James 1:19-27 "Action Word"

We talk a great deal about what the Word of God is transformative, guiding, equipping, and much more.  However, none of this really amounts to anything if we do not Engage it and respond to it.  James reminds us that we need to be “doers” of the Word, and to be good doers, we need to be good listeners to what God is saying through the Holy Spirit



Matthew 25 – Kingdom Investment

Read Matthew 25

Wise investing is one of the smartest things we can do with the money God has blessed us with.  While Jesus warns about allowing money to master us, we also must recognize the wisdom in future planning.  This could be illustrated in the Parable of the Talents.  However, I don’t think that money was on our Lord’s mind when He spoke this parable.

A talent was something very valuable.  It regulated the exchange of currency in those days.  But what is important in this teaching is not the “amount” or the “type” but rather what was done with it.  When the Master returns, it isn’t the amount of talent returned that mattered, otherwise the man with 5 would have received more praise than the one with 2, but the fact that they had put those talents to work and returned more than what was originally given them.

I have heard it preached before that these “talents” are related to our own gifts and abilities, that we should put them to work so that God receives a return on His investment in us; an apt metaphor to be sure.  However, keeping with the rest of this passage, I wonder if the meaning we are to gain from this comes from its relation to the parable of the sheep and the goats.

James 1 says that we are not to merely be “hearers” of God’s Word, but “doers.”  Those who were welcomed into the Kingdom were those that did something with the Word, “invested the talent” if you will.  Jesus said earlier that a tree will be known by its fruit.  Perhaps that is the fruit that comes from the sowing of the seed that is God’s Word in us which, in good soil, yields a crop far greater than what was sown.



Matthew 24 – Signs of the Times

Read Matthew 24

Did you know that humanity has survived at least 154 past “end of the world” dates?  Sadly, that number is actually much greater, and there are at least 13 (most likely more) predicted armageddon dates in humanity’s future.  It seems that humanity is obsessed with our own extinction.  Unfortunately, a large amount of this obsession has been fueled by the Christian community and emphasized by Christian fundamentalism.  A large number of Christian leaders seem to have missed this section of Scripture and have instead placed their focus on figuring out the very thing Jesus says only God knows.

Jesus talks about earthquakes and famines, wars and rumors of such, all of which are signs that the end is coming.  Let’s be honest: this is true of every single year since Jesus was on earth.  Lately, it seems, people have been pointing to cultural and moral decline as a sign that this end is getting even closer, which could arguably be said about every day and year since Jesus was on earth too.

The point that Jesus is trying to make here is not actually to instill a longing for the end, for us to “get out of here” and for heaven to come, but to remind us of the readiness we should live with as those who believe.  More than this, though, I think what we should read out of this is a sense of urgency that comes with knowing that the “end is near.”  There are many out there that do not know the love of God that is in Christ Jesus; the end for them would truly be the end.

Those that say they know, Jesus says, are the ones we shouldn’t listen to.  Instead, our focus should be where it always should have been: proclaiming the Gospel!



Matthew 23 – Walk the Talk

Read Matthew 23

Yikes!  Jesus’ teaching takes on a rather angry tone today!  This scathing section of Scripture tears the Phariesses and other teachers of the Law apart for their practices as the leaders of Israel.  It is interesting, and sometimes we miss this, how Jesus begins this section; He acknowledges their position, their seat, and tells His listeners that they are to”do and observe whatever they tell you…”  Doesn’t this seem a bit contradictory to the harsh verbal beating that follows?

This isn’t the only time that Jesus acknowledges earthly authority as being valid.  In fact, multiple places in the Old and New Testament we are presented with the fact that earthly authority and government is ordained by God and we are called to respect those seats.  That does not, however, mean that we are to do what they do which is a major distinction to say the least.

The “7 woes” that Jesus speaks of here revole largely around the how the teachings of the Pharisees don’t match up with their actions.  They set up Law and practice which they themselves do not follow; “heavy burdens” that they are unwilling to bear.  Yet the things that they do follow are those outward rituals that make them to appear pious and righteous in the eyes of the people.  During those times they take honored and very visible seats so all can see their “holiness.”

Jesus points out the depth of their hypocracy; this is, in fact, the very thing that condemns them.  They don’t even walk their own talk.  The greatest leader, Jesus reminds us, is the one who humbly serves.  These are important reminders for us, in a country and culture of would-be leaders, ones who speak of great things but are betrayed by their actions, or lack thereof.



Matthew 22 – Ulterior Motives

Read Matthew 22

Have you ever done something that would seemingly benefit someone else but, in reality, you did it to benefit yourself?  Whether it is helping someone so as to receive public affirmation or being publically generous, the true intentions of our hearts are something that we have to contend with.  The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were such people, always having an ulterior motive in their minds when the questioned Jesus.

For Jesus, questions like this were not uncommon for religious teachers.  Leaders would question each other so as to affirm the truth of their teaching, or to garner more followers for themselves.  We see this in our culture a great deal, especially during election years.  In Jesus’ case, however, the Pharisees and the Sadducees were looking for an excuse to have Jesus arrested and to rid themselves of this nuisance.

Yet Jesus is unphased by these questions, not simply because He knows that they are trying to trick Him, but because He understands what is most important, what the Father truly cares about: the heart.  Both the Pharisees and the Sadducees were “experts” in the law; they “knew” how to follow God.  When they questioned Jesus though, the Lord redirected the question to expose the true fault of their hearts.

God does not concern Himself with “temple taxes,” He wants the heart of the giver.  We need not concern ourselves with holding on to worldly things, even some of our closest relationships.  Instead, He desires our trust that, when resurrection happens, all things will be made right.  The things we hold as important now will pale in comparison to what life will be like then.

What does God desire then?  The answer seems so simple: Love God and Love your neighbor; love like that has no ulterior motives.



Matthew 21 – The Greatest Danger

Read Matthew 21

Matthew continues to point his audience, primarily intended to be Jews,  back to the Old Testament Scriptures, showing Jesus as the fulfillment of all prophecy.  In the two major events that we are familiar with, the Triumphal Entry and the cleansing of the temple, Scripture is directed toward Jesus as the fulfillment.  Even Jesus’ teaching contains Scripture that references Himself as the Messiah.

However, it isn’t the presence of Scripture that has the Pharisees so concerned, but it’s content.  Israel’s past when it comes to listening to those whom God has sent as prophets is sorted, at best.  Most of the prophets that God sent were rejected and even killed because of their message.  While God continued to try and draw His covenant people back to Himself so that they could live into their true identity, the people continued in their disobedience and, in some ways, became much like the fig tree that Jesus cursed: fruitless.

I wonder if this is the greatest danger God’s people face today.  Over and above the decentralization of the church, societal marginalization, and even persecution both physical and ideological, when God’s people become content to simply exist, to play it safe, and to pursue those things that make us comfortable… not that which makes us disciples called to make disciples.

Jesus’ parables were directed at the people of Israel; the Pharisees and Matthew’s readers would have recognized this.  However, the teaching holds incredibly true for God’s people today as well.  The Church in North America has rested on it’s laurels for far too long.  Her past achievements have been enough, some think, to warrant a voice in today’s culture, however those passing too often see a tree with leaves but no fruit, and Jesus says, “A tree is known by it’s fruit.”



Deuteronomy 30:11-14; 32:45-47 "That You May Have Life"

Moses exhorts the people of Israel to remember and be in the Word of God.  It is not too difficult to know; it is not far off.  God’s Word is very near to them, and to us as well.  We need to Engage the Word, to know the voice of the Shepherd, and we will then see the transformative work of the Holy Spirit.



Matthew 20 – Equality

Read Matthew 20

This could arguably be the least popular text in Matthew, at least in the U.S.A.  We are the land of the “American Dream,” where anyone can work hard and be rewarded accordingly.  The harder one works, the more wealth, authority, and power one can acquire.  Writing this during the 2016 election cycle, no clearer picture could be painted of this reality.  Candidates tout their “desires” to help all people, that all would benefit from their leadership, and yet their actions and drive for more wealth and power show no real concern for they seek to lead.

Jesus illustrates the paradigm of true equality in the parable of the vineyard, a story that almost everyone who heard it in that day would have had an aversion to.  How is it possible for someone who worked an hour to get paid the same as one who works 12?

Once again Jesus takes on our notions of what is fair and equal, notions that are usually self-interested, and redefining them in light of God’s immeasurable grace and mercy.  As is always true, God’s ways are not our ways, and are often in direct opposition to human norms, the ways we tend to opperate.

In a culture and time when cries for freedom and equality ring louder than ever, we all most recognize that God’s definition of equality far surpasses those of any social movement.  Indeed true equality has nothing to do with money, status, or even race, but in the reconition of where we stand before God as sinners saved by grace alone.  This understanding of God’s indescriminate love for everyone, and His call to love as He loves, must be the basis and the imputus for our desires of equality and justice for all… in the truest sense of what that means.



Matthew 19 – First and Last

Read Matthew 19

Having never been divorced, I find it hard to understand the thought process that goes into divorce.  In fact, as a pastor, walking alongside people who are struggling with things I have not directly experienced is one of the most difficult things for me.

Jesus, as He continues teaching about turning from selfishness, brings in the sensitive subjects of both divorce and money.  Like those asking who would be first in God’s Kingdom, certainly a self-interested question if ever one existed, Jesus addresses other situations in which self-interest certainly can play a role.

I would not presume to cast judgment on those struggling through divorce or picking up the pieces of life after one, and do not want to paint with broad brush strokes over the experiences of individuals in relationships I know nothing about.  I believe that this passage has been used far too many times to judge and hurt, condemn, label, and nullify people’s feelings without consideration of the details of their situation.  I firmly believe that it is not God’s intention to force people to stay in relationships that are unsafe and dangerous.

As He continues to teach, Jesus challenges our notions of selfishness and self-interest.  As those who are “in Christ,” we are called to put off such temptations, to put others before ourselves.  Ultimately we are called to what Paul calls a “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).  This calling is a life of freedom, not being bound to our own self-interest but putting others first.  Our freedom is to love in the way that Christ loved: self-sacrificially.  What does this mean for us?  Perhaps it means not pursuing wealth, actually living out marriage vows, or giving our children the time they need and desire after a long day’s work.  Can you think of others?



Matthew 18 – All the Wrong Questions

Read Matthew 18

We often get caught up in pursuing what we think is most important.  In our pursuit, we inquire and investigate how we can achieve these ‘important’ things in our lives.  Today, at least, we can know that we are in good company.  Jesus’ disciples also had their priorities a little mixed up and we find them asking Jesus all the wrong questions.

As they see Jesus’ ministry growing and continued talk about the Kingdom of Heaven being near, His disciples begin to dwell on a common human question: “where is my place in this Kingdom?”  Jesus has called these 12 men to be His inner circle; they want to know who is going to be Jesus’ #2, His go to guy.  More importantly, they want to know how they can become that person, something accented by Peter’s question later in verse 21.

Jesus’ response turns the usual notions of importance on their head by pointing to the true concern of God in His Kingdom.  Unlike the dominions of men in which power and authority are things to be taken and exercised over others, the Kingdom of Heaven concerns itself with but one thing: that those who are not a part of it are found and welcomed in.  He illustrates this point through teaching and a parable.

It may seem backward, caring for the one lost sheep amidst the 99 that aren’t, or emphasizing forgiveness and reconciliation rather than holding a grudge (a form of having power over someone) and revenge, but this is the way of God’s Kingdom; it’s how God’s economy works.  Those who would find life in Christ must lose their own; we must die to ourselves daily.  Here and only here, when our dependence is on God, do we find true freedom and our place in God’s Kingdom.



Matthew 17 – Transfiguration

Read Matthew 17

There are an innumerable amount of stories about a son leaving home, going into the military, and coming back as “a man.”  There are much more about young people going through a trial and coming out more grown up and mature.  I imagine that the transfiguration had a similar impact on the disciples as they saw Jesus in heavenly glory, speaking with Moses and Elijah, both of whom had been dead for hundreds of years.

The transfiguration was a pivotal moment in the ministry of Jesus.  While He was not and more or less God or human before, during, or after, this event marks a pivotal change in the focus of Jesus’ ministry, turning from the work and traveling around Israel and towards Jerusalem and eventually the cross.  In fact, Luke 9 records the transfiguration followed by the verse 51, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

We experience our own “transfiguration” of sorts when we encounter the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  When we accept Him as our Savior and Lord we are, what Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 5:17 as a “new creation.”  We used fancy Christian words like “justification,” “atonement,” or “reconciliation” to talk about this moment when we experience a fundamental change in who we are.  We go from lost and sinful to found and forgiven.

While this decision is the most important a person can make in their life, what is also important is the daily decision to live this new life we are given.  As Jesus, from this point, sets His face towards Jerusalem and the cross, so are we to set our face toward living the life, the freedom, and the mission that God gives us as His children.

 



Matthew 16 – Bad Leaven

Read Matthew 16

This is, at least, the second time in Matthew that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day demand a “sign.”  Looking at this from our perspective, their request is ridiculous being that Jesus had been healing so many people.  Yet, just like the visit from John the Baptist’s disciples, who did not believe, these people too couldn’t believe what they have heard and seen.

We would like to think that we are not like them either, that if Jesus came in this way now, we would certainly recognize and follow Him.  Yet I wonder if this is indeed true.  I sometimes struggle with recognizing the work of God finding that when I hear someone way that “God told me to _____,” I am rather skeptical.  When I hear about miracle healings, I tend to want to see if for myself.  Maybe I need to trust more, or perhaps we get wrapped up in our own thoughts about God, who He is and what He does, that we are not willing to entertain things outside of that box.

The warning that Jesus gives after His encounter with the Pharisees is one that we too should heed.  Culture constantly seems to “demand signs” from us as Christians; people asking for proof that what we believe is valid or accurate.  The danger in these requests lies in the doubt they cast when we don’t have an answer other than faith.

Matthew answers the questions and the doubt with an illustration.  Jesus asks His disciples who they believe He is.  Peter’s answer, one of true faith in the Messiah, is one whom Israel had been waiting for.  Jesus’ response is one spoken to all those who believe; their faith is the foundation against which all the forces of evil cannot and will not prevail.



2 Timothy 3:10-17 "Thoroughly Equipped"

1/24/2016 – Paul writes, in the face of persecution and false teaching, that when we face trials and challenges we need to “hold on to what we have learned.”  Instead of running and hiding, instead of backing down, we are called to lean into the Word of God, His Truth, His Hope, and His Love.  It is here that we will find true strength to face any attack of the enemy.



Matthew 15 – What Comes Out of Your Mouth?

Read Matthew 15

Sticks and Stone can break my bones but words… well words define what is in your heart.  It’s not quite how the childish saying goes, but it certainly illustrates exactly what Jesus is talking about here.  The Pharisees were quick to point out an infraction of the Law by Jesus’ disciples while ignoring their own trespasses and their families for the sake of personal gain.

Jesus talks a lot about how words are a direct reflection of what is going on in our hearts.  While what we do can seem pure or unpure, that which comes out of our mouth is the true identifier of where our heart is truly placed.

The religious leaders of the day focused so much on tradition when it suited them, but they were also very willing to overlook parts of it when it didn’t.  Jesus calls them out in front of everyone.  Later, this actually becomes the basis for eating what was traditionally considered “unclean” by the Jews.

Matthew accents this teaching with a story about the Canaanite woman, someone who was considered dirty and sinful by the religious leaders.  But her heart is revealed through what she says to Jesus.  She isn’t asking for much, she doesn’t care if Jesus gives her any attention.  All she asks for is the “scraps” of Jesus’ ministry knowing they would be more than enough for her.

At this point, everything seems to be backward.  Those that should be at the front of the line, who the world would consider to be righteous, are nothing more than exposed hypocrites, while others that the Jews would not never consider a “part of the Kingdom of Heaven” are looked at as having ‘great faith,’ all because of what they have said.  What does your speech reveal about your heart?

 

Below is audio of a sermon from a couple years ago:



Matthew 14 – The Solitary Place

Read Matthew 14

What strikes me about this passage is not the miracles that Jesus performed but rather Jesus’ response and commitment to personal time with God.  I’ve heard sermons about these passages but never recognized Jesus’ actions in this series of events until now.

I think that all too often we fall prey to what Charles Hummel describes as “The Tyranny of the Urgent,” the things that are right in front of us and often seem too important to set aside.  It doesn’t matter your age, job, or life stage you, there will always be these things.

What I am not saying is that these things are bad.  Especially in today’s world, they are simply reality.  We can do all sorts of work to “live more simply,” but busyness is a fact of life.

Jesus experienced this too.  He leaves to mourn the death of His relative, but the crowds just follow Him.  It is an important example to us that Jesus does not turn His back on the crowds who need Him, but He also does not forget the importance of His needed alone time to pray and be with His Heavenly Father either.  He probably could have written it off, pointing out the busyness of the day.

He probably could have written it off, pointing out the busyness of the day.  I know I’ve done that before; you just try again tomorrow right?  Jesus doesn’t do that.  He takes the time He knows He needs, the time He desires with His Father at the next earliest time.  I think Jesus recognizes what we should recognize, that our relationship with God is not about the militant keeping of a “scheduled time” at the expense of others, but rather the desire of Jesus’ heart realized in both serving and solitude.