Monthly Archives: October 2016

Today’s Scripture – October 28, 2016

Matthew 9:18-19, 23-26 (NIV) While he was saying this, a ruler came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.”  Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.
When Jesus entered the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd, he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.”  But they laughed at him.  After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up.  News of this spread through all that region.

Sickness and even death didn’t intimidate Jesus.  They were merely what the call to action looked like.  A just now deceased daughter and a father’s faith were enough reason for Jesus to stop what He was doing and go right away with the Synagogue ruler.

This ruler (Mark tells us that his name was Jairus – Mark 5:22) had great faith.  He believed that Jesus’ mere presence could restore even the dead.  But he seemed to be the only one at his house that had that kind of faith.  Those who had come to mourn over the loss of the girl actually laughed in Jesus’ face when He indicated that this situation was only temporary; that this wasn’t a permanent state of death, but just temporary, as if she were sleeping.  But they all knew that the girl was dead – they had checked carefully, and there were no signs of life in her at all.

It’s important to note that such lack of faith was not a block or a hindrance to Jesus’ ability to do a miracle.  He moved the loud and jeering crowd outside, and with only the parents and His three closest disciples with Him, He took the girl by the hand.  And with that simple action, the girl’s life returned to her, and He returned her to her parents, alive and well.

When the mocking friends and neighbors found out that the girl was alive, they were stunned.  But only for a moment.  Then they immediately started to spread the word to everyone they knew:  Jesus had raised a little girl from the dead!

Father, we need to take a lesson here from Jesus.  Too often we let ourselves get intimidated by the doubters around us, and pull back from what You have called us to do.  Or we blame the lack of faith of those around us when we fail.  But the attitudes of the onlookers here didn’t deter Jesus in the least.  If You instructed Him to do something, Your word was enough to give Him the confidence to act boldly.  When it came down to it, only HIS faith was necessary to make amazing miracles happen.  Help me to have that same passionate faith about everything You call me to do and to say.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 27, 2016

Matthew 9:14-17 (NIV) Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”
Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them?  The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.
“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse.  Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins.  If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined.  No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

Jesus regularly failed to meet the expectations of many of the religious people of His day, especially as it regarded external practices that were not part of God’s actual commands.  He didn’t practice such things as ceremonial hand washing before meals (cf. Mark 7:1-23), and fasting on certain days of the week (cf. Luke 18:12), because He knew that these were not essential to a real relationship with God, and that they had a horrible tendency to become ends in themselves; little idols that people began to serve, and that ultimately replaced genuine service to God.

Jesus didn’t require these traditional practices of His disciples, either.  Even though they weren’t sinful, they didn’t add anything to a person’s relationship with God.  So with the dawn of the kingdom, He knew that they would fade away without doing any harm to people’s spiritual health in doing so.

To those who pointed out that these practices had a long and time-honored tradition behind them (most of them originated shortly after the Babylonian captivity), and so needed to be continued, Jesus gave two illustrations, both of which showed the folly of trying to combine old forms of religion with the new realities of the kingdom of God.

The first illustration was sewing a patch of new cloth on an old garment.  It might look like a good fit at the beginning, but the picture changes as soon as the garment is washed.  The new, unshrunk piece of fabric will shrink, and as it does so, it will tear loose from the old garment, often increasing the size of the original hole in the process.  So trying to impose a traditional external religious practice like fasting on a people for whom fasting is not necessary, will ultimately do damage to the old form as well as to the new reality.

The second illustration was pouring new wine into old wineskins.  In Jesus’ day, wine was fermented in bags made from animal skins.  As the juice fermented, the gases produced swelled the skins.  Finally, when the swelling stopped, the wine was properly fermented, and could be poured out of the skins.  But old wineskins couldn’t be reused.  The process of stretching and the inevitable drying of the leather that occurred over time made them thin and inflexible.  If new wine was allowed to ferment in such hard, thin skins, the pressure of the gases would burst the skins, and the fermenting wine would be poured out on the ground; both would be lost.  Thus, trying to force the new powerful, energetic reality of the kingdom of God into the rigid forms of traditional religious practices would end up damaging them both.

In making the kingdom real, Jesus was initiating a new spiritual reality, one that could not be contained in the old forms and traditions of post-exilic Judaism.  Instead, He invited people to participate in the new and powerful reality of a Spirit-filled, Spirit-led relationship with the one true God – a powerful and effervescent realty that would blow apart any traditional constraints that were put on it

Father, I’m afraid that we are often guilty of the same traditional formalism that the Pharisees and John’s disciples were so fond of.  We grow very comfortable with the way that we have always done things, and whenever You want to do something new to reach a new generation of people, our first instinct is to try to force it into the old wineskins of our traditions and practices.  And if it won’t fit, we too easily declare that it must not be from You.  Lord, open our eyes to the truths of the New Covenant, truths that are too grand and powerful to be forced into our rigid traditions.  Help us to live lives in the Spirit that are too effervescent with Your power and presence for us to ever try to pour them into the old wineskins of the way we have always done things.  Help us to be new wineskins, flexible and supple, and willing to release our death grip on the old, so that we can be a part of the new things that You are doing right now.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 26, 2016

Matthew 9:10-13 (NIV) While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples.  When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew left his job when Jesus invited him to follow Him.  But his old life wasn’t simply abandoned; it was transformed.

The first thing that Matthew did was to hold a dinner party, to which he invited lots of his old friends and business associates.  Jesus had changed Matthew’s whole life through His call, and he wanted everyone he knew to meet Him and get to know Him.

Jesus gladly accepted the invitation.  After all, these were exactly the kinds of people that he had come to reach with the good news of the kingdom:  the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3), spiritually bankrupt people, who knew that they didn’t have a leg to stand on in God’s presence, and who hungered and thirsted for righteousness (Matthew 5:6).  Even though they had largely been written off by the religious leaders, they had not been written off by God.

But Jesus wasn’t there to party with these people.  This dinner was not a party.  Instead, as they ate together, all eyes were on Jesus, and all ears were focused on what He was telling them about God’s kingdom – the kingdom into which He was inviting them.

The Pharisees, as usual, were focused on entirely the wrong thing.  They didn’t even notice the room full of focused and expectant faces, all looking at Jesus as He taught them about God’s love and grace that was being extended to them.  All that they could see was that Jesus had willingly entered the home of a tax collector – an action that they saw as imparting uncleanness to any holy man.  And not only that, but Jesus was eating this man’s food, and sitting with and eating with a whole house full of even worse sinners!  They believed that it was the responsibility of anyone who claimed to be truly godly to separate themselves from anyone or anything that could corrupt them, but Jesus was doing exactly the opposite!

Their question to Jesus’ disciples was accurately captured by Matthew, who couldn’t help but hear it as it was spoken loudly and angrily right outside the window of his house.  When you add the tone of voice that they used in asking it, though, it actually sounded like:  “Why in the world is your teacher eating with people like that; tax collector and (ugh) sinners?!  What does He think He’s doing?!”

Jesus also heard the question as it was being asked, and was more than just a little irritated by the attitude of these men.  He looked right at them and answered their question.  “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I am here with these people because their souls are sick and they are dying from it.  So I have come to them to provide healing, and life, and a restored relationship with God – something that the truly righteous don’t need from me.  So, yes, I am eating with tax collectors and sinners to bring transformation into their lives, something that you are apparently too good for.  But I have a homework assignment for you.  Go to the prophet Hosea, and figure out what God meant when He moved the prophet to write, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6).”  Then come back and let’s talk.

In saying this, Jesus really struck a nerve with these men.  They knew that Hosea had prophesied to a people who were very good at the externals of their religion.  Their sacrifices were made on time, and exactly according to the rules.  But their hearts were hard and merciless, betraying the fact that they were actually very far from the God to whom their sacrifices were directed.  So, through Hosea, God challenged them to changed their perspective.  God would rather have hearts that are soft, filled with love and mercy toward their fellow man, than all the sacrifices in the world.  Because hearts like that would not only have love for others, but genuine love for God as well.

Father, once again, Jesus truck right at the heart of the issue.  A heart that is harsh and judgmental toward those whom You are trying to reach and to save is a heart that is far from You, no matter how many church services and Bible studies that they attend.  Help us, Lord, to truly see these lost ones the way that You see them, and to allow Your love to so infuse our hearts that we no longer focus on their uncleanness and sin, but on their lost souls that matter so much to You.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 25, 2016

Matthew 9:9 (NIV) As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth.  “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

It might seem strange to some that Jesus earlier had seemed to throw up barriers to those who wanted to follow Him (Matthew 8:19-22), telling them clearly that they needed to count the cost first.  And then He offers a call to Matthew out of the blue!  There are actually two considerations to be looked at here.

The first is that Jesus always knew what was in the heart of a person (cf. John 2:25).  In those He had approached earlier, or who had approached Him, their overzealousness on one hand and excuses on the other betrayed their hearts.  The overzealous volunteer had too overblown an expectation of what Jesus had come to do and of his own role in that mission.  The excuses of the other man betrayed a lack of commitment due to confused priorities.  But Matthew had neither expectations nor aspirations where Jesus was concerned.  He was simply fascinated enough by who Jesus was and what He was doing that, as soon as the call came, he immediately left his old life behind to follow Him.

The second consideration is that anyone could choose to count the cost and follow Jesus.  Anyone could choose to leave everything behind and join Him on God’s mission.  His very existence and presence was an invitation.  But Matthew, would never consider offering himself, because he considered himself damaged goods.  He was a tax collector, after all!  And his closest friends and associates weren’t the kinds of people that he figured Jesus would enjoy hanging out with.  Most of the polite society of Capernaum had written Matthew off, so he figured that Jesus would write him off, too.

But Jesus was able to see past the external, what Matthew was, to what he had the potential to become.  He was able to see beyond the tax collector exterior to a heart filled with longing for God.  And it was to that heart that Jesus issued the short invitation:  “Follow Me.”  It was an invitation to leave behind what and who he was, a servant of the Roman hierarchy, and to follow Jesus into a future of who he could become as a servant of God; to leave behind the pursuit of earthly wealth and security, and to embrace the pursuit of heavenly wealth and security.  And that invitation, spoken to Matthew’s longing heart, was all that he needed.  He walked away from his old life, and never went back.

Father, how quick we are to judge!  I dare say that many of us, myself included, would probably have looked at a person like Matthew, and have written him off as someone who would never be willing to leave their power and position and wealth to follow Jesus.  But Jesus never wrote anyone off.  He kept inviting, and people kept following.  Help me today, Lord, to be more willing to extend the invitation to follow Jesus, and to extend it freely to everyone, without prejudging them.  Who knows who will say yes!  Who knows who is just waiting to experience a complete, life-changing transformation, so that they, in turn, can help transform the world!  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 24, 2016

Matthew 9:1-8 (NIV) Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town.  Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”
At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”
Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?  Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?  But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….”  Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.”  And the man got up and went home.  When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.

Jesus had quite a reputation as a teacher, and so, wherever He was, He drew teachers of the law who wanted to hear what He had to say.  This day was no different.  The house where He was teaching was so crowded with people, including teachers of the law, that the friends who brought this paralyzed man to Jesus had to lower him in through a hole in the roof!  (Cf. details in Mark 2:3-4.)

Jesus’ intention was never to leave the young man paralyzed, only pronouncing his sins forgiven.  But this man had been told for quite a while that it was most likely his past sins that had caused the paralysis in the first place – it was a common theology, most likely shared by the teachers of the law as well.  But despite the man’s repentance and seeking forgiveness, the paralysis had remained.  Jesus merely started out by recognizing the man’s faith, and pronouncing God’s forgiveness over him, clearing the way for the physical healing that He fully intended to give.

But before He had a chance to proceed, another opportunity presented itself:  the opportunity to teach the teachers of the law some things about sin and forgiveness in the kingdom of God.

In the Old Testament economy, only a sacrifice on the altar could confer forgiveness for sins committed.  So the idea that a mere man (as they saw Jesus) could simply pronounce someone forgiven seemed to them a horrible heresy, maybe even blasphemy.  Of course, without understanding who Jesus really was, and without understanding that He Himself was the ultimate sacrifice for sins, the teachers were justified in what they were thinking.

Jesus pulled the curtain aside just the tiniest bit to help them get a glimpse of the great truths of His identity and His God-given authority.  Pronouncing forgiveness of sins was simple, just a matter of words without any objective results to demonstrate that forgiveness had actually taken place.  But if these teachers truly believed that the man’s paralysis was caused by his sins, which they most likely did, then the removal of the paralysis would prove that the sins had been forgiven.

Notice that Jesus pronounced no specific words of healing here.  The purpose of the command for the man to get up, pick up his mat, and go home was not primarily to heal, but to prove to the teachers of the law that the Son of Man really did have authority on earth to forgive sins.  And when the young man complied, any charges of blasphemy against Jesus for claiming such authority vanished, because, as Matthew notes in the last verse above, even the people recognized the healing as proof that God had given authority to Jesus to forgive sins.

Father, those who are only willing to see Jesus as a man close themselves off from being able to see so many other things as well.  Help us to not only accept Jesus for who He was – the eternal Son of God in the flesh, but to continually work to help others to see Him that way, too.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture

Matthew 8:28-34 (NIV) When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him.  They were so violent that no one could pass that way.  “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted.  “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”
Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding.  The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”
He said to them, “Go!”  So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water.  Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men.  Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus.  And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

There are a few things to note in this event.  First, these demon-possessed men were so vile and so violent that no one dared to go near them.  No one, that is, except Jesus.  Jesus was never afraid of boogey men or things that went bump in the night.  He absolutely knew demons for what they were.  He never underestimated them, but He never gave them more respect than they warranted.  He knew that He outnumbered them, no matter how many of them there were.

The demons know that, too.  Even though there was a legion of them in these men (cf. Luke 8:30), they were instantly reduced to begging for their very existence when Jesus showed up.  They begged Jesus to send them into the nearby herd of pigs instead of into the abyss, and Jesus gave them permission to do so.  He then spoke the single word, “Go!” to send them on their way.

The townspeople were shocked at the return to sanity of the formerly demon-possessed man, and dismayed by the loss of the pigs.  But overall, the thing that intimidated them the most was the power that Jesus demonstrated.  The power of the demons was fearsome, and completely unnerving, but the idea that here was a man that the demons felt that way about was too much for them.  Jesus’ very presence intimidated them.  He felt dangerous to them, and unpredictable, too.  So they (politely) asked Him to leave their area.

Father, many people deal with things that have them mastered, and long for freedom.  But they are also intimidated by any power that could easily banish that evil against which they have fruitlessly struggled for so long.  I guess, as people, we prefer power that we can control, or at least understand.  More than that, and we pull back and turn away – even if the power is beneficial and benevolent.  But You don’t want us to turn away.  You desire that we actually become channels of Your power, so that we will be able to accomplish even greater things than Jesus Himself (cf. John 14:12).  Help us to not run and hide from Your amazing power, but to allow ourselves to become immersed in it, for the world’s sake.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – October 20, 2016

Matthew 8:23-27 (NIV) Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him.  Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.  But Jesus was sleeping.  The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”  Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this?  Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

Jesus lived His life like no person had ever lived before.  He lived in such close communion with the Father that he never worried or feared.  He knew exactly what the Father’s plan was at any given moment, because He constantly listened to His voice.  He never did anything on a whim, but always acted in complete obedience to the Father’s will.

It was the same way that morning.  Jesus wasn’t just going to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  He was following God’s explicit direction to go because there was a demon-tormented man over there who needed to be set free.  So Jesus gave the command, and His disciples followed Him onto the boat, and set sail.

Even if Jesus noticed the gathering clouds over the lake that presaged one of the frequent storms that tended to swoop down over the water from the nearby hills, He paid them no attention.  He knew that any storm that did arise was ultimately no threat, because God had called Him to deliver the man on the other side, and God would ensure that He got safely there.

His disciples, though, had no such confidence.  They tended to focus on externals, like the deep water, and the increasing wind that was starting to push the waves over the sides of the boat.  Some of the men in the boat had lived and worked on the Sea for years, and knew of many lives that had been lost to those treacherous waves.  They grew more and more afraid as each moment passed, and the wind and waves continued to increase.

They were amazed that Jesus could continue to calmly sleep through all of the tossing and the drenching spray.  Some today blame exhaustion for Jesus’ deep sleep, but it was actually faith.  Jesus knew before they ever set sail that they would make it safely to the other side.

No one was sure what they expected Jesus to do about the storm, but they knew that the storm had already out-mastered them.  So they woke Him with the news that they were all going to drown, and a plea to do something, anything that might help.

Jesus was frankly disgusted with their lack of faith.  This storm was a simple challenge.  Why were they so afraid?  It wasn’t His time to die, and if it wasn’t His time, then it wasn’t their time either.  After chiding them, He stood up and spoke peace to the wind and the waves.  Immediately the storm stilled.

Jesus laid back down again, but if anything, the disciples were more freaked out than ever.  They had seen Jesus do amazing things, but for Him to be able to command the wind and the waves…that was beyond incredible!

Some have read this bit of history as teaching that if we cry out to Jesus, that He will calm any storms that enter our lives.  And then they are troubled when they pray in the middle of some fearful storm, and the storm keeps raging.  The real lesson to be learned is that if Jesus is in the boat, we don’t have to fear the storms that do arise.  It teaches us that we need to have the same faith and calmness that Jesus had – “the peace of God that transcends all understanding,” based in an assurance that we are acting in complete obedience to God’s plan.  That peace will guard us during the greatest possible storm.  And that kind of faith will ultimately deliver us to heaven’s gate, even if the storm continues to blow.

Father, thank You for this assurance.  Forgive me for sometimes getting my eyes so focused on the storm that I forget to keep my eyes on You, and my ears tuned to Your voice.  Help me to have the same faith and trust in You that Jesus had, born of and sustained by a clear understanding of Your will for my life at every moment.  Amen.

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