Matthew 5 – You have Heard…

Read Matthew 5

Chapters 5 – 7, more commonly known as the “Sermon on the Mount.”  Some believe this is a single session of teaching Jesus did, others that it is a collection of teachings throughout His ministry.  Either way, His teachings fly in the face of “conventional wisdom;” what the world sees as the right ways… ways of self-promotion, self-actualization, and self-righteousness.

Jesus turns upside down the idea of self-promotion and high position as being the way of showing God’s blessings.  Certainly no worldly wisdom would ever say that meekness or mourning would be something that would advance one in life.  Yet God’s economy is different, His ways are higher than ours.  Each holds a different way of experiencing God in our own lives.  They are not all things we are called to seek out (who really seeks a reason to mourn?) but rather things we will encounter where God will meet us.

All of what Jesus says here in chapter 5 though is accented by verses 17-20.  It is important for us to recognize that Jesus is not throwing out the law or the Old Testament.  Instead, He is reinterpreting it in light of grace, showing those who hear Him the true nature of what it means to be God’s people and to live the life God has called them to live.

What Jesus seems to be saying repeatedly is that the life of God’s people is not about following “the letter of the law,” but rather about where one’s heart is.  If we are just trying to follow the law, we simply don’t murder.  But the life of God, the New Life that we have in Christ goes much deeper; it begs the question: “where is your heart at?”  Are we trying to earn our righteousness or are we living into God’s love?



Matthew 4 – It is Written…

Read Matthew 4

Jesus is led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit where He would face temptation from satan himself.  40 days later, the temptations begin, a point when Jesus would have been at His weakest point physically.  When temptations come, so often they come when we are at our lowest, weakest points.  Have you ever had that?  Life seems to just pile things on and then we start to slip:

Old temptations that you haven’t struggled with in years begin to resurface…

New temptations present themselves for the first time…

The words we don’t want to use become much more palatable…

Our tone of voice with family, friends, and coworkers becomes a bit more harsh…

This is likely how Jesus felt as satan approached.  All of what He had experienced and now this… reading this we think that He couldn’t possibly take any more.

However, physical weakness doesn’t necessarily imply spiritual weakness; Jesus demonstrates that.  As satan brings the temptation, touching on several points that would have been close to Jesus.  Yet our Lord responds in kind, not with human logic or philosophical defense, but rather with the enduring Word of God.

Reading this reminds me of other Scripture passages like Psalm 119:11 and 119:105.  David, in many other places in the Psalms as well as many of the prophets talk at length about the need to have the Word of God inside of us, on our hearts.

So often, when we start out a Bible reading plan with the mindset that it is “something to get through” or “something to conquer,” as if it was like a weight loss plan.  Maybe that is the wrong approach.  John Ortberg once said, “Our goal should not be to get through the Scriptures.  Our goal should be to let the Scriptures get through us!”



Matthew 3 – Prepare the Way

Read Matthew 3

We love to think we are right.  Sometimes we argue our position and our points with someone else just to force acknowledgement of our correctness.  Other times, when we find ourselves on the wrong side of an argument, we still hold to our case  so we don’t have to admit that we are wrong.

In Matthew 3 we are introduced to the Pharisees and Sadducees, groups of Jewish religious leaders who were “in the right.”  They knew the Law backward and forward and knew how to keep it.  These men were the ones who determined what was right, and they had taken it to the extreme so that there was no chance of being wrong… ever.

So when John the Baptist comes on to the scene preaching “prepare the way for the Lord,” these religious leaders thought that they knew what John was talking about and how to go about doing this preperatory work.  Yet, when they came out to get baptized, John rebukes them quite harshly.  They think they know, but they are completely lost.

I don’t think it is an accident that Jesus appears here after John’s rebuke of the religious leaders.  This series of events is quite symbolic.  The preparation that John is speaking of isn’t the way of the Pharisees and Sadducees; Matthew is making this point loud and clear.  Preparation actually looks like turning from the “accepted ways” of religion and towards repentance.  Interestingly, this echoes the words of  Psalm 51.  Especially in verse 17, David writes that God does not desire sacrifice (read: Law following) but rather a broken and contrite heart.  How can we better prepare ourselves for Jesus’ work in our own lives?  Are there false things that we hold on to as “right” that perhaps need to be rebuked and turned away?



Matthew 2 – Just what the Prophet Said

Read Matthew 2

As I wrote about in the Introduction to Matthew, one of Matthew’s main purposes is to show the Jewish people that Jesus is the promised Messiah.  This can be seen already in the first chapters of his Gospel writing.  The Magi, in their seeking of “King of the Jews” (a reference to the sign that would be posted on Jesus’ cross), the chief priests reference Micah 5:2.  The flight to Egypt fulfills Hosea’s words in Hosea 11:1 and sadly, the killing of so many children in Bethlehem and its surrounding area fulfills the words of the prophet Jeremiah 31:15.

There are other overtones that are present in these Scripture passages as well, ones that may not resonate with us directly, but that would have been at least familiar to the Jewish people of that time.  The action of going from the land of Canaan, what is now called Israel, to Egypt to escape danger is one that has happened several times in the Old Testament.  Abraham found himself in Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20) as did Jacob.  Remember the story of Joseph, how the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt and eventually escaped by the hand of God.

It is an interesting twist now that the Son of God must escape Israel, through the warning of God, and run to Egypt.  At the same time, many of Jesus’ movements mirror those of Israel which is not necessarily a “fulfillment” of Scripture, however, there are some interesting echoes and parallels there.

Jesus is considered the “true Israel.”  References to “God’s servant” made in the Old Testament draw on Israel’s purpose as God’s people which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  While this fulfillment comes in the form of perfect obedience to God, many of the parallels we see draw the Old Testament forward to their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.



Matthew 1 – Past Faithfulness

Read Matthew 1

Advertisements for Ancestry.com and other genealogy tools have risen in recent years.  People seem to be quite fascinated with the past and where they come from.  Yet, even knowing the many generations and some specific events that had to take place to bring about current reality, among the infinite amount of events that could have taken place, amounts to some “fascinating” research.  The past seems to have little to do with where we are and practically nothing to do with where we are going.

However, for the Hebrew tradition, a genealogy is not simply interesting research, it is a recitation of God’s faithfulness throughout history.  Whereas North American culture points us to the future as a way of “creating” our identity, Hebrew culture looks to the past for theirs.  We tend to look to who we are becoming as our identity (what do you want to be when you grow up?); the Hebrew people look back, through time and generations, to their creator for theirs.

I wonder if this is a better way to look at life and gain perspective on God’s faithfulness.  We always look to the future and find ourselves wondering, struggling with doubts about whether God will show up.  But what if we turned ourselves around?  Rather than focusing on an unseen future, what if we focused on a certain past?  God has proven Himself faithful throughout history, since the very beginning.  Like a child that, while venturing out, always looks back to her parents for reassurance, might we as Christians focus less on the unknown future and more on God’s faithful actions in the past to give us assurance?  Perhaps this is what David meant when he wrote in Psalm 37, “Commit your way to the Lordtrust in Him, and He will act.”



Isaiah 2:2-5 "Engage the Word"

01/03/2016 – The Word of God is transformative! When we engage it, when we listen for it and open ourselves to it, God will transform our lives! We are challenged to read the through the Bible!

Check out more at www.faith4today.org



Introduction to Matthew

The book of Matthew is the first of the four Gospels in the New Testament, telling the story of Jesus life, death, and resurrection.  Matthew is known as one of the three “Synoptic Gospels,” along with Mark and Luke, because of its agreement with Mark and Luke in timeline and content.  As we read through each of these books though you will notice that each one of them has a bit of a different point of view, in the same way that different people experiencing the same event would describe it with slight differences.  For the Gospels, these differences arise from the different purposes for writing as well as the audience that is being written to as you can see below.

 

As you can see from these two images while each of the authors wrote about Jesus, each Gospel has a bit of a different theme and direction to it.  Yet each of theme communicates the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of Matthew’s theme is derived from the specific audience he is writing to.  Because Matthew is working to show the Jewish people that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the promised King from the line of David.  Matthew begins with a genealogy that proves Jesus’ lineage, being from the house of David, and uses phrases that would have been familiar to the Jews like “the Kingdom of Heaven” or “Son of David.”  He also uses the phrases like “to fulfill all righteousness” or other references to fulfilling Old Testament Scripture.

This does not, however, mean that Matthew restricted his writing to only Jews.  Many times it is recorded in his Gospel the outward trajectory of the Jesus from Jews to Gentiles, culminating in the Great Commission, Jesus’ parting words after His resurrection.



Luke 1:68-79 "Advent Peace"

In a season where the celebration of the holidays have taken precedence over the meaning and reason for their celebration, it is important for us to turn our attention to Christ, the Prince of peace. Today we explore some of the implications of the Peace of Christ in our lives.

1. Through Christ I have peace with God. I am forgiven (Romans 5).
2. Through Christ I am able to have peace with myself (Romans 8). I have not been given a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7). “Let the Peace of Christ rule in your hearts…” Colossians 3:15
3. Through Christ I am called to show peace with others (Romans 12:18). We are bringers of Shalom.

-How can I be a “bringer of peace” this Advent Season?
-Who is God calling me to show His peace to in my life?
-What are places in my life that I need to let the peace of Christ in?



Deuteronomy 8:7-18 – "Eat, Drink, and Remember"

Thanksgiving Eve, 11-25-2015 – On Thanksgiving and throughout the holiday season we will have many chances to eat and drink and be filled.  But do we remember where our blessings come from in these times?  When culture and commercial would tell us we work hard to earn our own keep and deserve our own rewards, do we keep in mind the true source of our blessings?



Matthew 28:18-20 – "Go: Ends of the Earth"

When we talk about being sent out as Christians, our conversations invariably turn towards missions and missionaries.  Jesus sends us out in His name to “the ends of the earth,” but does that necessarily mean other countries or continents?  Or are we called to minister to people next door or down the street who are experiencing “the ends of the earth” in their lives right now?



Reflections on Reactions

There seems to be an overabundance of fear that has crept into the world in this last week.  I have seen it expressed in the news and especially on social media.  While the answers of what to do about this and that still seem to be points of discussion, or perhaps simply narcissistic, positional posturing with no real desire for dialogue or anything other than to dismiss the argument of the “other side” and prove that they are wrong at all costs.

While each “side” continues to try to proverbially bash the other over the head with Scripture to prove themselves, I am reflecting on what Jesus meant in Luke 12:49-53, about a house, a family, even parents and children that are divided.  I also wonder if there are places in Scripture that might offer us wisdom in how we should be conducting ourselves… in public… on social media… and in other forums where we have so readily thrown our Christian brothers and sisters under the bus.

While the book of Proverbs offers much wisdom, it is perhaps the words of James come to mind most readily for me:

James 1:19-20

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 

I wonder if too often we get caught up in the notion that we are adding to the “conversation” by constantly putting our views out there, dismissing the views of others.  Yet far to often we forget that the very meaning of “conversation” and “dialogue” is, by definition, an act of listening as much, if not more than you are speaking.  I think that if we are honest, we have forgotten how to do this.

Now we could blame social media, twitter, “liberal” or “conservative” media, cell phones, or any number of other things, and yet I think the simple fact is the only people we have to blame is ourselves.  Whether our intentions are good or not is besides the point really, we have taken the easier road of boastful and sometimes even arrogant statements about what we think (which is obviously right) and made sure that those who oppose our view know that they are wrong.  Our words are cutting, demeaning, and sometimes even dehumanizing.

We have been shouting at each other for so long in such a public venue that, rather than proving our point to anyone, we have collectively turned our Christian voice into nothing more than two people shouting into two empty rooms.  Instead of contributing a solution to the problem, both sides, whom I assume are well meaning, have only contributed to a stalemate in solving the real problems that do exist.  Instead we have, perhaps unknowingly, chosen to promote that which we feel is most important: Our Own Opinion.

We claim that we are “following in the ways of Jesus” who stood up against bigots and pharisees, and yet we fail to recognize that there is only one mention of Jesus going into a situation with “guns blazing.”  In every other situation it wasn’t Jesus who spoke first, but the others.  They asked their questions, made their statements, and said their piece and Jesus was willing to hear it.  Granted there was loving, and sometimes forceful correction that took place, and I think that is necessary for us today as well, however it comes in the midst of listening and loving those He spoke to, even if they were “spiritually blind.”

What would it mean to really listen to our brothers and sisters?

What would it mean to really look at the problems that others struggle with?

Maybe it would mean that we don’t so readily dismiss the legitimate fears of others surrounding refugees and terrorists…

Maybe it would mean opening our eyes to the real struggles of those forced from their homelands with absolutely nothing who simply want a safe place to exist…

Hopefully it would mean that we could, for a moment, stop proof texting our own arguments in Scripture and allow the Holy Spirit’s voice to speak to us… and through us… from God’s Word…

…a voice that calls us to “carry each other’s burdens” and to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bonds of peace.”

I would not presume to know the solutions to the problems that we are currently facing in the world.  I don’t know how to take down ISIS or what to do with hundreds of thousands of refugees.  To be honest, I am still seeking to come to grips with the fact that several hundred (I think over 500 at this point) have died in terrorist attacks that we have heard about, and I’m sure there have been more that we don’t know about.  Women and children are still enslaved in the sex trade each day, humans sold into bondage.  Corrupt Governments in the most powerful nations in the world argue and bicker over everything under the sun, but the real needs of people, whether refugees or homeless veterans are not addressed.

I do not know how to deal with these things… what the answers are… how to begin to address them… so I will say nothing and just listen… I hope I will gain wisdom… and will continue to care for the least, the last, and the lost in any way that I can…

…but this one thing I do know.  I know that my Redeemer lives and one day He will stand upon this earth.  I know that He who is the first and the last is making all things new.  I know that Jesus Christ loved the world so much that He gave His life that we could live.

And I know that, in the midst of so much that would give cause for fear, for doubt, for hesitation, I can say with the Psalmist these words:

Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.



Matthew 9:35-38 GO: Judea and Samaria (Our Communities)

Christians often hear messages about outreach and are told that we need to be “reaching out” to our communities. When Jesus sees the crowd following Him, he has compassion on them. Do we see our community the way Jesus sees the crowd? Do we have the compassion of Jesus for our neighbors and friends?



Ephesians 5:21-6:9 "Go: Jerusalem (Family and Work)"

We are called by Jesus Christ to “Go into all the world.”  Part 1 of 3 in our series entitled “Go” as we use Acts 1:8 to guide our conversation.  Jesus say, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea & Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  This week we will talk about our individual ‘Jerusalems,’ which we are interpreting, for this week, as our families and work relationships.



John 6:25-40 "The Bread of Life"

Too often we find ourselves looking for things in this world to satisfy our Spiritual hunger.  Jesus says, “I AM the Bread of Life.  They who come to me will never hunger, and those who believe in me will never thirst.”



Starting again

After a long hiatus from writing, I feel what I think is the urge to begin writing again.  I’m not entirely sure what this will look like yet.  However, one this I do know is that it will be on a different website which I am currently working on.  Once complete, I will transfer all of the work of this website to the new one (and will most likely close this blog down after a time).

During this time I will also be consolidating my writings.  Other posts from other blogs will be added to this site before it is all moved to the new one.

I am blessed by those who follow and comment.  I hope to be writing and interacting with you soon!