heart, may gain the world, but will ultimately lose his or her soul (Matthew 16:26), because no one can successfully serve God and allow the mastery of wealth and “stuff” into their lives.  Only one of those can ultimately be served, and, since our hearts will make the decision, they often give in to the mastery of the material over serving God.

The way of the kingdom is to trust God to provide what is truly needed, and to look to Him for security and well-being.  If we as God’s people will be content with what He provides, with living simply and generously, and refusing to give in to the continual quest for more, then we will have hearts that are full of light, and lives that will be a continual conduit of His grace and blessing.

Father, we live in a society that urges us to give in to the mastery of material things, with advertising on every side urging us to join the quest for more or better, or whatever the latest happens to be.  Help me to have a heart that is so single-minded in its focus on You and Your grace that no temptation of the things of this world can find any toehold in it.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 25, 2016

Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV) “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

At this point, Jesus is making a gradual segue to a new topic.  But as He does so, He connects it closely to what has just been described.

He has been talking about people who do good things, things that would usually be seen as good in God’s sight, but who miss out on the blessing that only He can give by aiming too low.  Their goal is receiving praise from people, assuming that if the people think that they are wonderful, that God will too.  But they forget that God doesn’t look at the outward appearance; He looks at the heart.  (Cf. 1 Samuel 16:7.)

By seeking the praise of men, those people are storing up perishable treasure, the treasure of earth.  And, like all earthly treasure, this treasure of the esteem and admiration of other people is subject to decay and theft.  One slip in public is usually more than enough to knock a human ideal from his or her pedestal.  And time will quickly rob us of the outer beauty of body or grace of action that people admire, and will even scrub the public’s memory of one’s good deeds, replacing everything with amazement at whoever is the latest contender for the title of most beautiful, most talented, or most pious.

Instead of building up perishable, temporary treasure on earth, Jesus recommends building up treasure in heaven.  Things done wholeheartedly for God are not subject to the ravages of time, or the faulty memories of human beings.  And each action taken in the name of God, done purely for His approval, will do more than just show that our heart is in the right place.  It will actually draw our hearts into God’s presence.  Where our treasure is, that’s where our hearts will be.

Father, this is all a matter of priorities.  If my top priority is You, it will move me to do those things that will please You, and to do them in ways that are acceptable in Your sight.  If I want the approval of men, I will do things that are acceptable in their sight, or do legitimately good things in ways that will cause people to applaud, instead of focusing on how You want me to do them.  In either case, both what I do and how I do it will clearly reveal what is in my heart, and what I truly value.  Help me., Lord, to always value You so highly that all of my treasure is in You, now and forever.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 24, 2016

Matthew 6:16-18 (NIV) “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

In Jesus’ day, many people fasted to prove the sincerity of their devotion to God, or in an attempt to strengthen the power of their prayers.  (See Daniel 9:3 and Esther 4:16 for examples where both were involved.)

Fasting was rarely prescribed by God, although there were times when He commanded the Israelites to “deny themselves,” usually when a judgment on them was being weighed.  But in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees would often fast twice a week as a sign of the sincerity of their devotion to God (see Luke 13:11-12), and in order to strengthen their prayers.  Unfortunately, some of them also fasted to demonstrate their piety to the people who would see them, hoping to receive their praise and admiration.

Just like those who gave to the needy conspicuously in order to receive praises from people, and those who prayed loud and gracefully worded prayers in order to receive praises from people, Jesus gave no kudos to those who fasted conspicuously in order to receive praises from people.  Some would go out with sad and drawn faces, looking pale and emaciated so that others would notice.  Others would stumble slightly as they walked along, and when offered help, would wave it off with a weary smile and a weak, “No, no, I’m fine.  I’m just a little weak from fasting is all.”  And off they would wearily shuffle, leaving in their wake a sea of admirers, all deeply impressed by their piety and devotion to God.

But, as in the other cases, this kind of fasting does nothing to impress God, earns no favor with Him, and in fact damages their relationship with Him, since their actions are designed to only LOOK as if God is their focus, when the real focus is on gaining the admiration of people.

Jesu’s advice to those who crave the attention of people over God’s approval is not to give up on fasting, but when they do it, to do it in such a way that it is actually acceptable to Him.  If I want the effort of my fasting to be received by God, I need to fast before God, not before people – basically to do it in a such a way that nobody besides God will ever find out that it even happened.  I need to dress normally; walk normally, with no weary stumbles or shuffling that will attract attention or prompt questions; and smile.  If I do those things, no one besides God will know what is going on, no one but God will praise me, and no one but God will think highly of me for fasting.

Fasting is fine if I want to do it.  It can sharpen my mind and open my spirit to God in wonderful ways.  But it is not necessary to fast in order to win God’s approval, or He would have commanded it in His word.  Instead, if we want God’s approval, obedience, not fasting is the key.  “To obey is better than sacrifice.” (Isaiah 15:22)  Even the sacrifice of fasting.

Father, as in all other things, help me to keep You as the center of all that I do.  Help me to never crave the approval of people, but to always align myself with Your will, so that any approval or praise that I receive comes from You. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – September 23, 2016

Matthew 6:33b “For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.  Amen.”

Even though these words don’t appear in the earliest manuscripts that we have, they are entirely in keeping with the tenor of the whole prayer.  Also, as a traditional ending to many Jewish prayers for long ages, these words were very likely on the lips of Jesus as He closed out most, if not all, of His prayer times.

These words draw the focus away from the pray-er and back to God, the one that we are praying to, acting almost like a bookend to the recognition of who God is at the beginning of the prayer.  And it recognizes three different facets of His character and His rule.

  • Yours is the kingdom. The kingdom of God or, as Matthew prefers, the kingdom of heaven, is God’s kingdom.  It is composed of all people everywhere who recognize and submit to His rule in our lives.  As such, it is a borderless kingdom, including people all around the world, everyone who has come into relationship with Him through repentance and in the finished work of Jesus, and who live in fellowship with Him through obedience to His commands.  A key reason that Jesus came to earth was to bring the reality of God’s kingdom to the people of the world, and to make a way for us to participate in it.
  • Yours is the power. In this model prayer, Jesus recommends several petitions.  Implicit in those recommendations is the understanding that God can do whatever we are asking of Him.  Nothing is too hard for God.  He called the entire universe into existence with the word of His mouth.  So when we are instructed to ask Him for help in making His kingdom a reality, for provision of daily bread, for forgiveness of sin, and for deliverance from temptation and the power of the enemy, we can do so with the clear knowledge that He absolutely does have the power to do immeasurably more than all that we ask or imagine (cf. Ephesians 3:20).
  • Yours is the glory forever. God’s glory is a combination of His imminence and His transcendence.  His imminence describes His presence with us, in the lives and hearts of all of His people.  That presence empowers us to live powerful, effective, even miraculous lives, just as Jesus did.  In Jesus all of God’s glory was clearly seen (John 1:14).
    God’s transcendence recognizes the fact that even though God is actively present in His creation, He is at the same time separate from it, existing outside of time and space, and ruling over all of creation without being a part of it or restricted by its natural laws.

Amen is the final petition, meaning, “May it be so.”  It serves as a period (in some cases as an exclamation point!) that shows our faith that we have asked correctly, and that God has heard and will answer.

Father, help me to pray these words, and to worship You every time I come to You in prayer.  Such short, simple words, but they will help me to keep my world right-side up, with You always at the very top.  Amen.

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