Psalm 119:105-112 "Light for the Path"

1/17/2016 – Engage the WORD – There are times when our path seems clear and times when it seems cloudy and dark. In those times, we need to turn to God’s Word to give us light, maybe not to illuminate the whole path, but at least enough for the next step.

Matthew 11 – What you See and Hear

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Have you ever had something happen to you where you asked yourself, “Is this really happening?”  Maybe it’s a dream vacation, surprise birthday party, or a visit from a special person.  In any case, you enjoy the time, but there comes that “pinch me I think I’m dreaming” moment when we question reality.  This is also true in negative events; difficult diagnoses, the death of a someone close, and life changing events all make this list.

Sometimes we have trouble accepting what our eyes and ears tell us.  We either have trouble believing or we don’t want to, but eventually the reality of the situation sets in.

John the Baptist struggled with this and he was not alone.  Many saw Jesus perform miracles and struggled with doubt and disbelief.  Matthew, who has been writing so that the Jews would believe, calls out their lack of faith here.  Jesus quotes the Old Testament Scriptures regarding John and Himself, referencing the many signs the Messiah was supposed to perform, and yet still they do not believe.  He even points out that the people went out to see John in the wilderness because they thought he was a prophet, yet they still struggled to believe.

We are not that different are we?  For those of us raised in the church, conversations about faith, Scripture, and Jesus are quite normal.  Yet when it comes to belief in difficult situations, we find ourselves wavering a little, not sure if God can handle our situation.  Jesus responds to those thoughts: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  Jesus’ invitation to those people and us is to trust Him and believe what we have seen and heard; allow Him to be the Savior that He is.

Matthew 10 – Authority and Fear

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Have you ever been given authority to do something?  I remember the first time I was deemed the babysitter when my parents left; I was in charge of my brother.  The trust placed in me was exciting however it didn’t take long for the responsibility I had to sink in.  Soon after they left, I found myself terrified of all the “what-ifs.”  Anything that happened would be my responsibility to handle. Questions started flooding my mind about what I would do if…

Honestly, this isn’t unlike the experience of a first job, first-time homeowner, being newly married, or what I assume having a child will be like too.  I’ve experienced this first hand as a new pastor.  There are so many possibilities, both good and bad, and being in leadership makes me responsible on some level.

In Matthew 10, Jesus sends His disciples out, giving them authority to do all sorts of things.  After giving them a number of directives, they are told to go out and proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven while healing the sick, driving out demons, and even raising the dead.  To me, this sounds like a really tall order, a rather daunting task.

One of the truths about authority, though, is the reality that it has to be given.  Ultimate authority rests with God who empowers us to fulfill the calling He has given us.  Whether it is pastoring a church, raising children, being a banker, teaching a class, or plowing snow.  Multiple times in this passage the disciples are reminded, “do not be afraid.”  It is important for us to remember that, wherever we are and whatever we are doing, God has given us authority and empowered us to live for Him, being bearers of His Kingdom at all times and in all places.

Matthew 9 – Healing

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Jesus continues in His ministry, going throughout the land healing many diseases.  It is, however, not the physical healing that gets the attention of the religious leaders this time, but the spiritual healing that Jesus offers too.  Their reaction to Jesus’ forgiving of sins is actually not out of line, but the point Matthew is making here is much deeper.  The authority that Jesus has, the purview of His ministry goes far beyond just the physical realm and infiltrates all the way to the very depths of our true sickness.

As Matthew continues to recount all that Jesus did, his readers begin to get a clearer picture of the Kingdom of Heaven, something the prophets spoke of and Jesus inaugurates.  We’ve seen the scope of this Kingdom, spanning much more than simply the Jews, and now we see it’s impact.  The reign of God and the restoration that He brings impacts the entire human experience, from birth to death, male and female, sickness and health, sin and faith.  Jesus, both fully God and fully human, meets us where we are at, not waiting for us to have it “all together,” and begins the work of true healing in our lives.

When I think about today’s Church, God’s people called to be the heralds of the Kingdom, the “light of the world,” the “workers in the harvest field,” I wonder if the Church’s ministry, in Jesus’ name, covers the same scope.  Often I hear Christians respond to the problems of others with a dismissing, “they just need Jesus.”  Yet His own words and actions demonstrate a much deeper concern for the least, last, and lost, all who have been marginalized in the world.  James 2:14-26 picks up on this theme; we are called to more than just calling for repentance.

Matthew 8 – As you have believed…

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I have heard this chapter described as Jesus “flexing his spiritual muscles” by healing the sick, casting out demons, and calming a storm.  There is a lot of truth there and it is clear that Matthew is making a case  for Jesus’ wisdom and teaching, and for His authority over disease, nature, and even demons.

However, the authority of Jesus is not the only thing on display here, it is also the faith of those who come (or don’t come) to Jesus.  Matthew is creating a stark contrast between those with true faith and those that don’t, and it is not who you would think.

Jewish people reading this would have assumed the faith of other Jews.  The Messiah had been promised to Jews, surely Jews would recognize Him.  Yet the picture Matthew gives us is quite different.  A Roman centurion comes to Jesus and Jesus says, “…with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”  Even the demons recognize Jesus as the Messiah, but when Jewish religious leaders come, they have things they need to do first.  Jesus speaks of the true cost of following Him.

He accents this point in verses 11-13, talking about those who will enter the Kingdom of heaven.  Again, it is not who you would think.

I wonder if these writings give us pause as we read them.  As Christians, we like to think that we have “given up” everything to follow Him.  However, the reality of our lives often reveals a different story.  While I would never presume to question anyone’s faith, which is a heart matter between you and God, I wonder about our reaction to the Jesus’ call to true faith and what it costs…

…and if that reaction might be indicative of our the state of our faith.

Matthew 7 – The Golden Rule

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The Golden Rule, as it has been eloquently coined, is one of the most quoted Biblical references.  In my experience, I usually hear it quoted to children who are struggling with social issues reminding them that people are more likely to treat us well when we treat them well.  It seems, especially for Biblical teaching, to be strangely self-serving.

How could Biblical teaching like this be self-centered?  Wouldn’t that be the complete opposite of the overall message we hear in the Bible?  Well… as a matter of fact, Yes!  In fact, the so-called “Golden Rule” is not a teaching of manipulation so others will treat you well.  It is, actually, an outgrowth of a much deeper and long-standing teaching, the “second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Indeed, all of the teachings in today’s reading are like this, reminders of the appropriate orientation that we are to have as the people of God.  This orientation is not toward ourselves, us trying to make ourselves look better (judging others), us seeing things in the world to elevate ourselves (seek first the Kingdom of God), or us doing things to others to rise above them (the golden rule).  The orientation that Christ is teaching is one of love; loving God and loving each other.

All of Jesus’ teachings here are accented by the notion that a “tree is known for its fruit.”  Jesus seems to be addressing here a culture that is holding up the notion of following the rules, people that go to church when they are supposed to, do their devotions every day, and pray before their meals.  Yet the warning goes out: “not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom…”  Jesus continues to say here, “I don’t want your actions, I want your heart.”

Matthew 6 – "When you…"

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We like practical advice for life don’t we?  When one goes to another for advice, they do not seek someone that “beats around the bush,” but rather someone that “tells it like it is.”  Often the challenge of preaching is just that: how to tell it like it is.

Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6 feels like practical advice.  He takes several topics and talks straight about them.  “When you… don’t do… but instead do…”  Our Bibles divide each of these into nice sections that we are able to read one at a time.

However, Jesus’ teaching here is actually all linked, accented by verses 19-24.  All the verses leading up to it and the famous (or infamous for some) section on anxiety all speak to the point that “no one can serve two masters.”  Each of the topics prior to this statement is an example of this teaching.

A person who gives publically for all to see is not desiring to serve the need of the needy, but rather to serve their need for fame.  He or she is serving him or herself.

Likewise, a person who prays “like the hypocrites” does not desire to build a relationship with God, but rather an image for themselves with others.

Similarly, anxiety is not “caring” about others as much as it is our desire to control, or rather our struggle with trusting that God is in control.

When we make the statement, “Jesus is Lord,” we don’t often think about it’s implications in our own lives.  We cannot keep living with any number of “lords,” worshipping other idols;” and this includes ourselves.  In Jesus Christ we have freedom, “but do not use that freedom to indulge the sinful nature” as Paul says in Galatians 5.  “Rather,” he says, “Serve one anther in love.”


Isaiah 55 "Listen and Live"

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We are invited into the life of God through the free grace of Jesus Christ. This is what Isaiah is referring to when he speaks the invitation to “buy without money.” We are also called to live into this by believing in Jesus (the Divine Word made flesh) and Engaging in the Word of God. When we do, we will see transformation; God will accomplish what He intends when we hear His Word.

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Matthew 5 – You have Heard…

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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…

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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

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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

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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

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Advertisements for 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!

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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.